“Youth has to do with spirit, not age. Men of seventy or sixty are often more youthful than the young. Theirs is the real youth.” – Henry Miller
This time next week I’ll be licking my wounds from the Bucks County Marathon, my thirteenth. On Sunday I’ll join my fellow runners along the Delaware Canal in Bucks County, Pennsylvania to run 26.2 miles with the least amount of training I’d ever done to prepare for an endurance race. I’ve approached this race much differently than I did my first marathon in 1981, and every long distance race since. That’s not the way I planned it, it’s just the way it worked out.
After three knee surgeries and a dose of osteoarthritis, I prepared for this marathon as if it might be my last. My training program was going pretty well until six weeks ago when I boneheadedly dove for a loose ball playing hoops. The following week I took an eighteen-mile training run and then ran nine miles on horrendous hills two days later. When Hurricane Sandy raged up the east coast my training program came to a screeching halt, which probably saved my body from further damage.
The ironic thing is that I am as confident as I’d ever been, though I’d done significantly less training than I had for past marathons. I was nervous before my first marathon thirty-one years ago, and for my second marathon twenty years after the first. I was wound-up pretty tight when I lined up at Steamtown in 2004 to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Now, one week from what could be my final marathon, I am as confident as ever and I’ve done only a fraction of the training. Go figure.
A common conclusion I had found doing research for articles about endurance athletes is that mental preparation is as important as physical conditioning. Sports psychologists, exercise scientist and researchers agree that a positive marathon mindset is as essential to success as physical conditioning. Perhaps that is why I’m so confident. I don’t intend to set a personal record on Sunday, but I’m convinced I’ll finish.
I also have an ace in the hole. Last week I drove to Staten Island and helped clean out houses obliterated by Hurricane Sandy. I met people who lost friends, homes and possessions it took them a lifetime to collect. These people taught me more about endurance and resilience than I ever knew. They had been without electricity, water and other everyday services for over a week, yet they continued to get up each day and carry on with the business of living. Running 26.2 miles will be a cinch after spending a day with people who are in a marathon for their lives.
After my last marathon in 2008, I wrote an article titled the Untrained Marathon. During that marathon I ran with an entire new demographic of runner than I had in the past—the back-of-the-pack crew. They were loose and more fun than the serious runners I was used to running with, and they laid it all out on the course the same way I remember the runners on Boylston Street at the finish of the Boston Marathon.
I’ve come to terms with the idea that the Bucks County Marathon could be my last, but I always say, “Never say never.”
Finally, I’m taking a chance and posting my first video, one that I created spontaneously. I don’t normally carry my iPhone with me when I run, but my brother called on the way to the park and I wanted to finish my run before dark, so I just let it roll. This is my ninetieth post, and I can’t recall ever posting my mug in a blog. I hope it doesn’t scare anyone.
See you on the trial.