When I stood on the sand dunes in New Jersey the other day and looked at the beach front property above, I wondered if the owner made plans for next summer; maybe he’d have friends and relatives down to swim, barbecue, make sand castles and party. Perhaps he thought he’d escape from the rat race for a week or two and get some peace and quiet, decompress, listen to the waves crash, smell the salt air, sit back and watch the horizon with an ice-cold beer or a glass of wine. Chances are he didn’t plan for his house to be pushed off its foundation and fifty feet down the street into his neighbor’s house.
Distance runners do a lot of planning to train for a marathon. They find a training program and then spend weeks and months running fifty miles per week or more to build-up the endurance for a twenty-mile long run. I trained so long and hard for some marathons that I was injured before the starting gun even sounded.
I thought my marathon days were over four years ago after a pair of knee surgeries. I began to follow a kinder and gentler conditioning program, running fewer miles and doing more cycling, low-impact aerobics and soft surface running. Surprisingly, the nagging pain in my knees subsided, so I thought I’d try to run one more. But like I said, Man Plans and God Laughs.
Last month I injured my knee playing basketball, a boneheaded decision on my part, and then compounded the problem by running eighteen-miles two weeks later. I wasn’t satisfied I’d done enough damage so I ran nine-miles of murderous hills two days later, and that all occurred before Hurricane Sandy hit and I lost power for two days. After the power came back on I went to New Jersey and New York to do some volunteer work—an experience that changed my perspective about marathon training altogether.
I will test a new marathon training program tomorrow, one that replaces running high mileage with long hours of sopping up mud, moving refrigerators, throwing out furniture, ripping out carpet and drywall, carrying building materials and piling sections of destroyed homes into six-foot high piles. My training partners weren’t athletes. They were volunteers too—good, solid, upbeat, thoughtful, caring, funny people who donated their time to help others who had lost everything—their home, possessions and, sadly, some even lost family, friends and neighbors.
I have no idea what to expect when I line up for the Bucks County Marathon tomorrow morning with the least amount of preparation I’d ever done, but running 26.2 miles will be a cinch compared to what the people I met in New York and New Jersey endured. They are the true marathoners.