Since I began writing fiction a few years ago, I’ve been surprised by the ending of some of my stories. There have been times I was on a clear path to an ending I had planned when circumstances, twists and unintended consequences intervened and the characters took over and finished the story for me. That was how the Bucks County Marathon went for me yesterday.
My training program (if that’s what you want to call it) for the marathon was anything but conventional. I cycled most of the summer, though much of it was gorilla cycling the hills of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I also competed in a century cycling event with a cumulative 7,000-feet elevation climb, and cycled a grueling 350-mile from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC along the Greater Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal towing 100 pounds in gear–arguably the most strenuous physical feat I’d ever done. I did get in a couple of long runs in the weeks leading to the race, and the twenty-miler was the most relaxing long run I’d ever taken before a marathon.
Absent from my training program were track work, repeats, intervals, tempo runs, and all the stuff I’d followed when I trained to qualify for Boston in 2004.
And the outcome? For the first time in ten years I was cramp-free in the late stages of the race. When I hit mile 21, I was confident my legs weren’t going to cause me problems and I lengthened my stride. I ran my first negative split (ran the second 13.1 miles faster than the first) and shaved nearly forty minutes off last year’s time. It was the first time I’d ever crossed the finish line of a marathon and felt I could have kept going. The day after the race and I’m still in disbelief that my legs feel stronger and more flexible than after any marathon of my life. I even did my yoga routine this morning, something I never would have been capable of doing in the past.
In retrospect, I had a much different attitude toward this marathon than others I had run. I was so sidetracked with other things going on in my life, the race was almost an afterthought. People asked me how I felt leading up to the race, and I told that I had a good feeling about it, but I didn’t know why. I just felt I would wake up Sunday morning, happy, optimistic and go run twenty-six miles along the Delaware Canal towpath, one of the most scenic marathon courses I’d ever run.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting anyone to imitate my training routine. I’m merely sharing with you what worked for me at this particular time in my life. As it turned out, the unplanned ending of the Bucks County Marathon was my most satisfying running experience in memory.