Sunday, October 23, 2011

Leap of Faith

Running into the Fog, October 23, 2011

I stepped out of my house this morning for a long run, as has become the Sunday morning custom. However, now I am in the taper, so long is not so long. 12 miles today. I put on my sunglasses, and hit the road. I live on a hill, and as I descended, I found myself in a fog. Literal fog, that is. It was really socked in. A foggy day seemed a good reason to head for the Marsh, where the only traffic is bird watchers and the watched birds. It is eerie to run with limited visibility, not unlike the times I have skied in a snowstorm where the snow whites out everything more than 3 feet in front of your face. Once at Tahoe I followed a ski patrol down the hill, unable to tell whether there were boulders or 300 foot drop-offs ahead of me. It was a leap of faith.

The taper is a leap of faith. You train and build your mileage and do your speed workouts and get jazzed about topping 50 miles per week (which is less than half of what those elite marathoners do, but for mere mortals, not bad). Then one day you look at your plan, and the mileage is puny! There are days off! How can this be? The mind starts playing games: am I ready? Should I do just one more big long run? What if all of my hard work is lost in the next 3 weeks?

I should know better. In music, if you are still developing your chops in the 3 weeks prior to performance, you are probably in deep trouble. To perform well, you need time for things to percolate. You need to be refreshed. You need to feel that strong desire to push yourself again. The taper is the calm before the proverbial storm, the pause before the cadenza, the polish on the turn of a phrase. When I had time to do actual recitals, I would take long walks in the woods and play the whole thing over in my head as I walked. I probably looked pretty strange, with a vague and foggy look on my face. Though probably no stranger than when I start dancing and singing to "Love Shack" while running 20 miles on Old Arcata Road.

The other day, I did hill repeats. It was an abbreviated version of my prior hill repeats, because I am in the taper. I ran hill repeats, distracted somewhat by the worries of my life, and considering other leaps of faith that may come my way soon which make the taper seem like child's play. Make no mistake though, the taper is scary. So many miles to run in New York, and today's 12 mile run is the longest I will do between now and the big day. Usually when I run hill repeats, I need some furious rock and roll. But this time my mind was so loud, I found myself turning to something altogether different, something I have not yet selected on my iPod in all these months of training. Something to quiet a distracted mind running up hills amongst the Redwoods while in the taper.

The taper is a letting go. The Redwoods are a chapel. That's all.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


This is my last big week of training before the taper. It has me thinking about what it takes to prepare for a marathon, which is really quite a solitary event. Even alongside the other 44,000 runners in the streets of New York, your pain and inner dialogue is your own. Sort of.

I noticed last time I ran NY that the spectators carry you along. In fact, if you find yourself running faster than planned, you can blame the spectators for sure. I noticed last time I ran NY several runners who were being guided or held up, in a literal sense, by others. One was an elderly Japanese woman who was blind, and guided by someone at each arm. One was a young vet with a leg missing, who fell and immediately was swept back onto his foot by surrounding runners. Then there were the bands, the Firemen, the gospel choir, the high-fiving children. All of this makes the struggle less, the joy more.

There are moments of eerie quiet. Six moments, to be exact: the 5 bridges and the Hasidic neighborhood. Though there is a certain community in these moments as well. On the bridges, you suddenly can hear the breathing and footsteps of your fellow runners. You recall that you are doing something hard, and the people on the bridge with you totally get it. And in the quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn, children travel in stealthy packs, usually an older girl pushing a carriage and with several younger kids in tow. They don't offer high fives, but they are clearly enjoying the spectacle of the marathon.

This past Sunday I had a party for Livestrong at my home. My oldest daughter and I cooked and baked a ton of food. We hung decorations and displayed the work of four amazing artists who donated for a silent auction:

It was a successful fund raiser. But even more than that, it was for me a chance to be enveloped by a warm and inspiring community. There was a "courage altar" for those who live with cancer and those whom we have lost. And there was a chocolate fondue fountain in which strawberries and other delights were dipped. Chocolate fountains are sublime. In a gaudy and decadent sort of way.

I run around my sleepy town, often with only the cows and pelicans and seals and banana slugs to commune with. But actually, hardly a run goes by without someone I know honking and waving. On one long run I got a big honking from a car I didn't recognize. I was almost disappointed to hear from a good friend later that it was them, as I had it in my head that someone was actually complimenting my derriere. I do believe the days of being honked at for such things are over. Sigh.

And high school, that dreadfully plastic community we all must endure, keeps sneaking back in my life. Like the run last weekend with my daughters team, which was an adventure of trails, beach, rock climbing (including climbing a waterfall) and at one point running up about 150 steps to a light house. The teenagers either didn't notice me or treated me with decent enough respect. It was a bit humbling when my kid asked me if I wanted a hand down from one of the rocks.

And high school, from which I actually never graduated, by the way, but that is a different story, comes back to me with my inspirations for this race: M and E. That does not mean "me" but rather my 2 friends from high school (and even earlier), who will also be running this race in NY. It will be our 2nd marathon together, and I think we are starting a tradition. A community of three, and a great resource for these past several months of training. Though we live quite far from each other, I have depended upon their advice and commiseration, and a few talks off the ledge as well.

This is rather a long winded way to say the cliche is true: It takes a community to run a marathon.