Monday, September 19, 2011

5 YEARS OF RUNNING: Part 2 - 'Tomorrow'

Leading up to Dec. 1 and my 5-year anniversary of trading Kools for Asics and becoming a runner, I am posting entries about things I have learned as a marathoner. I hope it might be helpful to others getting into running. Here is Part 2.

The hardest thing about marathoning for me over these five years was not building up to my first marathon or struggling to finish lines with plantar fasciitis or blisters, or running an ultramarathon from morning to sunset. It was not hitting the supposed "wall" out there or gasping for air in a post-race medical tent when asthma kicks in after a humid half. It was not juggling training time with real-life needs or solitary miles on ice.

The hardest thing about marathoning is tomorrow.

I don't mean the kind of "tomorrow" where your quads scream trying to descend stairs the day after a marathon. I mean the tomorrow that waits for you to own it. It's not yours yet. It's refocusing after that glorious finish and the ice bath and the victory chow. It's deciding on another scary, humongous goal and keeping a fresh and meaningful perspective that drives you to train hard. I dislike the word "motivation" so I am not really writing about that. I'm always motivated because I am alive. I am talking about that fear of what you just did slipping away into history, as if it was just you learning to ride a bike as a boy, or when you got your driver's license and got behind the wheel, or when you had a child. It was something that meant everything at that moment and you felt so great about yourself and wanted to hold onto it.

You can't. Tomorrow is right there. We graduate from high school and college and we move on, and it aches a little inside. Friends can "Like" your race-finish status a trillion times and it doesn't really matter tomorrow because it's a new day. It is your life you are living.

I once asked Derek Jeter what his favorite hit was, and the first thing out of his mouth as he stood in front of his locker was: "Your next one." I laughed and had to press him hard to finally get him to give me what I thought was an answer I wanted to hear. Now I am fully starting to realize what he meant. Some of the things I have taken for granted as cliche as a sports journalist over the years have a new effect on me as an endurance athlete, a term I use humbly and loosely. I see it so differently now. What Jeter is saying is this: The minute he basks in what he just did and loses that edge to keep busting his ass in the weight room and in the BP cage is the minute he walks away from his job and becomes a former player.

That is the edge that means everything to an athlete . . . at some point, anyway.

My hardest challenge, by far, is handling tomorrow. I have worked so hard over these five years to teach myself to become a finisher, in hopes it will transform my entire existence into one: Someone who finishes love, work and play. For me, it is important to always put big goals out there, and to always remind myself why I am running. For a long life, to have the most time possible with my family, to have an impact for as long as I can.

Advice: (1) Grow your community of supporters and those you support, and have fun; (2) Schedule scary races; (3) Pay close attention to those training for their first marathon, as a reminder of fundamentals; (4) Love; (5) Don't start eating like it's going out of style; (6) Ask questions, like the time I asked a Kenyan winner of one our NYRR races if he can share a tip. He told me as he walked away from the medal stand: "Practice hard and race easy. I don't have to think about anything on race day because I have already won."

Maybe along the way I will have an occasional PR and find unexpected bursts of greatness and surprise myself. I am going to mix it up and occasionally invent my own race and just do whatever it takes to keep it fun, and to embrace tomorrow without fear. I think I have done that by putting three big marathons on my 2012 schedule, by renewing my NY Road Runners membership, by committing to the future always. Here goes. Tomorrow awaits.