Every morning the alarm goes off at 6 a.m., and every morning I lie there and think: this is insane.
I spend 20 minutes rummaging under the covers, another 20 deciding it's too dark to go out and a final 20 minutes facing the miserable truth: I have to run. Ten miles and an hour and 45 minutes later, I take a shower, get dressed and, by the time I'm at work, need a nap.
Training to run Sunday's 26.2-mile New York City Marathon has been exhausting, depressing, occasionally interesting but, more than anything else, boring. I've always thought runners who go on about "runner's high" had guacamole for brains. I'll only be glad when it's over.
For the average runner who lopes five miles a day, marathon training means increasing your weekly mileage to 60 for the six weeks prior to the race. Included in the 60-mile regimen are a few 20-mile runs on weekends. For someone who just wants to finish in four hours or so, that's minimum. For Alberto Salazar, who's been running 130-mile weeks because he wants to win, that's peanuts. (Still, you're not supposed to run 26.2 miles at any one time before the race; training literature has it that this will wipe you out.)
Marathon training really hurts the first few weeks. When you get out of bed in the mornings, your legs buckle beneath you. Your neck gets stiff, your knees throb, rashes develop. After those crises are over, training becomes an exercise in self-organization. You learn not to make plans for early morning interviews.
"I'm sorry, I'll be tied up," you tell Mr. Harrrumph's secretary. If Mr. Harrrumph has no other time, you do the interview, head for the pavement, shower, then sneak into the office. Admittedly, the late and loose hours of a newspaper reporter have made much of this possible.
Sony Walkmans help, too. I used to sneer at them, considering them silly contraptions for the simple-minded. No longer. You try running for 3 1/2 hours on just your own thoughts. Try doing anything for 3 1/2 hours. You can daydream just so long; the fact is, you get bored with yourself. If you have a Walkman, you may notice that you begin with the best of intentions by listening to "Morning Edition," soon switch over to WETA and Mozart and then, giving up entirely, flip to Top 40.
Running hit its peak on the Euphrates cracker-and-brie circuit several years ago; now it's no longer in vogue. Furthermore, running talk is boorish. Sometimes, if word of your training drifts through a party, a small crowd will collect around you and ask, "Why, why, why?" As they do, they'll subtly sneak glances at your calves and hips, no doubt thinking, "Gee, for someone who runs 60 miles a week, she could be a little thinner . . . "
So, why? I'm not sure of the answer. I've already run two marathons, the Marine Corps and the Maryland, both in 1980. I know I can do it, or at least I know I have a reasonable chance of doing it again.
One friend said the reason is vanity, and true, running 60 miles a week does make your thighs easier to live with. Then there's competition. I can outrun most men I know, which is more pleasurable than I often admit.
Other people talk of the cathartic effect of long-distance runs, and that's true, too. And sometimes it really is nice running over Memorial Bridge as the sun comes up. Not to be discounted is the New York City Marathon itself, a race famous for its dazzling views and screaming crowds. More than 63,000 people applied, but only 16,000 got in--half, like myself, through a lottery. Certainly, one reason for running the New York City Marathon is simply because it is there.
But let's not forget the last week. Your training is over and you're supposed to rest up. You have only one job, called carbohydrate-loading in running parlance, which means:
You can eat.