In every race, there is a moment that justifies the struggle and legitimates the pain. At the 20th mile marker, I encountered a man sporting a too tight t-shirt and an impressive Jewfro. He enthusiastically beat a cowbell, dancing to his own music. As I ran past, I shouted, “More cowbell!” He beat that cowbell even harder, and I ran faster. Since the Fargo marathon bills itself as “Rock ‘n Roll,” bands line up along the course. From a solitary man plucking a banjo on his front porch to a garage band playing heavy metal, the acts were humble and inspiring, head-scratching and repellent. Unlike at the St. Louis marathon, Fargo residents blanket the entire route, listening to their local talent and cheering on the runners. When legs start to give out, it helps to hear a cowbell’s manic rhythm. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Marathons
“To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month, or even one year—but for a lifetime.” –Bill Rodgers
This quote hung on my wall from September to May. Every morning, I woke up and paused, readying myself for the run ahead. Anyone who has ever laced a pair of shoes and headed into the dawn understands the trepidation that presages pain. The first step is infinitely harder than the second; the instant of decision in which we commit to the run is a resignation to discomfort. To become a runner is to become deaf, to ignore the seductive whisper of a warm bed and its comforting caress. We run to know our strength, our discipline, our tireless struggle against our imperfections. Continue reading
Before beginning a multi-hundred mile trek, Stebbins climbs “onto the lowest branch of a pine overlooking the road and was eating what looked like a jelly sandwich.” Stebbins sustains his energy throughout the trek with jelly sandwich after jelly sandwich, an endless parade of white bread and jam. In The Long Walk, Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) describes a dystopic death march—a bunch of teenage boys start out on a walk that ends when only one competitor remains standing. Stebbins’ jelly sandwiches fascinate the narrator throughout the text, providing a counterpoint to grim scenes of macabre exercise.
Fortunately, the marathon concludes after 26.2 miles, not when all the racers expire from exhaustion. Although eating jelly sandwiches, dinner rolls, turkey, and chocolate chip cookies is common during ultramarathons, most marathoners eschew eating such heavy foods. Instead, race nutrition involves “gels”—little packets of gooey syrup that only taste good when the body truly screams for sustenance. I didn’t use gels during my first marathon, and I don’t intend to this time—I found that I only benefited from gels when completing multiple long runs consecutively: two 17 mile runs in a row, for instance. Continue reading
Running your first marathon is an experiment; running your second is a race. After experiencing the training cycle once, a runner understands the demands on his body, the trials of the race, and the process of post-race recovery. The next time on the track, each step merits examination and reevaluation. Losing your marathon virginity is a learning experience—success or failure during the first race depends on a galaxy of uncertainties. From how you train to what you eat, these constantly evolving factors determine speed, strength, and stamina. Continue reading