Weeks 11, 12, and 13 - Pain

First, I realize I'm a couple of weeks behind.  Blame the holidays, blame the injury, blame me.  But here I am, with my penultimate entry.

The marathon is a 26.219 mile race inspired by the fabled Greek soldier Pheidippides, who ran the distance from Marathon to Athens to report a victory at the battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Upon delivering the news to the magistrates and completing his task, Pheidippides promptly died.

Statue of Pheidippides

Statue of Pheidippides

This story may be interpreted as running 26.2 miles is an extremely bad idea. You could also say that being employed as a Greek soldier and participating in seemingly endless battles is a bad training plan. Modern studies have shown that shorter distances are much easier to prepare for. The human body can handle distances up to about 20 miles without too much extra preparation. More than that and the body begins to break down. We need special training to prepare the body to handle these conditions. In short, we weren't built to do this.

Training for a marathon puts your body through intense new stressors. Running two or three days in a row is one thing. Running more than a half marathon's distance multiple weeks in a row is another. To get your body in shape to handle this you need to adjust your diet, schedule, and non-running activities. For my training, I gave up various Friday nights with friends and abandoned my soccer team to make sure I was getting enough rest and to minimize risk of injury.

The pain of this level of sacrifice is not so bad. Pushing through the last few miles of a marathon can be treacherous. There's physical pain to deal with from the repetitive motion of your legs, but there are times when you will deal with blisters, chafing, and weather as well. If you train right, however, even the physical pain dissipates and the day after a long run can feel like any other day. Something else happens when you're hours into a run. At home, we commonly refer to it as runners brain.

As the distance gets longer, your emotions seem to amplify as well as become slightly erratic. I like to try and do math problems as I run to gauge where my brain is at. Even simple multiplication becomes difficult after a while. Funny spectator signs can become hilarious displays of encouraging wit or an evil lance designed to penetrate my psyche and destroy my soul. The weather can have similar effect. Still, the physical pain and mental anguish that comes with running long distance is nothing compared to feeling of an injury taking it all away.

Now, I don't want to take anything away from people who cannot run or walk at all. That is a pain I hope I will never have to know. When my runs get tough I try to think about how fortunate I am that I can do what I am doing. Still it hurts to put in months of training, preparation, and sacrifice only to be forced to sit and watch from the spectators fence.

In my last post I wrote about a knee injury I suffered a few weeks ago. To date I haven't been able run more than a mile before the pain flares up. With the marathon less than a week away, I don't see any way I'll be able to participate.

Needless to say, the last few weeks have been difficult, especially since I still need to plan and pay for a trip to Walt Disney World and watch my wife train and then run the race without me. All I want to do is go out for a run. I am truly amazed how running can become an addiction.

As I cope, rehab my knee, and prepare for trip to Orlando, I'm also looking forward a few months down the line. In particular, Sunday, April 23. On that day a marathon will be run through the streets of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and I will be in the starting corral. After reading all about the pain of running, you may be asking yourself, why? The answer is pretty simple. Pride. If I give up now, what was the point of all the work I put in? I'm not going out like that. There is a second reason as well. I'm addicted.

Running is on the rise, and for good reason. Running long distances has tremendous health benefits, both physically and mentally.[1] It's worth a little bit of pain. Running makes me feel good. So I'm not done. I'm not defeated. I'm healing.


  1. Long-Distance Running: An Investigation Into its Impact on Human Health ↩︎