The training has begun

My iPod sounded a loud alarm at 5:30 on Saturday morning. I'd gone to bed only six hours before after an evening at Court Square Tavern. I'll be changing my schedule around a lot in the next five months as I prepare to do something I've always wanted to do - run a marathon.

I only hit snooze once. I had to be at the track to do a two-minute time trial so the coach would be able to prepare a personalized training scheme for me. The terminology is all new to me, but I'm approaching this training program with an open mind. I had to be at the University of Virginia track by 6:15, but they recommended that runners do at least a mile warm-up.

Fear tried to keep me from going. I'd not run on a track since high school Unanswered questions crept through my mind like kudzu, trying to find some purchase in my resolve to show up on time, ready to compete. How many laps would I need to run? Would people laugh at my clothes? What if no one wanted to talk to me? Would I be laughed at? Would the coach think I was an idiot for even trying to do something that may or may not be past my performance level? Had I had too much to drink the night before? Was there enough life left in my shoes?

I didn't give in to any of them. While the dark part of my mind whispered these questions, I fixed a cup of tea, had a piece of toast, and drowned them out by putting Dan Deacon's "Woof Woof" on the iPod. I put a black shirt on, my gray running shorts, and white socks. I stretched, started jumping around, and began to get somewhat excited.

I got to the track. For a moment I got really intimidated because there were clusters of people standing together. I'm somewhat phobic about being in places where I don't know anybody. But, I walked up to the track and did not see the coach. I asked a woman if this was where the time trial was being held. She said yes, but we were early. There were people running already, warming up.

Since I've been running, I notice other people running all the time. If I'm not running and I see them, I get jealous because that what I'd rather be doing. If I'm running and they're running, I feel this instant kinship. The motion is simple, but each of us runs in a different manner. I look at how people move their legs, their arms. Do they lean? Do they go fast? When I see people sprint, I want to cheer them on.

So, as soon as I started jogging for my warm-up, I began to feel totally at home. The track has all of these odd markings that must be used for all the various races that are run there. And here There were weird markings I don't understand. A big sign for Davenport Field told me how many times the U.Va baseball team has been to the post-season. The sky was foggy. So was my mind, as I cursed the night version of myself for that last glass of Spaten. My head didn't pound, though, and my body didn't protest. I made myself go at a ridiculously slow pace and held the moment in my mind.

By the time I'd run three laps, the coach was there and the crowd was gathering. There were maybe 30 people waiting to run the time trial. In all, there's something like 150 people in the marathon training program run by the Charlottesville Track Club. That's a lot of people who want to take on this same challenge. Most of them were women. We all have different body types. Two older men were there, as well as a lot of people in their thirties and forties. I'm looking forward to knowing these people as we spend our Saturday mornings together, running further and further, faster and faster, on the back roads of Albemarle County.

I am tremendously impressed by the wisdom of Mark Lorenzoni. Everything he says, I'm soaking up like a sponge. Today, most of it went over my head because he was rattling off all these things about how fast we should run, and at what pace. He encouraged us to run negative splits. I had no idea what that meant. I did get the message that we were to take it easy for the first mile, and then run faster for the second. He told us the story of his wife and her training program to run her first marathon in 25 years.

After ten minutes of tips, he had us begin. The pack separated incredibly quickly. Some people are just incredibly fast, and I'm in awe of them. They'll always be faster than me. What I like about running is the individuality involved. I don't feel the need to finish first, though of course, I want to finish as fast as I can. If that means I win a race, then so be it. But, for the most part, running isn't about finish first. It's about finishing, period.

Eight laps around the track buys you a two mile run. I fell into my usual groove that I get when I'm running on a flat surface. I've been deliberately pushing myself to hit hills, so it was a nice break to run at the same elevation the whole time. A weak white sun tried to push through the fog. The sky was otherwise beginning to turn blue. A flock of blackbirds circled overheard.

We are all running, each of us giving it our best. I ran the first lap in about 2:15 and the coach told me that was at a 8 minute mile pace. I ran the second lap a little faster. I was holding back and trying to pace myself, like he said. I did not want to burn out. When I hit the fourth lap, he announced I'd run the first mile at 7:48.

Being coached is an experience I've not had since I was 9 or 10, and I was swimming at the YMCA in Lynchburg. I used to love swimming competitively, but I got so discouraged that I wasn't the best. I stopped doing it. I got fat. I gave up on my body.

But, I'm claiming it back. I have been claiming it back. I'm opening myself up to someone telling me what to do.

Each time I ran a lap, the sun grew a little stronger, the sky a little more blue. My lap times kept getting shorter and shorter. I didn't sprint, but just ran at a comfortable pace. I didn't mind when people lapped me, and passed me. After all, I was lapping and passing other people, too.

This existence we lead from birth to grave is much like a marathon, filled with triumph and pain. We're all in training, whether we know it or not. As I look back on the last six months of my life, and the emotional pain I've been suffering due to the end of my marriage, I'm much more aware of the various techniques that have to be learned in order to build up endurance. I've learned to push away the sadness. I've learned to stop myself from scratching the emotional itch to dwell on my condition. Most importantly, I've learned to run.

And so I finished, at 14:55 in two minutes, much better that I can imagine I would have done six months ago. I may actually be able to do this, to actually run a marathon. I don't know what will happen between now and November 14, when the Richmond marathon is going to be run. I am this person.

When challenged with sudden change in your life, the best way through is to challenge yourself. Do that for long enough, and you come through to the other end, when things start to make sense again. Today, I ran 9 miles in the hot sun because I felt I needed to.

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