I’m currently in week 6 of a 16-week training schedule for my first marathon, and I’m already looking forward to it being over. I’ve been starting to wonder if signing up to run 26 miles was a good idea. Yesterday I ran 8 miles in the snow, and I feel good about that, but today I’m supposed to run 15 miles, and I’m not looking forward to it. I’m trying to figure out whether my knee actually hurts, or if it’s some kind of psychosomatic defence mechanism. I’ve already missed a few runs from the training schedule through illness, then terrible weather while I was recovering, then needing a few days to recover from a half marathon, so I’m feeling like I’m lagging behind my targets. I’ve committed myself to running a lot of hours every week, and it’s difficult to fit it in around work and family.
This feeling of obligation concerns me. I’m slightly worried that training for a marathon is going to spoil running for me. The fact that I’ve signed up means that running has become something that I have to do. In other words, I’m turning running into something which could be described as a chore. I’m sure that I’ll want to take a bit of a break from running afterwards, but what if the whole thing puts me off running?
I enjoy running. Taking a break from work and clearing my head by getting out into the fresh air, or starting the weekend with a Parkrun - it feels good, partly because it feels like freedom. But I’m not enjoying the training, or perhaps more accurately I don’t like thinking about how much training I have to do. Like running in the rain, the prospect of it is worse than the reality - it isn’t so bad once you get started.
I’m not sure that many people would say that marathon training is fun. It’s a lot of lonely hours of dragging yourself out of the house in the dark and the cold and the wet, plodding alongside busy roads and breathing in fumes, and for what? To be able to slog along some more roads for a very long time with lots of other people suffering a similar affliction. In the same way that cycling up hills is a strange kind of masochism, maybe the whole point of a marathon is that it’s a challenge. If it was easy, it wouldn’t feel like an achievement.
I’m fairly confident that if I get to the day of the race without an injury, I’ll make it to the end. Even if I’m slow (and I’m confident that I will be), my sense of determination (and the sight of other runners) won’t let me quit. I’ll be proud of myself just for finishing. There’s a reassuring statistic that nearly 99% of people who start a marathon cross the finish line. On the other hand, plenty of people who sign up don’t make it to the start line. Maybe it’s the training, rather than the marathon itself, that’s the difficult part.
But even things that are easy can feel challenging. Like rollercoasters - fun, but part of you wants the ride to be over so that you can process and share the experience. We often love to look back on experiences that were scary or difficult, and share stories about how we didn’t think we’d manage it. Perhaps one motivation for challenges is anticipated nostalgia - looking forward to the prospect of looking back on the experience. Perhaps that’s partly why I’m doing a marathon - ticking the box so that I don’t have to do it ever again. Once I’ve done it, I won’t have to wonder if I’m able to do it, I won’t have to imagine what it might be like. As Vybarr Cregan-Reid puts it: “Have you ever tried to do something, just to be free of the idea of doing it? Like many runners, I had a particular itch to run a marathon, and if I could scratch it, I might be free of it and never have to think about it again.”