Tomorrow is the inaugural Suffolk County Marathon, and I already know my forecast calls for pain.
But for some reason, I’m as giddy as a child before the first day of school.
After months of muggy weather, sore hips and feet, near-heat stroke and shortness of breath, I’ll be done with a six-month struggle to go from having never run a mile in my life to having raced 13.1 miles.
I’m only running the half marathon, so I figure if things go really badly I’ll get to the finish line about the same time as the people running the full marathon. That’s a pretty big comfort to me. I know I can walk 13.1 miles. I will get there.
A summer’s worth of training in air that at times felt unbreathable has made willpower a difficult thing to come by. On some of the muggiest days of August, after a brush with heat stroke at the beginning of the month, I would just throw my running shoes in the closet and jump in a kayak, which did nothing to help my legs propel me forward.
I’d hit on two safe training routes near my house in Flanders. The first, to the end of Pleasure Drive and back, is just over 8 miles. The second, down Red Creek Road, through the woods to the boat ramp on Red Creek, is just over 12. Both involve plenty of running on busy Flanders Road, and both put you within just a couple feet of some pretty fast traffic. But this is the way it is when you try to recreate on most roads in the world. So, I toughed it out.
But by the end of August, I realized the biggest problem I was having with motivation was the last mile heading outward on these loops, before I turned around and headed back home. Why was I running further and further from my destination when all I really needed to do was turn around and run home to the people I love?
So, I tried a new tack. I headed out on the highway, my backpack on my back, en route to my boyfriend’s house in New Suffolk, more than 16 miles from home. If walking to your boyfriend’s house isn’t enough motivation to walk 16 miles, don’t worry. It wasn’t quite enough motivation for me, either, until I insisted that he drive my car there ahead of me so I’d have no choice but to come get my car.
Now, getting your car is definitely a big motivation booster. So I headed down the road, which was in the midst of being torn up to be repaved. The air was thick and heavy, but the asphalt dust was much much worse. I don’t know how anyone lives through a career of breathing in asphalt dust.
I don’t know how people who walk places manage to get anywhere, either. By the time I reached Route 105, I was lost in a daydream about the time when I was 16 years old and I set off to ride my bicycle across the country. I didn’t get very far. It turns out, there are a lot of blockades out there that make it physically very difficult to ride your bike across the country — bridges, tunnels, road work, limited-access highways, cities — our world just isn’t designed for traveling by self-propelled means.
I was feeling pretty disheartened, when I looked down and saw an action figure fireman ground into the dirt of the paving work, with his little arms outstretched toward me. I grabbed him around the waist and looked into his eyes, and then I decided to just stop whining and run.
I ran over the Route 105 bridge. I ran past the Indian Island golf course. I ran by the railroad tracks down Hubbard Avenue and past Meetinghouse Creek. I ran through South Jamesport, remembering how each creek and all the surrounding houses had looked on the day after Hurricane Sandy. I ran through endless Laurel and up to Sigsbee Road in Mattituck.
When I was a kid I had a friend who lived on Sigsbee Road and there was an old neglected horse who lived on the other side of her backyard fence. We named the horse Stormy and we brought him oats and apples. I tried to climb on his back once, but he panicked and I fell down in the dirt and now I can’t even remember which house was my friend’s house or if I dreamed up Stormy.
But none of that matters now. I ran to the Handy Pantry and then I made the mistake of looking at my GPS. I’d run 13.1 miles. I called my boyfriend and asked him to bring my car to me. It turns out he’d been sitting by the phone waiting for me to call and ask for my car back for quite some while.
He told me he’d been watching the weather on television. Someone asked the on-air meteorologist why she’d never run a marathon. She answered that she’d never been through a break-up that was bad enough that she wanted to run a marathon.
I sat in the parking lot of the Handy Pantry for a few minutes thinking about that. If I had to pick between true love and a marathon, I think I’d be pretty much overjoyed to find true love.
I’m not ready to commit to a full marathon any time soon. With this goal behind me, the only new challenge I can think of to set for myself is the wildland firefighter pack test — a three-mile walk with a 45 pound backpack that must be completed in 45 minutes.
Somehow, that seems easier than the past three months have been. It certainly feels like a worthwhile purpose. Purpose is, after all, what drives our feet.
Tomorrow, I’m running for love. It’s something we all need.