Long ago, in a very different phase of life (ie, pre-kids), I fancied myself a semi-competitive endurance athlete. And of course, every semi-competitive endurance athlete has to try running the most famous of all footraces, the marathon. And yes, I ran a few of those (OK – well two). With the advent of a more fulfilling domestic life, and diminished training time, the training presumably prerequisite for running marathons became hard to come by. As I aged, I also found that my body no longer responded well to the demands of high mileage weeks. All the standard training routines for marathon training prescribe many months and many miles, typically crescendo-ing to a few weeks of 70, 80 or even 90 miles per week. Inevitably, long term marathon plans (and of course, you do have to really plan for a marathon for many months, right?) culminated with some form of injury a few weeks before the actual race, many months of recovery, and forfeiture of often steep entry fees. As a result, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my most recent marathon (1992!) would probably be my last.
Fast forward to the last few years, and my new found love of trailrunning…..Trail running and long distance running are really NOT the same thing – I can have a great time on a relatively short run through the woods, and many trail running afficionados regularly enjoy running distances which are quite amenable to the average athlete. That said, once I started getting a taste of the great trails in the area on a regular basis, I really wanted to get out there and discover increasingly lengthy trails and their inherently less accessible sights. Long term readers will note the increasingly long runs covered in this blog. I had not abandoned old favorites of course, but I didn’t see the point of doing a blog writeup on my 5th run up Snake Mountain, Silver Lake, or some other old favorite of more reasonable distance. I have also found that I am much less prone to injury when I spend most of my time on the trails. The combination of the slower pace that the trails demand, and the varied footing, diminishing repetitive use injuries, have allowed me to do the occasional long run, without sustaining anything but minor annoyance aches and pains. I also discovered, that if I go slow enough, I can pretty much run forever – or at least 2 or 3 hours – and feel pretty good the next day.
I also recently read the best selling book by Christopher McDougal entitled “Born to Run” in which the author, an aging athlete, wondered why he was hurt all the time by running. This question led to a variety of heretical conclusions on the way distance runners typically train. Reading this, I began to ponder my own heresy – If a runner can run comfortably for 3 hours, on challenging mountainous terrain like we have here in Addison County, why couldn’t they finish an marathon without the stress of a daily training regimen? In my own case, despite my best intentions, life usually limits me to 20-30 miles/week – in other words about 1/3 of the mileage recommended. Nonetheless, after running the entire TAM 3 weeks ago, covering 16 miles in 3 hours and feeling pretty good, I realized that the marathon distance might not be out of the question.
While most large, famous marathons require registration as much as a year in advance, we have a little-known low key small (a few hundred runners) marathon here in the Green Mountain State every fall. The Green Mountain Athletic Association has sponsored an October marathon for over 40 years just a little bit north of us on South Hero Island. There was still time to register three weeks ago, and the registration was a mere 30 bucks! So, I threw my hat in the ring, and decided to give it a try. I figured that there would be no dishonor in not finishing, but those who know me knew that I would finish, even if it was after dark and I was crawling. So, on a cool Sunday morning, I lined up with a modest flock of other runners to give it a try. I am not going to go heavily into the details of the race – let it suffice to say that a race course which which follows the shoreline of Lake Champlain during foliage season is going to be scenic, windy, and pretty flat. I really had no idea what sort of time my middle aged body might give me, so I started off pretty slowly, and gradually picked up the pace as my legs allowed, and felt pretty good about shuffling across the finish line in a little under 4 hours. What is the only way to train? Whatever works for you!
Unfortunately, I wasn’t willing to lug my camera along the entire out-and-back course, but lets face it – people like to go there on vacation for a good reason. So, the GPS data will have to suffice. And yes, my body is very sore.