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26 апреля, 08:05272

Why the Marathon Keeps Pulling Us Back

The greater the risk, the greater the reward.

As after each of the six marathons I’d run before, my feeling upon crossing the finish line in this year’s Boston Marathon was relief. No matter how the preceding 26.2 miles have played out, I’m always thankful that my body has withstood the distance and my mind has managed its aversion to suffering. It also feels good to stop.

Once I steadied my legs and caught my breath, my next reaction was disappointment. The entire second half of the race had been a struggle, and I finished far behind my place and time goals for my first Boston Marathon (17th in 2:36 versus top 10 in sub-2:30). Anyone who invests wholeheartedly in something for a few months (or longer), only to fall short at their one opportunity, has likely experienced a similar sting.

So it may come as a surprise to learn that, not two hours after removing my racing flats, I was already thinking about my next crack at Boston. Naturally, I wanted to redeem myself. And having had a few interruptions in my build-up, I knew I was capable of much more than I showed. I was also excited about what I could do with my newfound familiarity of the course, comfort with race logistics, and respect for the downhills that only a firsthand experience can elicit.

I know that I’m not alone in feeling the tug of the marathon, even—sometimes especially—on the heels of a subpar performance. As I wrap up my post-Boston downtime and start mapping out my next racing season, I’ve been thinking about why that may be. Here are my speculations about why the marathon keeps pulling us back.

Marathon Training Offers Purpose and Structure

The post-marathon blues are real. Whether I’ve won or bombed, I always experience a period of aimlessness and despondency in the aftermath of a big race.

To exchange a highly structured existence, where everything from meals to daydreams to bedtimes are tailored to a meaningful goal, to an open-ended one, with more free time and less of a unifying purpose, can be jarring. Having another pursuit to look forward to, even before I’m ready to dive in, can be a powerful antidote to that postrace slump.


Marathoners Are Resilient

No one who prepares for and tackles a marathon lacks perseverance. It’s what gets us through windy workouts, solo efforts, uncharted long runs, and sessions that are a struggle from the start. So when a target race doesn’t unfold as we’d hoped, it’s natural for that resolve to surface in the form of new goals and a spruced up racing calendar.

With a PR that still stands from my debut marathon (2:30:41 in the 2013 California International Marathon), I’ve gotten pretty skilled at bouncing back. In addition to identifying new objectives that excite me, it helps to reframe disappointments in the context of a trampoline: each dip sets me up for a higher bounce down the road.

Experience Is an Asset

While it’s true that marathoners peak later in life than most other athletes, that doesn’t mean you have to be in your 30s to run your fastest. The key takeaway is that, to a point, you’ll likely improve as you increase your training capacity, add to your bank of lifetime miles, and gain competitive experience over the 26.2-mile distance—all of which reward the big-picture thinker.

For the ultimate inspiration, look at Des Linden, who notched her first marathon win at the 2018 Boston Marathon. It only took her 17 tries.


There Are So Many Variables to Get Right

Running a marathon is a little bit like coaching a group of synchronized swimmers: there are endless variables to manipulate and coordinate, and when they all come together, it’s a beautiful thing. But one small blip can throw the whole performance off. Some elements of marathoning—like pacing plans, racing flats, and fueling strategies—are under the control of the racer and easily fine-tuned in advance.

Others—like weather conditions, side stitches, and an erratic pace group leader—are maddeningly out of our control. All we can do is prepare our best, hope for minimal surprises on race day, and manage those that arise as well as we can.

We All Dream of That Perfect Day

The same reasons that make the marathon so hard to nail, and so crushing when we don’t, make a good marathon immensely satisfying. It’s not often that all of the main variables align exactly when they need to: a healthy, fit, and rested body; a crisp, still day; similarly matched competitors to work and battle with; a well-executed race plan; and minimal road bumps over a 26.2-mile expanse.

So on those special days when the marathon gods shine down on you, milk it for all it’s worth. And until then, do as Des does: Keep showing up. You may never vie for that olive branch wreath, but if you stay with it long enough, there’s a very good chance your moment will come.

runnersworld.com

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