When encountered with someone who has just finished a marathon, the question that most people seem to want answered but that the runner doesn't want to hear is, "Would you run another one?" I've been guilty of confronting runners with it as well. Why do we ask it? As is often the case when faced with someone making an "unusual" decision (whatever we think that might be), I think we bring a lot of our own baggage to the question. Some people might be thinking of running a marathon themselves and are looking for confirmation that it was worthwhile. Others might think that running a marathon is crazy and are hoping to have their fears confirmed. Or it could be as simple as wondering whether this person that you know is going to turn into one of those people, with the distance running-themed vacations and the sinewy necks and the spandex.
I heard the question for the first time on the subway on the way home, from Veronika. My impression is that, when she saw the physical and emotional toll that the marathon took on her father, she was wondering 1) if there was some explanation I could provide for why it was worth it, and 2) if she would have to see me to through it again. I gave her the same answer that I gave everyone that day, as far as I remember: "Maybe, I'm not sure." I didn't want to answer the question that day because it was skipping past all of the joy and relief that I was feeling in the aftermath of the race and moving on to the next thing. I didn't want to evaluate my experience and start making decisions for the future, I wanted to revel in it. And so I did, by eating for the next five hours straight.
It's been a couple of months since the race and I think I have a better answer: I would run another marathon, especially if I was able to train and run with someone else, but I'm not sure if I'll have the chance to. The past two months have been an excellent reminder of how fortunate I was to complete the training and race when I did, because as soon as it was over, all of my newly freed up time evaporated. I started another German course, the kids' extracurricular activity schedules ramped up, and before I knew it I was struggling to find the time to get even two short runs a week in. I remembered that it wasn't just injuries and frustration holding me back in my training over the last several years. There were lots of periods where I had no time to entertain the idea of a more demanding training schedule: babies were born, we moved to new apartments and a new country, etc. Most of the time I was just happy to get a run in to relieve a little stress. But if I have the opportunity again, I think I will take it. I enjoyed the challenge of both the training and the race, of bringing myself into a physical condition that I didn't think was possible, of exercising discipline to accomplish a difficult goal. Maybe I wouldn't be as motivated the second time around, having only the goal of an improved time to motivate me, but in principle, I'm in.
The best part is that I don't feel like I have to run it again. The main thing that I was worried about heading into the race was that something wouldn't go exactly right and I would be left wondering if I could have done better. That was not at all the case: the temperature was perfect, the rain held off, the eating and drinking went according to plan, I didn't have to stop to go to the bathroom, and apart from muscle fatigue in the last third or so, my legs held up fine (no cramps, etc.). I recognize that I'm very fortunate that everything went as well as it did because half of those factors were out of my control. After so many months of training, being able to look back on the race without any regrets and know that I ran as well as I could under the circumstances is an incredible gift. Plus I hit my target time, which helps with the positive attitude.
And finally, to all those who expressed concern, my legs did eventually start working again. For the first couple of days, descending stairs and sitting down were accomplished slowly, painfully, and with a lot of support from my arms, but by Wednesday my hobbling was almost imperceptible. Here's hoping that I get to go through that again.
(post-marathon breakfast, pictured above and below)
Today was Father's Day in Austria (who knew that there was so much disagreement among European nations about when it should be celebrated?). Instead of taking it easy this year, my wife, who is thirty-four weeks pregnant and has been fatigued for months from taking care of three children while carrying a fourth up and down several flights of stairs every time she needs to go anywhere, instead did the following:
The kids, apart from voicing two to three characters each in the puppet show, also presented me with poems and customized, soccer-themed bottle openers, just in time for the start of the Euro 2012 tournament.
Now I just need to work on being the kind of father that's deserving of such a day. And on eating all that pie.June 10, 2012