“Please remind me not to train for a spring marathon again while living in New York — or anywhere in the Northeast. It’s dark, cold and depressing.”
Those are the words of my colleague and friend M., who, like me, is training for the Boston Marathon on April 20. I am now almost two months into the training and on weekdays the winter forced me to run at the gym, an activity I view as last resort, because it’s dark outside when I go to and come back from work.
A quick look at my MapMyRun Web site — I keep a daily log of my activities both online and in an old-fashioned diary — tells me I have spent 19 hours at the gym this year, either running or on the elliptical machine, for about 150 miles. It’s a long time being forced to watch “Extra!” and other gossip shows on the gym’s TV screens at 7 p.m. On the plus side, I’m up to date on news about the Octuplet mother and Jennifer Aniston. About 90 percent of the time, when I park in the dark and freezing cold, I am tempted to skip and go home. I force myself to get in, get changed and get on the treadmill. The trick is to avoid thinking about the more attractive ways I could spend the following hour or two (a glass of white wine, feet up on the couch) and follow a routine. I force my brain to view running at the gym as a necessary chore, like grocery shopping or doing the laundry. I have to do it. It’s not so bad.
Once I warm up, in about 30 minutes, the adrenaline slowly kicks in. I almost forget I am on a dreadful treadmill in front of dreadful programs. I try to concentrate on the music, my breathing and my legs. The treadmill is particularly depressing to me because, unlike other runners I have talked to, I go much slower than outside. I start at about 10 1/2 minutes a mile, or 9 km/h, a pace so slow that when applied to a full marathon it would add almost 1 1/2 hour to my finish time. It takes me about 25 minutes to reach my marathon pace. Only then can I start the training session — fancy words such as speedwork and tempo runs that mean accelerating over short or long periods of time. Among the various thoughts passing my mind: if only I could run outside!
This year will be the first time I complete a full marathon training in suburban Pennsylvania, where running in the dark is out of question. In New York City, I could still run in the streets or along Central Park in the morning or after work. I get to run outside for my long runs on weekends, when I “share” the road with drivers engaged in activities including talking on a cell phone, eating, applying making up or drinking. I enjoyed my first long runs back in January, before I started to get tired of running on my own for hours. I miss my running partners. I could find new ones: in fact, members of my local running club go for long runs on some Saturdays and Sundays. The catch: it’s at 6.30 a.m. I am willing to train like a dog to get ready for that marathon, but I am not willing to wake up at 5 a.m. on weekends. So I go solo.
I suspect a lot of runners training for a spring marathon are like me right now: waiting for the change in time next weekend, so we get more daylight to run and torture our bodies even longer.