Friday, June 5, 2009

Marathon Amnesia?

I'd love to know the percentage of marathoners that say, "Never Again!" after completing their first marathon. I bet it's a pretty high number. When I crossed that finish line I was a mixed bag of emotions—excited, overwhelmed, proud, and amazed. I remember crying after crossing the finish line and having no idea why other than it being the result of shear emotional overload. On the flipside, however, I could barely walk. Every nerve ending in my body hurt, every muscle was twitching, I felt lightheaded, and I had a huge blister on one foot. Later that night I discovered I was the proud owner of my first "runner's toe" (a black toenail which later fell off). The exhaustion I felt was beyond any "tiredness" I had ever known.

The year was 1997 and my first marathon was the New York City Marathon. My hotel was only three blocks from the finish line, but due to the finish-line set up that year, the finishers were corralled down a narrow path for what seemed like miles. The next day, I actually counted and discovered I was 10 blocks from the finish line before I was able to get out of the stream of runners. That's 10 blocks out, 10 blocks back, and then the three blocks to my hotel. Walking 23 blocks (about 2.3 miles) after running 26.2 miles is not what I had envisioned after such an emotional finish. I did pass Peter Jennings walking his golden retriever on my return journey, which was kind of cool, but that provided only a brief distraction from the full-body pain I was experiencing. When I finally got in my room and plopped on the bed, I said out loud, "Never Again."

A month later I was pondering what my next marathon was going to be. Huh? I had just pledged out loud in my NYC hotel room not a month earlier that I'd never again run a marathon. Been there done that. So, why was I entertaining the idea of putting myself through that torture again? I've wondered about this paradox a lot and I've finally come to the conclusion that I must suffer from marathon amnesia. This revelation came to me when I realized that my wife and I suffer from a similar condition—maternity amnesia. After the long hours of hard labor my wife endured and the sleepless nights that came for both of us after each child, we vowed that was it. Yet somehow we'd forget that vow and 4-5 years later, Voila! the next child appeared. I'm a pretty smart fella, but it took me almost a decade to catch on to this maternity amnesia syndrome that we were experiencing. I've concluded that it must be nature's way of ensuring our existence. I think we've finally been cured from the maternity amnesia—it's going on 9 years since our third child was born. Shew! (Knock on wood.)

Marathoning is a phenomenon that non-runners probably won't ever understand, and who can blame them. Why do we get up before the crack of dawn to run under the moon and the stars? Why do we spend our hard-earned money on running shoes, expensive gadgets, high-tech fabric running clothes, and jog bras (well not me, but you get the gist)? And why do we run ourselves into the ground with pulled hamstrings, plantar fasciitis, and then spend months recovering just to get injured again? My running group jokes about how great it would be if we earned "frequent runner miles" that we could redeem at the sports doc for whom we provide a great deal of business.

So what is it about running 26.2 miles that causes us to soon after forget the pain? I'm sure every runner has a different reason for blanking out on the pain they've endured, but for me I think I'm a bonafied accomplishment junkie. I thrive on setting goals and working hard to achieve them. I think that's what I like about the marathon—the process of getting there. I've never been big on participating in team competitive sports, but with running, I love competing with myself, always trying to do better than the last time. And of course it goes without saying that all marathoners at least dream about one day running the ultimate marathon—Boston.

The funny thing is that no matter how hard-core you might become against running any more marathons, somewhere down the road, I bet you'll at least contemplate running another one. You may not own-up to it, but I bet you'll ponder it. A fellow runner and good friend of mine is a bonafied, card-carrying member of NMMC (No More Marathons Club). Guess what she's doing to celebrate her 50th birthday? Running the Boston Marathon! Okay, I'm trying not to smile.

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29 comments:

Mel-2nd Chances said...

funny, i posted about this last week! I reread my marathon race report from less than 4 weeks ago, and it's like i'm reading someone else's words... i can't even place or envision myself there anymore. I also equated it to forgetting the pain after child birth. Phew, glad it's not just me! And, although I couldn't finish the marathon, and am just now walking without crutches, I started thinking about a redemption marathon the same night... hmmm. Great post, and glad you'll be running another! :D

RunnerDude said...

Thanks Mel!! Glad you're off those crutches!

Dena said...

I crossed the finish line after my 1st marathon, ran into my husbands arms and vowed, "Never again." THIRTY MINUTES LATER I was discussing with fellow finishers which marathon to run next. Non-runners think we're crazy but you're right... there's something in that accomplishment, no matter how much it hurts, that makes it all worthwhile.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Dena! Yep, many would call it stupidity. I like to think of it as determination.

swimfin said...

I just read your post and cracked up. I finished the MCM and vowed I would never, ever do another marathon. Well guess what? I'm doing NY Marathon in the fall. After 3 years of rejecting me I finally got the auto entry and who could pass that up? My friends are all laughing at me because they heard me say I would never do another one. I haven't forgotten how miserable it was, but I do think maybe I am also now remembering the really fun parts of the race also. Great post!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Swimfin! Welcome to the blog!Congrats on deciding to run another marathon. NYC is an awesome run! Huge crowd support the entire route! Have fun!!

Lo said...

My first will be in March -- you're leaving me scared! :) You're sure lucky you didn't lose a toenail until completing your first marathon. I have lost many along the way running these crazy Arkansas hills!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Lo! Don't be scared. The experience is worth every moment. You'll be much more prepared than I was for my first marthon. I don't think I even really had a "real" training plan. LOL!

unrefinedathlete said...

Hmmm I tend to take a different albeit no less "amnesia- induced" approach. I keep telling myself that the next one will be easier as I get stronger. HA! Doesn't quite go hand in hand with the other goal: to run it faster.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Unrefinedathlete! LOL! I can definitely relate. You tell yourself the next one will be better and then you up tha ante on yourself. LOL!

Will said...

Okay - as Lisa's co-founder of the No More Marathon Club, I know you are expecting me to comment. I didn't vow "No More" after my 1st marathon (Marine Corps - 1995). I followed that with roughly one per year, skipped a couple of years, then did my 6th and last one in 2002 (Myrtle Beach), before taking the NMM pledge. I just didn't forget the pain that time!

Lisa has gone soft in the head, must be her mid-life crisis, but I fully expect her to come back to the NMM club after this Boston run is over. No problem, there is a bit of insanity in all we do as runners, so I understand.

NY Wolve said...

My reaction after my first was "I am so hungry, where can I eat something?" The chlenge for me is in finding the time to prepare. The old coach's saying, "everyone has the will to win, but few have the will to prepare to win" is so true for me in my running. The prep time (and concurrent avoiding injury) is the difficult part over the 6+ months I invest in a marathon.
But the payoff is worth it, even if it isn't apparent when you cross the line.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Will! I thought you might say a word or two. LOL! Lisa? Soft in the head? Mid-life crisis? Next thing you know she'll be pulling up in a red convertable Miata. LOL!
Hey you were looking strong on the 8-miler last weekend. Glad to see you back running on the Greenway!

RunnerDude said...

Hey NY Wolve! I know man. With three kids, I can completely relate with being time-challenged with getting in all the needed training, but definitely worth the effort. What's your next marathon?

DNLeeper said...

Absolutely hilarious article. Hit home. When I finished the Country Music RnR Marathon in April 2008, I swore I was never going to touch anything over 13.1 miles EVER AGAIN. Swore that I would never do another marathon. So - just finished my Fourth in May and have 5 more scheduled through November 2010. Sigh. One thing that is interesting is that when you finish 2 or 3 of them, you stop saying that you aren't going to them anymore - you start strategically placing them in your schedule.

RunnerDude said...

Hey DNLeeper! You need to check out www.marathonmaniacs.com.
I'm thinking you'd be able to qualify as a member!

chris mcpeake said...

I tend to forget about the pain that was involved within hours of finishing. Honestly I dont think that I ever ran a race where I didnt say to myself at some point "what the hell was I thinking". Yet I keep signing up for them.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Chris! You think it's a sickness? LOL! Naaaahhhhh!

Jo Lynn said...

Junkie? Someone say junkie? ;)

I've been known to complete one or two and say never again, yup. I promise you, I did it the following year. I think for me it's a desire to do it better next time. Oh, that and the fact that I live to run!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Jo Lynn! Live to Run. Run to Live. That's What I always say!

Mark said...

Great post! On finishing each of my marathons I've repeatedly heard runners use that exact phrase "never again" with their friends - who while typically grunting their agreement find themselves immediately then discussing their next marathon!

While I've never finished any marathon with that thought (the joy of completion and the excitement of receiving the medal is just too great!), earlier on in a botched run I've temporarily felt that same way.

What drives us runners to such incredible efforts? I genuinely don't think it's amnesia. I have no trouble recalling the agony I've been in (unfortunately repeatedly) when unexpectedly and suddenly hitting the wall between mile 20 - 23, and especially the frustration of then seeing much slower runners past - knowing with better pacing/preparation I too would have been running in the final miles. Fortunately, though, I also have the vivid memory of pride upon completing that same race.

As to your final point that we're accomplishment junkies I have another theory. I believe that we runners simply enjoy running. Whether that's due to the feeling of relaxation and accomplishment afterwords, or simply the euphoria that we sometimes achieve mid-run, we're hooked! As proof of this on a run this morning with a group of friends I'd asked how many others dream about running, and found the answer to be 100%!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Mark! It is amazing how whether you remeber the pain or you block it out, you're back out there ready for the next marathon. Have a great weekend!

The Running Bob said...

Running amnesia is so true! My last disappointing marathon had me questioning my abilities on the course and debating if this was my last marathon as I crossed the line. The next day, I began to think of the races throughout the summer and what I had to do accomplish my goals. Agree, I like the process leading to the goal and if I accomplish it.

I like your site, too. Hope you don't mind but I'd like to add a link from my site.

Adam said...

How true is that!? I’ve actually called people out on their marathon amnesia. This was a great post.

RunnerDude said...

Hey The Running Bob! Thanks for the blog feedback! Don't mind add a link at all. Just check out your blog and you have a great blog too!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Adam! Thanks for the feedback! Hope you're having a great weekend. It's sunny and beautiful here in Greensboro, NC!

Jeff Pickett said...

Great post - I remember finishing my first marathon in Chicago in 1998. ITB issues, exhausted and the post-race meal was a Boca Burger (ugh). After the race I was driven to the airport and caught a plane back home as I sat cramped behind the bulkhead. I was tight, cramped, achey and I ran one time that following week - and then took a LONG vacation from running. I felt sure my body would never be able to run any long distances again. I had no goals to run past that marathon.
10 years later, that bug got back in me. I'll never be able to understand that bug's hold, but the Force is strong with it.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Jeff! Yep, that Marathon Bug's hold is mighty forceful on me too. So, is Krispy Kremes's...LOL!

Jessica said...

Well said, I felt the exact same way after my first marathon in 1999, which was the Marine Corps Marathon. 7 marathons and 2 ultras later....on I go!