It’s been a while since I’ve written. This of course doesn’t include the texts I’ve sent friends, and the verbal vomit I’ve injected into the internet. Long form, lightly serious posts have been something that has fallen by the wayside as I’ve launched myself deeper into other newer pursuits like learning to ride a road bike, being part of a team getting a SAAS offering off the ground, deepening social bonds in the city that I now call home, and running a marathon.
There hasn’t been a lot of time for reflecting on paper.
In the 1240ish miles I ran last year, there has been a lot of thoughts. Some of which were revelatory, but the majority were waves that pass over, no matter how sudden or ferocious they come on. In these miles, I found a respect for my body as it carried me farther than I thought possible. I learned about myself in more than just my body, but my mind. Certain cultures have known about the brain-body connection for longer than writing has existed, but within my sphere growing up, being healthy was a nice-to-have, not a requirement in order to maintain brain performance. Sleep fell out of favor as something that could be picked up later after the semester was over. Now, the current research is finding that not only can you not make up your lost sleep, but it has permanent consequences later on.
I’ve wanted to write something down for a while, if just to direct people who ask me about the marathon. It’s been one of my least favorite questions to answer. This comes in a close second to “What have you been up to last time I saw you?”. There is only a data lake in the soup of my brain cavity. I have taken to responding that I’ve mostly been staring at moss during walks with my dog, which is somewhat truthful.
I dislike the question, because there’s so many ways to respond to the question of how my longish run went. I think most are looking for a general “good” or “bad” response with a mildly interesting detail thrown in, preferably in under 5 minutes. Most are asking out of politeness, mixed with a cultural obsession on achievement. Sometimes I’ll respond with my time that I ran if I think they want a shorter answer, and then they’ll say that they don’t know the context of this. I’ve started to wish that I had run a “silent marathon”, where the only rule is that you lose the marathon when someone finds out you ran it. At the very least, I would like askers to specify the aspect that they’re interested in about it, so I don’t have to guess what their motivation is when asking. I also get odd reactions when I ask what aspect they’re interested in, probably because they haven’t considered that.
Given the length of this post, it’s at least apparent that I don’t hate talking about it. I dislike achievement culture, and I don’t really like praise for something that is pretty mid. I did a lot of training over months, but I also feel that this came a lot easier to me than, say, someone who had never engaged in much cardio when they started training. It was a topic of discussion during my training program where it was noted that the people who have to carry extra weight and are slower are actually trying much more than someone in “good” shape, and have to be out on the course for longer. It’s far less impressive to be in good shape with years of cardio fitness built up.
What could be wrongly misconstrued as a dismissive attitude might be from my history with type 2 fun. I had been a competitive swimmer for around 7 years, where it was ingrained into me how to fully suppress when your body is telling you it’s uncomfortable. What was different about running in my 20s was how I’ve changed my outlook on cardio to be a mindfulness study in how to coexist with what Buddhism calls suffering. During the pandemic, I had gone from running 1-2x per week, to running 5-6x with longer 10ks in between, and it was a major source of healing for me. I found that tight knots of emotion, stress, or fear would come a little more undone during a run where I could examine everything at a distance, and things would feel slightly less serious after feeling the sun on my face while the ducks waddled across my path, or the blistering cold as I squinted through the circling snowflakes in the Minnesotan tundra.
Another thing that running gave me was proof that I’m living and breathing in a given moment, and may continue to do so while I felt my heart beat its steady rhythm. I had developed a panic disorder right before the pandemic due to unfortunate life events resurfacing the unresolved trauma surrounding and directly related to the sudden loss of my mother due to anaphylaxis during my early teenage years, and the powerlessness and isolation that I experienced as a fallout. Seemly random moments would feel like the world was closing in around me, and I would die. It wasn’t until several years later (and doing much better) when I was listening to Do Hard Things by Steve Magness on a run that I almost doubled over in shock while a woman recounted that fully existing in her body while running had healed her fear that she had the same cancer that had taken her father. I had thought that I was going batshit insane when I could not simply reason with my brain that this was not statistically likely that I would simply cease living by random accident. Brains are not all that logical, and anyone who thinks theirs isn’t a distorted kaleidoscope of reality has some major blind spots. Brains are not meant to make you happy or be good little calculators; they’re evolved to keep you alive, and sometimes they suck.
Psychology, rather than fitness, was the primary motivation of the marathon; to fully be in my body in the moment with all of its discomfort, and to prove to myself that despite my human shortcomings, that it could carry me over the finish line with the hard feelings coexisting alongside the good.
I did the training program with my local running club and store, Fleet Feet. When I first moved to Seattle, I started going to their Tuesday night 10k fun runs, and have met several of my friends through them, including one of the guys who ran the marathon with me. My main aim was to make more friends in the area, and also to safely train for an event that I knew was going to put a lot of strain on my joints, muscles, and ligaments. I had never run more than a half marathon at a time, and was afraid to push the boundaries of my body without a guide to help me not run it into the ground.
I did this anyway.
To be clear, this was not the fault of the training program. They’re pretty clear about rest days, and that the long runs should be conversational pace. I was placed in the fastest group with the speedy boys, and was perhaps too willing, naive as I was about what good training looked like, to keep myself there as the female representative of the program. I didn’t want the boys to win.
This is where I learned that not every training run should be a race.
I was running about 30 miles per week, which is not a problem in of itself, but there were no truly “easy” runs, so I gave my body no time to recover. There was also no strength work in my routine, so my muscles were not being built up to support the impact. During a weekly Wednesday speed workout, I felt and heard a pop in my hip socket. It felt pretty weird, but there was no pain associated with it. Most runner wisdom states that if it’s doesn’t hurt enough to prevent you from running, continue running on it. During subsequent runs, it didn’t feel great. That Saturday, the training program ran a hilly 15ish miles, with my friend, Scott, leading the group in song to save us from boredom (and from being mistaken as serious) as we ran in loops around Discovery Park. This would be my last real run for a while. Afterwards, my hip was decently on fire. A local physical therapist, who was there during the long Saturday runs, said it was likely fine and I should run on it. Two days later, I was only able to make it about a mile from my house before it was so excruciating that I was close to tears. I started looking for a PT when I got home, and the inflammation that had set in prevented me from getting off the couch.
I had ripped my labrum. I learned this after finding another PT, who told me that this was the lining over the cartilage in my ball and socket. For this, this was not the same process as muscles healing where increased blood flow helps the speed of recovery. No, this was much more metal. There was no healing this injury; instead, my task was to manage the inflammation and grind that little flap I created down while my body learned to ignore it. I was also tasked with building up muscle around the area so that I was relying on the weight of my joints pushing together less while moving. The next several months consisted of 2x per day PT exercises, and a road bike I christened Xavier that I could use to distract myself with something fun and shiny. I could run if I wanted, as it was unlikely to do further damage, but it was limited by how much the inflammation impeded my ability to put weight on the leg. I struggled to accept what I could not control.
Reader, I cried with happiness after being able to make it the 10k around Lake Union with minimal pain.
I signed up for the Fall training, now scared as shit, yet tenacious. I was much more liberal with my pacing during the long runs. I had done a lot of research (”research” here meaning getting very deep into runner instagram reel content), and found that current sports science says easy volume training is imperative to getting fast for race day. So I slowed my pace, ignored when others were going faster, and enjoyed the ducks waddling across the path.
At 80 percent of the way there into the program, I made the mistake of asking my friend, Dan, that there was a marathon in Honolulu that I was thinking to sign up for. He texted back and said he was already in Hawai’i for a work offsite at that time, and could move his flight so he could run it. Then double texted and said he had signed up, and it’s “your turn”. This individual had not been training at all, and there was a month before the race. I had not thought he would say yes, let alone put me in a position where, by the rules of friendship, I was now obligated to actually commit to a race, and hope that would not get injured prior to it. This not withstanding general anxieties that it was on a tiny colonized island chain in the middle of the ocean running the longest run I’ve ever done in high humidity.
I got another friend on board, and so the three of us plus my partner organized ourselves many whale-lengths away in a condo in Honolulu, O’ahu. The 5am race start wasn’t so nasty due to the timezone change, and the anxiety that launched me straight out of bed into some of the first stretches I’ve done before running anything. I chugged coffee that was shoved into my hand, announced that I had taken a shit and so was ready, and we set off to the starting gates. We quickly lost Arjun, who was intelligent and ignored the pacing groups, and put himself much farther forward past the walkers who were meant to be behind us. The mass of bodies paired with fireworks quickly hatched my plan to climb to the top of 6ft+ Dan in the case of crowd crush.
We started weaving through some of the 27k bodies (adding to the total distance ran), and I was jamming to the 4hr playlist that I had finished creating the previous day. Eventually, the crowd thinned out. After a few almost goodbyes, Dan and I went our separate ways, and I was left alone with an extremely good playlist.
The following are somewhat disjointed details from the race
- I had been advised that I should do electrolytes and water well before I think I need them, especially for such a humid race, and quickly discovered that I am physically incapable of simultaneously drinking from a cup and running.
- The endorphins enhanced watching the sunrise over Honolulu, but were not necessary because it was incredible.
- It was wild to watch the first place man and woman running the opposite direction at my mile 13 or so at a faster pace than when I’m sprinting.
The most surprising body sensation I noticed was after mile 18 or so. Many have heard of “the wall” before. This refers to your muscles running out of glycogen (readily available energy) and being forced to run on fat and any energy you feed it. I had been taking an energy gel regularly every hour or so that contained both necessary salts and sugars. Runners will practice eating gels during their training, because a stomach needs to be trained to convert food to energy during exercise. Typically, during long strenuous exercise, a person’s digestive system will shut down (at around an hour, when cortisol levels also start to rise) to conserve energy. My mindfulness practice was essential during the race, because I would watch my thoughts turn extremely sour and moody, in much the same way as they do when I am late on feeding myself lunch. I popped a gel, and within 15 minutes my mood would be back to neutral. I am one of the “fast” metabolism types, who require small meals often throughout the day, and it made me wonder whether this makes me more resilient to hitting the wall.
The last mile or so were a lot of walkers, who had apparently slammed into the wall. I felt extremely grateful in that stretch for my body and its resiliency. I felt no pain, only fatigue. I even managed to smile and wave at the locals, some of whom had dressed up in costumes, and had entertaining signs. During the last 0.3 mile, I found it within myself to sprint it. I look absolutely rancid in photos, and was told later by my partner that I had a pronounced limp. The coconut water tasted like when you’re a kid at the movie theatre, and you take a sip of Sprite after too many handfuls of popcorn. It hurt quite a bit to go down any stairs, but I didn’t encounter the exhaustion that I thought I would. I ran a little 5k down the boardwalk a few days later just to test (against recommendations to wait at least a week), and felt almost suspiciously fine.
I ran this race at a comfortable pace. My goal for this race was merely to finish, with zero expectation on time. This being said, I’m happy with my 3:46:45 time. In context, I was 102/6230 for my gender in this race, 19/705 for my category of F25-29, and 518th overall for the bicentennial Honolulu marathon. 4 hours is considered a “good” time for women. 26.2 miles is such a random and stupid distance to run. I can’t wait to do it again.
I would be remiss if I didn’t end this by expressing gratitude to the native Hawaiians for hosting a run with such a beautiful course on their land that the United States colonized by force.
Books I recommend related to this article:
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Mr. Murakami is well-known for his works such as Kafka On The Shore, but this Japanese-born author is also not only a fan of running, but has spent extensive time on O’ahu. He talks about his experiences with running and triathlons. I had not known that he spent so much time in Hawai’i when I picked up this book to read as my Hawai’i read. I also found that he and I share the same favorite running shoe brand, Mizuno.
Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness by Steve Magness
This book was transformative during my runs because it confirmed what I had suspected: that in order to be tough, you did not need to ignore what your body is telling you. In fact, quite the opposite: true strength and actual physical improvement comes from working with the signals that your body is giving you. There is false narrative in sports of the tough coach who works his team to exhaustion, but gets results; this is proven to be suboptimal from a statistics standpoint. In addition, there is a notable very different physical reaction between “I want to do this”, and “I get to do this” that can be applied to all tasks in life.
Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
This is a historical fiction (based on real events) about the colonization of Hawai’i that brought Hansen’s disease, a now treatable bacterial infection also known as leprosy, to the islands. This resulted in a forced “leper” colony where people, including children, were ripped from their families and forced to endure the disease away from society.