Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 24 Sep 1999 09:33:40 -0400

Necessary Worry

(from RC 283)

Feeling like a second-class marathon citizen, I went straight to the back of the yellow schoolbus that would carry runners to the start of the Las Vegas Marathon last winter. Sitting in the last seat was a tall Latino-looking man of maybe 30.

He stood up and let me squeeze into the window seat. I could hear him worrying that his long legs would cramp, and he wanted to stretch them into the aisle.

I got him to talking so he would fret less. He introduced himself as Manuel and said, "I ran a 3:45 marathon in December and am shooting for 3:15 today." No wonder he looked scared.

We arrived at the starting line two hours before race time. Manuel bolted from the bus, as did most of the other adrenaline-poisoned passengers.

Shadowy figures warmed up on the desert road. Lines formed at the porta-potty forest.

I stayed on the bus, reading a book I'd carried just for this purpose. This didn't mean I had no worries, only that I'd learned not to let the fear start me running two hours before racetime.

Little was at stake for me here. I'd run this far dozens of times before, and had no time goal today. Still, I suffered from advanced PMS -- pre-marathon syndrome.

In the last week before a race I expect every little twinge in my legs and tickle in my throat to magnify. This defines PMS.

But my current problem started much earlier. A hip-groin injury popped up during my longest training run and almost crippled me late in those three hours.

Otherwise I'd felt quite spunky in the long run. I decided to enter the marathon despite the injury, hoping that three weeks of babying it would bring relief.

They didn't. Even while running nothing longer than an hour, and usually only half that long, my left side didn't feel anywhere close to right.

Early sleep the night before the marathon didn't come as hoped. At bedtime I called home for messages. Son Eric answered with news that our dog, my running partner Mingo, had disappeared and now had been gone for more than a day.

We guessed that he was now injured or worse. Sleep came grudgingly with Mingo's fate added to the marathon uncertainties.

At 2:30 I came awake with a strangely comforting thought: Mingo is either alive or not, and it's already decided. I can't do anything about it now. (He reappeared later at the city pound, traumatized but otherwise okay.)

Same with my run. Whether I finish it or not was already determined by what I'd done to and for my hip and groin in the past few weeks.

It was too late to change anything. All I could do now was go out and learn what the answers were. This attitude adopted, I fell into my best sleep of the night.

Worries came back with the predawn wakeup call, of course. But riding to the start with even more worried runners proved therapeutic.

About two days later, or so it seemed, the race started. My worries soon ended. The hip-groin problem melted away in the first half-hour, leaving the normal challenges of a marathon that are tall enough.

I'm left hoping no cure is ever found for pre-marathon syndrome. It's a necessary part of the experience -- the mind's way of getting the body ready for what lies ahead.

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