The Politics of Going Long(er)
As I prepare and train for an upcoming marathon (my third), I have been giving a lot of thought to how I got here. I never intended to be an athlete, let alone an Ironman finisher and marathoner. Once someone makes the decision to run, or bike, or swim, or ski or any other endurance activity, the drive for longer, for more, feels almost inevitable. As an ever-wise old Hobbit once said “It’s a dangerous business…going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” I think this is especially true when those feet are strapped into a pair of running shoes.
The mystique of going long feels unfathomable to those who don’t participate in endurance sports, but to many who do, the draw is both present and obvious. The first time I rode my bike 50 miles, I came home completely spent and, proud of my accomplishment, I texted a long-time cyclist friend to share the news. His response was that if I could ride 50 miles, I could ride 100. My exhausted reaction is unprintable here and may or may not have called into question my friend’s cognitive abilities and grasp on reality. Obviously, my friend was right and not actually unmoored.
Lack of sanity is an accusation most endurance athletes, umm…endure from well-meaning family and friends who cannot fathom the constant pursuit of more. For the athlete, though, the calculation is simple: “Sure, the (jog on the beach/bike ride/5k/sprint triathlon/kayak trip/etc.) was hard, but I didn’t die! I probably won’t die if I go longer, either. Also, it’s awesome to do hard things. Let’s see what’s next!”
There is a simple, yet asymmetrical beauty in both the concept of “long” and the typical sequence of progression. Runners may progress from couch to 5k to 10k to half-marathon to marathon to ultra-marathon to Barkley (ha!). People usually find triathlon from a start in a single sport, and then build from there: Sprint (500-750m swim/20k bike/5k run) Þ International (1500m swim/40k bike/10k run) Þ Half Ironman (1.2-mile swim/56-mile bike/13.1-mile run) Þ Ironman (2.4-mile swim/112-mile bike/26.2-mile run). For me, the progression took about 4 years to go from “never” to “what time?”
While my path to longer was fairly typical, it is by no means the only way. It is more common than one would suspect for athletes to introduce themselves to triathlon with a full Ironman distance race. The world of endurance sports offers even more extreme lengths if one is so inclined. An Ultraman race, for example, is a three-day challenge of swimming, biking and running. Day 1 features a 10k swim followed by a 90-mile bike ride. Day 2 is a simple bike ride of 171 miles, and day 3 a 52.4-mile double-marathon. This well exceeds my capacity for “long.”
Apart from suffering through a recent 16-mile training run in 11F temperatures, I have never regretted my decision to seek out longer events and challenges. I love my marathon and Ironman finisher gear and can’t wait to earn more. I don’t know if I will continue to seek even longer and harder events, but I am certain that I won’t say “never” to the suggestion of doing so.
If you have been wondering if you should try something longer in your athletic endeavors, the answer is likely “YES!”
Here are some things to consider beforehand:
- Confirm with your physician that you are healthy enough for the event you are considering.
- Ensure you are properly trained for the distance or event you are considering.
- Consider hiring a coach to help you safely make large jumps in distance.
- Make sure your family is all-in on your decision to go long. They come along for the ride.
- Get support. Talk your friends into going long with you. It’s much more fun that way!