The run

October 7, 2008

I started out Thursday afternoon around 2 pm. I had my GPS watch, which measured my distance and pace, fully charged and strapped to my wrist. I had my iPod Nano, fully loaded with all of my punk rock favorites, secured in my armband. I had a running belt around my waste, holding a combination of water and snacks. I even took the time to rub a little Vaseline on my chest to prevent chafing (I dare you to go on a long run without it). On the way out the door, I popped an Alieve and jogged off.

On the first few miles, my mind wandered, as it typically does, to the most pressing current concerns in my life. Schoolwork, getting a job in a very uncertain market after graduation, my school activities, and my brother’s upcoming wedding and the associated plans ran in circles in my mind. As I turned from Milmont onto Barracks, my I began drilling myself on the questions I could expect to answer in my upcoming interviews. I started with behavioral questions. As I reached the summit of the hill on Barracks and turned onto Rugby, my focus shifted to the math problems that would serve as the foundation of my case interviews. I love to test my fraction to decimal skills: 1/6 is 0.17, 1/7 is 0.14, etc. I also like playing with the big numbers: 1% of a billion is 10 million, so 7% of 3 billion is 210 million.

My mind shifted to the exams that were coming as I turned from Preston onto McGrady, and I considered how much I should prepare. Darden is great in that if you prepare for class every day, you need to study very little as you enter exams. Unfortunatey, a somewhat insane schedule early in the second year (see previous post) meant that I am less prepared than I was in the past, and I knew I would need to set some time aside to prepare for exams, focusing on the few complexities I hadn’t yet driven through to complete understanding.

After a short stint up the hill on Ridge-McIntire, I turned onto Cherry and took my first break. Chewing on a Clif bar, I took stock of my physical state. I was only about a third into my 18 mile run, and my left knee was already a bit shaky. I stretched it while I walked, chased the energy bar with some water, and started off again. I switched from the sidewalk to asphalt when it was safe to do so… asphalt is much softer as a surface, and is thus less harmful to achy joints.

Cherry took a while. Two miles later, I turned on Cleveland, and then onto Jefferson Park Ave. I know I’m nearing home, and this is where my mental discipline began to be challenged. The plan was to hit home at 9 miles (halfway) and start on a new lap of the same run. As I ran to Alderman and past Scott Stadium, where the Cavs beat Maryland the night before, the little devil jumped up on my shoulder and began trying to persuade me into cutting the time in half. After all, it had been 90 minutes, and I was really feeling it. I was out of water. I had a lot of things to do, and could easily stop. Couldn’t I just count this as an intermediate training run, and pick a day during the week to do the full 18?

I knew better… I had tried the same thing the week before. I ran into my apartment and refilled my water bottle, took another walking break, then started running again. As I repeated the lap, my thoughts drifted away from the pounding of the pavement and the entertainment the iPod earbuds were delivering in my ears.

I am training for my second marathon. I will run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC in a few weeks, and this long run would be the cornerstone of my preparation; from this point on, it would be all shorter, sustainment runs. The first marathon I ever signed up for was the Paris Marathon in 2005. I didn’t train hard enough and wasn’t ready to run it when the day came. Then I deployed to Iraq for the second time.

Despite the daily violence and terrible heat, the military hosts a marathon every fall at Al Asad airbase. No, I didn’t run it, but I knew one Marine officer who did. Megan McClung not only ran the marathon, she also organized it. I remember yawning and rubbing my eyes one morning at our daily Battle Update Brief, and saw Maj McClung stand up, full of energy, and brief the day’s media events (she was our Brigade’s Public Affairs Officer). During the briefing, the commander asked how her training was going. She answered that she rose at 5 am that very morning and ran 20 miles around Forward Operating Base Ramadi. FOB Ramadi is not Paris or Charlottesville. Running there means running on rugged tank trails in the thick humidity and dusty air. It means running around mortar craters. It means running the same 4 mile loop over and over again; it’s the only stretch of road safe enough to run on without threat of indirect fire (and this means only that the threat was minimal, not non-existent). And Maj McClung ran 20 miles in these conditions before she started a typical 18 hour day. I was impressed. When she went to Al Asad to run the marathon that she had organized, she returned with a time nearing her personal best, hobbled only slightly by an injury that kept her from winning a new personal record.

In Iraq, over the course of two tours, I lost a number of friends to the violence. In December 2006, I lost three more. One of them was Maj McClung.

I discovered a few of my friends had signed up for the Paris Marathon, to be held in April 2007. I had already missed the initial deadline for open registration. But I was able to pay a premium for a travel package that included a race entry. I began to train as much as I could in Iraq, and finished after returning to Germany February 2007. I ran the race this time, galvanized by the inspiration I had gleaned from the memory of my friend.

My schedule now is even busier, the chances of preparing for a marathon even more remote. A friend recently commented that he couldn’t believe I could find the time to train. But I know better. When I came upon the halfway point of my run, ankles and knees sore and feet swollen, shirt covered not just in sweat but also in salt, and have the opportunity to just stop at home and not finish the second half, I thought of Maj McClung, racing the hot sun in the early morning down an arid tank trail on FOB Ramadi. And I kept running.