Mountain Mama: Month One of Marathon Training Under the Belt

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing but in rising up every time we fail.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Being videotaped while I ran was only slightly better than someone watching me try on bikinis under those terrible fluorescent lights that accentuate every flaw. Knowing that someone was watching me run made me cringe. Was my arm flab jiggling? Was I standing up straight? Was my head dragging behind my body? Were my ankles relaxed? Was my cadence fast enough? Did my butt look massive?

When Thomas Minton, running guru extraordinaire, agreed to help me with my technique, I jumped at the chance. I was fine with the prospect of all-over soreness, early morning alarms, and alcohol-free Friday nights. But when I read the “filming” dates listed on the training schedule I broke into a cold sweat.

But a promise is a promise. I’d committed to the Charleston marathon. And to prepare for it, I’d do whatever Thomas suggested, even the videotaping. But first, I spent most of the month preparing by skipping, shuffling sideways, falling into trees, and hopping. After each technique session I dutifully checked off the run from the training schedule I’d hung on my fridge. Curiously missing was actually running, except for the weekly “long” run that still hovered in the single digits.

Friends saw me running in the park and sent texts. I drove by and wondered why that woman was running backwards. Then I realized it was you. When I skipped and shuffled my way through San Francisco during breaks from a writing conference, a city where nothing should be shocking, people did double takes.

I didn’t care about the curious looks I got – turns out I love to skip. Swinging my arms and bounding high into the air makes me feel about ten years old. And shuffling sideways, a move my running guru refers to as the “karaoke drill” and aerobic instructors dub the “grapevine” makes me want to toss my head back and giggle. I still struggle to pick up my feet while running backwards, a drill Thomas promises will improve the pull phase of my running.

After skipping, falling, shuffling, and running backwards I was starting to feel like the boy in Karate Kid, wondering if all the drills would translate into 26.2 miles of running. I began to doubt that I was accomplishing anything besides entertaining onlookers. Thomas sent me a message about meeting for our advanced technique session, which would end with videotaping.

The session started with some barefoot running. My feet felt so light. I could feel when my ankles were tight and I landed hard. The contrast between how my fell naturally when I relaxed my foot surprised me. So I let go.

Then Thomas helped me with pacing.

“Pull now. Pull, pull, pull.”

I followed his lead, feeling a little bit quicker. The next lap my feet were lighter still. The wind flirted with my skin and blew my hair into tangles. A rush of heady freedom filled me. It was the first time that I’d considered this running thing might be something I wanted to do instead of something I was making myself do.

“You’re form is looking better. Ready for me to film you?” Thomas asked.

I gulped. “No,” I said, before I considered how ungracious I sounded. How bad could it be? He just said you’re form is getting better. Just do it.

“Just kidding, I’m ready.”

Thomas told me to start skipping and then run past the camera. My heart fluttered and I felt my body tense, feeling incredibly self-conscious. I forced myself to lift my knees, skipping and then transitioning to a run. Was I over-striding? Was my pull too slow? Was my ankle too tight? Was my body springy? The more I wondered, the tighter I felt. This running business was turning out to be way more complicated than I thought.

A few minutes later Thomas critiqued as he pushed play. “So the landing is looking better. The foot is much more relaxed. There’s your running pose.” He paused the frame. “We’ll need to work on your posture, the shoulders collapsing, the head going back.”

Whew, we were done. It wasn’t so bad after all. So there was the matter of my posture and finding how to pull my shoulders down. All those years hunched up over a computer weren’t helping. But Thomas had more drills. There was help. I wasn’t destined to be a slouched over runner forever.

As I walked back to my truck, I wondered why I had been so scared and reluctant to see my running up close on a screen. The thing is I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I like to get things right, I live for praise. The discomfort of witnessing my own failure overwhelmed me. That filming session and the first month of marathon training has taught me that the only way to improve is to work through all my imperfections, with my eyes wide open.




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