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Falling Flat On My Face

The Chicago Marathon is over four months away; why do I feel like I’m cramming for a test?

“So, how’s the marathon training going for you?” a relative asked me recently.

“Fine,” I said, sidestepping away from discussing a nagging, annoying pain in my left leg, and how tired I am of my laundry smelling like sweaty gym socks. I didn't mention that the novelty of telling people that I'm running a marathon has worn off, and that I think of my daily runs as a chore. I pretended I wasn’t worried that every time I looked at the official Chicago Marathon site, I’d get a sense of dread when I saw how few days were left.

It’s actually not entirely “fine” for other reasons. I had been running in a fitness center for a few months while I built up an endurance base. Running indoors was a great idea when temperatures dipped below freezing and snow piled up on the ground. Only the most dedicated (or insane, depending on how you look at it) runners were braving the elements outside at that point to get in a run, and I just wasn’t one of them. While running at the fitness center kept me from slipping on ice, it also had an unintended effect: I became spoiled after running in a climate-controlled space.

It took me a while to realize how accustomed I’d become to running indoors. Initially, I had a bevy of excuses as to why I didn’t want to run outdoors on any particular day. It was too hot, it was too cold, or maybe it looked like rain; no matter the conditions, I had a reason to stay inside for my workout.

When you run indoors for as long as I did, you start to realize how distracting the great outdoors can be. There are no streets to cross, no cars to avoid, no dogs to outrun, no dog poop to leap over, no neighbors to wave to, and no cries of “Run, Forrest, run!” (1994 called; it wants its insults back.) It’s pleasantly simple.

I had no idea how much my running would be impacted by running outdoors, because of course, . But a few weeks ago, I laced up my shoes and headed outside, only to be surprised with how hard the wind blew, and how easy it was for me to break my concentration. I’d pause at an intersection to let a car pass or to wait for the “Walk” light, and I was unsettled with how easy it was to give up my running momentum in favor of a stroll. I regularly ran six miles at the fitness center, but I struggled to run one mile when I was actually on the pavement.

This does not bode well for my first Chicago Marathon race, which is now under 135 days away. I feel like I’m back at school, and that I’m trying to cram one semester’s worth of reading and analysis into an eight-hour session the night before an exam. There’s no fooling with a race like this; I’m either ready or I’m not, and I can’t exactly fake my way through a 26.2-mile course. I’m trying to play it cool, like I have plenty of time to re-build my endurance base (which, according to some training guides, I do), and that if I dwell on it too much, I’ll choke up before I even start a run.

But in reality, I can’t wait until I cross the finish line.

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