Training for the Marathon: 'Uncomfortable isn't impossible'

Training for the Marathon: 'Uncomfortable isn't impossible'
January 29, 2014, 5:00 pm
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Comcast SportsNet's Trenni Kusnierek is preparing to run this April's Boston Marathon. Over the next few months, she'll provide updates on her training . . . both physical and (as you'll see below) mental. This is the first of her reports.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. –Lao-tzu

The wind was cold and relentless, the hills seemed to never end. What began as a cold, but beautiful (and even pleasant) 16-mile run through the hills of New Hampshire had suddenly become miserable and borderline intolerable.

Welcome to Week Four of Boston Marathon training.

When I toe the starting line in Hoptkinton on Monday, April 21st I will be running my eighth marathon, but easily the most significant. (I did not have time to qualify due to injury and will run for the charity Horizons for Homeless Children.)

I was supposed to run last April. I had qualified for my third Boston Marathon in the fall of 2011 and was anxious to hit the pavement in the city I now call home. However, injuries derailed my plans and I had to sit out last year.

Although I didn't run I cheered on one of my closest friends, and training partner. She crossed the finish line long before the bombs went off, but we weren't far away when they did. After Stephanie completed the race (and set a personal record!), we lingered, walked, and basked in her accomplishment. We also happened to duck into a bar just minutes before the tragic event occurred, which will forever mark the historic race.

Fast forward to last Sunday, and what I termed “the worst running experience of my life” as I collapsed to the gymnasium ground. The temperatures were so cold and the wind so brutal I am fairly confident my contacts began to freeze. Around mile 11 or so, I realized I was having trouble blinking because my face was so frozen, thus leaving my eyes blurry and my steps erratic because my vision wasn’t quite right. It’s awfully hard to see when your contacts are frozen.

Trust me; I know what you’re thinking. You are muttering to yourself, “What kind of crazy moron runs in sub-zero wind chills and keeps going when she realizes her sight is blurred?” Your question is a valid one, and the only explanation I can offer is that I refused to quit on myself. I knew I wasn’t seriously ill and -- although the final seven miles were excruciatingly uncomfortable at times -- I knew quitting would feel much worse than my heavy legs and frozen face.

(Side note: I don't endorse running through everything. I have felt faint in very hot races and have pulled out knowing it was best for my health. I have been running for more than a decade and know my body well enough to gauge when to keep going and when to stop. If you are fairly new to running, check with a doctor before working out in extreme conditions.)

People ask me all the time why I run and particularly why I participate in long-distance races. Please spare me the “I hate driving 26 miles, let alone running that far” line. One, it’s tired. Two, a marathon is 26.2 miles, so don’t shortchange me on the distance.

I don’t remember why I started running in the beginning, but I do know why I haven’t stopped. At the risk of sounding trite, running has helped shape me as an adult. Running, unlike team sports, is entirely individual. If I run poorly, it’s on me. If I don’t train hard enough, it’s on me. If I quit, there is no one else to finish the race. It's all on my shoulders . . . or, in this case, legs.

I’m not sure when, but at some point our society began to equate uncomfortable with impossible. If an activity forces us to push our limits or a situation takes us out of our comfort zone, many of us quit or even worse, some of us never even start.

I remember crossing the finish line of my first marathon in Chicago and feeling an incredible sense of accomplishment. It was a feeling that pushed me to undertake more both in running and in life.

I realize not everyone is a runner, but I do believe all of us have the ability to push ourselves through the uncomfortable. And I think we each have our version of a marathon in that once we find the guts to force ourselves into the unknown, we’ll find out it’s really not as painful as expected.

So that is why I run no matter the weather or the circumstances, which are about to get crazy. I’m at the start of my fifth week of a training program for Boston that lasts 16 weeks. A challenge under any normal circumstances, but two weeks ago I was told I’ll be going to Sochi, Russia, for the Olympics. As you can imagine there will be a number of obstacles to maintaining my workouts. I will be working very long hours and in a city where security is a significant concern. Goodbye, snow covered hills of New Hampshire; hello, hotel treadmill!

Check in again as I share my training journey to the starting line of the Boston Marathon. While I will be limited in my access to online communication while in Russia, I would be happy to try and help you train for the marathon or whatever distance you are working towards. If you have a question, please leave it in the comment section below and I’ll do my best to answer in my next blog.

Until then . . . happy running!