Thursday, September 20, 2012

Type two blogging

A cursory review of the “I just finished my first marathon” literature will find lots of people describing apparent life-changing moments.  People weeping with joy.  The best days of their lives.  Never again to meet a challenge in life, love, or career that can’t be met with the same dogged determination that carried them across the final six miles. Never to be forgotten.
I don’t remember it like that.  I don’t remember it like that at all.

Was I glad to finish my first marathon?  Sure, but only because I could finally do what I had wanted to do for some miles: stop running and, with that, hopefully, stop the pain.  I crossed the finish line of the Equinox Marathon in 2005, accepted my finisher’s patch with a vacant stare, and shuffled to an empty spot in the grass where I could sit.  Not comfortably, mind you.  If I tried to bend my legs, my hamstrings seized.  I tried to project an aurora of comfort and ease while grimacing, jacked at an obtuse angle.  Since I couldn’t stand back up without bending, I was effectively trapped, and ultimately resigned myself to concentrating on the ache in my legs rather than my increasing thirst which I could not attend to without rising.

I did not know it at the time, but I was having fun.  Type two fun.  Familiar to alpinists, type two fun is the kind that only becomes fun after being viewed through the haze of time.  Type two fun is usually no fun at all when you are experiencing it: cold, tired, afraid, maybe bleeding.  But once back at the bar with open beers, type two fun suddenly morphs into real fun, as you and your mates congratulate one another, exalt the day’s triumphs, and—here is the kicker—start planning to do it all again.  The amount of time it takes to go from suffering to thinking a second time around is a good idea is directly proportionate to the degree of type two-ness that your fun involved.  For me, the Equinox Marathon must have been pushing the limits, since it took seven years to once again think running the full course was a good idea.

But run the whole thing again, I did.  Last Saturday I lined up at the start with C’s family.  She, her sister, and mom were doing the relay.  Her dad was doing the full, perhaps a bit undertrained this year.  As he described it, the 26.2 miles of the race would be greater than the sum total of miles he ran to prepare.  I suspect if it hadn’t been the 50th anniversary of the race, he would have sat this one out.  But why let details get in the way of a beautiful fall day in Fairbanks?

I was hoping to run under 4:00:00 this year, but failed to meet that goal by a fair margin.  The opening miles were slower than I expected or remembered, and I felt sluggish for the first five or more miles.  I started to feel better as I reached Ester Dome and the trail pointed upward, but by the time I reached the half-way mark it was clear that sub-four hours was going to be a hard sell.  I plodded out the out-and-back, a section along Ester Dome of single-track and mining roads where you get to pass runners ahead and behind and see a good slice of the field.  With a high-five from C (who was running leg 2 of the race and starting the out-and-back section as I was finishing), I headed for the Chute.  Runners descend about 1,000 vertical feet in a third-of-a-mile down the Chute, a steep, rocky, and loose bomb down a section line.  Any hope of making up time died as the pounding cramped my left leg.  I pulled off to the side of the trail to stretch and try to walk through the discomfort, losing about 5 minutes as piles of racers tumbled past.

Luckily, I recovered pretty well from the leg cramp, and continued on my way, cautiously at first.  The miles kept going.  A little girl offered up mini-doughnuts at an unofficial aid station, which I gladly took but didn’t end up eating.  Do you know where her hands had been?  Why risk the GI distress!  Before long, the final descent to the finish line appeared, I came around the corner, kept running, and finished.  Final time: 4:21, good enough for a top-quarter finish in the overall standings and a top-third in my age group, but pretty far off of my goal.  Nevertheless, I was satisfied with the day.  I felt good at the end, could sit and stand at will, and had time for a hot shower and sauna before the rest of the family started coming across the line.  And it didn’t take any time to think that I could do the race again.  No type two about this fun at all.

Once home (a trip characterized by high-winds and sheets of rain), I was able to download data from my Garmin and carefully analyze the day.  It took awhile, but I did discern why I was unable to meet my goal time: I didn’t run fast enough.  Something to work towards, I guess.

A photographer posted some pictures from the event that he has made freely available (!i=2092604897&k=5zwkqsR).  I grabbed two of them.  The first shows off the fall colors on Ester Dome:

The second shows that, as sure as the night will follow day, if you take my picture during a race I will be scowling.  

Why can’t I just take a normal picture that makes it look like I enjoy running?  Maybe there was more type two to this race than at first I thought.


  1. Whenever I need a good laugh I read through your blog. Can you somehow promise that living trapped in the suburbs of DC will become a type 2?

  2. Yes, I can make that promise. Here is how it will happen. Someday, perhaps soon, you will escape the suburbs of DC, moving to Antigua or Cleveland. Over time you will look back to the time you spent in suburban DC and think, "That wasn't so bad. I should totally move back!" And move back you will. And before long you will again be cold, tired, afraid, maybe bleeding, and wondering what the hell you are doing back in suburban DC.

    1. The mechanics of this promise were not exactly what I was looking for...