Lessons From Running

I spend as much time running as I do making music, which is to say that most days I’m outside training. Last October I ran the Boston marathon—which was delayed in 2021 after having been cancelled twice in 2020—and over the past four months I’ve been training for the April 2022 edition. 

My first Boston was a learning experience. First of all, I had no plan as to how I wanted to run the race. Runners are, generally speaking, goal-oriented people—or more precisely: they’re goal-oriented people who find that the routine of doing one thing over and over fits their disposition. While we were waiting on the buses to take us to the starting line, I overheard conversations between veteran runners comparing their race strategies, goals for splits, and hoped-for finish times. It was then that I realized I hadn’t thought about how I would run, except carefully and steadily. On the hour-long bus ride out to Hopkinton, I chatted with a woman who was also running her first Boston. She told me she was worried about how she would feel at each stage of the race and uncertain about how she would do. I make an analogy to music, suggesting that she “find the tempo” that suits her in the moment. “What’s your goal for the race?” she asks. “I guess just to see how it goes.”

A second lesson from running Boston is learning how difficult the course is. It starts with a long downhill, which everyone flies down excitedly, as if this is a 5k and not a marathon. The problem with downhills is that, no matter what tempo you take them at, they beat up your legs. Later in the race you encounter the Newton uphills at miles 16 through 21, positioned at the precise point where you’re fatiguing. The end of the race is mostly downhills again, but unlike the ones at the start of the race, traversing these ones hurt because of what you’ve been through. 

Once the race began I decided I wouldn’t look at my GPS watch to monitor pace, and this was the third part of my learning experience. The problem with this strategy was that it led me to run slower than maybe I could have. I didn’t push anything: I didn’t fly down the opening downhill, I took a selfie by Wellesley College, high fived some fans, and generally kept it together. For a while I settled in behind a few guys who seemed to be moving at an agreeable clip, using them as pacers. In other words, I took it easy for most of the race, thinking, I’ll just turn on the jets after mile 20. But the thing about Boston—and any marathon—is that you don’t have much left in the tank during the last six miles. Since I had no jets to turn on, I maintained my pace all the way to the finish.        

After last year’s race I made some adjustments to my training. I increased my training volume (more miles at pace) and added training specificity (more hills, up and down), trusting that what I’ve been doing is adequate preparation go beyond last year’s race performance. But as I write this is occurs to me that you can’t train away your personality, and a see how it goes and take it easy mindset is one of my default way of being. Bursts of intensity (e.g. sprints) help get projects done, sure, but most of the time I work slowly at a pace I can sustain (e.g. long easy runs). In running, as with writing or making music, it’s thrilling to push the pace and feel how your mind-body finds another level of synchrony. But the everyday joy is moving at a tempo where effort and enduring are in balance. Since our goal is to endure and keep going, preparing for a race is an excuse to train for much longer miles.

Resources on running: 

• A philosophical talk by the running GOAT, Eliud Kipchoge:

• Michael Crawley’s Out Of Thin Air.

• Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

• Adharanand Finn’s The Way Of The Runner.

• Shane Benzie’s The Lost Art Of Running.

• Alex Hutchinson’s Endure.

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