Enjoying the Process

Guest Blogger Chris Kovalchick

April 16, 2012. Approximately 11:30 AM. I am roughly 14 miles into the 2012 Boston Marathon. Just past Wellesley town square, I am spent. The temperature is approaching 90F, the sun is blazing, and I have nothing left. Months of training, hundreds (actually over a thousand) miles in the calendar year alone all in preparation for one day, one event. All for what? So I can blow up thanks to a once-in-decades heat wave crashing through the eastern edge of Massachusetts. The entire town of Boston has off for Marathon Monday in honor of Patriot’s Day. On this given day, you would think it was in honor of the Boston Massacre. The course was just littered with fit, ripped bodies down on the ground at the mercy of mother nature (including several SF Marathon Ambassadors Charlie, Nancy, Keith, Roni, Michael, and Mark. Even Ambassador Susan, a spectator at this fine event with a really cool shirt, felt the fatigue from the heat). No person, runner nor observer, was spared from the misery of it all. The fastest marathoner in the world, Geoffrey Mutai (yes, the same Geoffrey Mutai that set course records in his wins at the Boston and NY Marathons in 2011)? He was carried off at mile 18, unable to continue. It was just pure carnage out there, in every sense of the word.

To think that the factor for destroying the hopes and dreams of thousands of runners was simply the measly mercury thermometer. Why couldn’t it just be the typical 45-50F with cloudy skies that it usually is 9 out of every other 10 years? Why couldn’t it be something at least marginally close to the running weather utopia I trained through in Portland, Oregon for the better part of the past year? Why couldn’t I just be immune to the heat? “The harder you train, the less the elements matter,” said my trusted training partner back in Portland when I expressed concern at the high temperatures that would eventually tear apart the entire field from top to bottom of the nation’s overall fastest marathon.

A day after the 2012 Boston Marathon, I had no answers for all of these questions. I did not know what I was feeling or thinking. Frustration, exhaustion, disappointment perhaps? The big question remained: what do I take away from my performance at the race I had hinged every step, every mile on for the past 6 months?

Let’s backtrack a bit. In June 2011, I moved to Portland and became obsessed. Obsessed with becoming a high mileage disciple. Running a marathon is like building a house, and I was driven to build a fortress. After my first 3 months of high volume (70+ miles/week), I took a shot at the Philadelphia Marathon in November 2011 and came up way short of my goal of 2:45, albeit with a PR of 2:54 at the time. “You are just getting started buddy, it takes years of dedication to the craft to reap the benefits of pounding the pavement 100 miles a week,” they told me. So I listened. And just decided to keep working hard. Even harder. On January 1, 2012, I decided I would start off the new year by officially commencing with Boston Marathon training. It began with a 1-mile time-trial followed by a 10 mile easy run with my cohorts from the NAC running contingency. The next few months, it turns out, would be some of the best of my life.

For the next 15 weeks, I was laser-focused on one thing: 26.2 on 4/16 (at least when it came to running). I ran upwards of 80 miles for 8 consecutive weeks, waking up before 5 AM every day to crank out miles before even a smidgen of daylight creeped over Mt. Hood out to the east. Every Wednesday, I would wake up at 4:30 AM for a 15 miler along Portland’s South Waterfront with Derek and Dan, two runners far faster than I with whom I could somehow match stride for stride at the end of these sets by the time March rolled around. On Saturdays, I was throwing down some killer long runs week in and week out. 373 miles in the month of March alone, including 3 weeks of 90 miles each with long runs of 24 miles. I was turning into a machine. My legs felt great. My mind felt even greater. I was having a killer training cycle, and was enjoying every minute of it.

Every run felt like a new, fresh opportunity.  Better than a fresh IPA while sitting on the rocky shores of the Oregon coastline in late summer. It didn’t matter what the weather was like on a given day, or what was happening at work or elsewhere in my life to potentially ruin my day before it even began. I relished the opportunity to lace up every morning and forget about everything: it was just me, my thoughts, my legs, going wherever I wanted, doing whatever I wished to do. At times during training, I would ask myself: “Is it supposed to be this much fun? Does it even matter what happens on race day?”

No, actually it doesn’t. I didn’t think that at the time, but now I sure do. One week after the Boston Marathon, I now try to answer the question: what do I take away from this race? The answer is easy. Enjoy the process. It is true of everything in life. And my experience in Boston is a perfect example. The only goal or attribute I did not achieve on race day was the actual finish time, due to an external variable far out of anyone’s control. Recollecting how awesome I have felt throughout the past few months, I would not give up a single day.  In the life of a 28 year old with so much uncertainty, there was nothing more certain for me every day leading up to Boston than knowing I was going out tomorrow to log miles and rejoice in the opportunity to feel alive.

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