Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Only" is a relative word for runners

The 112th Boston Marathon is tomorrow. Thirteen years ago, I ran the marathon with my friend Diane.

Well, I didn’t actually run the whole thing. I took her to the starting line in Hopkinton and then drove downtown to meet her four miles from the finish. She correctly estimated when she would reach that point, and then I jumped in and ran with her to the finish, so that I could provide support. I wasn’t the only one doing that kind of thing.

Once I started trotting along with her, I wasn’t really sure what I do.
“You’re doing great,” I said. “Just a little further to the finish.”
Diane looked at me out of the corner of her eye.

“I can’t really talk right now,” she said.
So I stopped my blathering and ran along with her. Later, she said that just by quietly running alongside her, I had helped a lot. At the end, someone threw a mylar sheath over me and congratulated me. I felt a bit like a fraud. Diane had run 26.2 miles, and I had run only four. We laugh about it today.

“Only” is a variable word for runners.
One person’s shorter run is another person’s long run.
So where someone who does longer distances might say, “I ran only six miles this morning,” the listener who was pretty pleased with having squeezed in a three- or five-miler before work might feel diminished. There is a hierarchy of “onlys.” I think people use the word because they kind of feel they should have gone further.

When I bought sneakers from the skinny “real” runners who worked in the runners’ shop, and they asked how far I ran each week, I told them, “Only about 30.” I felt I had to apologize.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, two-time Boston Marathon winner and a pioneer in women's distance running, tells interviewers these days that while she used to run 120 miles a week, she's down to 70 or 80 because that's all she can do. (Kind of a variation on "only" 70 or 80.)

I did increase my mileage when training for a half marathon in Hartford; after I ran it in 2002, I felt kind of wimpy at having “only” done the half, as the people doing the whole looped past me.

When I was in the hospital receiving chemotherapy for leukemia, I walked up and down the Pike, a corridor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. When I had my two stem-cell transplants and couldn't go off the pod, I did 44 laps back and forth in front of the nurses’ station, because someone had estimated this was a mile.

It was all I could do. Some days I was happy that I could even do that. Other days when I thought about what my old self could do, I felt kind of down. And when I came home, weak after the treatments and the hospitalizations, I could barely walk to the corner, and the word “hill” assumed a new definition for me and was now just a small incline.

I could only get to the corner.

Tomorrow, as the Boston Marathon takes place, I will go into town for an appointment at the Dana-Farber clinic. I will have my blood drawn and have a check-up afterwards. If I feel well enough, I might take a walk afterward. But it will only be for a mile or two. I hope that soon my “only” gets longer. In the meantime, I have to remember to be patient with myself.

1 comment:

Jill said...

Hi Ronni, keep up the writing and running. "Only" is as much as mindset as anything!