The 13.1-Mile Sweet Spot

Running requires decisions achieved by trial and error; sort of a physically fit version of Goldilocks, if you substitute GU flavors, shoes, and running surfaces for gruel, chairs, and beds.

Had Goldilocks experienced the illusions of grandeur we many runners have, she might have fancied entering a race. But what distance would she have chosen?

Would it be a 5K, the most popular distance for beginners?

Maybe a 13.1-mile half marathon, with its concomitant bragging rights to the other beginning runners in her village?

Or would she make the rookie mistake of assuming a 26.2-mile full marathon is “only” double a half, not realizing the exponentially increased physical stressors awaiting her?

(I doubt she’d yet subscribe to Runner’s World so she’d have no knowledge of ultramarathons, which—at any distance over 50 miles—aren’t so much races as endurance experiments starring you as the lab rat.)

My guess is Goldilocks would be an overachiever—I mean, she was pretty bold to enter a vacant house and take over like that in the first place—so she’d sign up for a full marathon.

She’d pooh-pooh the ugly rumor about month-long training plans, believing a few weekly miles and a hideous fuel belt buckled around the waist of her tutu (yes, she would run in a tutu—she’s a diva that way) would be enough. But this was no fairy tale.

An unfortunate part of many runners' wardrobes.

An unfortunate part of many runners’ wardrobes.

Oh, the shame of it as she’d limp across the finish line just under the six-hour time limit and just before the walkers pushing strollers. She’d peel off her shoes, afraid her toenails would come sprinkling out, examine the blisters that grew before her eyes like August corn in Nebraska, catch a ride to her car on the back of a volunteer’s golf cart, and mutter, never again.

Months later Goldi would remember the disgrace of that day and vow never again. She would sign up for another race, only this time it would be a 5K.

In time she would rue a distance that took longer to find a parking spot for than to run. She’d get a medal (sort of) and a T-shirt (100% cotton, not wicking tech material), but she’d want more.

She’d want a half marathon.

This time Goldi followed a training plan recommended by someone in her running group who subscribed to Runner’s World. She took no chances with the all-important fueling issue and tried PowerBars and Clif Shot Bloks and Honey Stingers, ultimately deciding on Clif Shots. She tried these options on her out-and-back long runs: far enough that she needed to refuel, but close enough to home in case of any unfortunate digestive issues. She taped her toes, and bought shoes based on fit rather than fashion.

She arrived race morning prepared. She’d ditched the scratchy tutu in favor of compression shorts (she was still somewhat ruled by vanity and refused to use BodyGlide) and decided stopping at Krispy Kreme on the way to the marathon hadn’t been her best idea. The starter’s horn left her nonplussed, and she kept to her training pace despite the adrenaline. She took water at every station, and swallowed her Mocha Clif Shots like pudding (because you really have to talk yourself into a lot for this to work).

The race wasn’t easy. But just when Goldi felt like she couldn’t possibly propel herself another inch, she hit the 12-mile marker. Ten minutes later (she’d fallen off her pace) she was at the 13-mile marker and had 528 feet to go. This time she honored the distance and told herself 528 feet left; not, only 528 feet left. She ran across the finish line because she couldn’t—no, she wouldn’t—walk. A surly teenager receiving community service credit handed her a medal and said, “Good job” with as much enthusiasm as Goldi had for marathons.

She’d done it: Goldilocks had found her distance. She lived happily ever after, but perhaps most importantly she had a newfound respect for BodyGlide.

The End

Image: Michael Thom for CC/Flickr