I managed to reach my twelfth year of running without every entering so much as a local road race. This was partly due to the fact that I don’t enjoy running in crowds, but mainly because I hate to run in the morning, and just about every race takes place at an ungodly early hour. But whenever people find out that you’re a runner, the most common next question is, “Have you run a marathon?” This gets tiresome after awhile if in fact you have not. So when an acquaintance started bugging me to train for a marathon with her during my internship year, I eventually agreed.
Internship year of residency is not thought to be an ideal time to be doing something so time-consuming as training for a marathon; the job itself sucks up most of your free time. But I was already running a fair amount. I found it to be an ideal stress-reliever, and something I could do almost no matter how late I got home. I also used it to explore my new city. (Which worked well, except that I would then drastically underestimate how long it might take to walk someplace, resulting in a few annoyed acquaintances who just wanted to go out for a beer, dammit, not walk all the hell over Creation.) It didn’t seem like such a stretch to put a longer run in on my one day off a week. So I agreed, although secretly at first even I wondered if I would really follow through.
I’m a sucker for birth stories – funny, overdue, traumatic, last-minute – yet I don’t think my own is particularly interesting or enlightening.* But I do feel like I learned a lot from my marathon.
Lesson 1: I Accept that I Am Powerless Over Candy
I have had a bad candy habit since childhood. Not candy as in chocolate (which I consider food, not candy); candy as in as close to straight sugar as possible. I had to have it available at all times. It got me through many stressful periods in my life – like, say, internship. I didn't feel safe unless I had a stash in my pocket, like some starving beggar child from Dickens. I never hit the stuff before lunch, but from then on out was happy hour. I ruined my teeth. I didn’t get fat, but that was because I substituted candy for real food.
After about a month or so of training, I realized that I needed to improve my diet if I was really going to do a marathon. When I forced myself to think about it, probably half of my calories were in the form of refined sugar. But I knew I couldn’t cut down. I’d tried that before. No, I’d have to go cold turkey.
I set a quit date, finished the stuff I had lying around, and steeled myself.
It was baaaad. In the beginning, I thought about candy near-constantly. I was twitchy as a gerbil with Tourette’s. I had to take a circuitous route through the hospital to avoid the gift shop, where I often used to get a fix. I couldn’t go to drugstores either, which was inconvenient when I ran out of antiperspirant. But I did find that I suddenly had an appetite for real food again. And gradually, as the weeks went by, I thought about it less and less, and then hardly ever. It felt so freeing, not to have the shame anymore. And as a bonus, I became much more sympathetic toward people who had a hard time quitting smoking.
Lesson 2: I Can Make Friends When Forced To
The person who invited me to train with her was a resident in a different specialty. My initial impression of her had been slightly negative – she seemed a little, I don’t know, rigid? Unforgiving of faults in others? But running with someone is like taking a long car trip; it’s enforced togetherness, and conversation eventually happens. So it was that I learned that we had a great deal in common. Similar off-kilter type of upbringing; similar circuitous route to medical school; similar interest in the arts. She was even born the same week of the same year that I was. Soon we were hanging out all the time, talking on the phone, shopping. It was like the pictures I used to pore over in Seventeen magazine when I was thirteen and just wanted to be normal.
To be continued.
*It can be told pretty well in a single paragraph:
Water breaks at midnight. Husband freaks out despite being a doctor. Hospital, pitocin, epidural, blah blah blah. Weather channel on TV. Phone calls to wrap up loose ends at work. Sneaking a cappucino. Getting bored. Finally pushing and PUSHING and pushing and PUSHING. Baby’s heart rate dipping. Vacuum forceps, aka Baby Head Plunger, after 21 hours. Baby fine; unutterable relief. Embarrassed re: unable to birth 5 lb 14 oz baby without assistance (his head was big, I swear). Many many many stitches. The End.