By Michal Kapral When the Marathon Runs You
At the start it was always about the marathon. I ran my first marathon in Toronto, and then it was onto the Boston Marathon. From there, it was all about improving my times for the distance. Other race distances? Pshaw! All the shorter races were just marathon prep. After each 5k, 10k and half-marathon, I plugged my result into a marathon finish-time equivalent calculator. After 10 years, I had raced about 25 marathons, often churning out four or five a year. I decided it had been a good run, but that it was time to be a sensible, normal-ish human being and phase out the gruelling race distance from my calendar.
A couple of months later, I somehow found myself signing up for the Boston Marathon. I told myself it was only to cover it for this magazine. In Boston, I cruised through Framingham, Natick and Wellesley, buzzed with excitement and dread at the top of Heartbreak Hill, and felt the familiar pain of my old friend bonk, who paid a visit somewhere near the Citgo sign, sapping all energy from my body. My mind willed my body around the bend onto Hereford and down the final stretch under that glorious finish line arch.
The marathon – there’s no race like it. You can’t settle into an easy groove like you can in an ultra. You can’t hammer it quite like a halfmarathon. There’s no way around the need for extra fuel and water to get your glycogen-depleted legs through the final kilometres. There’s no way to cheat the training. If you haven’t put in the long runs, you will face the consequences, probably at about 32k, and the punishment will be severe. I’ve been in that dark place, the 10k of doom. I’ve also finished marathons in a negative split, the second half slightly faster than the first. I’m not actually sure which finish made me happier. Any way you run it, there’s no finish like the marathon finish.
I rode that Boston high and signed up for the Trapline Marathon in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. How could I turn down the chance? It was a beauty of a race. But after that, I joined the University of Toronto Masters Track Club and trained for the 800m. I was sure this would foil any marathon plans, since middle-distance and marathon training do not mix. Yet somehow, I ended up running the Mississauga Marathon, the New York City Marathon and then Chicago.
Something about the marathon kept pulling me back. The name itself conjures up dramatic images of ancient battles. Years ago, I ended up in the town of Marathon, Greece. The bus dropped me off there when I was trying to get to Athens. I don’t remember why. I think it was a sign.
I’m planning to r un the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October. And that’ll be it. I swear.
Michal Kapral holds the world record for running a marathon while juggling. He claims his next column will absolutely not be about the marathon.