The day begins at night. Somehow, my brain activates before my alarm (perhaps thanks to Richard Parker’s meows) and I stumble into the kitchen. The clock reads 6am but feels like 3am, as I’ve spent the previous week adjusting my body to Pacific Time. Mariana and I pack up the last of our gear and – after a few last seconds in the cold DC February morning – make the short drive to DCA airport.
Today is going to be a great day.
The two of us are currently jetting non-stop from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, CA where I’ll be competing at the 2016 US Olympic Marathon Team Trials on Saturday. (Quick background: the US Olympic Trials Marathon – or just the Trials – is a 26.2 mile race held every four years in conjunction with the summer Olympiad. The USA can send up to three runners from each gender to compete in the Olympic Marathon; the Trials, 6-9 months before the Olympics, offers Team USA births to the top three finishers. The race itself features a small (100-200), American-only field of competitors having met the posted qualifying times in the years leading up to the Trials race. For many runners, qualifying for and competing at the quadrannual Trials represents a culmination of years of dedication, more than a serious attempt to make a US Olympic Team. Because of the prestige of the event in American distance running circles and the fairly strict qualifying marks (men must run under 2h18 for the marathon or 1h05 for half marathon), the race is often the deepest and most competitive American marathon on the calendar.)
This is more than just another race; though – for my anxiety’s sake – I’m trying to convince myself of the opposite. For me, this race is the result of 30,000 miles of running over the past eight years; it’s the climax of a training block begun on the streets of Callao, Peru on June 27, 2015. The ultimate entry in this running log, featuring running across four continents, a World Championship silver medal, a few hundred gallons of sweat, and too many 78 oz. plastic jugs of animal crackers to count.
But there will be plenty of time for ruminations as the week progresses. For now, let me explain to you why today is going to be – and already is – a good day.
Before bidding Richard Parker a final adios this morning, I began to consume carbohydrates. In the past year, I’ve begun to experiment with depleting my body of carbohydrates in the week before a long race before a final three days of heavier carbohydrate consumption (oft referred to as “carbo-loading”). The result has been great – I’ve finished my marathons faster with fewer fueling issues. The implementation, however, can be uncomfortable; my body scoffs the peanut-butter and eggs as adequate replacements for rice, bread, and fruit, leaving me depleted and admittedly grumpy by the end of day three. But then begins the glorious return. With my normal diet, I feel vivacious where I had been lethargic, my legs springy and fresh, and the sun shines a little brighter.
Today is that turn-around day. While others can debate the physiology, one thing I can tell for sure is that this is a great way to guarantee a sanguine glow in the lead-up days to the big dance.
Did I mention that we’re headed to sunny California? I love the heat and the sun and sweating and being outside. The prospect of escaping the East Coast winter for a few days of 80F sunshine has me beaming (though, these are not the ideal conditions for running a fast marathon – more on this to come).
Finally, I am writing these words from my posh and extravagantly capacious seat in the first-class cabin on our cross-country flight. Many thanks to my brother who – thanks to his frequent business travel –upgraded our plebian economy tickets for free, allowing Mariana and I to – for the first time – breathe the rarified air beyond that little curtain and drink coffee out of real ceramic mugs.
As we fly over the checkerboarded plains of Oklahoma, I try to think about it again: the moment when the discomfort will arrive and I’ll attempt to sweet-talk my body into endure despite my biologically reflexive best intentions. But I also try to enjoy my giant leather arm-chair and marvel at the concept of running in a t-shirt in February. While this is more than just another race, it’s all part of the same journey. And, like always – like this flight – I’m just trying to enjoy the ride.