Hitting the wall before the starting line

As the Seattle Marathon approaches, a local runner fights age and ailments to get to his 17th long-distance race.
Crosscut archive image.

Monte Enbysk runs the 2008 Seattle Marathon in the fog.

As the Seattle Marathon approaches, a local runner fights age and ailments to get to his 17th long-distance race.

Editor's note: Monte Enbysk, an experienced (but not elite) runner, was thrown off his Seattle Marathon training schedule by an injury last month. He's chronicling his comeback effort and — if he makes it — his race day for Crosscut.

I no longer ask myself, 'ꀜWhy am I doing this?'ꀝ The question I ask myself these days is, 'ꀜHow long can I keep doing this?'ꀝ

I'ꀙm a 50-something runner who is training now for the Seattle Marathon. I started running seriously around 1996, started doing races in 2001, and ran my first marathon in 2003. I'ꀙve done 115 races total (5Ks to marathons) since then, including 16 marathons and 25 half-marathons. I am trying to get to 20 marathons; Seattle on Nov. 29 would be No. 17.

Notice that I did not say that I am a fast runner. I can'ꀙt. My best marathon time is 4 hours, 29 minutes, which I'ꀙve done twice. That'ꀙs pretty so-so. And, as an aging runner, I have dealt with my share of injuries. Which is why I wonder if my running days are numbered. My knees are pretty good — knock on wood — but my hamstrings and calves are suspect.

And, my training for what would be my fourth full Seattle Marathon was interrupted three weeks ago by a sharp pain just above the back of my right knee. That pain ended a Friday night treadmill run and KO'ꀙd my plans to do my first 20-plus-mile run six weeks in advance of the marathon. My training fell off track.

Was this a serious hamstring injury, or a less-serious strain that would heal with some time off? Should I bag this Seattle Marathon or not? Before I answer these, you may be asking, 'ꀜSo why do you do this?'ꀝ

Well, it'ꀙs because running somehow gets in your blood. It becomes addictive. I run with headphones, listening to rock and roll music and imagining I'ꀙm on stage, playing the drums with AC/DC, ZZ Top, the Cars, Gin Blossoms, or whoever I'ꀙm listening to. Rock and roll fantasies make running mindless at times.

And that mindlessness can get you to mile 18 or 20 of a marathon before reality sets in. You have six-plus miles to go, very difficult miles.

But after those tough miles, a different kind of rock and roll celebration goes off in your head as you cross the finish line. It'ꀙs called euphoria. There is almost no better feeling in the world than crossing the finish line after a marathon. (Then you discover how sore you are, but that'ꀙs another story 'ꀦ and it doesn'ꀙt diminish the high you'ꀙre on.)

Let me add that running has helped me manage my weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure, if not my age, and 'ꀦ it allows me to eat French fries or mashed potatoes or pizza, pretty much guilt-free. So what if I have trouble walking down stairs after a long run?

Back to my injury on Oct. 16. I have concluded that it was more of a strain than the type of hamstring tear that sidelined me for five weeks last year. After this latest injury, I took eight days off from running and worked out on the elliptical machine for a week instead.

I am since back running and making up for valuable lost time. I ran almost 12 miles last Sunday — four weeks out from the race — and the leg got through it fine.

This Sunday is the biggest test. When healthy, I do my last 20-miler three weeks in advance of a marathon, and then taper back my distances. I hope to run 18 to 20 miles this Sunday, to get my legs ready for the I-90 bridge loop, Seward Park, Madison hill, the Arboretum, and other parts of the Seattle Marathon that can be brutal if you'ꀙre not ready.

Ordinarily, I like to do at least three runs of 20 miles or more before a marathon. This training cycle, that won'ꀙt happen. I will do my best with one (or possibly two; I may attempt a second one at the two-week mark if my leg feels up to it, but that is risking injury and possible fatigue close to the event).

Will I be ready for the Seattle Marathon? Not as ready as I could have been, or usually am. But it looks like I am running it anyway.

And maybe by this time in December, I can be walking down stairs normally again. We'ꀙll see.


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