The other day I finished my Christmas candy, marking the official termination of the holidays and Day One of marathon training. I logged in to mapmyrun.com (the flawed but well-meaning tool for locating runs of varying lengths in any city or town) and located a 10-mile loop from Montpelier’s North Street to County Road/Main Street. I’d walked part of North Street before, and from what I could remember it was perfect. In my memory it was like a Currier & Ives print: a dirt road with mountain views, sugar maple trees, and country homes fragrant with wood smoke.
What I failed to recall is that North Street rises sharply from its downtown junction with Main Street over approximately the first mile. What I also failed to do before I left for my 5:30 a.m. run was to check the temperature, which turned out to be a lung-searing -15 degrees. In spite of the first steep uphill mile, I turned into a snowman.
The next half mile offered some relief in the form of a moderate downhill and there must have been others, but I swear on Grizzly Adams’s soul that it was pretty much uphill the whole way.
At about mile 5, while I was struggling to crest a hill next to a pond from which a man and a draft horse were harvesting ice, I lost my ability to appreciate beauty. I huffed past without so much as a wave or a nod. The only thing I could think about was the story of where the name Marathon comes from, which I’d learned in fourth grade and compelled me to reject any activity that had anything to do with running for about 16 years. I was so much smarter back then.
From what I remember, the origin of the race goes back to the battle of Marathon in ancient Greece. Immediately after some intense bloody combat which resulted in victory, a Greek soldier sprinted to Athens—a distance of about 26 miles–all the while shouting, “We have won!” When he reached the Parthenon, he made one final triumphant announcement, shook his fists, and then promptly collapsed and died at the feet of his fellow Grecians.
When I reached home again two and-a-half hours later, I didn’t collapse and die as I’d been beginning to expect. And so, wheezing through my frozen lungs but still very much alive, I drew a scalding bath and made a resolution for the next 18 weeks of marathon training: don’t lose my sense of humor about running. Also, don’t run when it’s -15 degrees outside. But mostly, remember that this is one of my favorite things to do for fun.