Some of my favorite memories from undergrad were during finals week. On a ten-week quarter system, things move very quickly during the term, and if you fall behind early, you’re kinda fucked. In the throes of the term, provided you do everything, or most everything, that your professors demand of you, it’s not all that bad; you just have to keep plugging along, holding your breath at times as warranted, and come finals time, generally speaking, you’ll be in a good place. (Ed. note: granted, I realize YMMV with the college you attend or your major, but bear with me on this one).
I liked finals week mostly because, with the stuff that I was studying, by the end of the term, my work was already mostly done. Rarely did I have a class that administered a final exam–benefits of being a double language and humanities major, folks–and most of the time, my final, culminating project, usually an extensive essay about some topic we studied, just revisiting it and re-examining it in a different way. More often than not, these final essays relied pretty heavily on students’ introspections into how we made sense of ourselves within the work while also still exploring the topic at hand, and it was standard fare to be asked how my understanding of the work challenged my own understanding of myself. It sounds somewhat ridiculous now, but if done well, if I really took the time to truly think about and answer the questions at hand, I’d surprise myself with my answers. Even if I hated the course topic or the readings, more often than not, I could usually walk away from each class, and each work that we examined, with some sort of nugget of information that challenged me to think about “stuff” (life, myself, whatever) differently.
In other words, finals week was never about cramming new information or memorizing stuff for me; instead, more than anything, it was an opportunity to step back from the content I had studied over the previous ten weeks and reflect on it, engaging myself with it in a way that I hadn’t yet done, and in a way that would leave me with long-lasting effects from, if not also an appreciation for, the work that I had studied and a greater, deeper understanding of it.
Now that I’m just a handful of days from my next goal race, the Newport Marathon, I guess you could say that I’m thinking about my race and my prep for it in much the same way as I thought about, and approached, my undergrad courses. As we’ve talked about before, if you allow it to be, running can become so much more than this futile, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other affair simply because so much happens between each footstrike each time you run. Marathon training gives me plenty of time to think–about running, about big scary goals, about the world, about myself, whatever–and by the time I reach race week, when I’m tapering away and really thinking about things hugely more macro than micro, I find myself almost approaching race day with a breath of fresh air, like yea, this is it. Finally. Let’s put it all out there.
Anything can happen on race day, and I know that, yet I’m still finding myself coolly calm and collected about it. I have many goals for the race, probably enough to fill the better part of the alphabet if I took the time to qualify them all, but I’m confident that I’ve positioned myself favorably heading into my 23rd (wut) marathon.
Approaching Newport with a near-complete lack of anxiety has been interesting for this entire truncated training cycle, and it may also be helpful to compare the major similarities and differences between the Oakland and Newport cycles, even if only for my own edification. They include:
- shorter cycle. Oakland was a solid 12 week affair, whereas Newport was only 10, and the first 2-3 weeks were mostly, almost exclusively, recovery-ish miles from Oakland.
- less (self-induced) pressure. Maybe I put all my ducks in a row going into Oakland because I can recall feeling more anxious than I do now, in the final days leading into another marathon. Even throughout the training cycles for both races, my training mindset was different. Oakland was “work”; Newport was “funning” … even though the workouts were nearly identical and even though I enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, doing this stuff.
- more racing and pacing. In my Oakland cycle, I only raced twice–the Kaiser half marathon, a day after a fast-finish 17 miler and on non-tapered and tired legs, and the 408k 8k race, a day after a 20 miler and again, on non-tapered and quite tired legs. The purpose for both Kaiser and the 408k was to just see what I could do on fatigued legs and not really use the races as a hard-and-fast gauge for fitness. This time around, I raced or paced significantly more: the SoCal Ragnar relay with my TSFM pals (about 16ish miles); the Santa Cruz half marathon’s 1:45 pace group; Sweatin’ for Sammy non-10k 10k; Brazen’s Western Pacific 1:45 pace group; and of course, the Bay to Breakers 12k. I think having a flurry of races, even ones that I didn’t actually race, such as the two halfs, helped keep things exciting and fresh for me just because I really do enjoy racing. It’s fun.
I’m eager for a strong race performance and more than that, a wonderful reunion in the Pacific NW with Austin, who’s also ready to roll at Newport (sub-3!); Kelly, who awesomely partook in the fun last year at Eugene and who will be again be the rockin’-spectator-who-could courseside in Newport, as she’s training for the Honolulu Marathon later this year; and Traci, my dear friend in the throes of her fourth year of medical school and to whom I attribute much of my marathoning lust in the first place.
I haven’t seen Austin since February; Kelly since Eugene ’13, over a year ago; and Traci since… sometime in Chicago, maybe in Dec ’12 (!!), so to say that this will be a special trip north is a bit misleading.
It will be fuckin’ amazinggggggggggggggggggg!!
Anyway, at the end of the day, I guess you could say that I’m happy where I am right now and how things have gone with this training cycle, which, depending on your point of view, has been either 10 weeks or 22 weeks. I look forward to so many things about racing marathons, and a major part of it is to encounter and engage in the richness of the human experience. If that makes no sense at all, I implore you to read Jeff’s piece here. It’s well worth your time.
Much as the final exam day during my undergrad years, all that’s left now is to show up for the final exam for a few hours and write–or run, as it were–until there’s nothing left to say–or no more miles to cover.