At any rate my last marathon was in 1982 and, shortly thereafter, went through the motions in my last race, a 20km. It was the last day I ever ran. I haven’t missed it, or the daily pain, for one second in 35 years. Not one damned second.
But my marathoner instinct – head down, keep moving, monitor body signals – has returned with a vengeance during the dog days of the Camino. Dog days because I’m at the end of almost two weeks of flat, arid – and hot – monotony associated with the Meseta, a high, flat plateau known mostly for rocky fields of wheat, dust, more dust and an endless horizon.
Although not entirely barren of historical and spiritual significance, this desolate stretch of unforgiving land is where the peregrino can make up some time, i.e. extra kilometers. This is where and when my old – and heretofore dormant – 26.2 mile instinct kicked in.
Mind you, my ankle has been killing me but once I’m up and about the pain is very manageable if not tolerable. (I should insert a paid Advil testimonial here.) As for the marathoner instinct it’s really quite simple: stay in the moment, monitor body systems and – at all costs – never, never, never allow yourself to ever think, not for one idle moment, how far you have to go. That is the runner’s kiss of death. Just when you think things are fine, such euphoria can implode like a ruptured balloon 10 strides later with a sudden cramp, a misstep in a pothole or some other unexpected fly in the walker’s ointment.
I’ve stopped to smell the roses more often and am enjoying things immensely (when I say ‘head down’ that’s not literal. It’s staying focused and in the moment.) And the roses smelled awfully good for two hours the other day in the quaint and vastly underrated yet hyper-interesting hilltop town of Astorga. But when there’s otherwise sparse countryside I’ll keep on a plodding even if it’s snail slow. Head down, stay in the moment.
The keep-on-keeping-on mentality is a formula that works. Although I’ve slowed down to a point when the majority of walkers pass me (usually with a breezy ‘buen Camino’) it really does boil down to enjoying the high points but breezing by the low ones – while still relishing a chance to sit down and cool my heels in most every town.