Crunch Time

The St. Louis Marathon is getting closer, but up until recently, I couldn’t commit. As a freelance journalist in the market for something more stable/health-insurance-providing, I’ve been living with one barefoot-running shoe out the door for the past couple months, ready to pack up my tabby and move at any moment.

But being in a liminal housing state means I miss out on meeting people, joining new clubs, starting D&D campaigns and laying down a community root or two. I can’t put everything on hold indefinitely while I wait for an escape hatch to open—I need to risk making the occasional plan that ties me to this zip code for the next month. Enter the St. Louis Marathon, which I now have exactly four weeks to train for.

Training for a race in a short amount of time isn’t impossible. I’ve heard whispered tales floating on the winds of Runner’s World message boards that speak of determined souls who laced up sneakers for the first time with the dream of running a marathon six weeks later. My problem is that I don’t want to just finish the race. I want to qualify for Boston, despite the fact that I’ve put virtually no effort toward that ambition since the ball dropped on 2011. I’ve been hoping to get magically superfast through the power of wonder and imagination. But now it’s essentially the night before the big test, and I need to start cramming.

So in interest of helping fellow procrasti-trainers, I’ve compiled this list of tips and tricks to expedite the race-prep process. Here’s my completely irresponsible guide to getting the most out of the least amount of training:

First, take comfort in knowing no matter who you are, you have an advantage. If you’re a first-time marathon runner, you have the advantage that you can focus solely on finishing and not on improving past times. And given 6 hours or so, rookie ambition alone should be enough to drag you across the finish line. If you’re a veteran marathon runner, you have the advantage of muscle memory and dealing with a “known quantity.” You’ve done it before. You’ll eat something weird the night before and spend the whole race regretting it. You’ll start out too fast. You’ll have some sort of short-lived existential breakthrough at Mile 16, hit a wall at Mile 22, collapse into a sobbing, asthmatic ball at the end and immediately plan to do it all over again. Dude, you’ve got this.

Now forget choosing a training plan. Build your own around your compressed time frame. This could involve running longer daily distances than recommended, it could involve two-a-days, it could involve training at weird hours wearing enough LED power to irradiate a small village. Just be sure to listen to your body and slow your roll if you experience injury or fatigue.

Race in the meantime. There’s no better way to get better at racing than racing. You’ll be inspired by the runners around you. You’ll push yourself to get faster and more efficient. You’ll get an ill-fitting new shirt to wear while you’re doing laundry. Don’t underestimate the energizing power of surrounding yourself with other weirdos willing to exercise at 6 a.m. on a Saturday.

Eat healthy and stop drinking. Granted, I’ve never managed to fully pull this off. “Eat healthy” turns into a vague sort of “Eat organic chips instead of the regular kind.” “Stop drinking” quickly becomes “Stop drinking during the week,” then “Stop drinking Jameson during the week,” before it eventually gives way to “Stop drinking illegal, caffeine-infused malt liquors during the week.” I don’t even drink that much, but I seem to do it with a startling regularity that’s hard to manage for more than four consecutive days. Still, I think health is important, and I’m certainly going to work on it. No more Coors Light through a Twizzlers straw while I read dystopian Young Adult novels on a wild Friday night. I’m eating eggs and vegetables every morning and closing each night with a refreshing coconut-water nightcap. Sound boring? Sure, but that leads me into my next point of advice…

Avoid your friends. Seriously. If you’re normally a social animal, perhaps this is a good time to get in touch with your inner introvert and check out quiet evenings alone with a good book and an even better tabby. Consider starting a running blog, or at the very least, a joke journal. Consider spending the next month on self-improvement, inner growth and finally exploring what Netflix considers a “Visually Striking Suspenseful Swedish Documentary Featuring a Strong Lesbian Lead.” Knuckle down and focus on your training! But call everybody back the minute you’ve crossed the finish line.

So, there it is, my game plan for the next four weeks. Come late April, I’ll let you know how it goes, or maybe you’ll just read about my victory on stltoday.com. On the other hand, if this frantic attempt to access a Mario warp zone to Boston-qualifying times fails, expect to see a more reasonable training plan here with boring things like hill repeats and track sprints. I’m determined to shave 15 minutes off my PR by December!