'Knowing I can Still do it'

Dr. Phil Anderson asks 'Why am I doing this again?' when recalling his decision to run another Twin Cities Marathon

“Why am I doing this, again?”

I found myself asking that question a lot as I hit the street for another training run for the Twin Cities Marathon. Is “challenge” the answer? Sure, but by running the Twin Cities Marathon the first time in 2000 I proved to myself I could start and finish a marathon.

So why do it again? Initially that challenge changed to time targets. Could I run it faster than I did the first time? (Yes!) Could I finish in the top 100 runners in my division? (Yes!) Could I break the four-hour mark? (No!) After getting as close as 4:10 in 2003, it became evident I wasn’t going to do any better.

So why did I subject myself to running for more than four hours with 10,000 strangers on a Sunday morning? Part of it is about setting a goal and then exercising (no pun intended … well, maybe) the self-discipline to achieve it. Could I do this in less strenuous ways? Sure, but that’s where my ego kicks in. I get satisfaction knowing that I can keep pace with my 20-year-old students in my June study-abroad program.

What does it take to be “marathon ready”? That is different for each runner. For me, it means running six milers, six times a week. That translates into two hours of training each time I run (warm-up exercises, 50-plus minutes of running, cool-down stretches and a shower). Maintaining that training schedule yields only mild soreness on the Monday after the marathon, which is one of my goals.

But that schedule also means having to say “no” too often to friends suggesting dinner in the backyard patio of W.A. Frost on a warm summer evening. Training for a marathon does not allow many “skips” (there’s that self-discipline thing), or you pay the price as you run the long, uphill stretch from the river up Summit Avenue past St. Thomas to Snelling Avenue. I could do my runs in the morning, but that would mean getting up at 4  a.m., and that’s not going to happen. Besides, I enjoy running at the end of the day with the sun in my face. It blows out the stress of the workday and energizes me for the evening.

So for me, running in a marathon is a lot about trade-offs. It requires training time on the road, instead of more time spent with family and friends.

Is it worth it? Yes.

There is great satisfaction in knowing that I can still do it, even after turning 60. And that’s the hook for me, being able to say I can still do it. Running another marathon lets me say to myself, “I am a marathon runner,” not “I was a marathon runner.”

So maybe the real answer to my question about why do it again is that it is all about denial. If I can still do this after turning 60, I must not be getting old. Ya, right.

Dr. Phil Anderson, professor and chair of management, has taught at St. Thomas since 1977.  He was the first director of the London Business Semester in 1995 and has led a study abroad program to England and Ireland annually since 1997.

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