Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"For Those Not Running, Training Can Be Just as Taxing"

From The New York Times

For Those Not Running, Training Can Be Just as Taxing


Published: October 28, 2008 

In response to the recent financial crisis, Caren and Jon Cohen, parents of two children and residents of the Upper East Side, enacted a family policy of increasing awareness of household spending — “taking a second look every time you make a purchase and making sure that it’s O.K.,” as Caren put it.

The recent financial crisis has Caren and Jon Cohen trying to cut expenses — except maybe when it comes to Jon’s marathon training equipment. 

In a bid to qualify for Boston, Jon Cohen has logged as many as 80 miles a week, some on a treadmill in his apartment. 

So it was with incredulity that she recently watched her distance-running-obsessed husband, deep in his preparations for the New York City Marathon, unbox a new electronic muscle stimulator, a gadget he had purchased for $900 to help aid his recovery from long training runs. 

“I really need this,” he told his befuddled wife.

As the accommodating Caren Cohen is well aware, marathon fatigue can be punishing this time of year, as tens of thousands of distance runners around the world are training for fall races like Sunday’s New York City Marathon, which will have a field of more than 39,000. And sometimes the fatigue has nothing to do with sore muscles or tired legs. The weight of the impending 26.2-mile race is often borne by the families, friends and co-workers of amateur marathoners-in-training — innocent bystanders who sustain the collateral damage. 

Less amused by her husband’s passion for the marathon is Rebecca, a 30-something Manhattan resident who asked that her surname not be published for fear of further marathon-related domestic strife. Her ambivalence about her husband’s marathon and triathlon training moves closer to resentment when she considers the effect it has had on their apartment, their social life and even their conversations.

“I miss my guestroom, which has become the garage and smells like a locker room,” she said in an e-mail message. “I miss talking about things other than Harlem hill repeats, and I wish we had put a down payment on an apartment with the money he spent on his stupid custom bike.”

Rebecca, who says her husband talks about his training “incessantly,” could be in for a long winter if her husband meets his goal of attaining a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. 

“Usually after that first weekend in November, I think, O.K., now we have our Friday nights and Saturday mornings back,” she said in an interview. “But he’s not the kind of guy who will just say, ‘Great, I qualified — now I can take it easy.’ He’ll want to do really well next spring. So it’s not going to end for me.”

The all-consumed runner can make his co-workers feel as if they, too, are in an endurance event. Sunday mornings are popular for long training runs, sometimes 20 miles or more; Monday mornings can be grueling for the colleague in the neighboring cubicle who hears the stride-by-stride retelling of that run. And no one knows the true agony of blisters on the feet until he has heard his co-worker describe the arc of their progression — from development to drainage — in excruciating detail.

The colleagues of Jaime Sperling, the communications manager at the World Monuments Fund in Manhattan, are continually reminded that there is a marathoner in their midst. 

“I know I was a nightmare training for my first marathon, in 2004,” Sperling said in an e-mail message. “Icing my knees at work, worrying out loud about my mileage, bragging about my long runs. I think I even brought my finisher’s medal to work the next day (or the day after, since I made a big deal about taking off the day after since I’d be ‘too sore to walk’).”

Now, Sperling is training to run the New York City Marathon for the fourth time, and her colleagues are well aware that she frequently commutes to work by running the five miles from her home in Queens to her office in Manhattan, where she keeps several outfits hanging in her cubicle.

“Of course there are no showers at work, so she says she mops herself up,” Ben Haley said. “It’s pretty funny, because she comes in drenched in sweat, freshens herself up and starts working.”

The 40-year-old Jon Cohen, who is training to run the New York City Marathon for the fifth consecutive year, says he hopes to qualify for the Boston Marathon by running faster than 3 hours 20 minutes, the standard for his age group. In his bid to meet that time, Cohen has logged as many as 80 miles in a week, sometimes running twice a day or doing back-to-back long runs on the weekend. 

He acknowledges that it is a demanding regimen for someone who is not a professional runner. 

“There are times when you think, what am I doing this for? I’m not trying to qualify for the Olympics, and I don’t make my living doing this,” he said. “But there’s something inside that makes me strive for these goals.”

Cohen’s training routine extends beyond Central Park. At home, to the amusement and occasional disdain of his family, he behaves like many a fanatical long-distance runner: taking ice baths, mixing energy drinks, exhibiting an excessive germophobia and, as his largely unfazed wife put it, “rolling around the living room on his foam roller.”

For an obsessive marathoner-to-be, these are small sacrifices to make in the interest of performing well on race day, which is never far from mind. Whenever Jon Cohen drives his family over the Willis Avenue Bridge, he delivers a spiel that his wife and children know by heart. 

“This is the toughest part of the marathon right here,” he lectures his eye-rolling but otherwise indulgent children, ages 12 and 8. “When you hit the bridge, it’s the 20-mile mark, and from here, you have the toughest six miles to go.” 

But while marathoners like Cohen prepare to count down the miles and minutes on Sunday, many spectators already have the finish line in sight.

As the beleaguered but good-natured Haley said last week in reference to Sperling’s marathon: “I’ll be pretty relieved once it’s over.”

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