Long Train Running: A Chicago Marathon Story | Chapter 2 — The Cost of This

Long Train Running: A Chicago Marathon Story | Chapter 2 — The Cost of This

By David Himmel

It’s just past dawn on a Saturday morning but it is still dark. The sun hasn’t shined for days. It hides behind clouds of ash and poison. We’ve been attacked. It was likely Iran. But it could have been North Korea. Even Mexico and Canada are suspects. We’re not sure. Telecommunication is dead. The satellites still orbit but the processors on the ground do not compute. America is no longer an empire or world power, but a writhing pest struggling to stay alive under a cold, deadly mass of putrid toxins. All our centuries of technology building means nothing. We have been reduced to relying on our most basic human survival skills. This is a struggle for even Bear Grylls.

Bomb shelters, makeshift bunkers mean certain death. To survive, we must keep moving. Word of clean air has spread like gossip. It’s always just over that ridge or two clicks beyond that hill. And so we run. Speed, strength, and endurance are our only hope for survival. This is our marathon.

We’ve trained for this. We’ll be fine. But the gear we’ve come to rely on has either been destroyed or rendered useless. Without our Garmin watches set to intervals we cannot determine our best pace. We can listen to our bodies but our bodies have been wrong before. You recall when our bodies told us we could handle another shot of Jägermeister when we really could not. Our Garmin watches, the running and training apps on our smartphones never let us down. And so we’re not running smart because essentially, we’re running blind.

Our Saucony Vigor Jacket, which protected our skin from rain and wind so well was lost in the initial attack. So, too, were our Salomon S/LAB XT-6 LT ADV running shoes. And our Nike Running Dri-FIT shirts and shorts. We have no Gatorade chews or gels. If seeing our spouses and children being burned alive in a slow instant didn’t leave us feeling overwhelming despair, running without all of our high-tech, expensive gear has. Yes, we’ve stretched. We think we know our cadence. But without the gear, we might as well have died the moment the warhead struck. 

How in the world did anyone run a marathon, or be a runner in any fashion without all this stuff? GPS watches and running/training apps didn’t exist twenty years ago. How far more difficult it must have been for those poor, primitive beasts. A cotton T-shirt? Don’t be a fool. Cotton absorbs your sweat and hold sit there and can limit your movement and weigh you down and oh God! I have a Timex Ironman watch. Though presented as a watch ideal for training for an Ironman, it is incapable of timing out intervals. Two weeks in to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon training and I see how detrimental that is.

There’s no question that running tech improves the running experience. It certainly makes tracking your training easier. But is it worth it? That depends on how you value money. And how much you have.

I’ve seen the haves and the have nots. Those with the gear and those with cotton T-shirts or watches that don’t do intervals. And I’ve been the guy who, when running with the team, watches and listens for the pace leader to announce an interval break. And then I don’t feel like a chump for not having a more high-tech watch. If my training regimen calls for me to run intervals on my solo runs, I may just have to adjust the training that day. And the coach says that’s allowed, so it won’t break me.

What will break me is the cost of running. If I let it.

I’ve been training for the Chicago Marathon for, officially, a week-and-a-half. I’ve already spent close to $400. And none of it was on a watch or hydration systems or new shoes, or chews or gels (but I did pocket a nice grip of free samples the other day — thanks, Gatorade!). But I’m sure those purchases are imminent. I’ve got that Saucony Vigor jacket in my cart right now, waiting for me to click buy. Do I need it? Probably not but will it make the chillier and wetter runs more comfortable and allow me to warm up sooner and remain comfortable on those longer runs? Probably. And hey, it’s on sale! Just $99.99! That includes FREE SHIPPING! Oh, and look! There’s an additional coupon!

And as you pass, those dying at the roadside use their last breath to call out to you, “Way to go, runner! Keep it up!”

Time will tell if I ever spring for a watch upgrade. I don’t need to blow four hundred bucks on one. I’m sure I can find one being resold by a marathon retiree or a half-marathon dropout or as part of an estate sale from someone who died after completing a marathon — or died because they were wearing the wrong shoe for their gait. The risks are real, yo.

I don’t want to fall victim to the marketing. Not yet, anyway. It’s still early. I want to train a bit more and figure out what I actually need. Maybe I do need more Dri-FIT running shirts and shorts. If not to improve my running experience then to improve the foul stench emanating from the reheated old sweat held in the fibers. Because even Dri-FIT holds enough moisture to stink eventually. Options are good when you can’t do laundry every day.

But the most expensive part of this training so far has been, and likely will be, the physical therapy I’m receiving for my weak parts that caused so much pain last week. I need to be strong. I need to be flexible. And in the two sessions I’ve had, along with the homework stretches and strength-building exercises assigned to me as homework, coupled with the cross-training routine and the easing-back-into-it running I’ve done, I’m feeling remarkably better. So I’ll shell out the $150/visit from the zipper pocket of my new Nike Running Dri-FIT shorts to pay for a little one-on-one professional assistance to get me where I need to be so I’m well enough to take the helm and man my own engine.

Why out of pocket? Because my Blue Cross Blue Shield plan is shit. Thanks to the Great American Health Insurance Scam that is the crux of our healthcare system, I’m unable to secure a plan that covers much more than emergency room visits, surgeries and annual checkups. Athletico called me to tell me my plan wouldn’t cover treatment. I didn’t get the message. So when I walked in for my appointment yesterday morning, they looked at me like I was crazy.

“Did you get a call from us?”


“Your plan doesn’t—”

“Oh, I know. I’d be surprised if it did. It’s okay. Whatever it costs.”

They must not get that response often. It seemed to blow their minds.

Why such a crap plan? Because I work for myself and I can’t afford to shell out much more than close to half a grand a month in principal payments. But this gripe is not mine alone and is part of a much larger, far more dyer conversation. I digress…

But I also move forward. Stronger, faster, better. Poorer.

Along the roadside are fellow humans bent over in pain from side cramps and charley horses and shin splints and torn hip flexors. It’s a gruesome scene. They stew in their own sweat without a breath of wind to be found. You want to stop and help them. Let them know that it’s okay to run in cotton. It’s okay to not monitor their pace-per-mile exactly. You want to stop but you can’t. To avoid your own cramps and injuries, you’ve got to keep moving. Never slow the momentum, never stop the inertia.

The hellish cloud is overhead. But you believe that you can almost see the clear skies and that clean air and a second wind just up ahead. You don’t know how far you’ve run. You only know that that you can keep going because it doesn’t hurt that bad.

And as you pass, those dying at the roadside use their last breath to call out to you, “Way to go, runner! Keep it up!”

If you’d like to help Gilda’s Club Chicago, an organization the provides free cancer support to anyone impacted by cancer, please make a donation to my Team Gilda running page. I appreciate your help. More importantly, so do the thousands of Gilda’s Club members who would be lost without it.

Catch up and keep the pace!
Previous Long Train Running chapters

Chapter 1 — Ready, Set, Ouch

An Essay about James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom for Bloomsday

An Essay about James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom for Bloomsday

Notes from the Post-it Wall | Week of June 9, 2019

Notes from the Post-it Wall | Week of June 9, 2019