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ROBIN ABCARIAN

Marathon Dreamer Suffers the Fits and Starts of Running

March 20, 1994|ROBIN ABCARIAN | Robin Abcarian's column is published Wednesdays and Sundays.

Since the Los Angeles Marathon, I've been at my best on my morning runs, fantasizing that my 30- or 40-minute jog could--with ever so little effort--be stretched into a four-hour 26.2-mile jaunt.

Of course, for people like me--who tie on fancy running shoes and pound the old knee cartilage a few times a week--a marathon looms as out of reach as a walk on the moon.

Then you meet someone--a marathoner, usually--who blithely tells you: "If you can run four miles, you can definitely run a marathon." And a very big part of you wants to believe it. Not because you actually want to run a marathon, but because you want to be able to say that you ran a marathon. And because you know, deep down, that what holds you back is your head, not your legs.

Technically, it would be incorrect to say that I have no marathon experience. In 1990, I "did" the New York City Marathon; I was the support team for my friend. It worked out pretty well. I carbo loaded; she ran. I had a good power-shopping session at Bloomie's, caught up with her at Mile 17 for a picture, then ate lunch. Afterward, I got stuck in post-race crowds in Central Park and almost passed out from claustrophobia.

I tell you, marathons are hell.

*

After fits and starts and always hating it, I began running in earnest in early 1991. My goal was to run a 5K that May with a colleague. Actually, my true goal was to lose a little weight. Eating less was just not a possibility for me. I figured if I ran, the pounds simply would melt away, that my inner Kim Basinger would finally be revealed.

Many years ago, I was forced to listen to a formerly plump friend burble annoyingly that since she had begun running five miles a day, she could eat anything she wanted and not gain weight! I bought this line for many years, positive that the reason for my inexorable increase from single into double-digit clothing sizes was the direct result of not running, completely unrelated to my lifelong obsession with tapioca pudding.

How many others have been damned to clothing brands with just a skosh more room by such infernal misinformation?

Turns out it was the tapioca after all.

Running does not cause fat to melt away. Running causes fat to jiggle uncomfortably.

And here is some really upsetting news: According to a book published by the Honolulu Marathon Clinic, "The closer your weight is to your feet, the harder it is to run. . . . This explains the phenomenon of the spindly-legged fat man running well."

This means that my nightmare body--the beefsteak-tomato-on-toothpicks shape I foresee 20 gallons of tapioca down the line--will not impede my ability to run a marathon eventually. It will merely allow me to be the world's fattest marathoner .

*

Running is not for the squeamish. It is a sport that demands the frank admission that bodily functions are normal, natural and embarrassingly inevitable.

Running races does for me what watching "Married . . . With Children" does for Terry Rakolta of Americans for Responsible Television. It makes me throw up.

Many theories have been advanced by friends and family--low blood sugar, milk intolerance, over-exertion, high anxiety--but nothing I do seems to help. I always lose it just before the finish line.

My favorite race picture shows me crossing a 5K finish line with my father at Santa Monica College. My mouth is clamped shut, my eyes are shut tight, my cheeks are bulging. I am nanoseconds away from my traditional race-ending hurl. My father--who, come to think of it, has slim legs and wears pants with a skosh more room--is the only person I know who will stay that close to me near a finish line.

That--and the fact that he chides me mercilessly afterward--is why I love him so.

*

On a hot, gorgeous afternoon last week, I ditched work, determined to run for an hour.

"If I can do that," I told myself, "then maybe one day I really can run a marathon."

I drove to the beach, put the radio headphones on and started north on the bike path. A breeze was up, the sky was clear, the Santa Monica Mountains were so close you could almost touch the fire scars.

The first 30 minutes were easy. At 40 minutes, I considered stopping. There was no real physical discomfort. My loser's reflex was kicking in. A few minutes later, I got a stitch and slowed down. It passed. At 50 minutes, I knew I could finish the hour, but I was certain I'd never run a marathon.

Five minutes later, with the end in sight, covered in sweat, I felt a slight runner's high, a happy, maybe-I-can-go-forever kind of feeling.

So I ran for five more minutes.

And believe me, it seemed like forever.

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