Tuesday, April 12, 2005

An Ode to My Personal Trainer

Training for the London Marathon on a beautiful morning, I breathlessly ascend a near-perpendicular hill in Greenwich Park. Upon reaching the top, I stop, doubled over, gulping fresh air, trying to stop the spots appearing before my eyes. My personal trainer is having none of it—he quickly complains about my rest and wants to run again immediately. My trainer’s personal skills leave something to be desired, and he expresses his displeasure with a shocking lack of eloquence. His demands are relentless, and his expressions can be described as monosyllabic at best and guttural at worst. I’d fire him if I could.

Unfortunately, I’m locked into a lifetime contract. My trainer is my 22-month-old son.

With less than a week to go until the race on April 17, my son Nicholas has been with me nearly every step of the way. There is no doubting that he is my personal trainer, of a sort, as he sits in his jogging buggy while I push him around Greenwich and Blackheath. He complains with a high-pitched whine when I stop, even if I have a good excuse, like an untied shoelace. He claps victoriously when we speed downhill. If he thinks we ought to be moving faster, he rocks forward and backward. He even occasionally says, “Go!” during sprints.

We certainly do attract our share of attention. Usually the comments are of the “Well done” or “Better you than me” variety. One gorgeous morning, when it was raining/snowing/windy, we were running along the Thames when I heard someone behind me. The path was narrow, so the bicyclist had to coast along until the path got wider. When he passed us, he asked, “Are you training for the baby buggy marathon or something?”

I said, “Well, I am training for the London marathon.”

He gave me a good, long look—or as long as one could be when perched atop a bicycle—and said with a great deal of incredulousness, “Really?”

That’s exactly how I feel most days.

Some of my personal trainer’s workouts are sessions that even the mighty Paula Radcliffe would not dare undertake. I am certain that of the 30,000 runners lining up on April 17, I am the only one who has read the classic tome, “Shrek 2: Opposites” while doing sprints. One rainy day he was so miserable, I tried to cheer him up by singing “Five Little Ducks,” while we finished our fifth mile. More times than I can count I’ve had to stop to provide water, offer up a raisin box or find another book for him to peruse.

Nicholas may have made my training more difficult, but there’s no denying he’s made me stronger. Sometimes-- OK, many times-- I feel as though I’m the only person who’s got such a small training partner for the marathon. I logged on to a Runner’s World forum posting a question about training for the race with a child, hoping there was someone out there as mad as me. I became convinced I was stuffed when the first few replies were, “Blimey! Good for you!” and “Very impressive.” Finally the thread did generate an answer—but from only one person and I suspect he’s running with a child only on the weekends.

I’m hoping my personal trainer will have helped me get around the course in a decent time. Ideally, I’d like to beat the course record for the runner dressed as a Panto horse (4:37) or Oprah Winfrey’s marathon time (4:29). At this point, though, any finishing time will make me very proud and happy.

On marathon day, there will be thousands of runners with inspiring stories to tell—those who overcame illness or injury, those who want to honour a friend’s memory or those who never ran a step until they started training. I don’t think my story is particularly inspiring, but I’d like to think that my effort honours the work of every mother who’s doing the best job she can, while letting her dreams coexist with the needs of her family.

Amputees sometimes sense a phantom limb, where they feel things in the appendage that no longer exists. I’m wondering if after the hundreds of miles I’ve pushed my trainer in pursuit of my goal, I will start pushing a “phantom buggy” if I start hallucinating in the latter part of the race. If you happen to see a woman crossing the finish line singing “Five Little Ducks” pushing a buggy that isn’t there, you’ll know the answer.

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