Twenty years ago this month, as I lay on the maroon-and-navy sofa in my San Francisco flat, I vowed never to run another marathon. I was splayed against a jumble of throw pillows, with my beyond-fatigued legs propped up. My quads felt as heavy and stiff as concrete pillars, and I quietly groaned when a spasm gripped one of my calves. I’d just completed the San Francisco Marathon, my first, and I swore, my last 26.2-mile race.
Yet in the two decades since that partly sunny Sunday, I’ve racked up 13 more marathons.
The following year, the siren call of the New York City Marathon grew too enticing, and I hoofed through the five boroughs. That 1999 NYC 26.2 ended up being my last pre-kids marathon; I didn’t cover the distance again until March 2003, when my older daughter, Phoebe, was 14 months old.
Since that time, I’ve run at least one marathon per year more often than I haven’t. (For a full list, see far below.) My favorite marathon is either Big Sur (The stunning natural beauty! Those views of the Pacific! Those unrelenting hills!) or Twin Cities (Those enthusiastic spectators! The kaleidoscope of fall leaves! The sparkling lakes!) At my hometown-honey marathon (Portland), I qualified Boston Marathon for the first time. A squeaker time (by 65 seconds, back when such a time actually got you into Boston!) in an unrelenting torrent of rain.
Eighteen months later, I ran my first Boston, one of the hottest on record (89 degrees), in what still stands as my slowest marathon time. Two years after that race, with a phenomenal coach who guided me through savvy training, I BQd exactly three minutes faster than I had when I was four years younger.
In 2016, during a yet-again too-hot trek from Hopkinton to Boston, I seriously debated if I should call it quits at a baker’s dozen and have that prestigious race be my last marathon. Thirteen is a special number for graduates of the university Dimity and I both attended, so it seemed somehow right that I should run 13 marathons.
Yet just like it only took me about a year to shake my “one-and-done” attitude toward the marathon distance, I resumed 26.2-training only a little more than 12 months after that I-should-call-it-quits-after-this-Boston race. There are a few reasons why I can’t completely divorce myself from marathons.
One: It’s kinda part of my job to run ’em.
Two: I love—absolutely adore—training for them. The commitment. The sense of purpose. The pride of completing one longer run after another, week after week. The personal growth that comes with digging deep and discovering some coarse moral fiber tucked behind the flossy, squishy bits.
And now Three: I’ve got a plan. A long-term plan. I hatched it this spring, and I’ve kept it tucked tight until now. I aim to complete at least one marathon in each decade. I ran my first 26.2 at age 32 and did two more marathons that decade. (Pregnancies + babies sidetracked me a bit.) My 40s were prodigious, racking up nine marathons; so far in my 50s, I’ve taken on two of them.
I’m currently sidelined from running due to a mild case of pesky plantar fasciitis, yet even before that malady kicked in, I knew this body o’ mine has a limited number of marathons left in it. My current plan means I’m going to parse them out. No more marathons just cuz. I’m going to choose my races judiciously to optimize my chances of completing a marathon in my 60s and one in my 70s. (Despite my excellent genes—my mother is 92!—even I’m not cocky enough to throw down a claim of doing one in my 80s. Yet.)
To those of you BAMRs in your 20s, 30s, and 40s, you might scoff at my caution, but let me tell you, sisters: With each passing year, maintaining a consistent running life gets more challenging. If it’s not a foot thang, it’s a low-back issue, hip tightness, or a creaky knee. For now, I’m enjoying swimming, biking, strength and barre classes, and Cyclebar—and daydreaming about returning to running. That racked-and-wrecked Sunday 20 years ago this month is a distant memory that now makes me chuckle.
1998: San Francisco
2003: Napa Valley
2007: Nike Women’s (CA)
2009: Eugene (OR)
2010: Big Sur + Portland (OR)
2012: Boston + Twin Cities
2013: Vancouver (B.C.)
2014: Victoria (B.C.) + Philadelphia
2017: Twin Cities