Training For My First Marathon

A Brief History

As 2012 was ending, the desire to run longer and longer distances was becoming strangely appealing.  Strange because why would I be compelled to do something that hurt so much?  

Running was the first sport I chose to do.  I would've been called a 'Middle Distance Runner' when in grade school as a kid of 14 I set the 880 yard record (it was 1978, metric hadn't made it to us yet) at a very modest 2:12.  My best mile after that was 5:45.  

I had no idea how to train, I just ran whenever.  I used to think that my body would simply stay fit whether I trained or not.  Alas, my high school had no track program.  They only cared for basketball.  Looking back, I'll always wonder how I would've done with a coach.

I gave up on running during my sophomore year in high school (shin splints) and got on a bike.  My fate was sealed.  However, I found in college I was able to run again, and did an Olympic Distance Triathlon in 1986.  Bicycling, however, was still my best event.  I wouldn't run again until the 2003 Chicago Shamrock Shuffle 8K.

After the Shamrock, my hips were a riot of pain.  I could barely make it to the Porta-Potty in Grant Park, or even worse to my car, which I'd brilliantly parked all the way over by Franklin and the Sears Tower.  That settles it.  No more running for me!  I got back on my bike a couple hours later for an easy ride to get my hips to settle down.

4 years later it's 2007 and I'm back at it.  I still had this irrational compulsion to run.  Can anyone explain why they do anything?  I'd see people of all types and abilities running - on the road, sidewalk, parks, trails, indoor treadmills.  Why not me?

I never did more than 5 miles at a shot until March of 2011, when I ran over a 10K outside in 30 degree temps.  It felt fine.  I used to get respiratory infections a lot, so I was concerned about the cold air, but it didn't bother my lungs.  A couple weeks later I ran a 7 miler.  A few months after that in June I ran a 10 miler.  It was a warm day, the worst part of which was I hadn't yet learned about hand-held water bottles, and was frothing at the mouth.  

I continued to run thru the summer, once running the 5 miles from our home in Evanston to our Work In Progress Fitness training studio in Northfield, then running back home later in the day after work was done.  I never ran more than 10 miles , but I was beginning to believe that running and me were just fine.  I could do it whenever, wherever.  As a side note, my strength training regimen was key in keeping my 'suspension' healthy enough to sustain the Pyrrhic impact of body weight on concrete. 

2012 gave me an idea.  Can I keep up my strength levels, keep in basic running trim, and ride well enough to do 60 miles in 3 hours on the bike?  Yes, I found, I could do that.

Back to my intro...

'...the desire to run Longer and longer distances was becoming  strangely appealing.'

An 8 mile run in mid-December in 57 minutes at a 7:11 clip convinced me I should train for a Marathon.  I was 49, I was happy with my speed, and how much longer would my body let me do this?  All those 100 mile bike rides but not one Marathon. 

Lisa and I had a great week down on Anna Maria Island in FLA over Christmas.  I got to run on the beach by the ocean.  Parts of the beach near the Northernmost point are a slice of heaven for runners.  Wide open like a soccer field, the sand just firm enough.  I did another 10 miler, running a total of 29 miles in 5 days.  

I wanted to run the Marathon early in the season.  When running, warm temperatures deplete me.  Comparing bicycling to running in terms of body heat is like swimming in a sub-arctic Lake Michigan (Bicycling) v. an Italian Mediterranean Sea in the Summertime (Running).

Wisconsin had one in Waukesha called the 'Trailbreaker', most of which was run on the Glacial Drumlin Trail - about 22 miles worth it looked like.  According to the online course, you ran steadily uphill till the highest point at 486 feet, then it was mostly back down, with some dips and flats in-between.  Saturday, April 6, 8 am.  Weather-wise, anything could happen.  Last year we had a rare spring, with local temps as high as the 80's.  There was a good chance of freezing temps and snow.  As of this writing, I'm looking at 34-57 degrees, strong chance of rain.  

I had 14 weeks to ramp up to a Marathon distance.  I would learn much along the way.  The beauty of doing something new, challenging yourself to go beyond previous limits, is that it's an education.  The more you train to achieve, the more you learn along the way.
Standing in front of 'The Trailbreaker' course, Schuetze Center Gymnasium, about 7 am, April 8, 2013.

Some Training Highlights

'YakTrax' work great in ice and snow.

I can run in 12 degree temps.  Winter air didn't give me Pneumonia.

You must consistently hydrate, just like on a bike.
Hand held WB's, or for 15+ mile runs, try a Camelback.

After 90 minutes, you need more than just a carbohydrate sport drink.  I had to supplement my sport drink with a fuel which included protein.  Thank you, Hammer Nutrition.

For runs over 90 minutes, don't eat within 3 hours of training.  Some of what you take in will burn down (as it digests) the Glycogen stored in your muscles, leaving you in a deficit when you need that energy the most.  It's OK to begin the run hungry.  

My gloves filled up with sweat (leaving my hands literally swimming in water) if I wore mittens, or even liners beneath my bare bones gloves.  If you can suffer thru the first few miles, your hands will come around even in the coldest temps.

I never needed more than 3 layers, or anything heavy and insulated.  Body heat alone was it's own Goose Down.

Despite running thru standing water for blocks worth of distance on days when the temps edged above freezing, my drenched, cold feet always managed to dry back up. (but it still sucked.)

Running in snow and ice of 1-4 inches is a @#$%!!  But GREAT training.

Running in the road works.  Use the 'Biker' lane, whether it's designated or not.  Cars are always oppressive, but hopefully paying attention.  I broke protocol and ran with the traffic.

Sometimes it's good not to know.  My first Half-Marathon was my fastest, at 1:39, 7:32 pace.  

Run longer, run slower.  The body builds up it's Mitochondria in the aerobic zone.  Mitochondria is the organelle in the cell in which the processes of respiration and energy production take place.  The more Mitochondria per cell the better.  I had to set ego aside, be patient, and start slowly for any runs over 13.  Slow is not easy, BTW.

Run like a Pixie.  Dance on the balls of your feet (the forefoot), have a minimal swing in the arms, keep breathing constant and shallow, and keep moving those feet - more steps and less stride, stay loose, smile, be as happy and carefree as possible even if you feel like serious Hell.  

After 15 miles, everything's different.  It's a game of attrition.  Willpower and focus take over.  You really can't listen to your body anymore, all you know is 'Keep Moving'.  It's OK to stop, rest a little, stretch a little, but not too long.  Avoid sitting down. I did walk for 50 yard stretches in my first 20 miler, still forcing myself to run the majority of the last 4.  It was so hard, I was so fried, but it felt so good to find myself at my doorstep in one piece.  The next time I did 20 I ran all of it.

Force yourself to stretch afterwards, and use the Foam Roller.  Naysayers aside, I've found stretching is important for muscle recovery.  A muscle group - aside from the usual ankle-calf-hamstring-hip flexor complaints - that I've never seen much mention of are the hip adductors.  Running down the inside of the thigh from the hip and attaching just below the inside of the knee at the head of the Tibia.  Aside from stretching and Foam Rolling, a good Massage Therapist is also extremely helpful.  

Eat sensibly, with an eye to complex carbs, not too much fat, enough protein (figure 1 gram per 1 lb lean body mass), and an absolute minimum of saturated fat.  Don't start binging 2 weeks prior to the race.  If you've trained, your body will store it up as you taper.

Enjoy the little surprises.  Courteous drivers, friendly fellow runners and walkers and bikers, parents with baby carriages, dog walkers, little kids running up to and goofing on you.  That Zen moment where you really do feel like you're floating above the sidewalk.
I saw a Doe ('Doe, a Deer, a Female Deer! Ray, a drop of Golden Sun!  Me, a name, I call myself! FAR, A LONG LONG WAY TO RUN!!!') on my last 20 miler. She was standing off the to the side of the Skokie Lagoons North Branch Trail Loop (Tower-Forestway-Dundee-Edens).  I was just coming up a little rise on my last go around, willing my legs to move, and there she was.  Staring at me.  Taller than me.  No fear.  'Hey, gorgeous', I called to her.  As I went by she sauntered off, no bounding or panic in her stride.  

My last 15 miler before my taper was painful and hard, but I never once stopped to rest.  I'd always had to do up to that last long run.  

Fear, as I learned from Frank Herbert's Dune, is the 'Mind Killer'.  It's there, you can't deny it, but you can refuse it.  It's two best friends are pain and doubt.  If the mind believes the body follows.  A little faith can give you the courage you need to finish the run.

Tomorrow I put my training to the test.  I am hopeful, faithful, confident, scared, wired, and ready.  My only goal is to finish, and make it a good experience.
'We Few
We happy Few
We Band of Brothers
And Sisters.'


Talk to you soon.