Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Challenge of a Marathon

A year ago I challenged myself to make it to a marathon in 1 year.  I’d just completed my first 5K (it wasn’t pretty) but a victory of sorts after clipping my knee with a chainsaw 5 months earlier.   Until that point I couldn’t really call myself a runner.

Training didn’t start out so well.  For the 3 months after challenging myself I was plagued with a hamstring pull.  Over Christmas break I read Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run”.  I reasoned my aches and pains were shoe related.  In retrospect, I think it was overtraining related – exacerbated by bad shoes.   

Moving into the New Year, I bought a pair of Nike Free Run+ shoes as a transition to minimalist running.  My New Year ’s Day race was pretty decent considering I didn’t run much since Thanksgiving (a few 3 milers here and there).   I continued to log miles in them and decided I needed to get into Vibram Five Fingers sooner than planned.  I was barefoot running on the treadmill and was enjoying it immensely, but the deck heats up from friction after a few miles and then it’s less enjoyable.

I bought my VFFs in February, and then began my battles with the calves.  First the left, then the right, then both.  Pulls, soreness and aches.  I was doing my best to transition slowly from the Nike’s to the VFFs, but they were so damn addictive it was hard not to go faster than my legs could adapt.

In April 2011 I signed up for Steamtown – I was having good runs and felt confident.  I just needed to get to long runs with the VFFs.  I finally broke through and did a 9 mile run in VFFs while on vacation in the Outer Banks, NC.  A week later I killed my VFF love affair with a 11 mile run from Santa Monica pier to Beverly Hills at my 5K pace.   Yes, I run faster in VFFs.  And yes, I killed my calves, my feet and my spirit.  Determined to do some other runs, I didn’t rest and shredded my feet.  I limped home through the airport, barely able to walk and completely back to zero.

In May I took a couple of weeks off and got Chiropractic and Acupuncture treatment.  And then I started back with hills to strengthen my legs.  I shelved the VFFs and reverted to the Nike Free Runs, and alternated with Saucony Kinvaras, which I quickly threw in the corner and forgot about. 

June was a bad month.  I was relegated to cross training on the stationary bike due to nagging foot issues.   

July I got healthy and kicked my marathon training into high gear.  With kids out of school and activities over, I could focus on my 3-4 hour outings.  At first I attempted to run with my wife who is training for Baltimore on 10/15, but our styles don’t mesh (she’s been running for 30 years) and as she puts it, “your mental battles are your own, and you need to figure out how to deal with them in your own way.”  Very true, so we parted our (training) ways. 

August was my peak mileage month but only because in September I injured my back with no thanks to Hurricane Irene and was sidelined with back spasms for a week.   Topping out at almost 88 miles, I had 3 good long runs, with one simulating the elevation drop I’ll experience in Steamtown. 

September was a hurtin’ month.  I still logged nearly 80 miles but very little of it felt “great”.  These were true battles of physical and mental determination, and I was very happy when I hit my first taper week September 24. 

For the month of October (1 week before marathon) I was suffering through many nagging pains.  Mostly I rested, and I got a few miles in.  After a good run yesterday I decided to call it quits and not press my luck before marathon Sunday.  

Mileage
Here are my monthly training miles.  Treadmill runs are not on here (because I don’t call that running) and neither is my stationary bike cross training, which I pretty much do every day whether I’m running or not. 

Time Period
Count
Distance
Elevation Gain
Avg Speed
Avg HR
Calories
 Oct 2011
4
8.88
334
5.8
140
1273
 Sep 2011
16
78.6
4,080
4
154
11,616
 Aug 2011
11
87.79
4,748
5.7
155
11,864
 Jul 2011
14
74.67
4,208
5.6
--
10,925
 Jun 2011
3
12.79
672
5.8
--
1,875
 May 2011
13
64.92
4,502
5.8
--
9,265
 Apr 2011
14
60.89
1,597
5.3
--
7,310
 Mar 2011
4
9.91
410
6.4
--
1,180
 Feb 2011
1
2.16
67
6.4
--
253
 Jan 2011
3
2.91
104
6.5
--
338
Totals
81
397.15
20,503
5.2
154
54,994

There are three things that jump out at me here.  1) When I left the VFFs in April, my running pace fell off noticeably.  2) Jan-Mar was mostly indoor running and stationary bike training due to bad weather.  I don’t like to run in snow due to injury risks.  3) A footnote – I don’t know what my average speed in September was, but it wasn’t  4 mph.  Somehow my Garmin settings went to bike for a spell and I didn’t realize it, which probably dragged down the average.

If someone had told me I'd do 81 runs, run 400 miles and do 60 miles a week on the stationary bike for 9 months to be ready for a marathon, I think I would have believed it, but I wouldn't be so sure I could manage it.  The road to a marathon is itself a marathon, and there is much to learn about getting there successfully (not the least of which is an understanding and supportive family).     

With that said, that’s the road I took to my first marathon.  It's not very pretty, not always as planned, but I presume not many of them are.  When I get to the starting line I will have fulfilled my goal.  Finishing was not part of the challenge, although you can bet your ass I’ll be gutting it out to cross that finish line once I hit that mile 20 split.

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