Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day 1: This is Going to be Harder Than I Thought

"Even thinking about running that far takes a certain amount of endurance. And courage. And maybe even arrogance."

Okay, so I'm no idiot. I knew this would be freakin hard. I mean I knew it. But knowing it and then really knowing it are two different things, you know?

I don't really have the base level of running that you are supposed to have when you begin your marathon training. What I mean to say, is that it is probably not the best course of action to just decide one day nonchalantly, "I think I'll run a marathon." Which isn't exactly what I've done. I've been an off-an-on, slow runner my whole life and I was even running for hours at a time back in the Fall. But that was before I got the flu (twice), pneumonia (twice) and mononucleosis (for about 4 months). So I haven't been running far or regularly in recent months, so I have to admit I'm not in the best physical condition to start an 18 month marathon training program.

HH (Hal Higdon) recommends that ideally a person be able to run distances between 3 and 6 miles, be training 3-5 days a week, averaging 15-25 miles a week and have run an occasional 5-K or 10k race (Marathon, 28). Um, so far so not good. I haven't been able to run a full 3 miles more than a handful of times since I began running again after recovering from my illnesses. So I can't run 3+ miles as of today's start date, let alone 6. I have definitely NOT been running 3-5 days a week, though it is some consolation that I have been working out (i.e. circuit training, strength training, yoga, walking or jogging) 3-5 times a week for the last 2 months. I definitely have not been logging 15-25 miles a week. It's been more like 2.5-6 per week. Oh and I've never run a race longer than an 8k in my life, so having run a 10k is out. Shit. The only positive note is that I have run at least three 5k races (2 in the last 2 months; 1 about 4 months ago) and those went well (slow, but well).

So, should I just give up now? Because I don't have the "ideal" running baseline fitness? Hells to the No. HH is more positive when he goes on to say: "It is possible to run a marathon with less of a training base, but the higher your fitness level, the easier this 18-week program will be." He goes on to say that "Not everyone should approach a marathon without having run before, but if you're young and highly motivated (and maybe just a little foolish) or decide you want to complete a marathon to raise money for a charity, I'm not going to stand in your way" (Marathon, 28-29).

Am I Young? Check. Highly Motivated? Check. Maybe just a little Foolish? Check, check. I think the idea here is that all is not lost. I've said I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this. So let's do this. But I also think the idea is the more fit you are, the easier training will be. The less fit you are, the harder this training will be. That's just super. So where do I fall? You'll know as soon as I tell you about my extremely challenging first run.

HH's "Novice 1" training guide technically lists day 1 as a "rest" day, but let's be serious. For me, Day 1 was the first day I actually had to run. And the first run is an "Easy 3 mile run." But now that I look back on that decision it was seriously foolish. Because what should have been day 1 (yesterday) and a "rest" day was a day where I didn't run but I decided to do a lot of strength training and circuit training and yoga in my basement watching my tv using Comcast Exercise TV fitness videos, specifically Brooklyn Decker's "Bikini Revolution" programs. And while I didn't run at all, except for some very light jogging in the circuit part of my workouts, I was sore as all get out today when I had to run. So I wasn't in prime condition to begin with. Big mistake. Rest days are rest days - PERIOD. Lesson learned. Then, I decided I was excited, it being my first day and all, so I would try a new running route. I was bored with my old 3-mile running route. So I set out in my car and plotted out a 3 mile route. A very, very, very hilly route where you go uphill for days then downhill for days but then uphill again for days. Yeah, not a good idea as it turned out. My third and worst mistake of my very first day (I know you are starting to lose faith in me and I don't blame you but I promise to behave smarter in the future) was to run in the middle of the day, around 12:45-1:25 in the afternoon, in DC, in June, when it was 90+ degree weather. Oh, and did I mention that the local weather reports say its officially been the hottest June in DC history? Yeah, no joke. (Check out "How to Adapt to the Heat for Summer Runs" at for some great ideas on how to deal with this heat which I'm going to use in the future including (1) staying hydrated all day, including before you even start exercising (2) wearing the right clothes (3) considering working out early or late in the day and (4) wearing sunscreen to avoid the additional dehydration, fatigue and heat that comes from sunburn.)

So there I was, running in extreme heat, up and down hills, on a new running route, sore from over-training the day before and setting out on my first day of marathon training. It was not a good start.

From the first footsteps, I felt tired. And sore. And defeated. But I did run the entire first half, the first 1.5miles to be exact. But when I went to turn around after 1.5 miles and run the other 1.5 miles back, the first leg of that return was uphill and I was already exhausted. My whole body was so hot it felt like my arms were on fire. My clothes felt tight to my body, my legs weighed a thousand pounds. I had to walk. So I began to walk and to walk up that hill and to try to rejuvenate myself with a little water (I'm not a complete idiot -- I was carrying two little water containers-- the kind that attach to those water belts).

The question now becomes: Can I do this? If I can't even run a full 3 miles on my first day, how am I going to do this, I mean how? Can I do this? So in my head, as I marched up the hill, I tried to comfort myself and think about my faults and my failings in a positive light. Okay - so you couldn't run the whole thing today, so you may never run any of your training runs in full, so you may not run the entire marathon, but do you care? The answer...not I don't care if I have to take walking breaks through every single training run. And I expect even if I was in great shape, I'd probably have to walk during the marathon I need to get over any shame or disappointment about this reality. I'm going to have to walk some of this. And that's okay. Even HH says its okay. He says:

"Walking breaks are okay in a marathon if your main interest is in finishing and you don't care about time" (130). He even goes on to say that his son, Kevin used a running w/ walking breaks strategy to run 2:18:50 and qualify for the 1984 Olympic Trials and that "Bill Rodgers walked several times and even stopped to retie a shoe while winning the 1975 Boston Marathon in 2:09:55. So no apologies needed, you walking runners" (130).

Okay, I'm convinced, but how much walking can I do? I do want to mostly run this thing but it's going to take me awhile (let's hope 18 weeks is enough) to build up my endurance to run longer and longer and I may never realistically be able to run the whole thing. How much walking should I expect to do/allow myself to do within my training runs? Here's the conclusion that I came to: The Marine Corps Marathon website,, under the FAQ section, explains that you can walk the marathon must maintain a 14 minute per mile pace for the first 20 miles. Here's why: The 14th street bridge, apart of the race course, must re-open to traffic, about 5 hours (or a little under 5 hours) after the race has begun and it would be unsafe to allow runners to continue to race that part of the course with the bridge open to traffic. Therefore, anyone not having crossed the 14th street bridge by Mile 20, in around 5 not allowed to continue the race. With this information in hand, I figure I have to be able to do every single training run and the first 20 miles of the marathon at a 14 minute per mile pace or faster. All of a for this marathon sounds totally doable.

Now, I want to be clear that I'm not trying to give myself the lowest expectations for myself and my running possible. I want to be realistic about my abilities and accordingly set realistic expectations for myself and then attempt to surpass those expectations when and if I can. Which I really do think I can. But since I'm a beginning runner, this is my first marathon and my only real goal is simply to finish, then I need to focus on the goal of finishing and do what it takes to get there. Period. So...14 minutes per mile pace, be it running or walking or run/jog/walking...let's do it.

Ultimately, of course I did finish my Day 1 Training Run of 3 miles. I ran probably about 2 and a half miles of it and walked about a half a mile. And while I was wearing a watch I was scatterbrained enough to forget to both (1) look at what time I left and (2) set the timer to time the whole run, (doh! I'm an idiot!), which means I have no idea how long it took me. Regardless, I feel fairly confident I finished it within a 14 minute mile pace or faster, i.e. 3 miles at 14 minutes is completing 3 miles in 42 minutes or less.

Overall, it was a hot, hard, hilly and somewhat discouraging day but here's how I got through it and here's how I'm going to approach this semi-defeat to keep at it tomorrow and the next day...

I spoke to my friend EC this evening. And I started to FREAK. OUT. How am I supposed to run 6 miles this Saturday? That's in 4 days???!!!! And 7 miles next week? And 9 miles two weeks after that?? I don't know if I can do this. And he said the simplest, but best thing he could have said. "Just take it one run at a time, one week at a time. And don't worry about what comes next." And he's right. I'm going to take it one run at a time and one week at a time and do my best (whatever that may be) each and every time. And that's all I can do and all I can hope for. And put like really does seem doable. No, really, it does. So...till next time...(I can't believe next time is tomorrow which means I have to run again tomorrow)...

Come Run With Me.

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