Week 123: Columbus Marathon Recap

How did I become a guy who runs half marathons? Just 29 months ago I was a 325 pound guy who spent Sunday mornings on the couch with sugary cereal watching Netflix. Now I am a guy who voluntarily gets up super early to punish my body with a 13+ mile run.

My most recent experience with early morning half marathons happened last weekend at the Columbus Marathon. This was my third organized half in a year and seventh time running the distance in just over a year. It was also the anniversary of my first half marathon last year which was a very difficult and rewarding experience.

Training

Over the several months before last weekend I was training for my half marathon run. Once again I didn’t follow a formal training plan and decided to do it my way. My training consisted of lots of running using my marathon intervals strategy of alternating runs of 2 miles and walks of .25 miles.

My peak run happened way back at the end of August when I meant to run ten miles but accidentally ran the full 13.1 mile distance. Yes I accidentally ran a half marathon!

My accidental half resulted in giving myself an injury that I thought was a stress fracture. Fortunately it was not but all of my runs after that point were much shorter. I began tapering (or reducing my running distance) a few weeks before the big day in order to give myself some recovery time.

I was really concerned because I had not run the long distances that I had done before my two prior half marathons. This made me worried that I was not going to be properly prepared for race day.

Race Week

My normal strategy for the days leading up to a half marathon is to completely rest. No running, just light walking. But this year I kept doing light runs right up until mid-week. I read that it was considered best practice to keep running and the weather was kind of amazing so I decided I needed to keep running.

Also, more than in previous races, I spent the week focused on my nutrition. I slowly ramped up my carbohydrate intake through the week. I also started eating a few more calories than my normal low calorie week. The day before the race I had a big carbo-loaded breakfast of delicious French toast and had a wedding the night before complete with mashed potatoes, cookies and cake.

Race Day!

On Sunday the big day finally arrived: race day! I got up just after 5a and had my traditional pre-race breakfast of lots of water and toast with peanut butter. Then I brewed a cup of coffee and took it and a banana with me to help continue fueling for the race. I got dressed in my running clothes and headed out the door.

I got in my car and drove downtown about a mile away from the starting line. I parked at a meter (free on Sundays!) just after 6a and started my walk. I park about a mile away from the corrals and then get a solid walk in as a form of warm-up. The temperature was great that morning and was in the 50s early in the morning.

Once I got into the “athletes only” area at the starting line the race started feeling real. The pump-up music was playing and there were lots of other runners there with me starting to warm up for the run. The crowd kept getting bigger and bigger for the nearly one hour that I waited before the run started. Eventually there were 18,000 people all crammed in together and were excited to get started.

Next thing you know we had the national anthem, some words from the mayor and lots of fireworks marking the start of the first group. About fifteen minutes later I was moving up towards the starting line. I ate my first packet of runners gel (a nutrition gel full of electrolytes, caffeine, sodium and other goodies) and tossed my sweatshirt off into the clothing donation pile.

Miles 1-4

I was off and had started my second Columbus Marathon run!

The beginning of the race felt good. My muscles were well rested, my body properly hydrated and fueled and I was ready to run. There were tons of people lining the course which helped bring the high energy.

We were all still running as a big crowd and I was passing a fair number of people but I was trying hard to manage my speed. I knew that part of my challenge last year was that I ran too fast for too long and deviated from my running strategy at the beginning of the race. Plus the temperature was in the 20s last year too. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake.

I reached the 2-mile point where I had planned to switch to walking but I decided to push a little bit further. Around mile 2.5 I decided that I needed to stick to my strategy and slowed to a walk for about a quarter mile. Then it was back to running.

Before I knew it I was at mile 4 where my big struggle happened last year. I started feeling that familiar feeling of cramping starting again this year but it was very minor. I was able to push through and continued running and felt great.

I was feeling so good and shuffle was finding the best music and I was actually dancing while running. I was having a good time and felt great!

Miles 4-8

In the second leg of the race I was still going strong.

I ate my second packet of nutrition gel and still felt very high energy. My run/walk strategy was working well but the walk portion was getting annoying. There I am running in a pack of other runners and then I slow to a walk and everybody is passing me making me feel like I am left behind. So I started reducing the walk portions of my race just a little bit.

Then I looked down and I had just crossed the halfway point!

Surprisingly enough I still had tons of energy! I reached the 8th mile where Nationwide Children’s Hospital is and I increased my speed. I decided to really push myself in miles 7 and 8 before hitting my next walk interval. I was worried it would be a mistake but it worked out great.

Miles 9-11

As I entered into miles 9 and 10 I reflected back to last year again as this was one of my most difficult stretches of the race. Last year I had serious cramps and was just a few blocks from home and really considered quitting. Not this year!

I felt really great in this stretch and was running pretty hard through my neighborhood.

When I hit the 10.5 mile point I was around Schiller Park, my normal running route, and there was an official marathon photo location. They got a good picture of me that summed up how I was feeling. I was smiling, I was feeling good and I was still dancing a bit.

I ate my last packet of nutrition gel and made a big decision. I was going to finish strong. I decided to run as hard as I could through the last mile and a half and get to the finish line as quickly as I could. I had the energy, my body was feeling good and I knew I could do it.

Last Mile

I was in the last mile and was running hard. But it wasn’t just the running I was also really dancing as I ran. Good music was on, I was feeling good and I was on track to finish strong. I did need to take one more short walking interval since I was running so hard and that was when I crossed into the last mile.

I quickly got back to running and was going strong. I was running through a familiar spot and there were tons of people and I was as motivated as ever. I made the turn towards the finish line where the full marathoners continue on for another 13 miles. That’s where I ran into friends who had just finished and came back to cheer me on.

Finish Line

Then just 2 hours and 17 minutes after I crossed the start line I was crossing the finish line.

I was physically exhausted but still felt good and had a surprising amount of energy. I was also very excited because one of my best friends was volunteering and passing our medals and blankets. I had a chance to give her a hug after finishing my run.

Just then I got the automate text message announcing that I had finished and it included my time.

What?! I ran with a pace of 10:31?! I was happy with that pace in my first few 5k races and I was ecstatic with it in a half marathon! When the results got published I was even better and had a pace of 10:30.

Wrap Up

I am pretty excited and happy with my Columbus Marathon results and proud of my performance. I am glad that I chose to push myself to run another half marathon!

I am pretty sure I will be running again in April at the Cap City Half Marathon and again in October at the Columbus Marathon again. I had seriously considered making this my last half marathon until I finished so strong. But I know I can do even better!

Once the running was over the recovery started. This entire week and most of next week are dedicated to properly recovering from the run and resting my muscles. I have started the process called the “reverse taper” or the process of slowly ramping running frequency and distance back up to normal. This is important because it is race season for me. I have another race about every two weeks now through December and want to perform well!

The biggest lesson I learned from this experience is that I keep improving. Despite tough experiences in my past two half marathons this one was great. It is an example of what each one of us can do if we just concentrate on our big goals.

Thanks so much for reading and for your support. I sincerely hope that my experiences and my tips can help you achieve your own big goals. If we work together we can build a world where goals never die of loneliness!

Week 121: Painful Truth

I woke up Thursday morning this week with a variety of ailments. After a good training session on Wednesday morning both my thighs and my glutes were aching. In the same session I ramped my bench press weight back up and my chest was pretty sore from that. I went for a long walk/run combo on Tuesday and ran as a warm up on Wednesday so my standard post-run hip tightness and soreness were there but not bad.

Then there was my foot pain on the second toe on my left foot. Back at the end of August I accidentally ran a half marathon distance when I had only planned a 10 mile training run. I did this with running shoes that I knew needed replaced. Since that day I have had a pain in my foot that I was concerned was a stress fracture. Though the symptoms seemed a little backwards from a stress fracture. The pain actually gets better and pretty much goes away when I am running.

My foot pain really concerned me because it was new pain that had continued for several weeks. On top of that I have a half marathon that I am running next weekend and will need to use that foot. So I had made a doctors appointment for Thursday to get it checked out, to discuss my hip pain and to follow up to see how my blood pressure is doing.

I will start with the good news from the appointment. He doesn’t think I have a stress fracture given the symptoms I described. It may be any other of a variety of things that are all less serious. The foot shouldn’t impact my ability to run the half marathon next weekend. That’s a relief!

Unfortunately there was a bigger story or message that came from my appointment. There was a reality check about my situation.

Over the past 121 weeks I have gone from a 325 pound couch potato to an amateur athlete about to run my seventh half marathon in about a year. I need to change any expectation that I have that I am going to live a life without pain. This is my painful truth.

My doctor has a history in sports medicine and has cared for many athletes over his years before moving into his current position. May of those athletes he has treated have been runners (like me) and have been weight lifters (like me to a lesser extent). They all have aches and pains and many are similar to mine with hip challenges, IT band soreness, foot issues and just generally sore muscles.

I have a 42 (almost 43) year old body that spent its first 40 years in a sedentary state before I decided to become an athlete. Soreness and minor pains are just a sign that I am pushing my body outside of its 40 years of comfort zone. They are a sign that my performance is getting better. Unfortunately they are also a fact of life and are probably here to stay if I continue pushing my body to grow athletically.

So what am I going to do?

First I am not going to ever go back to a life where I was comfortable because I wasn’t pushing myself, those days are over. I am going to keep pushing myself to do better.

Since I am not going to stop my progress I need to be a little more deliberate about portions of my fitness. Specifically I need to focus more on recovery. I need to plan for how to recover and make sure that I am not skipping that step in the process. Oh great, one more thing to track!

Finally I need to both accept the new reality that I am going to have some pain in my life and to listen to my body. If my body tells me “you should really not run today” I need to listen as long as that isn’t every day.

It is a delicate balance to push my body to do more and to properly care for it and maintain it. Hell I haven’t even mastered this with my car. But I am up for the challenge!

Thanks so much for reading and for your support. I sincerely hope that my experiences and my tips can help you achieve your own big goals. If we work together we can build a world where goals never die of loneliness!

Week 120: Numbers Matter

Two weeks from now I will have just finished running the Columbus Marathon’s half marathon. This will be organized half marathon number 3 and my 7th total half marathon distance run in 14 months. I just finished my last long distance run before the big day and will taper off to short runs and long walks for the next two weeks as I prepare my body for the big day.

Today’s long run was 6.52 miles (a quarter marathon distance) ran in 1 hour 7 minutes at an average pace of 10:18 per mile. Last year’s long run two weeks before the Columbus Marathon was 7.8 miles ran in 1 hour 29 minutes for an average pace of 11:29 per mile. I went on to run the half marathon, actually 13.42 miles, at a time of 2 hours 49 minutes at an average pace of 11:09.

My last organized half marathon was the Cap City Half in April where I ran 13.28 total miles in 2 hours and 24 minutes at an average pace of 10:43. So I ran less distance in preparation for this year’s Columbus Marathon but I am running faster. My goal is a) to finish, b) no injuries and c) to match or beat my pace for Cap City.

There were a lot of numbers in that summary. I also know exactly how many calories I ate the day before each of those runs, what made up those calories, how much water I drank, how much I slept and a whole slew of other information. Since I started my fitness journey I track lots of things about my body and my fitness every day.

Lord Kelvin famously said “if you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” This is one of the most important concepts in achieving any goal. Measure what matters, set small goals, track the numbers, make small adjustments along the way and achieve success.

Measuring my numbers is one of the most important strategies I have used to achieve success in my fitness journey. When I started my fitness journey I had decided that I wanted to life a fit life where I don’t give up anything. I wanted to live a life of balance and moderation and the best way to do that is to know the facts.

So I have achieved my goal now and I am effectively in “maintenance mode” so when will I stop tracking everything? Never. Maintaining good health like achieving good health depends on knowing the facts. Plus, like many people, I am terrible at estimating and keeping track of my nutrition and activity in my head so I turn to technology to track everything. That’s not something I plan to ever stop either because I am not planning to slip backwards in my progress.

Just keep in mind that diligently tracking numbers as you progress towards your goal is important outside of your fitness life. Tracking progress is an important part of achieving success with all of your important goals. So figure out how to measure success and track it every day.