Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Beginning is the Hard Part

When I first decided to run a marathon, lots of people asked, "What the hell do you want to do THAT for?"  It's a fair question.  I've never been into running before, in fact, I've never been all that much into exercise in any form.  I'll play tennis occasionally, but that's about it.  And when my weight was at its highest, well, forget about it.

But here's the thing.

As I've mentioned before, losing weight was a pretty daunting challenge, especially with the amount I had to get rid of.  And once I met my goal, it almost felt like something was missing (besides my enormous gut).  I needed a new focus, a new target, something that would build upon my newfound fitness level.  But what to choose?  As with most meaningful goals, I wanted to do something that seemed extremely difficult, but not ridiculously impossible.  For example, climbing Mt. Everest was completely out of the question.  I'm not a fan of bitter coldness, I don't particularly want to spend thousands of dollars on equipment and travel, and let's face it, I'd probably get killed. 

Crossing the line at the Hesperia Days 5K
So I thought about running.  I could start off with a mile, and gradually increase distance and/or speed.  It seemed like I could work at my own pace, set intermediate goals, and increase my fitness at the same time.  I talked to some people at work who were runners, and a couple of them said, "A half-marathon would be a pretty good goal.  A few months of training and you'd be ready."

Something about a half-marathon as a final goal just didn't sound right to me.  Almost like it was a half-assed commitment.  After all,  Nike's slogan isn't Just Do Some of It.  John F. Kennedy didn't challenge our astronauts to go half way to the moon.  No, if I was going to do this, it was going to be with one giant leap, not merely one small step (rest in peace, Mr. Armstrong).

Which is not to say that I was planning on running a marathon the very next weekend, however.

My mind made up, it was time to put together a course of action.  I did some research online, and the general consensus from the sites I visited ( is a good one) was that a beginner could properly train for a marathon in about four to six months.  Keep in mind that at no point did I have "winning a marathon" in mind, not even a particular finishing time.  All I knew was that most marathons have a time limit, and I had to beat that.  If I came in dead ass last, so be it, as long as I crossed the finish line before they shut the course down.  One website even had a suggested training schedule, including miles per week and how to break that down day by day.  So I adopted a plan that seemed to work with my lifestyle, and went for it.  The first week, it was three miles twice a week, five miles once a week, and then the long Sunday run (six miles).  The next week, the Sunday run increased to seven.  By the time February rolls around, the schedule will be five miles twice a week, eight miles once a week, and fifteen to twenty miles on Sunday.

Slogging through a 5K Mud Run
I started out by running 5K (3.1 miles).   The first few times, I couldn't even run the whole way, I ended up walking for stretches at a time.   By the third time out, though, I managed to eliminate the walking entirely.  From that point on, I determined that no matter how far I planned to run on a given day, I would run the entire distance.  No walking allowed (except to "refuel" with water, Gatorade, or delicious energy gels, which we'll talk more about some other time).

And a funny thing happened.  I'm a competitive guy, so eventually the whole "I can beat my last time" thing came up.  I figured out that I could probably run a 5K in under 30 minutes.  This isn't a particularly impressive mark, by the way.  The world record is fifteen minutes, and most experienced runners can clock in at around twenty.  But I'm trying to be realistic.  And so far, my personal record (or "PR" if you're a running geek) is 28:34.  My other targets are a 10K in under an hour (current PR is 58:20), and a half-marathon in about two hours and fifteen minutes.

As for the marathon, I seriously just want to finish it in one piece.  But I think between five and five and a half hours is realistic.

So far, I'm feeling pretty confident.  Last week I ran five miles on Tuesday, a 10K (6.2 miles) on Wednesday, eight miles on Friday, and fifteen on Sunday.  So now it's just a matter of building up leg strength, and stretching the limits so I can eventually get to the full 26.2 distance by May 5.

Next time, we'll talk about all sorts of really cool running gear, garb, and gadgets.

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