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Sunday, January 15, 2012

LA Marathon Training Diary: Getting Back on Track

Last September I began training to run the Los Angeles Marathon. It will be my first marathon. The race is not until March 18, 2012, but training for any marathon takes a lot of time and dedication. I probably should have started to write about this experience when I started to train. The marathon is now a little over two months away. I figured now would be a good time to write about what it is like to train for this race and the physical and mental challenges associated with trying to run a marathon. Not only that, but also why I'm even running it in the first place. I'm hoping that if anyone reads this it can possibly give them the confidence to take on this challenge.

Why am I running a marathon?
The first thing almost anyone says to me when I tell them I'm running a marathon is, "Why would you want to do that?" or a more blunt response, "Are you crazy?" It has such a negative vibe to it. It's like physical activity is shamed upon. I have become somewhat sick of answering these questions. Here's a longer version of the answer to why I'm running a marathon.

My dream to run a marathon really can be traced all the way back to when I was a young kid growing up in a suburb outside of Boston (Peabody, MA). The Boston Marathon is kind of a big deal. It takes place on Patriots Day, which is a Monday in April. It is a state holiday that commemorates the Battle of Lexington and Concord, which is the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Anyway, I didn't have to go to school that day, so from a very early age I spent the entire day watching the Boston Marathon.

My first marathon memory was 1994 (I was 9 years old) when Cosmas Ndeti won a very close race against Andres Espinoza. I just remember Ndeti kept looking back at Espinoza trying to hold him off at the last mile. It was one of the most exciting marathon finishes that I ever saw. Ndeti won his second straight marathon that year. He would win the next year as well making him a three time champion. Ndeti was my favorite. He came out of nowhere to become somewhat of a Boston legend during the early 90s. He was only in his early 20s when he won his three Boston races. I remember being devastated when Ndeti fell short of his fourth straight win. He went for a world record in the 100th running of the Boston Marathon in 1996 and finished 3rd. He was actually known for running in the back of the pack and making his move at Heartbreak Hill. He was a great hill runner. That year he decided to lead from the start and simply ran out of gas. He fell off the map after that and I don't know whatever happened to him.

You may be asking why am I telling this story about Cosmas Ndeti? I became fascinated with the Boston Marathon due to him. Every year after Ndeti's demise, I continued to watch with great interest. Part of me hoping Ndeti would make his triumphant return. Another part of me waiting to see who would capture my imagination by running an incredible race. I would spend my entire Patriots Day glued to the television set watching thousands of people run Boston. I would listen to the analysis and I became mesmerized at what all these people were doing. Regular people were running this race, too. Many of them crossed the finish line long after the elites. It didn't matter. They did something many people consider impossible or crazy. Running 26.2 miles. If someone could run a marathon they could do anything.

Flash forward to 2011 and I am now living in California. I haven't watched the Boston Marathon in years (Even though if I did, it would be the edited ESPN coverage, which sucks). I more or less have become a lazy person and I started to realize that I was in horrible shape. I wouldn't have called myself fat, but I definitely wasn't impressing anyone with my physical shape. It's one of those things you don't realize until you see a few pictures of yourself. Inside my head, I realized that I needed to do something. At 25 years old (days before my 26th birthday), I made a radical decision to join a gym.

After a month of working out at the gym I started to feel much better about myself. I was running at the gym and I figured if I'm going to get in shape I should do something. I've always been the type of person that likes to take on crazy challenges and I couldn't help but think about a marathon. Let me clear that I wanted to run in Boston and that is still a long term goal. Unfortunately, I need to qualify or fundraise for Boston, so that was not a realistic goal right now. I set my sights on LA instead. I decided that if I could continue to work out consistently until the end of August, then I would sign up and run LA.

Flash forward to the end of August. I'm still working out consistently. I signed up to run the Los Angeles Marathon and joined the training program, Los Angeles Roadrunners. The LA Roadrunners is a couch to the finish line program that starts after Labor Day and runs all the way through the marathon. They meet every Saturday morning, so I also effectively kissed my Friday nights goodbye. It was time to get serious. I officially started to train for the LA Marathon.

September - December
The LA Roadrunner program started on September 10th, which was just an expo. The first run was the following week. Determining my pace group was something I was having difficulty with as I never ran a marathon before or any distance longer than 5 miles. I wanted to finish around five hours, so that would equal around a 11 1/2 minute or less mile. I was also debating whether I would run the entire distance or run/walk. It was during the expo that I met a pace leader (Mitch) who convinced me to try to run the entire marathon.

That was the first example of why I love the Roadrunner program. It is very supportive and positive. Right away I felt like I belonged there and everyone wanted me to succeed. In return, I wanted to see everyone else do the same. It creates a really positive environment.

After thinking about what I was going to do, I joined running pace group 8 (11 minute mile race pace/12 minute mile aerobic pace). The first run was a three miles and the rest is history. I have run in group 8 the entire time. The first four months of training went relatively smooth. I experienced no injuries. I felt good after every run. Sometimes I was a little sore or a little tired, but nothing to be overly concerned about. I have also met some great people, which is always an added bonus. My running partner for most of the training so far has been Jenny, but I've also had fun meeting a number of cool people. The pace leaders of Cathy, John, Mitch, and Wendy are both awesome and knowledgable. I have actually had a lot of fun running. I was definitely tired since I had to wake up early, but once I got to the site in Venice I was alive. I think my adrenaline kicked in.

My last run with the group before the holiday break was 15 miles on December 10th (I missed the 16 mile run on December 17th). That was definitely the toughest run of the training so far, but I still felt pretty good after the run. The big challenge for me was going to be training for a couple weeks in Massachusetts as I went home to visit my family. It did not go as planned for a couple reasons. I hate running alone. The weather was cold. Running was also just not on my mind as I like to relax when I'm home. I did run a few times, but I was unsure how I would do when I got back to training with the Roadrunners in January.

Here's a few more things I learned/observed through the first four months of training.

- Running a half marathon or less is definitely not that scary anymore. I feel like anything over the half marathon is when things get much tougher. Maybe it's mental, but I treat any run over 13 miles much more serious.

- Knowing your body is so important. It's funny how different gels react differently to different people. Even drinking water is interesting. Knowing how much to drink is essential. Before I started to train, I always thought the more water, the better. That is not the case. Eating and drinking something before a run is also important. It's just about eating the right thing as the worst thing is having an upset stomach.

- Speaking of upset stomach, I can't believe how many guys have to take a shit in the morning before a run. There's always a line for the boys' room. It's actually kind of comical. I'll admit, I'll been in that line twice and it wasn't fun.

- Chafing sucks. I haven't experienced it too much, but there have been a few times on the longer runs when my thighs chafed. It hurt. I bought Body Glide, which is helpful and highly recommended.

- Same can be said for blisters. I have experienced them on my feet and it's kind of gross.

- Stretch. So many people forget and as we say in Roadrunners, if you don't have time for stretching, you don't have time for running.

January 7, 2012 - 16 miles
This was the run that made me want to start writing about my experiences training for the marathon. I didn't run that much for three weeks while I was in Massachusetts. I only ran a handful of times. I thought it would be beneficial to rest my body, but I could feel it on this day. It was the hardest run of my life. It was actually the first time in training when I really struggled. Mentally it was tough on me as I started to have doubts whether I could really run a marathon. I know it is only one run, but it is still tough to have a bad run. The marathon is a little over two months away. It's time to not really mess around. It was a good reality check.

After about mile 4 I knew I was going to be in trouble. I was checking my watch already, which is always a bad sign that early. As we started up San Vicente, which is uphill I started to think I wouldn't make it. I took a GU, but it was not enough. My body reacted as if it hadn't run very much in the last three weeks and was pissed off. Every water station and chance I got to take a bit of a breather was essential. Even downhill on San Vicente was tough, which is unusual. I always run in the front and I fell to the back to the pack on the downhill.

I tried to fight through the pain as much as possible, but I still was unsure if I would finish. Our pace group actually lost a few people along the way, so I wasn't alone. My legs were so tired that I made a decision to pull up around mile 15. I finished the run, but I did a walk/run for the last mile. I literally had nothing left and I didn't want to pass out. When I got back to the Roadrunner headquarters at the school I drank a lot of liquids and ate a banana.

I didn't feel good the rest of the weekend. I iced my legs on Saturday, but my quads were killing me on Saturday and Sunday. They felt the worst since I've been training. I learned a good lesson that training for the marathon is no joke. It's hard and you need to take it serious. I heard a lot of people in different pace groups had tough runs since it was the first one after the two week holiday. I know I wasn't the only one, but I still was mad at myself. I know I had something to prove to myself the following week.

January 14, 2012 - 12 miles
I started to get back into my workout regimen that had for the first four months of training for the marathon. I was somewhat of a man on a mission before this run. Although, I ran into an unexpected complication. As stated earlier, my quads were sore for two days. They felt better on Monday, so I worked out. I did my usual strength training, which includes a couple different leg machines. I did some squats and I think I must have aggravated my left knee. The next day, my left knee started to bother me for the next couple days. I finally started to feel better on Thursday, so I tested it out with a three mile run. I felt good and my knee experienced no issues.

I ran really well on Saturday. It was a good bounce back run. I was a little nervous before the run since I struggled the previous week. I didn't want to have two bad runs in a row. We ran around a 12 minute pace. When we went downhill we picked it up, but took our time on more uphill sections. I felt good after the run as well. My left ankle was a little sore, but that is normal for me. I have weak ankles and my left one gives me more problems. I also had a little blister on my left foot, which sucked. That is one issue I've had a few times and I'm not sure if it's my shoes or running form. I got my shoes fitted, so I'm not sure. I'm planning of buying another pair before the marathon, so I may go with another brand. Right now I'm running with Asics GT 2160.

The best part about running 12 miles is group has run this distance a number of times, so it is not that intimidating anymore. Next week we are back to 15 miles, so I'm hoping I can keep it going. I need to get in another good week of training. I am almost two months away from the LA Marathon.

Until next week… 15 miles...

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