Runner’s Journal: The Virginia Beach tune-up with Dodge

Parents with young children rarely experience the freedom of a weekend getaway. Weekend errands and weekend soccer games and weekend family functions, sure, but not weekend getaways. For my family, there also are the weekend long runs, which we’ve learned will chew up an entire Sunday morning as you work your way up to 20 miles in your marathon training schedule. My most recent weekend long run, however, doubled as a long weekend getaway for my wife and me when Dodge, sponsor of the hugely popular Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series, invited me to the Virginia Beach Half Marathon and gave us a sleek 2011 Dodge Durango Citadel to drive to and from the race. A chance to break up my training routine while staying at an oceanside hotel and spending several lazy hours next to a pool? Sign us up. A fully loaded Durango and a break from the kids too? Shoot, now you’re just spoiling us, Dodge.

Fortunately, the race itself didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Wait…fortunately? Yep. I’ll admit that finishing four minutes slower than my goal wasn’t really how I wanted to cap off the weekend, and as my wife can attest to, I was pretty disappointed when I crossed the line with a time of 1:34:20, a full minute and a half slower than my PR and significantly slower than my goal of 1:30. Still, a runner can learn something from almost every race, no matter their time — in fact, slower times often yield the most significant lessons — and just as I learned a few things from my first three half marathons, I came back from Virginia Beach on Labor Day better prepared to run my first marathon in Chicago next month. So what did I learn?

I need to run my race. I went out too fast last weekend, and it cost me. I had a plan heading into the race, looking to run the first 8 miles in 56 minutes (7:00 per mile) before picking up the pace over the final 5 miles and finishing under 1:30. Instead, I got caught up in the moment and came through the first mile at 6:40. I settled into a 7:00-per-mile pace after that before falling off a bit around mile 6, coming through the 8-mile marker at about 56:30 and finding little left in the tank when it came time for the strong finish. My fast start alone didn’t cost me four minutes off my finishing time (more on that below), but it certainly didn’t help. No matter what my strategy ends up being for Chicago, I’ll need to stay under control early and stick to the plan. If anything, I’d rather start out too slow than too fast, since I’ll have plenty of time to make up for a sluggish first couple of miles. Whatever race you’re running, spend some time thinking about how you want to run based on what you’ve learned during your training, and do your best to stick to that plan, at least early on. You can always adjust mid-race if needed, but a fast start could spell trouble later in the race.

I’ve been training hard. It sounds a little silly, but it’s true. I felt tight and worn out Sunday, almost from the start, whereas I felt loose and fresh when I set my PR in Cleveland last May. The difference? I tapered my training down the week leading up to the Cleveland Half Marathon whereas the Virginia Beach race capped a challenging week of training, including a tough speed workout Wednesday morning. Tired legs combined with a fast start depleted my reserves pretty quick and I never really recovered. Be sure to take some time off during your training, especially leading into any big races. Fresh legs are vitally important to a quality race, as I learned again last weekend. In fact, I elected to take Tuesday off this week as well, feeling like my body could use an extra day of rest. Don’t be afraid to cut yourself some slack if your body’s telling you it needs a break.

The marathon is going to be even tougher than I thought. With three previous half marathons and several training runs longer than 13 miles under my belt, I expected to feel better and run faster last weekend. I don’t want to overreact to one disappointing performance during what has been a challenging training routine, but Virginia Beach reminded me that I need to have my expectations in check heading into Chicago. I recently saw a t-shirt that said, “A marathon is only a 10K with a 20-mile warmup.” I wouldn’t have fully understood what that meant six months ago or even three months ago, but I get it now. A marathon is 26.2 miles long, but with many of the popular marathon programs maxing out at 20-mile training runs, the race itself — the true physical, mental and emotional battle that every marathoner must endure, especially a first-timer — doesn’t start until around mile 20. Any ill-advised notion that I may have had of running a free and easy race in Chicago next month flew out the window in Virginia Beach. And that’s a good thing.

The new Durango is one hell of a ride. My wife and I spent roughly 20 hours going to Virginia Beach and back to Ohio last weekend, and we rode in style and comfort the entire time. Our blackberry-colored Durango was a beautiful SUV — just ask the people who gawked at us when we drove by — with a tan leather interior that perfectly complemented the car’s impressive exterior. The onboard GPS worked like a snap and the ventilated seats (or “butt fans,” as my wife called them) were awesome. Unfortunately, most of our drive in was done late Friday night and it rained for most of our drive home, but the few photos I was able to snap of the Durango between raindrops are in the slideshow at the top of the page (along with some of me before, during and after the race). The only downside came Tuesday morning…when we had to give the Durango back, but only after they rejected my offer of a straight-up trade for our 2006 minivan. Rats.

Finally, I’d be honored to join Team Hoyt some day. I’d heard the unbelievable story of Dick Hoyt and his son Rick before, but last weekend marked my first exposure to Team Hoyt. Rick was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy when he was born in 1962, and although Rick couldn’t walk or speak, Dick and his wife Judy were determined to help their son experience a life filled with community, education, sports and a future career. From

In the spring of 1977, Rick told his father that he wanted to participate in a 5-mile benefit run for a Lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Far from being a long-distance runner, Dick agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair and they finished all 5 miles, coming in next to last. That night, Rick told his father, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”

Thirty four years later, the father-son duo has competed in more than 1,000 races, including marathons, duathlons and six Ironman triathlons. Absolutely incredible. In the same spirit, the Team Hoyt runners I saw on the Virginia Beach course were pushing strollers with physically handicapped children who wanted to run the race but were unable to compete on their own. The course was filled with people in their red Team Hoyt shirts who rightfully were the recipients of more applause and words of encouragement than any of us mere solo runners. Every time I passed a Team Hoyt duo (and, in some cases, trio), I tried to imagine how much tougher the race would be if I were pushing a stroller too. My wife even said one of the Team Hoyt runners was trying to finish in better than a 5-minute-mile pace. It’s inspiring stuff, to be sure, and I’d love to one day become a Team Hoyt member.

The race may not have gone as I had hoped, but you won’t find me complaining. This was my second Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, having run the Vegas race last December, and the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon was every bit as memorable as my first experience. Live bands dot the course, providing some unique entertainment while you’re sucking wind and begging for the finish line, and the crowd was energetic and highly supportive. Even better, I got to take a nap after the race, which would have been a much dicier proposition at home with three kids running around. Dodge was a gracious host and they put on a fantastic race. Now, with just 30 days to go before the Chicago Marathon, it’s back to the training grind — and minivan — for me.

Jamey will be updating his Runner’s Journal a couple times a month as he trains for the 2011 Chicago Marathon – his first full marathon – on October 9. Only 30 days to go…but who’s counting, right?! Email with comments, questions or your own thoughts on running, and see why Jamey runs.