Training for Marathon #1: Race weekend

Ah, the curveball. The dreaded “bolt from the blue.” With just over a week to go before the Chicago Marathon, I was lounging in bed on a lazy Saturday morning, watching TV and delaying the start of my day as long as possible. I had to knock out an easy 10 miler later that afternoon — my last long run prior to the race — before coasting through the final week with two short runs on Tuesday and Thursday. I felt great about my training, confident that I’d worked hard to put myself in position to run my best race possible on October 9, and also fortunate that I’d avoided any sort of serious injury that would interrupt my training or affect me on race day.

Then, I felt a twinge in my shoulder.

I had been sitting with my right arm slung over my head, an odd yet comfortable position I often find myself in while watching TV. Only this time, when I stood up, my right shoulder felt a little sore. Nothing alarming at first, just something I figured would pass within a few minutes. Instead, it got worse…and worse…and still worse. The pain got so bad — so sharp and so deep, right behind my shoulder blade — that I was convinced I must have pinched a nerve or something. Knowing the race was approaching and growing increasingly concerned as the pain swelled to an almost unbearable level, I headed for the ER, wondering how the heck I hurt my shoulder so badly while watching TV, and just a week before my first marathon. Fantastic.

The ER doctor gave me a quick examination, ruled out any nerve issues or muscle tears, then gave me prescriptions for a muscle relaxer and pain killer to help treat a strained shoulder. Monday afternoon, still in considerable pain, I headed to my sports medicine doctor, who took one look at my swollen shoulder, noting how far my shoulder blade was “winging out” (his term), and diagnosed me with subscapular bursitis, or inflammation of the fluid-filled sac that sits between my shoulder blade and rib cage. The good news, he said, was because my injury wasn’t muscular in nature, I’d still be able to race Sunday, which was obviously my biggest concern. He gave me a cortisone shot to reduce the pain and inflammation, and my range of motion almost immediately improved. The bad news, though, was that my shoulder would most likely bother me to some degree during the race and, in my doctor’s words, my arm was going to be “extremely sore” afterward. Hey, something to look forward to, right?!

Of course, I’m just relieved I got the green light for Sunday. Then again, the only way I would have even considered skipping the race entirely would be if the doctor told me trying to run through the injury would cause further damage. With that not being the case, I’m ready to gut this out and deal with the pain on race day, to whatever degree. What choice do I have? Sure, the circumstances could be better, but it is what it is. I refuse to let something so random detract from this experience, a moment I’ve been training for since February, a moment I’ve envisioned for years. Crossing the finish line Sunday is going to be an unbelievable experience, even if my shoulder is on fire when it happens. To quote Forrest Gump: Shit happens. I need to manage the situation and adjust my expectations.

When I first started training, my pie-in-the-sky goal was to run better than 3:10 in Chicago to qualify for the Boston Marathon. As the race has gotten closer and I’ve piled up more mileage, I’ve pulled my expectations back a bit. My main priority now is to start comfortably with a reasonable pace that will allow me to cruise through the first half of the race. That may seem obvious or simplistic, but it’s easy to get caught up in the energy and excitement on race day and find yourself coming through the first mile much faster than planned. Strategy goes out the window at that point. Considering the Chicago Marathon ranks as the third largest race in the world, with more than 45,000 participants and a course filled with raucous and supportive spectators, sticking to my plan early and putting myself in position to run a strong second half will be even more challenging.

Assuming things go as scripted, however, my baseline goal is to run 3:30, an 8-minute-mile pace I handily topped on my longest training run of 21.5 miles. Setting a reasonable goal will make it easier to ignore my watch in the early stages and settle into a comfortable pace while also giving me some wiggle room in case my shoulder gives me more trouble than I’m anticipating. If, however, things break my way during the race and I feel better than I’d hoped, I could realistically break 3:20. The chances of that happening may have taken a hit with this freak shoulder injury, but I’m not abandoning my best case scenario days before the race.

Ironically, I had been fighting a cold for the past couple weeks, eating more fruits and veggies while loading up on vitamin C to stave off anything that could sap my energy and complicate things on race day. I even skipped a cold and rainy training run two weeks ago to ensure I didn’t get sick. Fortunately, those actions paid off, but while I may not have been able to avoid injury, at least my legs are healthy heading into my first marathon. For that, I’m grateful.

I expected to encounter one or two hurdles in my training, but I didn’t expect something so random to happen so close to race day. I’m hoping to get at least one run in before Sunday, but my shoulder isn’t quite ready yet. On the plus side, I have a few more days to recover, and while I could have done without the monkey wrench, I won’t be the only one on the course dealing with an injury, nor am I the only runner whose training was interrupted along the way. Rather than worrying about factors beyond my control, I’m determined to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation. It’s race weekend, a weekend I’ve had circled on my calendar all year, and I’m as ready as I can be.

When life gives you lemons, sometimes you’ve got to figure out how to make lemon-lime Gatorade.

Jamey has tracked his training for the 2011 Chicago Marathon — his first full marathon — in his Runner’s Journal. Assuming he survives, Jamey will return a week or so after the race to recap the event as he looks forward to running the Tough Mudder next March. Email with comments, questions or your own thoughts on running, and see why Jamey runs.


You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Training for Marathon #1: The homestretch

You’d think the hardest part about running a marathon would be…well, running a marathon. Turns out the hardest part is just getting to race day.

When I signed up for the Chicago Marathon last winter, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I’d ever be able to run 26 miles, let alone by October. Wait, I realized, forget about the race. I had a whole lot of running to do before I even set foot in Chicago. I needed to get my body ready for 26 miles, but to do that, I first had to conquer 14, 15, 16, 19 and, this past weekend, 21 miles. That’s a lot of hard miles just to get to the point where I could run a lot of hard miles. There also were a lot of internal pep talks on days when motivation was lacking, and a lot of sacrifices made by my family to accommodate my training schedule.

But as I hit the homestretch with just over two weeks before the marathon, I’ve reached the calm before the storm. After increasing mileage consistently for the past several months, my training runs only get shorter from here as I taper my miles to keep me fresh for race day. Of course, I’m looking forward to a bit of a break but, more significantly, just getting to this point in my training has given me a nice confidence boost at a time when I can use all the help I can get.

It’s important to identify and then move past mental hurdles during your training so that, when you hit the course, you have faith that you can actually accomplish your goal…or at least finish. That doesn’t mean you have to put in a 13-mile training run if you want to run a half marathon, but you better get up to at least 10. After last weekend’s 21-mile run, I now know that I can handle another five on race day. With that mental hurdle cleared, it feels like the hardest part is over. In fact, the race is now more like a reward for all the work I’ve put in than the looming menace it first appeared to be when I started training. Yeah, some reward, right?

None of this is to say that I’m taking the race lightly. In fact, running those 26.2 miles on October 9 — and, ideally, running them well — will no doubt be the most challenging singular moment of this eight-month endeavor. But now that I’ve put in more nearly 800 training miles, I’m much better prepared for the race, both physically and mentally, than I ever thought I’d be when I was slogging through the February snow and melting under the July sun. Finishing the marathon will be a monumental personal achievement, something to finally cross off the ol’ bucket list years after convincing myself that I’d never be up to the task, but I’ve already seen the benefits from all the training. This isn’t about running the race; it’s about being able to run the race, and what it takes to get there.

Training for your first marathon is a memorable and rewarding experience filled with tiny, incremental victories along the way. Each time I completed a distance I’d never before run, my confidence grew a little more. I learned that this weekend’s good run can erase the memory of last weekend’s bad run, and that 10 miles actually qualifies as an easy run when you start putting in 15- and 20-milers. It’s all relative.

I also learned that marathon training is about the journey and not so much the destination. My journey is almost over, and the destination awaits!

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 17 days to go…but who’s counting, right?! Email with comments, questions or your own thoughts on running, and see why Jamey runs.


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.