Looking for motivation to run? Sign up for a race (and pick up some cool gear too)

It’s amazing how quickly expectations can change and perceived limitations can be expanded. I remember crossing the finish line of my first half marathon in 2010 and thinking there was no way I’d ever run a full marathon. “If somebody told me to go do that again right now,” I said to my wife after the 2010 Columbus Half, “I’d punch them in the throat.” A little extreme, perhaps, but at the time, it was an honest reaction to the horrifying thought of finishing a 13.1-mile race and turning around to do it all over again. Not a chance.

Soon after Columbus, though, I signed up for my second half marathon and started to more seriously consider running a full. What changed? Eventually, the exhaustion and nausea from that first race faded and I realized that I was now as intimidated by the thought of running a full marathon as I initially had been by the thought of running a half. Once I began training for Columbus, though, and my mileage started creeping toward double digits, that 13.1-mile target felt less and less daunting. I understood that race day would still be a challenge, especially if I had any chance of hitting my target time, but with each bump in mileage during my training, my confidence continued to grow. With that experience under my belt, I knew the same thing would happen while training for a full marathon.

That faith convinced me to take the plunge and sign up for the 2011 Chicago Marathon. Shortly after clicking “submit” on the online entry form, my faith had vanished. What had I just done? I could barely drag my carcass across the line for a half marathon; what made me think I could double up for a full? But I was committed, thanks in no small part to the $145 entry fee, so I mapped out my training plan and set to work. Sure enough, once my long runs crept up to 12, 14 and 16 miles, that faith returned and then grew in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, race day went unexpectedly awry for a couple reasons, but I finished. A few weeks later, with the bad taste of the disappointing race still in my mouth, I signed up for the Phoenix Marathon in January, and a couple days after that, I received an invitation to run the Tokyo Marathon in February as part of the international press tour. Sure, why not?!

Within about a year, I went from being terrified by the thought of running a full marathon to finishing three in the span of four months. The idea seemed crazy at the time, but I stayed true to my training and finished Phoenix and Tokyo with relatively respectable times. Now I know that, with the proper time and amount of training, any goal is possible. However, it seems I’m only able to carve out the time needed for the proper training when I click that “submit” button and sign up for a race. It worked for Columbus and Chicago, and it worked again when I signed up for the Akron Half Marathon recently. I had intended to take a short break after Tokyo to allow my body some time to rest up, but that “short break” wound up lasting about five months. I kept trying to kickstart my training again but there were always more important things to do.

Then I promised a friend that I’d run the Akron Half on September 29 if he signed up as well. It would be his first half marathon, my fifth, and that promise wound up being the motivation we both needed. I only squeezed in about two months of training so I wasn’t in the kind of shape I’d like to be in for a big race, but I still finished pretty well this past weekend and, more importantly, I challenged myself again and thoroughly enjoyed the race.

Have you been thinking about running a full or half marathon, or even just a 5K or 10K, but haven’t found the courage to hit that “submit” button? You’ll be amazed by how motivated you become when you finally sign up for that big race, and even more surprised by the surge in confidence you’ll enjoy once you fully commit to your training and start logging those miles.

In my preparation for the Akron Half, I had the pleasure of trying out a few different products that added a little something extra to this round of training. The latest, greatest gizmo or accessory won’t magically turn you into a world-class runner, but it can definitely help you improve along the way or just make the training seem a little less grueling.

PYLE GPS SPORTS WATCH

The majority of my competitive running came during my high school days, long before the advent of GPS devices, so I always measured my training runs the old-fashioned way: by driving the route and hoping for the best. I started using GPS apps on my iPhone for more accurate tracking but found that to be a hassle, particularly when I needed to check my mileage during the run. This Pyle GPS Sports Watch proved to be the perfect solution.

The watch comes with a 2.4 GHz digitally coded wireless heart rate monitor that you strap to your chest during a run, bike ride or other physical activity. For me, though, the GPS tracking and customizable displays were the biggest draws. The watch has four main modes: Compass, Time, Navigation and Workout. Workout mode works with the navigation system to record and display information such as distance traveled, average pace, workout duration, calories burned, heart rate and more. Even better, you can choose what data is displayed in each of the three main zones of the workout mode. For example, knowing what I needed to average per mile in the Akron Half to hit my target time, I programmed the watch to display my pace in the main zone, with the overall time in the top zone and the distance traveled at the bottom. This kind of customizable functionality makes the Pyle GPS Sports Watch that much more useful for whatever activity you have planned.

Water resistant up to 30 meters underwater and containing a rechargeable lithium polymer battery, this compact wrist computer made my training much more effective and precise. You can even use the watch to help plan your route and then analyze your workouts afterward. It takes a while to get the hang of all the bells and whistles, but you’ll soon see that it’s all time well spent.

JAYBIRD WIRELESS BLUETOOTH HEADPHONES

Some people enjoy running with music, and some people simply can’t stand running without the distraction that their music provides. I, on the other hand, find the distraction…well, distracting. I often zone out if I’m listening to music during my runs and find at the end of my workout that my pace is typically slower in those cases. That’s not such a bad thing when I am simply putting in some long miles where pace doesn’t matter much and the distraction would be welcomed, though, and it was on one such run where I popped on these wireless Jaybird Sportsband Bluetooth headphones, paired them with my iPhone and hit the pavement.

I initially was worried that the headphones would become uncomfortable after such a long run and maybe slide out of place, but they sat snugly and comfortably on my ears throughout. Integrated controls on the Sportsband allow you to easily control the music (play, pause, skip and volume control) with a click, and it’s equipped with apt-X audio codec for pristine sound quality with plenty of kick. The Jaybird comes with a lifetime warranty against sweat, its rechargeable battery allows for up to eight hours of music time, and with its concealed microphone, it can also be used as a Bluetooth headset for your phone. In short, these sleek headphones are awesome whether you’re on a run, cutting the grass or just taking care of some chores around the house.

ADIZERO FEATHER 2

Runners are particular; about their training schedules, their pre-race meals, the kind of energy gel they use, their choice of socks, their race-day routine, you name it. Most significantly, though, they’re particular about their running shoes. I’m no different: I find a shoe that I like, and I usually stick with it. If they hold up well to all the miles, if they’re comfortable and, of course, if I remain injury-free while using them, I’ll keep coming back to the same shoe company, and often the same shoe, for years. So in the interest of full disclosure, I am not an Adidas runner. I generally like Adidas for my everyday tennis shoes but had never run in a pair when the 6.7-ounce adizero Feather 2 arrived at my front door.

Obviously, the weight of the shoe first caught my eye. I love a lightweight running shoe, particularly near the end of a long training run or race, and these adizero Feathers are lighter than my beloved trainers of choice by a full pound. Wow. In fact, they’re one of the lightest everyday running shoes on the market thanks to the SprintWeb mesh construction, which significantly reduces weight while combining excellent breathability with support and comfort. As the cherry on top, the adizero Feather 2 comes in eight slick color combinations — I love the flash of my blue/orange pair, and there’s bound to be a color combo perfect for you.

With so much going for it, the adizero Feather 2 certainly grabbed my attention. I can’t claim that I’m ready to make the switch – what can I say, I’m stubborn – but the lightweight makeup, comfort and style of the adizero Feather 2 make it a trainer to be reckoned with.

  

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Marathon Mission: Complete

I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was sitting against a fence, shivering, my calves tied into knots and my hip flexors threatening to burst into flames, and all I wanted to do was sleep. I’d force my eyes open, take a sip from the water bottle I’d been handed after I crossed the finish line, and then my eyes would slide shut again. Open, sip, repeat.

At one point, a concerned medic approached me. “Everything OK?” he asked. I forced a smile, told him I was fine, just needed to rest, and then I gave in. I shut my eyes once more and drifted off, maybe for 30 seconds, maybe for 10 minutes. I’d never been overwhelmed by the urge to sleep after a race, but I’d also never run a full marathon. I finished (just barely) the Chicago Marathon in October, but as I sat against that fence in the chute for the Arizona Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, I could finally say that I had run a marathon. Well, once I woke up, I could say it.

In my first post for this Runner’s Journal series, called “Why Run?”, I laid out some of the reasons I had been drawn back to the sport I’d abandoned in the 15 years since high school. Among those reasons, I wrote:

“I run to challenge myself, to set a goal and accomplish that goal. I run to find my limits and expand them, to redefine my comfort zone, to defy that voice inside my head that tells me my legs hurt too much and my lungs can’t take any more. I run to prove to myself that I can accomplish anything if I’m willing to work hard enough.”

The 3 hours and 44 minutes I spent running through Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe epitomized that paragraph. It was most definitely a challenge to accomplish my goal of running a full marathon. I blew past my limits and bulldozed my comfort zone during the race, and did my best to ignore “that voice” for the final six miles or so. I set out to run the whole race, and save for a handful of quick pit stops to guzzle some water or Gatorade, I did just that, even when “that voice” was pleading for a break at mile 24. I kept my feet moving, refused to walk, and crossed the finish line almost an hour faster than I did in Chicago last October. Then I took a nap.

I won’t pretend that I accomplished anything monumentally profound last weekend. Heck, it seems everyone is running marathons and half marathons these days. But it was a significant personal achievement, a moment I won’t ever forget, a moment I once thought would never happen, and yet there I was in the chute, medal in hand, mission accomplished. I was sleeping, but I was there.

I didn’t think I could, until I did

“I run to find my limits and expand them.” In hindsight, this line is perhaps the most accurate in the above paragraph. I remember how awful I felt after finishing my first half marathon, and how fantastic I felt seven months later after my third. My body wasn’t ready for 13.1 miles in Columbus, but by Cleveland, it knew what to expect and I cruised to a PR.

Last Sunday, my body was toast. I crossed the line sore, nauseous, thirsty and exhausted, certain I couldn’t have run another 10 feet. That’s exactly how I felt after my first half marathon. Now, a 13-mile run qualifies as an easy day. Will the pattern hold next month when I hop onto a plane to run the Tokyo Marathon?

Man, I hope so.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting Tokyo will be easy just because I finished the Arizona Marathon, but it should be easier. Not only will my body be better conditioned to handle 26.2 miles, but perhaps more importantly, I now know that I can, in fact, run a full marathon. Clearing that mental hurdle is huge. Telling yourself you can do something is one thing, but proving to yourself that you can do it is another.

At the expo the day before the race, I bought a shirt that said “Inspired to Run” on the back. Those three words sum things up beautifully for me. The act of running – of hitting the pavement or treadmill several times a week, braving the elements in the dead of winter or peak of summer, logging mile after mile after mile on lonely roads and rolling trails – isn’t a whole lot of fun. It’s not easy either. But it’s damn sure rewarding.

I’ve accomplished things during these two years of running that I never thought were possible. In about five weeks, I’ll add one more item to the list when I run a marathon in Tokyo. That’s incredible to me. And it’s no coincidence that, with each mental hurdle I’ve cleared in my training, my confidence in other areas of life has soared as well, driving me to pursue other personal and professional endeavors that once seemed out of reach and unattainable.

That may sound corny, but it’s the truth. There’s a reason running has exploded in popularity over the last decade. There’s a reason I have friends and family members emailing me for beginner training tips or advice on picking their first pair of running shoes (I’m no expert on either subject, by the way). There’s a reason people like my aunt, who ran her first marathon last year at the age of 53, fall in love with the sport. She’s done a bunch of half marathons, some sprint triathlons, joined a team for Ragnar last year, and probably accomplished so many other things that I don’t even know about. She also completed her second marathon in Arizona last weekend, and was thrilled to PR by about three minutes. That’s what it’s all about.

I am a marathoner. I had to wait three months longer than anticipated to be able to say that, but it doesn’t make it any less sweet. I can’t relax yet, though, not with the Tokyo Marathon on the horizon. I’m not sure how I’ll feel when I pick my routine back up Sunday with an easy five miler, but there’s only one way to find out.

  

2011 Chicago Marathon: Making the best of a bad situation

For eight miles, everything was perfect. For the next 18.2 miles, nothing went right.

I came through the first mile marker of the 2011 Chicago Marathon at about 8:05 and comfortably held a steady pace for the next seven, soaking in the energy from the incredible crowd, taking in the view of the city and thoroughly enjoying the start of my first marathon. It was a pristine morning, with the race’s 45,000 participants treated to 64-degree temperatures and a gorgeous blue sky, and my goal of savoring the moment early on instead of obsessing about my time had thus far unfolded as planned.

I crossed the eight-mile marker in just about 64 minutes and prepared to settle in for the next 12 miles, hoping to start shaving some time off my pace before hitting the final six-mile stretch. I knew I’d need to have something left in the tank to finish strong, having topped out four weeks earlier with a 21.5-mile training run, so I was planning on listening to my body to see just how much I could safely push the pace.

I didn’t like what my body had to say.

The good news? My shoulder felt fine. Actually, it felt great. I had a case of subscapular bursitis crop up the previous weekend (NOTE: the injury has since been diagnosed as nerve compression), and while it was a painful injury, I learned during a six-mile run on Thursday and a slow two miler Saturday morning that it actually felt better while running. Hoping to prevent any late-race soreness, I slapped Icy Hot medicated strips onto three different spots of my back, just to be safe. That may very well have been my first mistake of the day.

The bad news? My legs weren’t feeling nearly as good as my shoulder. At a time when I should have been finding a mid-race groove, my legs were tired. Too tired. Certainly too tired for mile 8 of a 26.2-mile race. I knew I would be pushing my body to an extreme that day, but I wasn’t ready to do it yet. Okay, I thought, I’ll just maintain pace for now and hope my legs recover in time for a strong finish. They didn’t.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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 jcodding@bullz-eye.com with comments, questions or your own thoughts on running, and see why Jamey runs.

  

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 jcodding@bullz-eye.com with comments, questions or your own thoughts on running, and see why Jamey runs.

  

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