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.

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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.

  

Marathon tune-up: The Virginia Beach Half Marathon

Training for a marathon can be grueling. Most weeks, my training consists of four runs: speed-based workouts on Tuesday and Thursday, a shorter easy run on Saturday and a long run on Sunday. At the moment, I’m putting in just over 30 miles a week, and by the end of my Sunday long run, I’m worn out with only a day to recover before it starts all over on Tuesday. It’s a schedule that’s served me well for the past year — I followed a similar routine with modified mileage while training for each of my first three half marathons — but, as you can imagine, things tend to get a little repetitive and stale, especially in the heat and humidity of an Ohio summer when the race you’re training for is still months away. But this weekend, I get a break.

Granted, running the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon Sunday morning doesn’t seem like much of a break, but our friends at Dodge, one of the sponsors of the excellent Rock ‘n’ Roll series, are giving me a much needed and appreciated mental break from my training routine. After dropping our kids off with the grandparents Friday afternoon, my wife and I will load up a fully loaded 2011 Dodge Durango Citadel and head for Virginia Beach. It’s a long drive from Ohio — about nine hours, give or take — but we’ll be riding in style in the blackberry-colored Durango (pictured below) and, with no kids clamoring for snack stops and bathroom breaks, it’ll be the most peaceful nine-hour drive we have had in quite some time.

The unique circumstances of this particular trip aside, the race will serve as an excellent training barometer with the Chicago Marathon just over a month away (Oct. 9). I set my half marathon PR (personal record) of 1:32:51 in Cleveland a couple months ago while I was dealing with some knee pain and IT band tightness, but my body feels better now than it did in May and I’m in even better shape. My ultimate goal for Chicago is to qualify for the Boston Marathon with a time of 3:15 or better. A bit of a longshot, perhaps, particularly for my first marathon, but there’s nothing wrong with aiming high. And as I head into my final month of training, the race this weekend will give me a clearer idea of where I am in my training, with a time under 1:30 meaning that a 3:15 marathon may in fact be within reach.

If you’re training for a marathon, half marathon or any other longer race, don’t shy away from competition in the weeks and months leading up to the big day. Of course, races are much more taxing on your body than a standard training run, so don’t sign up for anything too close to your big race, but because you’ll likely run a race faster than any of your training runs, adding one or two shorter races to your schedule can serve as a useful warmup while giving you a mental break from the training grind to boot. So thanks again to Dodge for the opportunity to test my training in Virginia Beach this weekend and, after driving the 2011 Dodge Durango home Monday and picking the kids back up, I’ll check in next week to see if I broke that 1:30 mark.

Jamey, the editor-in-chief at Bullz-Eye.com, will be updating his Runner’s Journal a couple times a month as he trains for his next race. Currently, Jamey is training for the 2011 Chicago Marathon – his first full marathon – on October 9, and he plans on running the Tough Mudder next March. Email jcodding@bullz-eye.com with comments, questions or your own thoughts on running.

  

Why run?

Why run? It’s a damn fine question, one I couldn’t stop asking myself as I trudged along during a brutal 14-mile training run last weekend. “Why am I out here?” “I feel awful.” “Wish I hadn’t run out of water five miles ago.” “How the hell am I going to run 26 miles in October?” That last one, in particular, has been gnawing away at me in the days since the 14 miler, but we’ll revisit that question in the coming weeks of this series. Today, let’s start with two words that non-runners will routinely throw your way when they see you lacing up your shoes or hear about your latest race: Why run?

Of course, there isn’t one stock answer to this question, and different runners will offer different responses. As someone who ran competitively in high school before taking the next 15 years off, getting back into running has been like reconnecting with a long, lost love. I stopped running after graduation in 1995 because whatever passion I had for the sport had dried up when I stepped onto the Ohio University campus later that fall. Who wants to go for a five-mile run when there are beers to be drained and late-night fast food to be devoured? And after four years of training and racing in both cross country and track, my body (and my mind) needed a break. I just didn’t know my break would last 15 years.

I had tried to pick it back up several different times during those 15 years, but my restarts never lasted longer than a month or three for one simple reason: I didn’t have the proper motivation. If someone had posed the “why run” question during that time, I wouldn’t have had an answer. Every couple of years, I’d force myself to go on painful two- or three-mile runs with one abstract goal in mind: to get into shape. And after a couple months, with my times not improving and my body still feeling like crap every time out, I’d throw in the towel and wonder how and why I ever ran in the first place.

Everything changed last April. A friend who knew I ran in high school asked if I wanted to be a part of his four-man marathon relay team in Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon. I hadn’t run longer than four miles in at least 10 years, but something about the challenge of training for and competing in a legitimate road race compelled me to say yes. I regretted it almost immediately. My leg of the race was about 5.5 miles long – the shortest of the four, but also the hilliest. What had I gotten myself into? I had a hard enough time finishing three-mile jogs around my neighborhood, so how was I going to double that up on a bunch of hills in the matter of a couple months?

I had some training to do.

If you’ve had an urge to start running but haven’t been able to either take the plunge or stick with it for any real length of time, I recommend signing up for a race. It’s instant – and very real – motivation. Your training runs take on a true sense of purpose and urgency when you’ve got an actual goal you’re working toward, rather than the abstract concept of merely running to get in shape. Spending $50-$100 on the entry fee helps too. Knowing I had committed to this race in April, and knowing that I had three other guys counting on me to show up on race day, I finally started to see my times drop and mileage increase. I soon graduated from two miles to three and four, then five. I wasn’t setting my watch on fire by any stretch of the imagination, but I was running farther and faster than I had since my high school days after failing to improve during any of my previous false starts over the past 15 years. Then one day, I set out to run six miles and, realizing just how good I felt in the middle of the run, I decided to tack on another mile…then one more. Two months earlier, I struggled through two- and three-mile runs, and now I had an eight miler under my belt. I was back.

We ran well in Cincinnati – not as fast as I had hoped I’d run, but not bad for my first real race in ages. More importantly, I had rediscovered the passion for running I thought had vanished for good. Being in that race environment and talking with other runners who had been working as hard as I had (and harder) to accomplish a goal energized me and served as a wake up call. After my leg of the race was over, we headed back to watch runners cross the finish line at the end of their own half and full marathons. I felt good about what I had accomplished that day, but watching them finish their race, I knew was ready for more. I signed up for my first half marathon a couple weeks later, and by May of this year, I had completed half marathons in Columbus (1:35:31), Las Vegas (1:35:34) and Cleveland (1:32:51), and am currently training for my first full marathon in Chicago this October. How’s that for a turn of events?

So why run? I run to challenge myself, to set a goal and accomplish that goal. Running can be a very personal experience – it’s just you and the road or trail. There’s no coach out there barking instructions, no teammates clamoring for attention, no scoreboard to worry about. 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. I run because, on my personal list of life’s simple joys, crossing the finish line sits near the top, and crossing the finish line ahead of my target time is even higher. I run because it’s time that belongs to me and me alone, time I take to improve my health, achieve my goals, clear my mind, and find some peace amidst the rhythmic sound of my footfalls. I run because I spend too much time sitting at a desk with my eyes glued to a computer monitor. I run because it feels good to sweat. I run because there are few things in life that taste better than cold water after a long run. I run to escape my thoughts, work through a problem or just blow off steam. I run to be part of a community, because the energy at a big race is intoxicating and inspiring, even if you’re just a spectator. I run because my kids see me run, and because we just bought my eight-year-old daughter her first pair of running shoes. She can go a mile or two at a time right now, and she loves it. I’ve asked her why, but she hasn’t figured that part out yet. She will.

Finally, I run for moments like the one I had yesterday. I was still trying to figure out why my 14 miler had gone so poorly – I finished eight minutes slower than I wanted – and challenged myself to make up for my mediocre showing with a quality five-mile run Tuesday morning. Three days after having my worst run of the year, I came back with my best run of the year, beating my target by a minute and running faster than I had for any of my previous training runs. I guess I run for a chance at redemption too.

So now the question is, why do you run…or why will you run?

Jamey, the editor-in-chief at Bullz-Eye.com, will be updating his Runner’s Journal a couple times a month as he trains for his next race. Currently, Jamey is training for the 2011 Chicago Marathon – his first full marathon – on October 9, and he plans on running the Tough Mudder next March. Email jcodding@bullz-eye.com with comments, questions or your own thoughts on running.

  

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