A marathon journey

So…. the marathon.  I thought about writing this recap of the race yesterday, and didn’t end up doing it because I felt like I wanted to think about it more first.  I feel like the short summary involves three things:

1.  I was pretty miserable for the final 15 miles of the race (yes… 15!) because my knee injury from last fall came back unexpectedly at mile 11 and only got worse the longer I ran on it.

2.  I DID still finish the race and am an official marathoner.

3.  My finish time is not what I was hoping for because my knee was killing me, but my finish time is still in the top third of women in my age bracket so I did not crash and burn.

Now that we’ve gotten those three facts out of the way, if that’s all you were interested in, you know the basics.  🙂  If you want the full recap (not just of the race but of my journey to the marathon), read onward!

Journey to the Marathon – Part I – Fall 2009

No, I wasn’t doing marathon training in fall of 2009.  But fall of 2009 is when friends at Herman Miller started encouraging me to do longer runs.  A close co-worker of mine was a 6 time marathoner.  I worked nearby another 5 or so people who were marathoners.  I had always been a really solid 4 – 6 mile runner, but they started challenging me into thinking that I could start running longer distances.  That fall, I did a couple of 15ks (9.3 miles), and discovered that running more than 6 miles didn’t kill me.  Surprise, surprise!  🙂

In west Michigan the big distance running event of the year is the 25k (15.5 mile)  Riverbank Run in Grand Rapids.  15.5 miles sounded like a LONG way to me, but again, with the encouragement of my coworkers, I signed up and in January 2010 I started the arduous process of training for a May 25k through a pretty cold, snowy, icy, windy Michigan winter.  One of my coworkers told me it really helped to run outdoors rather than on a treadmill, because that more fully mimics what the actual race will be like.  Not knowing anything about how to train for a long distance race, I took that advice to heart and ran 5 – 6 days a week outdoors ALL winter, without missing a single run.  I bought under armor (basically fancied-up long underwear) and ran.  I bought YakTrax (chains that you can put on your shoes so you can run on the ice and not slip) and ran.  I got a warm headband that went over my ears and ran.  When my fingers started to turn white because of running in the cold, I bought Nike Tioga Woolies mittens (which basically look like fluffy sheep mittens) and I ran.  It didn’t matter whether the weather was predicted to be blizzard conditions, freezing rain, slow, sleet, whatever…  I ran.  I didn’t know enough about distance running to know that I could miss a run and still finish the race successfully… all I knew was that I desperately wanted to finish and I had a training program that I followed religiously.  All of that time, dedication, and pure insanity paid off, and I had a great Riverbank Run experience, finishing at about an 8:45min/mile average pace.  I didn’t know anything about nutrition or hydration during long runs, but somehow my training got me through anyway.  That made me feel confident that I’d be able to run a marathon.

Trying to Train for Detroit – Fall 2010

I signed up for the Detroit marathon in September, planned on keeping my high weekly mileage of 12 – 14 miles and then as the race got closer start the actual marathon training.  In the meantime I set my attention to a few 5k races.  This was the first time my body really rebelled.  I went from the long, slow 25k training to the short, explosive 5k training WAY too fast, because I really didn’t know any better.  That brought on inflammation of the IT band in my right knee.  I tried to run through it, but basically it ended up completely halting my training.  I went to see a physical therapist for me knee in July and basically by the time my knee was feeling well enough to start training, it was August.  My physical therapist said there was no way, especially as a first time marathoner, I would be able to train for a single month and finish Detroit.  So I started poking around online and found a marathon in Seattle over Thanksgiving weekend.  That would give me two months of training (even though, really, marathon training should take about four months).  My physical therapist was skeptical, but helped me come up with an “aggressive” training plan (his words, not mine), and I tried to start training for that.  A lot of things happened in the fall of 2010, one of them being my move across the country to Seattle.  The move and somewhat sporadic training resulting from that, combined with trying to run the incredibly steep hills in Seattle brought the IT band pain back, so I instantly stopped running.  My first few months in Seattle, I didn’t do any running.  Instead I walked everywhere, got used to having no car, and built my calf muscles just walking on all of the hills.  So I missed the Seattle marathon.

New Years Eve Half Marathon – Winter 2010

By November, my knee seemed great again, and I was back to building up my long distance running… I built it back to the point where I ran a half marathon (13.1 miles) on Dec 31, 2010.  Once again, the race went really well… I finished with about an 8:35min/mile pace… 10 seconds faster than my Riverbank Run pace.

Seattle Rock n Roll Marathon – Summer 2011

With the half marathon success behind me, proving to me that I could still run long distances, I looked for the next local marathon (without a car, “local” was pretty much a must).  I discovered that the next marathon was June 25th, six months away… the Seattle Rock n Roll marathon.  Six months is a LONG time to train for a marathon, especially for me given that I already was comfortable running half marathon distances and wouldn’t be starting at a basic training level.  However, that was the only local marathon, so between January and March of 2011 I kept my weekly long run distance anywhere between 12  – 14 miles and in April I started real training.  Because I had so long to prep for it I got a LOT of long distance training runs in… I did four 20 mile runs prior to the race, which is a lot more than most plans have you do.  I also got nutrition and hydration figured out during my training and knew how much Gu and water I needed to run well.  All my training runs went well, so I felt prepared for the race and was hoping for a 9min/mile pace in the marathon, which would give me a finish time that was a little less than 4 hours.

To be continued…. I know this is already long, and I don’t want to bore you too badly.  😉


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