Big disclaimer to start: I’m not a doctor or a trainer, and you should ALWAYS consult and work with your medical professionals before starting any major exercise routine. That goes double for anyone just starting training for a long-distance race, even a 5K or 10K. Anyone with a heart condition who goes out and runs five or ten miles and dies because “Paul said it would be okay” is going to be looked at askance. Seriously askance. Let’s keep a firm grip on our common sense here, folks.
Also, when I talk about my legs “hurting,” I’m talking about the muscle-wide fatigue and “broad pain” from muscles that are being used and used hard to do things they hadn’t done in a while, if ever. I am not talking about the “sharp pain” that occurs in one spot, usually suddenly, that indicates that something really bad may have happened. If you have any reason to suspect that something might be broken or torn (“sharp, sudden pain”) as opposed to just exercised hard (“broad pain” the next day or so), STOP and get immediate medical attention. Again, I am not a doctor or a trainer, just someone who’s done this once or twice and wants to rant about it in the hopes of possibly giving others an insight into what’s going on.
As mentioned yesterday, I got off the dime and did my first run for the Disney World Marathon in January. Not a biggie, just three miles and change.
If you’ve never run, or more to the point, if you’ve never run and you’re thinking about starting, there are a few things “they” don’t tell you. I’m here to make a few observations and give you a heads up.
I just said, correctly, “Not a biggie, just three miles and change.” If you think that walking around the block is in the same category as the Bataan Death March, that sounds like a ludicrous statement. I’ve been there.
This is one of the reasons that running has lessons to teach about “life” if you’re willing to learn. The first lesson is that progress and accomplishment are made of thousands and millions of little steps. If you get out of your Lazy Boy today, out of shape and seriously obese, yes, you could very well DIE if you tried to run a marathon.
But unless you’re a complete idiot, or the zombie hordes have marched over the horizon after the EMP has fried every bit of technology in the world so you have no choice, you don’t do that. You simply start taking the first of those thousands and millions little steps, with some faith that you’ll get there.
You start walking. You walk to the end of the block and back. You walk around the block. You walk a mile or so. You walk three or four miles. You sign up for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and train over about six months, building up your endurance and strength, possibly (probably?) losing some weight.
Once you can walk a marathon distance in ten or eleven hours (that is not a killer pace – I set an aggressive pace and did it in just under eight hours, but they give you much more time to finish if you need it) and you’ve got a tremendous, hard-earned, well-deserved sense of accomplishment, then you can start jogging. You keep walking, but you start mixing in a bit of jogging. You can get with a training group and learn a “walk/run” pace. When I trained for the 2012 LA Marathon we had groups doing 5-1 (three minutes of running, one minute of walking), 4-1, 3-1, 3-2, and just walking (looking for an 8:00 finish).
The first weekend of training we did three miles (“Not a biggie!”) just to see how you feel and how accurate your judgement of your fitness level is. You run (typically) on Tuesday and Thursday (two miles each day early in training, building up to six or so) and then have a “long run” every Saturday. Week Two you do four miles, Week Three you do five, and so on. Every now and then you have a “cut back week” where you give your body some time to heal a bit. For example, in the middle of the training routine, you might be doing 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 8, 12, 14 miles on consecutive Saturdays over a two month period.
That first three mile run can catch you off guard if you’re not running regularly. You may have run in the past, but if it’s been a year (guilty!), you’ll do it because you know you can. Hell, you’ve run full marathons before, three miles is no biggie, right? Except that’s your head talking — your legs have gotten soft. So you’re sucking wind by the one-mile mark and while your head thought you would do the three miles in thirty to thirty-five minutes, a pace which would get you about a 4:45 finishing time, your legs barely drag you home in under forty-two minutes, a pace which would just barely give you a 6:00 finishing time.
And while you’re sore that evening, you keep moving and your body has lots of endorphin (and perhaps some ibuprofen) so you’re feeling pretty pleased with yourself. Then you wake up the next morning and all of those muscles have had a chance to talk among themselves and take a strike vote. Surprise! Every time you try to walk or sit down or get up or move you hurt like hell.
That’s where I’m at today, and that’s where you may be if you choose to travel this path at some point. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I’m here to tell you — KEEP MOVING. It’s important on that next day, because you have to get through this, you can’t dodge it. As Frost said, “The only way out is through.”
Just keep moving as normally as possible, wincing a lot, and generally pissing off everyone else in the house. (Hi, Long Suffering Wife!) Then keep moving the next day and by about the third day after (probably Tuesday, if you did your “big run” on Saturday), when you start to feel okay again, go running.
That second run is going to be a bitch. Your brain is not going to want to go. About ten feet into it you’re going to be really tempted to just declare victory and go back to the Lazy Boy.
You’re going to run enough to get you loose and remind your legs who’s the boss, a mile or two. And on Wednesday you’ll be sore — but not nearly as sore as you were after the first run. Then Thursday’s going to get there and you need to do it again.
The third run, mentally, is in my experience the hardest to get yourself going on. Do it anyway. Again, just a couple of miles. Easy peasy.
The next Saturday is your next “big run” and you’re doing four miles. You’ll still suck wind — but not nearly as much. You’ll still be sore on Sunday — but not nearly as much. And after you do your short runs on Tuesday and Thursday, you’re now in a groove, on the bandwagon, with the program, and it will get a lot easier mentally to get going, to stay motivated. You’ve got a goal.
The oddest thing will happen. Every week you’ll push the boundaries, you’ll push yourself further. You’ll be so caught up in the process, so focused on the next increment, that you’ll lose sight of the big picture. Then you’ll hit one of those cut back days.
The “ah-ha!” moment for me was about a month before the marathon. We had done 16, 18, and 20 miles (all hard, but all accomplished successfully) when we had a cut back week to 16 miles. We were all thrilled that we had a “short” day, an “easy” day, a “fun run.”
A short, easy, fun run of sixteen freakin’ miles.
That really caught me off guard. But it’s real. You’ve done the 18 and 20 miles and lived, and in a month you’re going to do 26.2 miles and kick that course’s ass. You know it.
But looking back, you’re still less than six months removed from the mindset where you thought you would die after three miles. You couldn’t even conceive of running 26.2 and figured that you must be totally insane. And now you’re scoffing at how easy and short sixteen miles are.
That was an amazing moment for me. Not quite as amazing as getting to the finish line, especially at the 2012 LA Marathon, but it’s a good, close second.
So today I’m staggering around like I’m eighty-five years old. My thighs and shins are on fire every time I stand, sit, or move.
But I am moving. I’ll keep on moving. I will run again on Tuesday, and again on Thursday. On Saturday I’ll run four miles, maybe four and a half if the weather’s not too hot.
The greatest benefit you get from finishing a marathon is knowing that you can. When you know that, you know that you can do anything. And then you can do it again as you look for the next boundary to push away.