Becoming a Runner

Becoming a Runner

The 2003 Boston Marathon was an amazing experience. It was my first marathon AND it was Boston, the grand-daddy of them all. Well, except for that one in Greece. I was never an athlete growing up, and had never participated in anything as strenuous as a marathon before.

Boston marathon 2003 finish line,
Boston Marathon finish w/ Angela

When I crossed that finish line in front of the Boston Public Library on Boylston Street, it felt like a religious experience.

I don’t recall exactly what I thought, felt and said when I crossed the finish line but it was spiritual in a non-religious way and it changed the way I thought about myself and my life. It wasn’t a thunder-clap moment. It did take time for me to realize the change.

I was filled with joy and excitement and proud to have my oldest daughter with me as I crossed the finish line. It is a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Running Revelations

Even though I was under prepared, I had managed to finish one of the most demanding athletic events known to man. My feet had blisters, my hips hurt and my left calf and Achilles were killing me. I finished in the bottom 90th percentile but through will power and drive I finished and achieved my goal.

I had never been very goal oriented in my life. Going to college and getting a job were almost automatic and part of the natural flow of life. I didn’t go to college with any particular goals other than graduation. I was not a driven, goal oriented student and my grades reflected that. But getting through school did require a certain amount of effort, dedication and focus. Quitting smoking and surviving unemployment also took will power and a focus on goals.

By the time the 2005 and 2006 Boston Marathons came around I had become goal focused. While my running was not very disciplined, I did more training and kept better track of it. I had begun to understand what it took to run and finish a marathon and I knew I wanted to do it better than the last time.

In 2004 I started an MBA program with six-week long classes. This forced me to become very focused, motivated and goal oriented. The time spent studying for my MBA changed my life as much as running did.

In 2003, in some sort of sense, I thought I was a runner. I had finished Boston and before that a half marathon. I was off and running, so to speak! I signed up for the Ocean State Marathon in Providence, RI in October and continued to run over the summer. My records from 2003 are lost to time but I know I did not train like I train now. At most I ran three days a week and rarely more than 7.5 miles at a time. I do not recall running at home after work or on the weekends. My weekly miles were probably never over 25 and my long run was 7.5 miles.

I managed to finish Providence in 4:34 which was a 37 minute improvement over my Boston finish. I was psyched! A guy on the bus on the way out to Hopkinton in April 2003 told me I could knock an hour off of my time if I kept at it, and I had knocked 37 minutes off in 5 months! Wow! I was over half-way.

I did feel much better at the finish of Providence and don’t remember losing any toe nails. It did rain lightly for most of the race and I discovered nipple chafing that day. Oh Joy!

Somewhere in the middle of the race the person I was running with pointed at my shirt and said “look”. I was shocked to look down and see two huge red blotches on my shirt. It didn’t really hurt until I saw them and then I couldn’t stop thinking about them. All of a sudden they were very sensitive and stung. I was such a newby I didn’t have the right jacket or anything else to keep me dry and un-bloodied. I zipped up my London Fog jacket and kept on going. Yup, a London Fog jacket!

As I approached the finish line in Providence I found my wife and daughters behind one of the barricades. I managed to get my oldest over the barricade but my youngest was reluctant. I finally managed to get her over the top also and the three of us ran in the last few hundred feet. In my mind I can still see my youngest marching across the finish line with a cute look on her face and her arms swinging high.

Unfortunately MarathonPhoto’s ordering system was very difficult to work with and I never got to order any pictures from that marathon. A nugget of wisdom here, get any special photos ordered sooner rather than later. They do not keep them forever. In MarathonPhoto’s case it is only 10 months, which I did not know as I battled their ordering system.

Not getting those photos is one of the biggest regrets in my life. I keep telling myself it’s a wonderful memory and most people never get photos of special moments like that. My girls have never finished a race with me since.

So am I a real Runner yet?

After finishing two marathons and a half marathon I must have considered myself a runner. I was learning from my experience and adjusting my routines and my clothing. In mid-February 2006, I switched my running shoes from Asics to Brooks and started working on my blister problem. I found a silicone powder from Two Toms that seemed to work and still use it on my feet for marathons. I understood the importance of base miles and continued to run at work during my lunch break but dropped back to 10-15 miles per week.

In 2004 and into 2005 and 2006 there were months at a time that I did not run at all. I was busy with work, it was too cold or I didn’t have my stuff. At this time I also only ran marathons and without a race on my schedule I had no incentive to train. Since I could only get into Boston through my company’s lottery drawing I had no way of knowing if I would ever run a marathon again. So I settled back into my old lifestyle of work and family for the most part.

I managed to get a number for the 2005 and 2006 Boston Marathon through the lottery at work. At this stage in my life I did not consider myself a runner. Running was not an integral part of my life. It was not who I was or part of my identity. As such, I had not kept up with my training between marathons. After I got my numbers each year, I spent a few months training and that was it. Between marathons, I failed to maintain a base level of fitness, a base level of weekly miles. Each year I basically started over again.

As I progressed in my running and became a “runner” I came to understand how important it was to maintain my fitness level between events. After just a few weeks of not running you start to lose a significant amount of your fitness. Most experts say that you should not go more than two days between runs in order to avoid a reduction in fitness. By not running consistently between races I was losing everything I had worked for while training for the Marathon.

Base miles are an amount of mileage that runners maintain between events. For marathon training it is not unusual to run four or more days a week. Many amateur runners run 30-50 miles per week while training for a marathon. The pros often run over 100 miles per week. These are time demanding schedules and often come into conflict with daily lives. So between training for big races, most runners back off and maintain a schedule of base miles that allows them to have a life and avoid divorce!

Developing a plan and Discipline

In 2006 I was finishing up my MBA program and trying to sell my house on my own. It was the go-go days of the real estate boom and Isoldmyhouse.com kept telling me how easy it was to sell my house, with their help, of course. Between studies, cleaning and fixing things at my house, doing open houses, taking care of the family, going to soccer games and work, I was too busy to run very much.

So while I had sufficient notice that I would be running a the 2006 Boston Marathon, once again I was woefully under prepared.  Once again I was starting all over again; from square one, from scratch essentially. Because my running schedule was so inconsistent I really didn’t have any base miles to start with.

The main difference in 2006 was that I really knew how far behind I was in my training. I had a firm understanding of how this would impact me on race day and how much work I needed to do to have a successful race. In 2006 I also had a better idea of how to prepare for the race. I was developing my process, my method and my routines.

Since 2003 I had learned a lot about running and how important it was to plan your training and your races. Since 2003, I made a few adjustments such as switching shoes and using powder to prevent blisters. In 2006 I knew that I needed to incorporate long runs into my training and thought it would be a good idea to try and run at least 26 miles a week. I’m sure the records I have are not complete, but they show I never got close to 25 miles per week in 2006.

In 2006 I ran Boston’s Run to Remember half-marathon, like I did in 2003. Many people use this race to gauge how well prepared they are for Boston, so I incorporated it into my training.

I felt pretty good during this race and recall feeling more confident in my running. In 2006 the race started in South Boston and went though Beacon Hill in Boston and crossed the Long Fellow Bridge onto Memorial Drive in Cambridge. Memorial drive is flat and I remember feeling like I could kick it out a bit here. Coming back over the Long Fellow Bridge into Boston I felt pretty good and knew there were a few miles to go. I hung on and managed to kick it again and ran in the last quarter-mile or so at a good pace.

Afterward I felt good. I felt like a runner and that I was among fellow travelers as we sat in the convention center and drank a few Harpoon IPAs.

I finished that race in 2:06 for a 9:34 pace which was pretty good for me at the time. I was hoping to run Boston at a 10 minute pace and felt that I was on track. In my age group and over all I finished in the bottom quarter and third respectively.  This being a warm up for Boston, the race was loaded with strong runners.

In 2003 I finished Boston in 5:11, in 2005 4:59 and 2006 4:49. As a runner I was making progress, though very slowly. I still was not able to run Boston as fast as I had run The Ocean State Marathon in 2003, but Boston is a challenging course and I was more prepared for Ocean State.

Becoming Runner 2.0

In 2009 I won another number for the Boston Marathon in my company’s lottery. This time I knew that I needed more training and preparation for the race. This time I felt like I had a bit of a clue as to what I needed to do and what to expect on the course.

After running Boston three times before and four marathons all together, I had a good idea of what to expect on the course and what I needed to do to meet the challenge. I reflected on what I had done before for training and I knew it had not been enough. I also thought about how I would hydrate on the course and what I would eat and drink before the race. I was developing a plan. This is when I started to think of myself as “Runner 2.0”.

In the software business when a new and improved version of a program is released they call it version 2.0. And of course there is Web 2.0 now. I had the same body as I had in 2003, though six years older, with the same limitations and a few extra pains. So the “hardware” was still pretty much the same. What I did have was several years of running experience and an understanding of the training that was required to finish a marathon with minimal damage to myself. Everything that was new was in my mind, I had new software. So I called it Runner 2.0.

What is Runner 2.0?

Runner 2.0 is a way of looking at running as a process. As a Runner 2.0, you think about your training and you do it purposely and with a pre-defined plan of what you are going to do. Based on a fitness goal or the race you are training for, you pick a plan, or design your own plan, and stick with it as closely as possible.  You can buy a plan or get a free one on-line from a variety of web sites.

It doesn’t matter what your goal is. It may be to qualify for Boston, to finish a 5K or to walk for 90 minutes per week. By establishing a goal and working backwards to create a plan to reach your goal you are utilizing the principals of Runner 2.0.

Runner 2.0 is not only about training for a race. Runner 2.0 is also about having a plan for running your race. Over time most runners develop a routine, or process, that they follow for every race. They know what they should and should not eat for a race. They know how much to drink and what clothes they should wear based on anticipated conditions. This routine or plan is constantly being revised depending on the race that is being trained for, time of year, aging of the runner or new things that are discovered.

Most people who are new to running start out like I did and just jump right in. While it can be exciting to start something new and see what happens, it can also cause disappointment and cut short your enthusiasm. Being mindful of what you are doing and setting realistic goals can help you to avoid injuries and to feel better about your progress.

One of my goals in writing this blog is to guide new runners, or walkers, in their journey from Runner 1.0 to Runner 2.0; to help them develop their very own process to successfully run a race or maintain a fitness program.

Some smart decisions

Because the weather is generally bad in Massachusetts during the Boston Marathon training season, I joined a gym. The only thing that I wanted in a gym was access to a tread mill when there was too much snow or ice, or it was less than 400 outside. This turned out to be a great decision as it eliminated all of my excuses. Even when the weather was terrible, the gym was warm and dry. This allowed me to get in 20-30 miles per week, which I thought was pretty good. It was a big improvement over my previous training programs anyway!

In the days before the 2009 Boston Marathon I listened to interviews with American runners Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall. It blew my mind when I found out that they were running over 100 miles per week. They both finished in 3rd place in the 2009 Boston Marathon. I know I will never run at their level, but this wakeup call made me realize that if I was ever going to reach my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, I needed to step up my game.

To help me reach this goal I decided to join a local running club. I felt that being around experienced runners would be good for me. I could learn from their experience and the social aspect would keep me motivated. This turned out to be another great decision.

Most people in the club had much more experience than I did and they were all willing to give me advice. One thing I have found with almost all runners is that they are friendly and more than willing to help you out. I learned a lot by asking questions and applying what I learned.

The club I joined was The Melrose Running Club. They have a weekly run on Tuesday nights that I have been running since I joined the club. Leading up to the Boston Marathon they also have a Sunday Long Run. This is a series of 15 Sunday runs that range from 8 to 22 miles. In order to improve at the marathon distance I knew that I needed to both increase my weekly miles and also to incorporate a weekly long run into my routine.

If I had not joined this club I probably would not have been able to improve my running and deepen my interest in running. The social aspect and my personal goal to finish my weekly runs under a certain time have kept me coming back and kept me improving my running.

Running can be a solitary sport. I encourage you to seek out a club in your area. The Road Runners Club of America has a web site where you can look for a running club in your area. Their web address is:  http://www.rrca.org

I finished the 2009 Boston Marathon at 4:49 which was just about the same time as I ran it in 2006. And while Boston is more challenging than a lot of other marathons I was disappointed that I had not been able to run a Personal Record, or PR. I spent less time walking and felt better at the end of this marathon but I was disappointed with my time.

I had incorporated everything I knew into my plan, I had joined a running club and I had trained more consistently and rigorously. But I was not making the progress that I wanted. I now had goals and a drive and desire to reach them. I had become a runner.

Run well my friends!

Andy

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