Archive for November 16, 2010

There was a great discussion going on throughout the day over on Dailymile – a great interactive website where many runners, cyclists, swimmers and endurance athletes go for support and motivation.  The topic was:  Describe your first marathon experience and what would you have done differently knowing what you know now?

The timing of the topic was very appropriate as this past Sunday marked the four-year anniversary of my very first Marathon.  Philadelphia in 2006.

My first marathon experience was like a lot of others I suppose. 

Limited time and experience as a “runner”, I had only been running for six months or so before starting my marathon training plan.  I was so excited about the prospect of running my first marathon, I dove headfirst into the sport of distance running.

Without a great source of information exchange like Dailymile, I read just about everything I could get my hands on.  Books, training plans, Runners World and finally settled on a training program for Novice Marathoners put together by Hal Higdon.  Hal with more than 100 marathons under his belt, still running strong in his 70’s, had coached literally tens of thousands of runners to their first marathon finisher’s medal. 

I diligently followed Hal’s instructions, learned about the proper rotation of shoes, the types of foods to avoid, how to drink out of a cup on race day and of course how to “train”.  Even though I followed Hal’s plan to a “T”, there was one thing that I did not have and that was enough “time” as a runner.  Hal and many other Marathon Coaches recommend that runners have a solid six months of running at least 25 miles a week to establish their “base mileage”.

Joe & Hal Higdon - Pittsburgh Marathon 2010

I think that is sound advice for runners who are trying to “finish” their first marathons.

What I didn’t know is that even though I did have my 6 months of running 25 miles per week, there is a difference between “finishing” a marathon and “racing” a marathon.

I was hoping to run my first marathon at 8:35 pace, finishing in 3:45:00.

I was able to hit that pace over my training runs, but my inexperience as a runner and my body’s inexperience at logging increased mileage at increased intensity over 18 weeks was about to take its toll.

Over my final 20-mile training run I suffered a strain to my IT Band.  Iliotibial Band Syndrome is a fairly common novice runner overuse injury. 

The IT Band which is a long tendon stretches all the way from your pelvis down the side of your thigh and connects to the outside of the tibia just below the knee. 

You can feel the tendon on the outside of your thigh when you tighten your leg muscles. The ITB crosses over the side of the knee-joint, giving added stability to the knee.

The lower end of the ITB passes over the outer edge of the lateral femoral condyle, the area where the lower part of the femur (thighbone) bulges out above the knee joint. When the knee is bent and straightened, the tendon glides across the edge of the femoral condyle

When inflamed the tendon does not “glide” over that area, it more or less “rubs”, becomes more inflamed and causes pain to the outside of the knee.

I had hoped that the 3 week “taper” period would let the area “calm down” prior to race day, but in the back of my mind I knew I was in for some problems.  My longest run during the taper was 12 miles and at the end of that run, my IT Band was barking at me.

During my shorter runs leading up to race day I felt “o.k.” – essentially I was just hoping for the best.  That my knee would keep itself together for 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Not even close.

At the mile 12 mark I was running right on pace, but as the course began to climb up hill towards Drexel University the pain was back.  Each stride irritated my IT Band more and by mile 14 I was in pain.  Not one to give up, I soldiered on, 16 became 18, 18 became 20.  As I hit the turnaround point in Manyunk I had 6.2 miles to go.  Every step was farther than I had ever run previously as my training runs topped out at 20 miles.

My stride shortened as I tried to take pressure off of my knee.  I never stopped moving.  I never walked, not a single step and finished in 3:58:08.

Mile 12 Philadelphia Marathon

So looking back, what did I learn?

I learned a lot about the sport that day to be honest.  I learned that marathoning is hard.  It is challenging.  The race distance is designed to uncover flaws in the athlete.  If you are not “perfect” or your training has missed certain key areas such as hill work or tempo runs, you are going to pay a price on race day.  The Marathon will expose you.

I learned a lot about myself that day as well.  I learned that I did not have the base-mileage necessary to train and race a marathon.  I learned that I needed to run more hills.  I needed to gradually build my mileage base and my speed, so that any gains I made would not be undone by missing training time due to injury.  I learned that I needed to be patient and let these improvements come on their own schedule, not on mine.

I also learned that I was a Marathoner that day. 

Not just a runner who ran a Marathon.

So here we sit a little less than 14 weeks away from the starter’s gun at Austin.

My hometown race, in the best shape of my life at 43 years, 3 months and 16 days old.

I feel like for the first time my desire to excel at the marathon distance matches my capability to do so.

I feel like I have a great race in me.

A race that I wish I had been able to run for Dom in April last year at Boston.  There were a lot of things going against us that day, which I have thought about, analyzed, thought about some more and learned from.

I’m done with April 19, 2010 today.  I’ve learned everything that I can from that race.

It’s time to look forward, forward to February 20, 2011. 

The day we run our best ever marathon.