If I only knew then what I know now ….

Posted: November 16, 2010 in Motivation, Training
Tags: , , , ,

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.

  1. David H. says:

    Great read. Your first marathon definitely sounds like my second marathon experience. I’d love to hear how you were able to recover from your ITB problems.

    • joerunfordom says:

      David – thanks so much for the visit and the comment. Man, that IT Band remains the injury that took me the longest to come back from.

      I went to see a Sports Medicine Doc here in Austin – and it was prescribed to do absolutely NO running until I could do so pain-free. I sat for a month, went for a jog. It hurt as my leg warmed up – about 1.5 miles in. I walked home dejected.

      Waited two more weeks. 1.5 miles in, pain. Walked home dejected.

      It was 3 months to the day when I could complete a 3 mile easy run around 9:00 min./mile pace with no pain, and I was finally on the road back.

      I ran every other day and added mileage very carefully, finally getting back to a 6 mile run in four weeks.

      In the meantime, I stretched bent knee over straight leg on the floor and standing calf raises with some rolling religiously.

      Lastly, I got in the gym and strengthened my legs. Squats, lunges, leg press and calf raises. It was that strengthening that finally kicked the injury to the curb.

      Knock on wood, close to 7,000 miles later – not a bit of pain from that IT Band …..

      • David H. says:

        Thanks for the reply. I’ve had an ITB injury before and it went away fairly quickly. That was 4 years ago and during my first “long” distance training — for a 10 miler. While I’ve learned a lot over time, I’m just wondering how my body will react after doing what I did over the weekend. Surprisingly, things feel really good a few days later, although I’m not going to attempt a run for another few days or so. I know what I need to do — more strength training, more core training, etc. — and I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner.

  2. James says:

    The thing that amazes me about the marathon is that we are never going to win. We will run great races, but the challenge of that distance will always be there taunting us, calling us to take it on again. For some reason I don’t feel that about other distances, just 26.2.

    • joerunfordom says:

      James – that is something I’ve thought about at every race that I’ve ever run (marathon that is) – why would more than 20,000 people show up to run a race they have no earthly chance of winning?

      Standing in the starting coral at Boston this year – I completely got it. It’s really not about the “winning and losing” for everybody but the truly elite runners – it is about competing against our own abilities and our goals for that day.

      In that respect, we have a far greater chance of “winning” everytime we lace up our shoes than those who race for a living. We are winners for just getting to the starting line.

      For us, I think it takes a lot more courage to try than to succeed. That is one of the things I love the most about marathoning.

  3. Jodi Higgins says:

    Great post as usual Joe! I can relate to the frustration of a first marathon as you know. .68 miles is all that separated me from that finish line and becoming a marathoner. You just don’t know what will happen even when you know you have done everything possible to prepare. With that said, how about a post on proper hydration/nutrition during a marathon? Pretty please! It will help me cross that finish line this time when I have my re-match with 26.2. Poor hydration/nutrition are what landed me in that ambulance on May 16, 2010.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Jodi! I remember that .68 miles very, very well from earlier this year – you really gave everything you had that day and finisher’s medal or no, you are every bit a marathoner in my book.

      I think that is a great topic Jodi and I will absolutely write about that when I reach that first 20-miler. I learned to take that very seriously and feel like “for me”, I’m pretty close to having it figured out – but I’m also smart enough to know that I am pushing my body harder now than ever before, and my nutrition is going to have to change to make sure I have all the fuel I need to race on February 20th mile 1 through mile 26.

  4. Thanks for this post Joe! You know this has been weighing on my mind recently. It sounds like although your first marathon experience was a “learning experience” it was crucial in making you a better marathoner. I definitely don’t have the weekly mileage base recommended for a marathon, but I do feel the call for the challenge…it’s a goal I’ve had since graduating college and watching the Marine Corp Marathon.

    • joerunfordom says:

      AJ – thanks so much for the visit and for inspiring me to write this post with your question yesterday. You have the one thing that is an absolute prerequisite for the marathon, and that is the desire to do it.

      A lot of runners pick the marathon after years of running because they think it’s just the next “logical” step in their running.

      There isn’t a whole lot “logical” about running 26.2 miles on purpose, without being chased, just for the “fun of it”.

      It is the desire to do so that everyone has to have, and I know from getting to know you this year – you absolutely have the “want to”.

      We’ll chat when I see you out in L.A. – but I think you are on the right track – you need to schedule out a training plan, just like you would for a race, that gets your base mileage to the point where you are then ready to ramp up and go for the Marathon.

      I call those my “Pre-Marathon Training, Training Plans” – and it is what gets me out of bed and excited to run hills, tempo runs, race short distances or whatever that plan calls for ….

      I’m not “training for a marathon”, but I am “training to train for a marathon” and it makes me shoot for the stars just as much.

  5. onelittlejill says:

    I totally plan to run a marathon- I have no allusions that it could end up beating me up…but in a way, that makes it more exciting 🙂

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Jill! All my favorite runner friends are visiting today! Thanks so much for stopping by. I think that the “unknown” about the marathon is something that all of us need to face down, and again makes it as you put it “more exciting”.

      I might not know exactly what kind of time I’m going to run in a 5K or 10K race – but I’m pretty sure I know I’m going to finish …. the marathon is a different test entirely – it is physical for sure, but it is also extrememely mental.

      I really enjoy the mental side of the challenge very bit as much as the physical. I think it changes the way you view the world with respect to challenges and the things that we not only believe we can overcome, but our desire to try to overcome them.

      You are a marathoner who just hasn’t run one yet Jill. No doubt about it.

  6. Nancy Cook says:

    Great read is right…. I love the marathon distance too and in my 40’s I am in the best shape of my life. I love the energy of the marathon and those passionate about the distance. I have had some frustrating ones and some amazing ones, but they are all my marathons. 26 total. Thanks for the post, I love to read about runners and running and get motivation from you and all on daily mile. Thanks!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Nancy! I love the way you describe each of your 26 (Amazing!) marathons as being “your marathons”. Right now I can recall just about every mile of every marathon I’ve run, and I hope that never changes.

      The good ones, the tough ones, the not so good ones and of course Philly when I was injured – they are all mine and they have made me the runner I am today.

      The good news is that they run those same races every year. I have one marathon where I really feel like I have some “unfinished business” with – and that is Boston.

      If I run the race I think I am capable of on February 20th, I’ll have 14 months to get ready for Boston 2012. And I am going to kick that thing’s ass.

  7. Laura Scholz says:

    Isn’t the marathon the most humbly experience ever? I had two false starts at the marathon (stress fracture in 2008, swine flu one week before the race in 2009) before finally completely my first marathon this past March. All my training had been perfect. But I set out to race, instead of finish. Wow. Big mistake. You just don’t know until you’re there. But I’m proud I finished, even if it was over five hours (read the blog for the gory details–basically, had asthma/panic attack, then puked for ten miles. But I finished, and it wasn’t for me, and reminded me that running is more about who and why I’m running, rather than some silly personal goals.

    Looking forward to cheering you on virtually for Austin!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Laura! Man, the marathon is definitely a humbling distance. In a lot of ways I admire it for the fact that it does not discriminate – but in a lot of ways I feel like it can be unfair at times.

      When it does seek you out and take you down, it does so with very little mercy. You train so hard for that one race, and the smallest misstep is unrecoverable. It’s a tough, tough test, no two ways about it.

      Sounds like you had some pretty serious “bad luck” at your early attempts – so happy to hear you got that finisher’s medal in March. Felt pretty darn good I’m betting!

      Take good care Laura and thanks for all the virtual cheering in February – I’m going to need it!

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