Saturday, February 1, 2014

Couch to Dopey?

A woman in the Dopey Challenge Facebook Group recently asked how long someone would need to go from no running at all to running the Dopey Challenge.

I can guess, but all I have to go by is my own experience.

I ran 5Ks in high school (PR about 16:57 on a track) and the annual Peachtree Road Race a couple of times.(PR 36:29)  I did 8Ks for one semester in college. I gave up racing after burning out. I don't recall ever doing more than 10 miles for a run. 

I lived in New York for most of my 20s. And I remember going on occasional runs - - probably 0 to 4 times a week - often around the Central Park reservoir or Central Park. Again, I don't think I ever went over six miles. 

After a hiatus and moving to Ohio, I tried to resume running in a futile attempt to lose weight. I rarely went over 3 to 5 miles a couple of times a week. Then I started developing calf cramping issues. During those years, it was a struggle to run a mile and then back. (I didn't realize it at the time, but some simple stretching would have addressed the issue). I went to a doctor, and he said I appeared to have compression compartment syndrome, which tends to happen as you get older. He had a therapist teach me some stretches. He said it was that or risky surgery. 

It was finally in 2007 that I started running just about every day - again to try to lose weight. Up to eight miles or an hour and a half, which was a lot for me at the time. My weight dropped to 154 pounds. (I had little interest in ever racing again). But my weight quickly returned to 170 pounds - because I hadn't stopped eating unhealthy fast food and I slacked off the running in the cold winter. Also a bout of tendinitis in 2008 and a twisted ankle forced me to give up running for the summer. I resumed running in 2009, but the calf cramping issue at times returned. To be honest, I don't remember how much running I did - but it could be sporadic. I did get serious to the point of using Nike+ on my iPod Nano. I remember I could do five miles consistently comfortably. (I remember running a few miles in Seoul, South Korea and Kobe, Japan in 2010) In retrospect, my running was lackadaisical because besides losing weight, I had no goals to aim for. I didn't even try to run at a faster pace. I don't know even know at what pace I ran at.

My running became a bit more consistent in 2011 except I skipped many days while on vacation. But it was just something to do to try to be somewhat fit. Everything changed on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011, when I was assigned to cover a meeting at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. The Canton Marathon was holding an orientation meeting for people who had never done a marathon before. I looked at a map of the course, which went along streets I had driven on for years. The marathon was scheduled for June 17, 2012. 

I thought, "I should be doing that."

Here's the article I wrote about the orientation:

I went from neutral observer to participant when I showed up at the Hall of Fame the following morning for a 5-mile training run with the orientation group. It was 8 a.m. Sunday, and I am not a morning person. I finished the five miles through Stadium Park easily, albeit at a harder pace than I was used to. 

There's a picture of me in the red/orange to the right with the group on the Canton Marathon website.

During the next two months, I think I went to at least three or four of these sessions, which never exceeded five miles. I missed several because I often overslept. The funny thing is after the training sessions, I would go to Golden Corral and load myself with fatty corn beef hash, eggs and pancakes.

At the suggestion of a runner who noticed that I didn't have even wear on my shoe soles I got a pair of Nike stability shoes. They turned out to be awful and exacerbated my calf cramping considerably. I don't remember much how much running I did late in 2011, but I don't think it was that much. The only memory I have is going out for a 10 to 12 mile run in Gainesville, Florida while visiting family, running with a friend for a few miles in Coral Springs, Florida and daily runs in Miami, Port St. Lucie and Tampa in November 2011 runs for three days when I visited Charlotte in late January 2012. Due to the cold winter, I did little running until March 2012. That's when I ditched those awful stability shoes and went with a more cushiony Nike Air Pegasus+28.

On March 31, 2012, the deadline before the registration cost was to go up, I went out for a six to eight mile run. It went all right. I decided to sign up for my first marathon -- with only 10 weeks to train.

A few days later, I twisted my left ankle when I stepped on a rock. I stupidly kept on running. But a couple of days later, I felt pain when touching a point on the left side of my left leg. I was terrified it was a stress fracture and that I had resumed running too abruptly in March. I took a week off from running, using the cycling machine at the gym. The pinprick pain, which I think was related to the ankle, eventually eased and went away, but it ached a couple times when I resumed running. It was a non-issue during the marathon.

At this point, there were eight weeks before the mid-June marathon. I initially couldn't find any eight-week training plans online. They were at least 12 weeks. I finally found a plan on a UK-based website that was in kilometers. It said if you do this plan, you will run a marathon in faster than five hours. 

On April 22, 2012, I started my first marathon training plan. I would be running more than 12 miles for the first time in my life. In April 2011, the idea of running 14 to 15 miles much less 20 was inconceivable. There was no speed work during this segment. I ran 29 miles with a long run of 11 miles. In the subsequent weeks, I took care not to increase my weekly mileage by more than 10 percent. My training was: 32 miles with long run of 13 miles, 32 miles with long run of 13 miles, 35 miles with long run of 15 miles, 38 miles with long run of 17 miles and 42 miles with long run of 20 miles, three weeks before the marathon, 35 miles with long run of 15, 17 miles during the week before the marathon. My pace was roughly 11 to 12 minutes a mile. I took a day off before the long run and after the long run. I ran five days a week. I was consistent and never skipped any days. The plan allowed for a three week taper where I would do a final 20-mile run three weeks before race day.

I had a lot of mishaps during those weeks. A lot of good runs mixed with awful runs. During the 13-mile run, my calves became as hard as bricks and I had to stop several times to stretch them. That was an awful run from hell. The next day I went to Concorde Therapy, where the physical therapist taught me stretches I could do to loosen up those calves. I've done those stretches to this day. On the 15-mile run on a hot day, I ran out of water and I had to stop to get some from a convenience store. I then tried to run with this quart-sized bottle and with a mile to go, I just ended up walking it in. In those days, I didn't have a water hydration belt to hold water bottles and I ran -- yes, literally with the bottle in my hand. I also wore cotton shirts (I didn't know what a Tech T was). And I used an iPod Nano with Nike Plus and accelerometer to track my miles and time. I didn't get a GPS watch and Bondi band until two weeks before the race. And I started researching fueling during a marathon and settled on using natural Honey Stingers fuel gel.

The Second Sole shoe store organized a group 20-mile run to take place over much of the course. I ended up getting excited and went out too fast. By the 10th mile at the Stark State campus, I was dying, and middle-aged women had long ago passed me. It got hot, and I remember having to really, really push myself to finish the last three miles. I must have been going 12 to 13 minutes a mile. It took me about 3:42 to do those 20 miles. I averaged about 11 minutes a mile. When I got to the end, the women asked me, "Why did you pass us (in the beginning)?"

It was the first time I had ever run 20 miles. When I got home I took a long nap. I didn't know that I would end up doing at least 15 of these 20 mile runs in the next 20 months. 

To make a long story short, I went out too fast during the marathon, there was a torrential downpour after Mile 19, I bonked badly at Mile 20 and felt dread and constant despair as I saw the 4:30 pacer I had left behind at Mile 5 pass me with authority and sail over the hill. I knew then that I had gone out too fast, and after I saw the pacer run far ahead of me off in the distance, I had to live with the consequences of my foolishness during the ordeal of the next hour. I think by Mile 22, my pace had slowed to 14 minutes a mile. I was almost walking, and I think I walked Miles 25 and 26. I then sprinted the final half mile. And I broke five hours (but not 4:30 as I had hoped). 4:49:48. I was so out of it at the finish line, I grabbed onto the Second Sole shoe store manager who was handing out medals at the finish line. I grabbed a banana and a bottle of water from a volunteer. It was 30 to 40 seconds before I realized --- that I hadn't even stopped my watch.

Everything in my body was sore. I tried to rest in the stands of Fawcett Stadium where the finish line was. It killed me going up the steps and then down the steps and even sitting. I constantly groaned. It took (at least it felt like) half an hour to hobble to the shuttle bus stop to catch a ride to the parking lot. When I got home, I shrieked so loudly in pain while going down the stairs to my apartment, it scared my cats.

In hindsight, I was undertrained. I should have done more mileage and trained over at least 12 weeks and not eight. But I had finished my first marathon, and it was a start. But after feeling disappointed in how I had done my first marathon, I badly wanted redemption. Five days later, I signed up to do two marathons in the fall. Yes, I'm nuts!

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