Starting Marathon Training…Slowly

I started running in July of 2015 just to lose weight and to give my mental health a needed boost. After I finished my first half marathon that December and signed up for my marathon for May of 2016, I started running just for the sake of running. Today I mostly run because it’s just what I do. Also, if I skip out on it too long my brain gets all squirrely, I get depressed, and get a mild case of the “fuck-its” which neither I nor anyone around me enjoys that much.

I am running the Pittsburgh Marathon again this May and I hope to get in the Marine Corps Marathon this fall. My training program starts on Sunday and now that I think I know what I am doing, I am taking a whole different approach.

Last year, going from couch to marathon in 9 months, my entire goal was to increase mileage as much as possible and at as fast a possible pace. I had no time for base building and was coming off of my third minor injury. For someone who had never run that distance, my training would give me only 12 weeks. That’s way too short a time and most run coaches might dissuade me from doing too much. But I learn from mistakes which means I need to make them. I did not get injured again, but every recovery period was sore, distances were difficult, and I got flu-like bugs twice. I focused far too much on carbs and my protein intake was abysmal. But I completed the marathon in under 4 hours anyway.

After that I decided to work on just building up mileage and pace. I rarely paid attention to heart rate except for when it was too high. My only goal was to get to running 50 miles a week comfortably. I met that goal and did so in good health. I also emphasized carbs less and focused more on meeting protein targets. The result has been a stronger, faster, healthier me. Now I’ve reached a point where I should be far more literal about a training program, work more on strength beyond doing pushups, and run each session with a different goal in mind.

polar_training_program

So what I am doing this time? I wear a Polar m400 (seen at the top) to record all of my workouts. I sync that data to a few other platforms (Strava, Runkeeper, and MapMyRun) for the community and because I am a nerd. The Polar ecosystem has blossomed with each update. Now, Polar will design a training program based on your race goal and over the time period you specify. It mixes up the distances, effort by heart rate, and works in a dozen or so strength and stretching exercises. A feature that I had never used before that I used today is called Zone Lock. By pressing the big “start” button, you can lock in the heart rate zone with which you want to pace yourself and it beeps when you go over or under. You can program it to use a pace lock instead if that’s what you’re after. This is all about becoming more efficient and consistent and little beeps and alarms help a great deal when you are getting used to a new rhythm and relationship between your brain, heart, and feet.

The hard part will be going slowly. I am so adapted to doing everything at a heart rate of 148-165 and at a pace less than 7:50/mile that all of the slower paces just feel weird. But I am also not adapted to push through sprints very well. I need both of those parts of my physiology to improve my time and health for the next marathon. Zone 2 for me, based on age and resting heart rate, is somewhere between 115 and 132 bpm. The hard thing to do will be to keep most of my running time at that heart rate regardless of pace. As you see in the picture at the top, that means running somewhere in the ballpark of 10 minute miles to start. Painfully slow. But I am trusting the science and evidence rather than my feelings. Today was my first shot at it, and I have to say it was enjoyable. Once I got used to the cadence of going slow, I was fine. And after about an hour I was really sweating it out and working hard. that partially because I was running on tired legs at the end of the week, but also because the myth I had that running more slowly was less work was false. It is not less work, it is different work. And different is exactly what my body needs.

So on we go to Pittsburgh. Slow, fast, and everything in between.

Getting Through New Year’s Resolution Running Pain

postcards2cardsnewyearsresolution1915New Year’s resolutions have a horrible success rate. While gym memberships spike with all sorts of well-meaning goal seekers, 60% of new members give up. ¬†One estimate shows that about 9% of people who make resolutions feel they achieve them with over 42% feeling that they fail every year. Whether these are scientific results might not matter all that much. I think it’s safe to say that most of us experience or know many people who experience that sense of failure within just a few weeks of making a New Year’s resolution. It all sounds great when we are partying with our friends after those holiday vacation days, but when it comes to doing the actual work in the cold, dark days of January, that initial enthusiasm tanks and it all fades. Hell, last year I “resolved” to read 24 books. I got a good start, then started marathon training, then that goal disappeared. I finally deleted my habit tracker app in October because it was just annoying me. I did finish that marathon though. I also crushed my goal of running 1000 miles by about 300. Reading and writing – not so much.

In response to holiday torpor, many people make fitness goals. They¬†have a ton of energy and enthusiasm usually motivated by shaking off the winter blues or a strong desire to eliminate the sluggishness of holiday gluttony and avarice. All those cookies, pies, pigs-in-blankets, and ham seemed like great ideas at the time. But eventually, everyone¬†gets sick of casseroles and endless college bowl games. People who have never exercised that much, don’t particularly like exercise, or haven’t exercised in a long time suddenly shake their bodies awake for that first week of January. It rarely comes off that well. The soreness overtakes them, the weather outside sucks, and it’s dark until at least 7:30 in the morning which is torture for non-morning people. So what gives?

If you want to keep going past the first week, here’s what you need to be aware of. ¬†I promise that if you keep at it through three weeks, you will feel better even as the days get longer. But you gotta keep going.

This is Uncomfortable: Embrace the Discomfort

I have heard people say “Pain is fear leaving the body.” When I started running after having never run a mile in my life, I wanted to stop because it hurt and I was tired, not because I was afraid of anything. My legs were sore all the time, I felt worn out, I was hungry, and just warming up my aching body was rough. I started¬†in July when days were long and it was warm outside. Starting this in January must be miserable. Part of my problem is that I started out too fast and did not heed to advice of professionals¬†to start slow. I went from couch to 10K in 11 days. I was exhilarated, but hurt myself and had to take 18 days off. It took a while for me to learn my¬†tipping point where running through soreness is helpful and where it becomes unhealthy. A good pace to start is where you can speak an entire sentence of about 6 – 10 words. You will be slow. That’s ok. Your “conversational”¬†pace will get faster over time. If you are in your 40’s like me, that will take a bout 3 weeks of consistent work. Your body has been in hibernation for maybe years. What you will need to learn is how to adapt to feeling a little sore and a little hungry most of the time. This is normal. Your relationship to soreness will determine how long you persist in that Resolution. Stretch out after your workout and a few hours later. Take a warm bath. Apply ice to sore joints for 20 minutes. Lean into your discomfort, don’t avoid it. This is your body waking up and adapting to new stress. Embrace it.

Don’t Spend a Ton of Money

In two running groups I am in on Facebook, new runners are eager to know what shoes, jackets, tights, underwear, watches, water bottles, and everything else that “more experienced” runners use. I love a good product. But this stuff is way expensive. Clothing designed and sold with shoe company branding is mostly a rip off. It looks cool and might be comfortable, but after running for a while, as soon as I hit about mile 5, what I am wearing is the last of my thoughts. Right now in the Northern Hemisphere, you do need a few things if you are gong to run outside. You need good shoes that can handle some slush, socks that dry quickly, a few layers of moisture wicking material, maybe a vest and a hat, and something to repel rain. It sounds like a lot, but all of this stuff is available at Wal-Mart or Target. All of my clothing came from the clearance rack and for my most recent 15 miler in the cold wet winter, the price tag was about 60 bucks that I spent last year. I ran in a 38 F degree rainfall this week for 10 miles. The rain jacket I wore¬†was on clearance for $9! Fancy brand name products that do the same thing can run you up to $180.

rain beads on a cheap starter jacket

With that said, if you run for a couple of weeks and find out that running is something you want to do, get good shoes, just get last year’s model. I pay full price for a shoe very rarely. These things run from about $110 to $160 bucks which is nuts! I use Shoekicker which is a great site to get the cheapest shoes, often in a color scheme you might not prefer and in last year’s model. I also like¬†Running Shoes Guru for reviews. That’s how I got my Asics Gel Kayano 21’s last year for $75. They have about 400 miles on them right now and I think I can squeak out another 50 or so (those are dog poop bags I used for waterproofing). One last tip on shoes: It ultimately does not matter what another person’s review is. I read reviews to exclude shoes the models with really bad reviews. Regardless, you still need to find the shoe that works for you. This takes some time. If you can get fitted at a store that specializes in running, do it. You’ll save a ton of time and guessing and those folks will give you all kinds of useful advice.

Asics Gel Kayano 21

Pick a Time That Works for You

I really do like a good morning run. Just not this time of year. It’s dark, cold, and I am nervous about icy patches from snow melt during the day. This time of year in Central, PA the roads are rarely dry and even then they are covered in gravel and undissolved salt among other things. I also like to get sunshine when I can so I run during my lunch break at work. The point here is that here is no better time to run than any other. If you despise a 5 am wakeup call, don’t feel obligated to change your wakeup habit just to start running. You are already making a big change and adding that to it will create only more stress and exhaustion. This is neither helpful nor healthy. If you have to run in the evening when it is dark, find a well lit area if you don’t have a headlamp, and run in that spot back and forth 20 times if you need to. I am fortunate I can get out for lunch. Many people cannot. Time is no excuse to quit. Be flexible and willing to adjust.

Get Rest, Take Your Vitamins, Get Protein

I learned this the hard way. The more stress I put on my body, the more I am actually damaging it. Sore muscles are healing muscles. What helps with healing? Protein intake and rest. You might read about something called “overtraining” or “overreaching.” It’s when we ignore our body’s signals that we need to rest or take it easier in order for it to heal. When I started running, I ran though everything. I ignored pain and would pop a few ibuprofen tablets to help me ignore it more effectively. The result: I got injured frequently and got sick a few times including an episode of pneumonia. I started with the advice to carb load which isn’t exactly false, but it’s also a half-truth. Your body will burn sugars first and fats second. Carbs efficiently convert into the sugars your muscles need so they help you¬†perform. This is especially true for new runners whose bodies are not used to burning fat efficiently. But those sugars are not what your body needs after a run.

You need protein. As soon as I began to add a protein supplement to my diet after a workout, my recovery time shortened and my stamina to run longer and faster improved. I stopped getting hurt and I stopped getting sick. The one I use is cheap from Wal Mart. I get it because it has a 30 grams of protein per 41 grams in a serving. That’s a solid ratio. How much do you need? It will vary based on your age, weight, and how strenuous your workouts are. I run between 40 and 50 miles a week and on running days I will get my protein up to about 130 grams. On rest days it will be between 30 and 60. I use MyFitnessPal to help me keep track.

I also don’t go cheap on the vitamins I take. I looked into it and after reviewing the information on Labdoor, I settled on Now Adam for men. It’s got everything the male adult needs and more. I don’t need any other vitamin or mineral supplements when I take this.

Finally, healing¬†needs sleep. Good, deep sleep. Yesterday I was primed to get a 10 miler in, but I did not. I was too damn tired and sore from the previous too workouts. It’s ok to skip a workout if you are too tired and don’t feel healthy enough. When I started running I was under the false belief that skipping a workout would end my days as a runner. Nonsense. A healthy runner performs better than a sick and injured runner, always.

Take It Easy, Have Fun

If you are running slower than a sloth, don’t worry about it. If you fear you look bad, show me a runner that looks good when they are in the middle of a serious workout. We got snot, spit, and sweat happening and look kind of rough a lot of the time. Get your body used to it and let it adapt at its own time. You’ll get there. You will adapt and your progress will shock you. Even to this day, I hate the first mile or so. I feel stiff and my body takes a good 20 minutes to warm up. Hills are always hard and I run up plenty of them. But I always feel great after a run and never regret a workout. I only regret not getting outside to get it done.

The only outcome that you should not accept is regret for not sticking to your goals. Put in the work. This is worth it.