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WHEN MARATHON PLANS TRAIN WRECK

Last year when I was following a Marathon Training plan, I even amazed myself.  When my friends would comment about the craziness of the feat of running a marathon, I quietly agreed with them in my own reflections of this undertaking.  Have you ever talked with yourself and address yourself by first name?  I sounded like: “Joe, I sure hope you haven’t bitten off more than you can chew.  I’ve known you to over-commit to challenges before!  Twenty-Six point two miles is a very long ways to run.”

My marathon race date was late in September 2011, but I had spring fever and wanted to start a long training plan.  Looking back, I now see the lack of wisdom in this decision due to the heightened risk of injury with longer training plans.  Along with the added risk of injury, longer training plans with higher mileage per week also increase the chances of “peaking” earlier than desired.  Had I understood these reasons last spring, I might’ve changed my mind about starting a long training plan so early.

I actually did pretty well with following the weekly running plan.  I did the scheduled runs and they felt pretty good.  I slowly built up the weekly mileage and when I ran the 18 and the 20 mile long runs, I was surprised at how easily I completed them – these long runs were the longest I’d have ever done in my life!  Yeah, I was pretty stoked!

When you are looking at taking on any large challenge such as running your first marathon, you not only want to understand the training but you also want to understand yourself, what makes you tick and what causes you to derail from your plans.

Enter: Interfering Obstacle #1, which I’ll refer to as “gone fishin’”.

With less than 2 months before the marathon race, I was asked if I could work on my uncle’s commercial salmon fishing boat.  If you’re familiar with commercial fishing and fishermen, you know that this kind of thing puts dollar signs in the eyes of the fishermen; for me, this meant that I was going to have to give up a number of days that I had scheduled myself for training runs.  Ouch!

Enter: Interfering Obstacle #2, which would be Injury/Illness.  After my long runs I walked deep into the waters of the bay near my house to cool down my legs.  This cool down was a great idea to help accelerate the recovery process, except for the risk of bacterial infection from the bay water.  What initially seemed to be a pulled muscle and soreness in my lower Achilles tendon later became known as “bacterial cellulites.”  I of course had no idea that this was the source of the pain in my ankle. I continued working on the commercial fishing boat and eventually my wrist, which had been exposed to salt water several times, became infected. The pain was excruciating, and it was enough to drive me to a local clinic to have both my wrist and my ankle looked at. Both injuries were one and the same.  Much to my surprise, I was prescribed and treated with an antibiotic for the bacterial infection.

The fishing season closed within two or three weeks and I was able to recover from the infection, which also enabled me to focus again on my marathon training.  I had three weeks left to try and build up my distance to be ready for the long race.  I felt fortunate to have recovered in time to salvage the season for the marathon race, but the looming fact that I did not have enough time to build up to a full 26.2 mile marathon was difficult for me to wrap my head around.  Hundreds and hundreds of hours lost since spring training was like little fish swimming out of my net.  What a huge feeling of loss as I considered that I might not be able to run the full marathon.  In the fog of my disappointment, I realized that I’d feel much better if I downgraded to run the half marathon and hope for a PR.  Why take this disappointment and magnify it and experience it on the day of the full marathon race by living in a state of denial during the remaining three weeks?  Action plan:  make the necessary cuts and minimize your losses.  So, with the reassuring fact that there would be other days and other full marathon races, I decided to ask the race director to switch my registration to the half marathon.

There was only one moment after the race that I felt remorse for switching to the half marathon.  I was talking with a very experienced marathon runner who heard my story and replied, “Congratulations on your half!”  I couldn’t believe he called it a “HALF!”  I quietly wished he was congratulating me on my full.  Oh well, the good news is that I had cut seven minutes off my previous half marathon time and finished with a 2hr 8min 54sec finishing time.  For the first time, I actually felt like running my next half marathon under 2 hours was within reach!  In times like these, you have to reflect back and identify the defining moments along your journey.  It isn’t always the destination, but how you get there.

I have definitely learned my lesson when it comes to long training plans, and I look forward to starting my next full marathon training plan early this summer.

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