A running club with weekly Group Runs in Aurora, IL., Montgomery, IL. and Oswego, IL.
“Mile 26” the big blue sign said. “Those damn British” I muttered to myself. “They just HAD to go by the book and make the modern day marathon the EXACT distance between Windsor Castle and the Olympic stadium. If only they had rounded off to the nearest mile. Instead, they now subject every marathoner to this ridiculous 385 yards to the finish”. Indeed, in the previous 30 minutes, several such complaints (almost all of them irrational) were rattling in my head as my stride got shorter, my feet got heavier and I was feeling pain in areas of my body where I had never previously felt anything. The last few miles had been intensely excruciating.
All that changed in the next couple of minutes. When I crossed the finish-line of the 2013 Illinois Marathon at the 50-yard line in Memorial stadium, the feeling I felt was one of pure ecstasy, thrill and accomplishment. I let out a loud yell that startled a couple of the race officials around. As I then hobbled to collect my medal and pose for the picture, the exhaustion set in and I dropped and lay flat on the stadium turf and it took me a full 10 minutes to recover enough to even get up.
THUS went the culmination of the incredible journey of my first marathon race. Plagued with back problems for years, I never thought that I would be able to live an active lifestyle ever. It was barely 15 months ago that I ran my first 5K and it was less than a year ago when I was mustering the courage to register for my first half-marathon. I remember my first practice run in the fall of 2011. I struggled to go 2 miles on the treadmill and my body hurt for days afterwards. How did I get from there to here? As I look back and reflect, there were several things instrumental in getting me through this transformation.
I became a creature of habit.
I got into a weekly routine of doing runs/cross training activities 5 days a week. Monday – Rest, Tuesday – Short run + exercises, Wednesday – Mid-size run, Thursday – Short run, Friday – Rest , Saturday – Mid-size run, Sunday – Long Run. This continued week after week, month after month. Habits are hard to break and the routine allowed me to ease into any training program and keep my momentum going throughout.
I found running buddies.
For the first few months I was quite the loner “Running with others?? No. That’s distracting and intimidating”. But as I found BFRC(Bolingbrook Fun Run Club) and NTR(Nature Trail Runners), my mindset changed completely. Being part of a community that shared my passion for running was inspiring and fun. I looked forward to my group runs eagerly. The miles would just roll by and it was a big switch from my mundane solo weekday morning runs.
My family had my back.
Training for a marathon is a major time commitment. There was no way I could do this without the support of my wife and sons. They fully understood why I had to do this stood by me through the crazy training schedules especially through the winter months. Mentally I was in a great frame of mind to focus and train without any distractions.
I was not afraid.
I took baby steps, but was always thinking big. You will never know if you can do something unless you try it. So even though I was not fully ready, I went ahead and registered for that big race. There was no going back after that. The goal was forced on me and I had no choice but to prepare for it. (who wants to be called a chicken huh?)
I had to sacrifice.
Training time doesn’t come out of nowhere. I completely gave up my long time love – the game of golf when I started running. I haven’t picked up a club in 2 years and my golf buddies are still mad at me (well maybe not anymore). I had to sleep early so that I could do my early morning training schedule. It crept into family time and other activities. Other little gives here and there, but it was something I had to do to.
I listened to my body.
Learning what my body can handle and what it cannot was quite the learning experience. Though I was competitive, I was also conservative. Being injury-free was a top priority for me. So if I got sick or had a small injury, I never hesitated to take as many days off regardless of what week of a training plan I was on. There was no point in continuing to beat up your body when it is already hurting and make things worse. Only when I was fully recovered did I resume training.
I also became a “run-nerd”.
Running shoes, dri-fit socks, custom inserts, GPS watches, bottles, hydration belts, tech apparel, compression sleeves, caps, headbands, visors, recovery drinks etc. etc…there was so much out there that allowed me to run more comfortably, be better organized and stay injury free. I gave them all a shot and found what worked for me. Even the smallest thing like a visor in the rain or gloves in winter made such a huge difference.
So there you have it. A couch potato became a marathoner in 18 months. It was not a smooth ride, but it was enjoyable, fun and satisfying. 26.2 Miles! Just saying that still sends a shiver down my spine. I did it. I’m a marathoner now and no one can take it away from me.