My doctor, a fellow runner, said that you run your first marathon to see if you finish, you run your second to see if you can beat your first time and who knows why you run your third.
Last Sunday, I ran my third marathon. I signed up because my wife, Barb, was keen to run her second. It didn’t take long for me to think about how I could beat my best time. There is something addictive about making progress, especially when measurement is in seconds.
I knew I had to run differently if I wanted to beat my last time of 4 hours, 8 minutes and 12 seconds – my goal was under 4 hours. My first two marathons were plagued with leg cramps and lost time seized up in thesecond half. Training harder would have made things worse.
My plan was to run smarter with a lighter stride to save my legs, to run continuously for the first half and save my breaks for when I needed them, and to better fuel and rest before the race.
The race started well and I exceeded my half-time goal of 1 hour and 50 minutes by 40 seconds (every second counts). Another good sign was that I had no cramping. Things were going as planned.
At the 15 mile mark, I got my first tingle in my left leg. It happened 6 miles after it did in past marathons, which was a good omen, but I knew it was only a matter of time before it would get worse. I started taking 60 second breaks to stretch and walk. It felt counterproductive knowing the clock was ticking but I knew from past experience what would happen if I didn’t.
By 20 miles, both legs were intermittently tightening but I could still run. By 22 miles I felt like I had to walk. Slowing down, however, made them cramp (and hurt) more. I realized that to avoid more intense pain and seizing I had to run on medium pained legs. It was a strange feeling knowing that staying in pain would save me being in greater pain.
At 24 miles, my right leg locked. I knew that if I stopped moving it would spasm so I kept running with one normal leg bending and the other tapping on the ground like a broomstick. I heard one onlooker say, “Get it going, get it going!” Within 30 seconds I was back to running with medium pain – a relief.
With 500 metres to go and the finish line in sight, I though to myself, savour this moment, it might be your last marathon. I did my best to look around at the wonderfully supportive crowd. I even managed to sprint for the last 50 metres, something I couldn’t do in my first two races.
I crossed the line at the 4 hour, 6 minute and 44 second mark; I had knocked 90 seconds off of my personal best time. I didn’t reach my goal but I made significant progress.
After recovering for a few hours, I assessed the changes I had made to get a better result. Here is what I wrote down:
- Changing my stride – it helped preserve my legs but it didn’t eliminate my cramping problem
- Running continuously versus intervals – It was more fun, not sure if it helped me
- Limiting weekly training miles – I didn’t get injured prior to the marathon, but I probably cut too many miles
- Running more preparation races – this helped with first half speed
- Seeing a physiotherapist – hard to tell
- Managing what I eat – who knows?
- Getting more rest – didn’t happen
Barb achieved a personal best too (16 minutes!). It took us about 20 minutes before we committed to running this race again next year. There are more changes to come and many seconds to be won.
On May 4th, I will be running my third marathon. My first was in October 2011 and second in May 2012. I had satisfied my marathon thirst and said that I would only run another one if Barb wanted to run her second. Last September, she became thirsty.
|#1: 4 h. 29 m. 46 s.
Running is a great sport. For those who have a competitive spirit, the goal is continuous improvement and the measure is to beat your personal best time. When you do, the feeling is tremendous.
I ran my first marathon when I was writing the first draft of Change with Confidence. Running 26.2 miles. Twice the distance of my longest run seemed like an appropriate stretch goal.
I created a detailed training plan and stuck to it. My big mistake was exceeding it, which gave me shin splints four weeks before the race. I could barely run for two and a half weeks.
The run was tough. My legs started cramping around 9 miles in and they seized at the 15 mile mark. I had experienced slight cramping in my longest training runs, but nothing like this. I got to the finish line but far later than I had planned.
|#2: 4 h. 8 m. 26 s.
Two days after the race, I started planning my second marathon that was six months away. This time I was joined by my wife Barb and friend Tim. I learned from my mistake and kept to my training plan. At the starting line I was injury free and confident about my performance.
I followed my race plan, running ’10 and 1′ intervals and not starting too quickly. To my surprise and horror, my legs started to spasm at the same distances. I relived the progressive decline of my legs, just like watching a movie for the second time – a scary one.
The good news is that I finished the marathon and beat my first marathon time by over 21 minutes.
This time around, I have completely overhauled how I run and train. I have been:
- Changing my stride by shortening my steps and lessening the impact on my feet and legs
- Running continuously versus ’10 and 1′ intervals – I lost too much time walking when my legs were strong
- Limiting weekly training miles to 30 versus 45 – was I overtaxing them before?
- Running more preparation races prior to the marathon (7 versus 4)
- Seeing a physiotherapist two weeks before the race to discuss prevention and management strategies and tactics
- Managing what I eat, especially three days prior to the race – high carbohydrates, low fibre and protein
With 23 days to go, my practise races are a little slower than two years ago, but my form is better. This will be a good test of Marshal Goldsmith’s adage, “What got you here won’t get you there.” The “there” for me is a faster time and stronger legs throughout the race. Either of them will be an improvement and both will be tremendous.
|Preparing for an adventure
There is only so much preparation you can do before it’s time to perform, and I was ready for the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon: injury-free, didn’t forget anything, and at the starting line early. The first 9 miles of the course was a breeze. I followed my plan including running “10 and 1” intervals, and controlling my starting speed (my nemesis). Then I felt a pin prick of a Charlie horse in my left calf, just like my first marathon six months ago.
|Limping with 100 metres to go
I knew what would come next but felt confident because I had been there before and this time I didn’t have shin splints. Just like watching a movie for the second time, my legs atrophied in the same way: at 12 miles both legs got intermittent Charlie horses, at 16 miles both legs got them at the same time, and at 20 miles my legs seized and locked when I got them. When a leg locked I would slow to a limp and would have to smash it on the road to unlock it (like cracking the barrel of a shotgun). The first time this happened, Barb, my wife, saw me and came over to help, which was so caring. At 22 miles, both legs locked, which was like walking on electrified stilts. This pattern went on until I was 400 metres away from the finish line. Then, both legs went into spasms and both tendons pulled my toes underneath my feet (just like last time). When this happens your feet are twice as thick and a third shorter as you are forced to run on the tops of your toes. I don’t know why but an image of Fred Flintstone flashed across my mind. I hobbled across the finish line to cheers and shouts of encouragement. I had finished my second marathon in 4 hours, 8 minutes, and 12 seconds – 1 minute and 48 seconds faster than my goal and 21 minutes and 14 seconds faster than my first one. Mission accomplished!
|Well, we do dress alike…
There are many lessons gained from any quest and two stand out about this one: perseverance and preparation. No matter what, you have to keep going and your preparation will pull you through. One of my favourite quotes is from Muhammad Ali: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” It’s as true for this goal as it is for my goal to write a book.
Another lesson I learned a long time ago comes to mind: always appreciate and show gratitude for friends and family (and strangers) who help you along the way – thank you all. There was a sign along the course that said, “If Oprah could do it, you can.” Thanks Oprah, I did.