I got the crazy idea late in 2008 that I wanted to start running. This was mostly brought on by the simple fact that I had ballooned to 25 pounds over what I considered to be my “playing weight” of about 150. I just felt unhealthy, lazy and old. To me, being out of shape has always been an unacceptable way to live and I wanted to do something about it before it got worse.
It started out as a casual thing. I did it for a couple days a week, struggling on the hills in my neighborhood,occasionally keeping track of my times, etc. Then the competitor in me kicked in! Screw this casual thing… I wanted to train for something. I wasn’t sure exactly what my goal was other than to get back into shape.
After realizing that the hilly 4-mile loop in myneighborhood was becoming easier and easier with every run, I decided to enter a local 10k. The ChattahoocheeChallenge in Feb, 2009. (See picture above). This race proved to be a real eye-opener and a good learning experience.
First of all, I found myself excited just to be in an organized race. I was NEVER a runner in high school or college. But I kind of knew I was somewhat fast and could be good at it. ( I ran a 5:35 mile in college once, which proved to be the second-fastest time of anybody on the hockey team. Who knew?) I always played team sports growing up, namely hockey. But I have also always been drawn to sports that challenge you as an individual, cycling, BMX freestyle biking, road cycling, skateboarding, golf and even break dancing! (I can do a mean backspin.)
For my first ever race, it was cold! (32F at the 7:30 a.m. start time). After “sizing up” the gathered masses at the start line, I knew I could “hang” with them and took off in the front of the pack. I ran the first mile in 6:35. WHOA! Slow down. I had no idea what my pace should be, but I knew I wouldn’t last at this pace.
The course was out and back. I THOUGHT it would end at the start line, so I started to sprint when I saw the line. However, I didn’t see anybody else sprinting. Oops! Turns out the racecontinued past the start line, UP A HILL, to another turnaround and back. Man, did I make a HUGE mistake by not checking out the course beforehand. By the time I was approaching the REAL finish line, I was out of gas and getting passed on the left and right by others who had clearly saved their energy.
I limped across the finish line at 43:06. Shockingly, I placed 14th out of 104 people in my age group. Not bad I thought… imagine if I knew what I was doing!
Regardless of my inexperience, the race has me hooked. I start running on a regular basis, at least 2 times a week, sometimes as many as 4 days a week. I started to run while at home, on business trips, in the morning, at night, on treadmills, in the Arizona heat, wherever. It was solitude. It was a challenge and I loved it.
If I could run 6.2 miles in a 10k, I thought I should be able to do a half marathon, so I signed up for the ING Georgia Half Marathon through the streets of downtown Atlanta in February, 2009.
My wife thought I was crazy and a part of me agreed with her, but so be it. In my training, I realize that I will need to learn how to maintain my energy and the proper way top hydrate during a long run. My latest learning experience comes when I set out to run three loops around the neighborhood… a total of 10.5 miles. I had never run this distance in my life! Yet, for some reason, I thought it should be easy. WRONG! On my first attempt, I come to a crashing halt at the 9-mile mark. My legs completely shut down and my body tells me: “You’re crazy! Go back to the couch.” Instead, I walk it off for about 1/4 of a mile and then finish the run. On my next attempt, I stop to sip some Powerade after each loop and slurp down some GU energy gel as I begin lap three. This combination works great and I easily make it around.
Now, it’s time for the half marathon.
Because I had never run in a half marathon, I get some advice from friends. The best tip is to get into a “pace group.” So, the day before the race I go to the pre-race Expo and put my name on a list for the 3:30 marathoners. This is an 8 min/mile pace. Considering a ran the 10k with a pace of just over 7 min/mile, I figured that this pace would be manageable.
On race day, the weather was PERFECT. About 45-50F. I find my pace group, go through some brief introductions, and we’re off. I don’t have a watch so I am trusting the pace setters (there are two of them). Combined, they have run about 20 marathons. Wow!) I’m in good hands, or feet, I figure. At the 8-mile mark, the full marathoners spilt off to the right, leaving me on my own, basically. This was a bit daunting to me. However, I have a good feel for my pace and think I should be able to maintain it over the final 5.1 miles. Turns out, I actually picked up some speed and finish at 1:42:38, putting me 2 mins and 22 secs AHEAD of my goal. Sweet!
I’m officially hooked.
Two months later, I enter the Water For the World 10k and finish in 44:09, good for 7th place out of 98 men. My time was a bit slower than my first 10k, but I ran a much more cotrolled race. And this time, I actually wait to see the finish line before I start my sprint!
It’s my best time yet, but I am disappointed that I come in 6 seconds behind some guy named “Pedro” with knee-high compression socks on. When I notice that Pedro is seven years younger than I am, I feel a little better. (I celebrated my 38th birthday a day earlier). On this day, I run a very controlled race and actually pass about 25 runners on the final hill. I guess all the training in my hilly neighborhood is paying off.
All three 10k races are “qualifiers” for the July 4th Peachtree Road Race, which is great because I want to be one of the 55,000 runners who take to the streets this year in the largest 10k in the U.S.! However, I missed the sign-up period. DOH! What a rookie mistake.
Thanks to a former colleague who donated one of his family member’s race numbers to me, I get a spot in GROUP 9. I’m in the BACK of the pack and have to sit around and wait for the 8:56 start, which is 1 hour and 26 mins after the time I would have started, based on my qualifying times.
Anyways, I make my way to the front of the group for the start and end up dodging runners, walkers, slow joggers, beer drinkers and general mayhem all the way to the finish line at Piedmont Park.
But, at least I’m getting smarter with my runs. Realizing that the water stations would be packed by the time my group started, I wisely carried two 8 oz water bottles on a running belt. I ran past every water station and didn’t have to slow down once. I ran the race as a 15-year-old named Michael Levy, the son of my former colleague, and end up finishing in 44:45.
Overall, I come in at 1,306th out of more than 50,000 runners. Considering that I had to fight my way through the masses for the entire race, I’m very pleased with this result.
And yes, I did manage to throw an elbow or two at the walkers who refused to move to the right side of the road. It’s a RACE people, not a WALK! I have now become a running snob! At least I wasn’t as pushy as this guy.
So, with four 10ks and a half marathon under my belt, I can now put my full-time focus squarely on NYC. The race is on Nov. 1. We decide that we will spend Halloween weekend in NYC and stay at my wife’s sister’s place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which isn’t far from the race’s start line in Staten Island. Should be fun!
To prepare, I have adopted the following training schedule:
Week M T W T F Sa Su Total
1 off 3 4 4 off 8 3 22
2 off 4 4 4 off 8 4 24
3 off 4 4 4 off 10 4 26
4 off 4 4 4 off 8 4 24
5 off 4 4 4 off 13 3 28
6 off 4 5 4 off 10 4 27
7 off 4 4 4 off 15 3 30
8 off 5 5 4 off 12 4 30
9 off 4 4 4 off 18 3 33
10 off 6 5 4 4 12 4 35
11 3 5 5 5 off 20 off 38
12 5 6 off 6 4 13 6 40
13 off 6 5 5 4 20 off 40
14 4 6 5 6 off 13 6 40
15 off 4 4 4 4 20 off 36
16 4 4 3 4 off 15 3 33
17 off 5 4 5 off 4 6 24
18 off 4 4 4 off 2 26.2 40.2
This may seem to be a bit much, but I’m determnined to follow it as best I can. I will substitute some hill workouts or speed sessions in mid-week in place of some of the routine four-milers it calls for.
I picked up the schedule in Week 2 and have quickly realized that the best time to run is in the mornings, due to the heat of the Atlanta summer. So far, things are going along fine, but we still have four months to go.
I will update this blog occasionally as the race approaches. Follow along if you care, and perhaps it might motivate you to set a fitness goal for yourself.