Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Getting Ready for My First Marathon

The Athens Marathon was my first marathon. How did I even get signed up for this event? It was a journey of many years. Back in 1982, I read Jim Fixx's The Complete Book of Running. That book first sparked an awareness and interest in the marathon. I had previously followed the careers of Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar. I was amazed by the feats of both of these runners. I still am.

Given the high level at which these guys, and the average marathon runner of that day, ran, I had no realistic thought that I could run a marathon. I was happy to be able to run for fun and do a 10K or 15K race. During the10 year period starting in 1995 when my brother Dave and I ran the St. Pete Times Turkey Trot 10K in memory of our deceased older brother Jim, we would talk about the idea of one day running a marathon. However, neither of us took any steps towards that goal.

It was in the fall of 2001 that I notice how fit my fellow church council member John looked. When I inquired what he did to keep in such shape, he informed me that he was training for the New York City Marathon. John had run the Disney Marathon twice before and New York would be his third marathon. New York was especially meaningful since John grew up in New York and the events of 9/11 had recently occurred. On his return from New York, John told a moving story of the running of that marathon. Hopefully, he will one day reduce that story to writing.

In the next few months, he talked about his next planned marathon: the Athens Marathon. As an avid reader of ancient history and a lover of the Greek culture, my interest was piqued. If I was ever to run a marathon, the idea of running the historic course that the Greek messenger Phiddippedes had supposedly run from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens appealed to me.

My wife, Salome and another women running friend, Sherry, both chimed in that they wanted to run the Athens Marathon. "You have no idea what you are contemplating," I told them both. I had run a half marathon in my early 20s and remembered getting to about mile 10 and just wanting to stop running. There seemed to be no reason to be running this far. I only completed the distance to be done with it. I had never run that far since, sticking mostly to my annual 10K Turkey Trot. The Athens Marathon also had a reputation as being a hard course. Since we had a family trip to Greece scheduled for June, we decided to check out the course before committing to running the marathon.

When we were visiting Greece in June, 2002, we drove the course from Athens out to the town of Marathon. The drove took us through a series of downward rolling hills. As we continued rolling down these hills in our rental car, Salome said, "This doesn't look so bad. Look, the course is rolling downhill." "I know," I replied, "Unfortunately, the course runs in the other direction. Those rolling downhills are actually rolling uphills." "Oh," Salome soberly responds. As we complete our drive to the town of Marathon, we don't feel so good about this concept.

The people in the town of Marathon did not add to our confidence. As we walk around the town inquiring about the marathon, none of the locals seem to know what we are talking about. "Marathon? Yes, you are in Marathon." "No," we repeat, "The Athens Marathon. The marathon run from Marathon to Athens in November. Do you know where the start is or where we can get information about the race?" No one in Marathon seems to have a clue. We finally stop by the local police station. Yes, they've know of the marathon, but have no idea of how to register. We are directed to the start area and drive out the the track where the race starts. Other than a memorial plack, the start area was unspectacular.

In spite of our experience in Marathon, Salome, our friend Sherry, and I decide to train over the summer for the November 2, 2002 Athens Marathon. Unfortunately, Salome started to have a problem during her training runs in the month of July. She had a couple of falls while running. One morning, she left for a run from the condo we lived in. I was ready to drive to work. However, about 10 minutes after she left the condo, I receive a phone call from a women. She tells me, "Your wife fell. But don't worry, the ambulance is on the way." "What?" I reply somewhat shocked, "What do you mean, an ambulance is on its way?" I rush out of the condo and drive a half mile north where I come across Salome lying in the street with a couple of paramedics putting a neck collar on her and blood in the street. Apparently, Salome had tripped again while running, had hit her head on the ground, and was bleeding from a cut from the fall. The paramedics, taking no chances, immobilized her neck with the collar, rolled her onto a board, lifted her to a gurney and drove her off in an ambulance to the hospital.

As we waited for the results of test which all turned out fine, I told Salome that she was off of training for the marathon. In fact, until we could figure out what was causing her to fall while running, I advised her to stop running altogether. It was during our time in Athens that we figured out that Salome had gotten used to running with our baby, Alex, in a jogging stroller and had gotten used to leaning forward and down towards the jogging stroller. When jogging without the stroller, she was still leaning forward and slightly down. Thus, a slight stumble that most runners would recover from resulted in Salome losing her balance and down she would go. However, during the summer months prior to the Athens Marathon, we did not have the problem figured out. So, Salome was out of training for Athens.

Shortly thereafter, our friend Sherry's knees started to give her trouble. Thus, my two other rookie marathoners, who were both more excited and committed to training for the marathon, were out of the event. By early August, I was training for Athens alone.

I learned how difficult it is to train for a fall marathon living in South Florida. The months of August and September are simply too hot to run long distances without becoming dehydrated. I had a 10 mile run scheduled for August. I started to have real problems from mile 7 on in. I was getting too hot and my back would get achy, a sign of dehydration. It is simply too hot and once you get behind the dehydration curve, there is no ability to recover.

In September, I up the long run distance to 13 miles. While I get thought the 10 mile mark easier by working to improve my hydration, the last 3 miles are again agony. Its so hot, I duck under the beach showers to cool off, so that I can complete the distance. In the following weeks, I try to increase the long run, but can't seem to be able to get beyond the 13 mile mark before crashing out. As it becomes early October, I start to worry whether I can get in the 20 mile training run that the running books say I'll need to be marathon ready.

I turn to John for advice. He suggests I try using a goo to get beyond the 13 mile mark. I also start working in walk breaks, running 10 minutes and walking for 1 minute. I also switch to night running. It seems to make the runs more manageable, but I still can't seem to get beyond a 13 mile run before the heat and humidity stop me dead in my tracks. Salome starts suggesting that I fly up to North Carolina to train in less humid conditions. Finally, with only 2 weeks before the departure date for Athens, we get a break in the hot weather and I'm able to struggle to complete a 20 mile run. Jumping directly from a 13 mile training run to a 20 mile run was not according to the recommended training schedules. Thus, after struggling through my 20 mile training run, I was still not confident that I could complete the marathon distance. Perhaps I needed longer to train for a marathon. Perhaps it was a mistake to train for a fall marathon forcing me to train in our hottest and most humid months.

In the paper those 2 weeks before the Athens Marathon, I read in the paper the announcement of the new Miami Marathon. As I read the description of the route, I think the race organizers have set out the perfect course starting in downtown Miami, crossing over to South Beach and back through downtown on its way to Coconut Grove and finally back to downtown. This was exactly the course that I would take by car to show off the Miami area. I decide I have my insurance for the Athens marathon and register for my second marathon before I depart for my first marathon. If I failed to finish in Athens in November, I vowed to keep training and run the inaugural Miami Marathon on February 2, 2003.