When I first started running late in the fall of 2003/early 2004 I had no idea what I was doing. I had this plan to run a marathon in the fall of 2004 but didn’t really know where to start. I researched forums and got some ideas. Most people talked about running 4-5 days a week for a marathon. I thought this wouldn’t be a big deal and I would get right on it. Little did I know how much work this actually is.
When you start running you learn quickly if you don’t have any exercise background how sore you will be the days following. When I would run on a Monday my legs hurt too much to run on a Tuesday. For at least the first month I wasn’t able to run back-to-back days. Most of runs that first month were about 3-5 miles. I would do the long run on Saturday’s but only doing about 6-8 miles. After those runs I could barely walk.
Once I got use to running 3-4 days a week I tried back-to-back days. Running back-to-back days is a reality check. You learn the second run is not going to be as good as the day before. You are really just trying to survive. You want to make it to the end of the run so you can feel good about yourself.
All of these forums talk about doing different types of runs. They mention the speed work, hill workouts, Fartlek, recover runs, long runs, etc. There are several others but those were the basics. I found doing speed work for the beginner was pointless. It wasn’t going to make me a faster runner. If anything it would get me injured. I would go down to the high school track and try all of these speed workouts but instead I should have been just been on the road running. When you have a year or two of running under your belt then it can be worth while.
Hill workouts are very helpful. Where I lived in CT at the time I had a few hills. I would do my normal 3-5 mile run and the last stretch was a 1/4 mile hill. It would be very painful. When I moved to Massachusetts I had nothing but hills. Everywhere I would run it was either going up a hill or down a hill.
Recovery runs always happened the day after a run or the next running following a long run. Recovery runs meant no pressure. It means if your average per mile is 9:00 then running a 10:00 was just fine for me. Runners initially tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to improve. Going from the couch to running will always incur improvement but it takes time. It’s ok to have bad runs, it’s ok to walk on a run, it’s ok to cut the run short. It’s not ok to quit though.
Long runs are very mental. Getting through that unknown mile is so gratifying. It feels like you are the first person running on the football field and you get to run through that huge piece of paper while cheerleaders root you on. Just wait until you run your first marathon. It’s very important to build up miles very slowly. I believe the rule is not to add more than 10% a week and then every 4-5 weeks cut back a week. This is helpful for two reasons. It helps to not cause injury and it give’s you a break.
After a few months of training and building up to an occasional 10-12 mile run I went and ran a few races. Racing is very helpful and stepping stones to the ultimate goal. I ran a few local 5K’s but targeted 2 1/2 marathons leading up to my first Marathon in October of 2004. I ran both the Fairfield Half in June and the New Haven Road Race on Labor Day. In Fairfield my goal was 2 hours. I completed it in 2:02. I was overall happy but was just beat after that. As for the New Haven Road race it was a 20K and I ran it in 1:48:58. I was very happy with my time. I averaged a sub 9:00 mile.
I felt I was in decent shape and was going to have a chance to run a 4 hour marathon. I did run 1-2 18 mile runs. It was helpful but mostly mental to know you can run that much. Leading up to race day at the end of October I fell into the trap a lot of runners fall into. Either not running enough longer miles, not running much at all, or injured. For me it was both not running enough longer runs and not running much at all. This is caused by burnout. More on this in another blog post.
So when race day came I convinced myself I was in good enough shape to run a 4:00 marathon. I lined up with my friend at the 4:00 sign and was going to run with a pace group. By mile 6 I fell behind. By mile 14ish I was walking. I wasn’t breathing right and learned later on that was my first breathing issue. I had asthma that day and it wasn’t diagnosed until 2011. After completing the Marine Corps Marathon in 5:10 and getting sick I was so annoyed that I was going to run another marathon as soon as I could.
I ran the Philadelphia three weeks later. I ran it in 4:28:43. In those three weeks I didn’t run once. I am not sure why but I think I let life get busy for me.
Some of the lessons I learned from my first year of running was taking to much time off from time-to-time. I would run say 2-3 days one week and then may only run once the following week. Running your first year is about consistency. If you are consistency running you will improve. I also learned that injuries happen. My first few years of running I had to deal with shin splints. After a while they would just go away but in some races they were painful. I think they tend to go away with years of training.
The number one lesson I learned from my first year of running was that I needed to cross train. More details coming on cross training in my next topic.