Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How to Run a Half Marathon with Zen – Part 2.

Part 1 HERE.

When I started to run with the half marathon in mind, I was already in a somewhat OK shape. Last year I had dropped about 18 pounds by making adjustments in my eating habits. I reduced flours and sugars significantly, and increased my veggies and fruit intake. I was feeling good.

I started running 4, 5 and up to 8 miles and feeling strong at the end of each session. I had a good selection of different routes, with hefty climbs or long stretches of upward roads. I was happily looking at finishing the race in less than 2 hours. Just about 6 weeks before the race I had a particularly physically challenging weekend which included basketball and a road trip. When I came back, I went out for a run (against my better judgment) and I pulled my calf.

I knew I was tired and still went for it. Yes, I felt a bit letdown by myself for allowing this to happen. I knew I was pushing my body beyond what was capable or even necessary, and I was now facing the consequences. It was one of the longest walks back home. Limping. Angry. Sad.

As soon as I got home, I iced my leg and hoped for the best. The pain was not excruciating, but I knew I was looking at a 2-3 weeks recovery time. I had undergone similar injuries in the past (twice maybe?) and I wasn’t too concern about recovering for the race. But I knew my estimated finish time was going to be affected.

I tried going for a run two weeks later and the first mile was fine, but going into the second one I started to feel discomfort and had to slow down to a walk. It wasn’t until 4 weeks after the injury that I was able to go for a decent run. I did squeeze in several walks during the time I was not able to run. The race was now just two weeks away and the longest distance I had run throughout the whole process was 8 miles, but this had been a month and a half prior. I went for a few 3-4 mile runs and felt a little tired, but my recovery time was good.

One week before the race I went for a 5 mile run that I completed at a 9min/mile pace with a couple of splits as fast as 8 min/mile. When I finished this run I recovered some of my confidence and once again felt like I was actually going to be able to finish the race. But I was not about to call it just yet. I decided to forget about the < 2 hour goal. The remaining of the week I went for one more 3 mile run and a few walks with my family. I was in as good of a shape as I could be given the circumstances and going for any other run at this point would probably just get me tired for the race rather than help me. 

I decided to walk to the start line from home. I made it my warm-up. It was only about a mile away, and I got to see the people running the full marathon as they sped down the road. When I made it to my corral, the energy level of the place was incredible. I had been placed with the group that had a projected finishing time of 1:50 and I knew that I was easily going to be able to keep up that pace for the first 6-8 miles. After that I would have to reassess and adjust as needed. As it turned out, there was no need to adjust.

After I crossed the START line, everything became a hum of bouncing soles. All I focused on at any given time was the next step I had to take. There were some scattered voices here and there, but then we went back to the thousands of gentle taps on the concrete. There was some encouragement going on, and people handing out water, Gatorade, Vaseline, salt, mimosas, beer and tequila shots, but all the energy was in the humming of the tennis shoes. There were bands playing music along the way. There was a group of runners dressed as Elvis pushing a jukebox in a cart. There was a guy dribbling two basketballs. There was Manny and Adrianne. There were people tripping and some even passing out. There were some hills, buildings, trees, and policemen guiding traffic.

And then Tania and Dante waving and cheering for me at mile 10.

I finished the race in 1:51:54. I will share that I did feel very tired in the last three miles, but still managed to make the last one my fastest. Crossing that finish line was a pinnacle, but so it was each mile I covered. The recent injury loomed over me at different points during the race and there were some fleeting thoughts that I might not be able to finish. Again and again, I gently reminded myself that all I had to do was center in each step, swing my arms, and keep my head upright. And I did.

I am now training for the next one.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

How to Run a Half Marathon with Zen – Part 1.

Photo by Tania Franco
I finally did it. It was one of those things that has been somewhere in my mind but always ended up in the back-burner with the stove turned off. You probably know the feeling. But this summer I ran the San Diego Rock & Roll Half Marathon in 1:51:54.
I started to run again only in the last two years or so. Mind you, I wasn’t the epitome of consistency by any standards, but it was a new beginning. See, I always led an active and athletic life. I played organized soccer in high school, and local clubs. Then I suffered a pretty severe knee injury when I was 19. I recovered from it and managed to play college soccer and at different division one clubs up until I turned 29 or so, then I stopped.

After this period of inactivity, I lost a good degree of strength in my legs and when I wanted to come back, I couldn’t play anymore because of knee issues.

I was a bit bummed for a while, and pretty much gave up for a couple of years. I gained a few extra pounds and I wasn't being disciplined with the gym. One day I saw myself in the mirror and the man in front of me wasn't who I wanted to be. So I went back out there with renewed energy and  determined to be the best version of myself from then on.

Last year I logged quite a few miles, and it was picking up towards the end of the year. I also went to the gym more regularly. Then the winter came along and 2013 started off a bit slow as I didn’t run or exercise as much during the cold days. 

But in March I decided to make a comeback and set a goal to run 600 miles before the end of the year. I have completed 150 so far. The truth is that setting goals may not exactly be “Zen,” but it is something that motivates me presently, and it serves as an indicator of the physical progress I make.

I knew the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon was in the summer, and I had mentioned to Tania that I was interested in participating. Incidentally, I had said this before about other things and nothing happened. I think I could have easily come up with an excuse and just plan to run it “next year.”

But then along came Manny.

He is a co-worker and friend. I knew he was running regularly and one day he just showed up and told me that he had signed up to run the San Diego City Half Marathon. Just like that. We talked about his training as the date was approaching and the excitement creeping in. He would tell me about his splits and increasing his running distance closer to the 13.1mile mark. I was genuinely excited for him, and I started to look at my regular runs differently.

Back then I was running 3 miles at a time, tops. When I saw him the day of the race at the 10 mile mark after a killer climb, I knew that I had to do it. It was inspiring to see hundreds of runners from all kinds of walks making a tremendous effort to accomplish something, but more about this later. We got together for a couple of beers to talk about the race, and he was kind enough to share his experience with me. That evening we agreed to run the 2013 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, and after that day I started training with that objective in mind.