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A Different Kind of Runner

Posted by Filed Under: Health & Fitness, Running Tips

opinionAbout a month ago I was at a local running store helping register people for a local marathon training program when I overheard an interesting exchange between a newcomer and a coach trying to decide where to place her.

“What’s your pace?” he asked.

“I have no idea.” she responded. This was not unusual; few beginners knew how to accurately answer that one.

He asked the same question a few different ways and her response was a consistent “I have no idea.” Then she asked for recommendations for a running shoe.

“What are you wearing now?” the coach asked.

“I don’t know. I’m going to go into the store to buy a pair after this.”

That’s when it dawned on both the coach and those eavesdropping that this was a woman who had never run before but who nonetheless figured she could tackle a marathon in five months. At the first practice, our assumptions were confirmed when she proudly told people she ran her very first mile that morning. Some others also openly celebrated taking their first run that day.

It seems in this time-compressed era, even running expectations have accelerated. What happened to having a few 5ks or 10ks under your belt before taking on a 26-miler? Or, at the very least, breaking in a pair of running shoes first?

The explosion of marathons with kinder cut-offs now provide many more possibilities and opportunities for both the seasoned and the inexperienced. This is a good thing, in my opinion. But human bodies still must adjust to some serious stress, and they must do it gradually to avoid debilitating, goal-derailing injuries.

I suffered such an injury running my last marathon and have devoted the last four months to becoming a different kind of runner. I now strive for quality workouts, not just time on my feet. And I no longer dismiss the post-run stretching and the strength training and core exercises needed to support my body in these endeavors.

With my sights now set on shorter distances, I’ve discovered that a quicker recovery means I can enter more races more often. When I was all about the marathon, my options were quite limited. The training schedule always came first. And because the long runs eventually took up so much time, the training schedule eventually came at something or someone else’s expense. After 13 years of this, it became a way of life and it wasn’t until I had this huge void that I realized how consuming the endless pursuit of a certain PR had become.

One reason the marathon distance, and those that tackle it, deserve great respect is because that level of training comes with sacrifices. Bodies change. Relationships change. Bad habits, fortunately, change too. Commitment levels differ just as surely as an individual’s gait, but everyone enters race day having already given up something, be it sleep, junk food or a soured friendship.

I’m not sure that woman I mentioned earlier is aware of this. My guess is she’s not. The marathon, someone should tell her, takes a lot more out of you than your Saturday mornings and a new pair of shoes if you really want to go down that road.

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.



18 Comments
  1. Mark Iocchelli on January 29th at 11:23 am

    Anne,

    You’ve been pretty balanced and non-judgmental here so we get to jump in with our opinions so here’s mine:

    We homo-sapiens are, by and large, a very impatient lot and it seems that this attribute becomes stronger with passing generations.

    For example, let’s take our dependence on credit cards and debt as a way of getting what we want now – as opposed to waiting till we can afford it. Our parents were much less dependant on credit than we are and their parents avoided credit like the plague.

    I think this kind of thinking makes its way into all areas of our lives. More and more we are a society that is in it for the quick win – for instant gratification. We accumulate things and experiences. Finishing a marathon has, for many people, become just one more thing to accumulate.

    The problem is that, like debt, jumping into a marathon before one has “paid their dues” can come at a cost. Getting that marathon done in four or five months can lead to injury and burnout.

    And I’m not saying these things on a perch of superiority – I’ve been guilty of this too.

    The trick becomes getting people to do as we say and not as we do. 😉

  2. jank on January 29th at 12:16 pm

    I think that there’s a grave danger in the new, kinder, gentler marathon system (and this is speaking as a 4:30/5 hour marathoner).

    First, it diminishes the achievement of the folks who pioneered the race. Second, it sets unrealistic assumptions in the minds of new runners, to whom a marathon is nothing really special – it’s what runners do.

    My first marathon campaign came after less than a year of consistient running, and was frought with physical maladies (planar fascitis) and a general mental collapse that almost got my fat butt back on the couch for good.

    Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be encouraging folks like the woman at the clinic – we (as runners) should. She most definately is as capable as the rest of us.

    However, there needs to be a little more truth in advertising about the training leading up to the big day, and the risks involved.

  3. Peter on January 29th at 1:11 pm

    [OPINION] i’m not sure why some people are so bent on hating. if someone wants to give it a go, let them give it a go.

    i remember telling some folks online a few years ago that i wanted to run a marathon, starting from scratch, in four months. they freaked. i mean, people were like ranting. i thought it was the worst display of humanity. so incredibly petty. i was shocked.

    i came to conclude that it was jealousy, plain and simple. they didn’t like the fact that i was going to waltz through a marathon in four months – starting from scratch, and when it was over i was going to forever proclaim to anyone who would listen that “it wasn’t that hard” and “it only took me four months of training, starting from nothing”. their egos just couldn’t handle it.

    if people want to run, let them run. don’t hate. congratulate.

    what’s the point in discouraging folks? it’s like when you ask someone for directions and they insist on telling you how far your destination is. listen buddy, if i wanted the commentary i’d go read a blog – i just want directions, and yes, i’m going, you can’t stop me, no matter what. ok?

    really, it’s very simple. live and let live.

  4. Mark Iocchelli on January 29th at 2:21 pm

    Peter,

    Who said anything about hating? I don’t think anyone here hates anyone for setting a goal. I think the main point here is that there is concern in setting out to accomplish a monumental task in what is, in some’s opinion, a very short/too short period of time.

    Congrats on your marathon. 🙂

  5. Mark Sta-Ana on January 29th at 3:04 pm

    Anne,

    Great article. Last August I decided I wanted to run a marathon for 2007. I wasn’t sure when or which one I would run, but I knew I would run one.

    At the time I really hadn’t got my head around the concept of running 26.2 miles.

    I like to think I’ve done my reading and I’m planned my intermediate races (5K/10K/Half). If I’ve learnt anything so far, it is that the distance 26.2 miles needs to be respected.

    It has humbled athletes from other disciplines (I’m talking about Lance), so if it does this those guys, what’s it going to do to us mere mortals?

    Hey look on the brightside for this new runner. She did the right thing and signed up for a training programme. She got the next five months to appreciate the distance.

  6. Joe Ely on January 29th at 4:08 pm

    Great post, Anne.

    Peter…back off, dude…there is nothing here about “hate”. Merely a point of reflection.

    Running teaches much and that is one of the joys of it. And each of us learns differently…some from others’ mistakes, some from our own. I suspect this woman will learn much in her 5-month quest for 26.2.

    As you, Anne, I’m learning much from an injury from marathon training last fall. Unlike you, I’m not out of it yet. But clearly, it has taught me much about running. Not all the lessons are in yet…perhaps they will be by summer.

    The marathon is perhaps the most extreme teacher, so it is good to try it.

  7. Jack on January 29th at 4:36 pm

    I think the whole marathon thing is over rated and it’s perpetrated by the running industry, especially the magazines. There are way more runners who don’t run marathons than those who do. I consider myself a runner and I only get a chance to run abut 5 to 7 miles a week. I have no desire to run a marathon, heck I’ll be doing good if I ever even get a chance to run a 5K.

  8. Anne on January 29th at 4:58 pm

    Thanks for the great responses, everyone.

    Mark, I hadn’t thought of the “credit nation” analogy — but I think you’re spot on. Same mentality with the potential for similar, devastating results.

    Peter, just to clarify: no one’s discouraged this woman, here or in that marathon training program. In fact, the seasoned runners cheered when she and the others announced they’d just run their first mile. And we’ll continue that encouragement.

    I think Jank and Joe and Mark make great points, all based on their own experiences. They get what I’m saying – perhaps saying it even better than I.

  9. Anne on January 29th at 5:03 pm

    Jack:

    You slipped in while I must have been writing my earlier response. Thank you for reminding us that there’s more to running than marathons. It takes a lot to run a 5k or a 10k race, too. I hope you get to experience that feeling someday.

  10. Tammy on January 29th at 7:49 pm

    I ran a marathon 5 months after I decided to try running. While it wasn’t a ‘fast’ marathon, it was a great experience, and one I do not regret. I don’t see a problem w/the scenario you mentioned… mental blocks hold us back more than physical ones. I know I’ve inspired a lot of people to give it a go, and the lady in your story may as well… anything that gets people moving! 🙂

  11. Adeel on January 30th at 1:23 am

    I’m not at all impressed by a poorly-run marathon, but I think all runners should have the prerogative to run whatever race they want with as little training as they want. I wouldn’t discourage this woman from running a marathon at all.

    On the other hand, I’d tighten cut-offs in marathons.

  12. Funky Dung on January 30th at 8:00 am

    “if people want to run, let them run. don’t hate. congratulate.

    As Billy Joel said, “You told me not to drive [my body too hard], but I made it home alive [i.e., I finished the marathon OK]. So you said that only proves that I’m insane.”

    I can’t speak for the other people you encountered, but the folks around here aren’t about hate. They’re just worried about what harm newbie runners might do to their bodies by training for a marathon too soon. To many, “I trained for and ran a marathon in four months after no prior training and was no worse for wear” sounds like “I drove home drunk and didn’t have an accident”. Simply because someone can safely run a marathon in four months doesn’t mean that they should do so or encourage others to do likewise.

    Long-time runners don’t hate newbie marathoners any more than your parents hated you when they said walking across that railroad bridge, ala Stand By Me, wasn’t a good idea. 😉

  13. Mark Iocchelli on January 30th at 8:03 am

    Well said, Funky Dung! It’s all about the LOVE!

  14. 21stCenturyMom on January 30th at 1:53 pm

    Lots and lots of people are entering training programs to run for cause (leukemia, AIDS, whatever) and training up for a marathon in 4 months. The marathons have 10s of thousands of people, higher revenue and probably better sponsorship and prizes for the pros. Saying that people who run slow marathons “diminishes the achievement of the folks who pioneered the race” is a little like saying that gay marriage threatens the very institution. Not true! It just makes for more people getting what they want out of life and that’s a good thing.

    That having been said, we can all injure ourselves training. Competent runners do it training too hard and beginning runners do it training too much for their fitness level. It happens.

  15. A Passion for Running » You Can Learn a Lot Running for Two and a Half Hours on January 30th at 8:45 pm

    […] My second thought was mingled with my reaction to this article Anne wrote on CRN. Basically, my thought was that runners get injured a lot and that marathon training is an especially risky business that can really benefit from the experience of getting injured. To be specific, whenever you feel you’re on top of your game, it doesn’t hurt to remember the injuries you and your running friends have suffered. These things are a reminder to be careful, not be cocky and to enjoy being in the moment. […]

  16. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on January 31st at 7:12 am

    Actually, four or five months is more than enough time to go from nothing to marathon provided that:
    You are not grossly out of shape before you start (5’4″ and 280 pounds, for example) – your doctor should be able to sign off on a moderate exercise program right off the bat.You are willing to follow a training program to the letter and not skip runs or do extra workouts – and it is a training program geared at the nothing to marathon in your time frame.You are willing to pay attention to your nutrition, whether you eat well already or need to improve your habits.You are willing to get a full night’s sleep (almost) every night.You are willing to avoid (or at least ignore but avoiding is better) the haters and discouragers who will do their best (intentionally or not) to demotivate you.

    Given those conditions, a new runner can go from their first mile to their first marathon in 4 months without getting injured or burned out. A good program should have them running their first 5k races in the build up to the marathon, and they probably will not have a record setting pace, but it is certainly a goal that can be reached.

    If somebody has the support of a spouse or friend, especially one that is willing to train with them, then it is that much easier.

    The important question is not whether they can or should run their marathon, but why they want to run the marathon so early in their running career. Not that the answer is very important, but it is interesting to hear different people’s motivations.

  17. Kristin on January 31st at 3:02 pm

    Excellent advice Blaine. As someone who *just* signed up to run a marathon at the end of June for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society this article made my heart sink into my stomach when I first saw it! But all the kind comments and good advice here helped me recover from a few minutes of dread ;p I definitely plan on following my training to a T and respecting every inch of those 26.2 miles!

  18. 21stCenturyMom on January 31st at 6:10 pm

    Kristin – TNT will take great care of you and you will finish your race! I trained with them for my first marathon and to date it has been my best both in time and as an experience. Enjoy!

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