chapter two - training

The training program Craig spoke of is put together by marathon guru Hal Higdon and is freely available at his website at Hal is an experienced marathoner on a worldwide scale and lives in the Chicagoland area. He has programs for 5ks, 8ks, 10ks, 15ks, ten milers, half-marathons, full marathons, ultra-marathons etc., all in novice, intermediate, and advanced flavors. What appealed to me, as I selected the novice marathon training program, was the sense of the schedule - two days of short running, one day of medium running, one day of long running, one day of cross-training, and two days off each week. The marathon program is built essentially around six three-week patterns, with the third week of each set being a step-down week, and with the sets working their way toward the climatic twenty mile training run just prior to a pre-race taper. Hal's promise - stick to the program and you will finish your marathon. As I studied the schedule I came to trust that Hal wasn't teasing me, that this thing was really something I could pull off. The two major ingredients required were simply will and discipline. Now, running talent is something I don't have, but I'm pretty good in the will and discipline department.

The next step was a stop at my favorite running store, Naperville Running Company. Not being a bluffer by nature, I walked in with Stefan and proclaimed both our intent and our ignorance at what to do next. The ever-helpful folks at the store spent an hour with us, fitting us in the shoes that matched our personal bio-mechanical structures and gaits, explaining the expected life-span of shoes during marathon training, outfitting us with the right socks and shorts, and bonding to both Stefan and me as we began our journey. Later we would tap into the staff's expertise on gels, nutrition bars, hydration belts, post-exercise recovery drinks, weather preparation, and a variety of other details. Although we certainly exchanged hard-earned cash, and lots of it, for their help and products, both Stefan and I owe a debt of gratitude to the good folks at Naperville Running Company.

Finally, we were ready to train. With our schedules equally busy and often disconnected, Stefan and I agreed to train together when we could but apart when necessary. Due to 25 years and 50 pounds difference between us, I suggested to Stefan early that he needed to feel comfortable at his pace and me at mine - it wasn't necessary to stay together. Our first long run, a six miler, was one where our schedules did not mesh. I started the run on June 12, 2004, excited to be underway and, halfway in, was pretty sure I not only wouldn't make it, but indeed may not survive. Force of will, though, saved the day and I made it back to the house. "Have faith in Hal," I muttered to myself as every muscle ached.

Our second long run was in beautiful Hamilton, New York, home of Colgate University. Stefan and I were there on one of his college hunting trips over the summer and were due our seven miler. It was a little easier than the previous week's six miler, but I was clearly done at the end. "Hal wouldn't lie," became my mantra.

We continued to ramp up our training, with the long runs moving up to double digits by July 10th. The low point for me was on July 24th when I DNF'ed a twelve miler the last day of our vacation in Myrtle Beach, SC. We were up to beat the heat, out the door at 5:00 am, but by the fourth mile my legs simply refused to continue. I felt guilty at having to drop out and tried to atone for my failure by running a brisk 10k the next evening back at home in Naperville. Best I could do. Specials thank to Tom Stark for his common sense words of support at this point in my training.

One of our training highlights was our run across the Connecticut River from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The route was suggested by Charlie Giersch, a ten miler that took us alongside the river in the early morning light, with an invigorating mixture of hills and flats and absolutely gorgeous scenery with a starting temperature of 50 degrees. It was our first experiment using gels, routinely referred to as either goo or snot due to their texture, and a formal hydration plan. All went well and we finished strong in a gorgeous setting.

The distances continued to creep up, with an eighteen miler on September 4th. I had a cold the latter half of the week but no fever so I went for it. I finished the run, but was beaten up and slept most of the day. Two weeks later, on September 18th, was the twenty miler and, in contrast, I felt strong for most of the run, wearing down in the last couple of miles, but finishing with a sense of accomplishment and preparedness for what lie ahead.

The taper was next, three weeks of progressively ramping down to build up energy stores in the legs while maintaining race-ready fitness. As October 10th loomed closer and closer on the calendar, concept gradually morphed to a clear reality. Over four hundred training miles had honed a fantasy of running a marathon into an absolute necessity.

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