My Road To November

“I just feel like it goes against science”

Those were the words of a client of mine during one of our training sessions a few days ago. The “it” he was referring to is running a marathon. Since becoming an avid runner a couple of years ago, I’ve enjoyed every bit of the experience. There’s something gratifying and fulfilling about starting a journey and being able to finish it knowing they were obstacles and hurdles along the way but somehow you managed to persevere and complete the journey. It is this feeling that I love about running, and it is why after running several half marathons, I decided it was time to embrace my next challenge: run a marathon.

The marathon isn’t your typical race. In fact, it is very atypical. The idea that the human body can plough through 26.2 miles sounds ludicrous and crazy. My client and many people in society believe it’s a dangerous event that’s humanly impossible. I get where these people are coming from and I can’t say that I blame them. Heck, running a a half marathon is no cake walk either.

But it all comes down to two things: Mental Toughness & Intestinal Fortitude.

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Although these are two things that can help us be successful in life, they apply a great deal to runners. I enjoy the challenge of seeing how much resolve and willpower I can utilize to get me through a race. Before I ran my first half marathon, the 2015 AirBnB Brooklyn Half, I vowed not to stop regardless of how tired or fatigued I got. I did it, completing that race in 2:09. The average runner can run a mile, a 5K or even a 10K. But it takes a dedicated runner to be able to run a half and full marathon. There’s a process that comes with being able to run 13.1 miles and 26.2 miles. That journey requires sacrifice, preparation and commitment. I live for these things not only because it unleashes the inner warrior in me, it’s also a good measure of my mental toughness and intestinal fortitude.

299706_197416900_Medium299705_197639069_Medium2015 Airbnb Brooklyn Half

Seven half marathons later, including setting a personal best at this year’s AirBnB Brooklyn half with a time of 1:45, it’s time to embrace the challenge of running my first marathon, the TCS NYC Marathon in November. I’m one week into my 16-week training program, which has me running close to 430 miles over the next four months. This is new territory for me so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous. Running and training for a marathon isn’t anything like a half marathon. In fact, it’s night and day with the two. The marathon isn’t just the ultimate running challenge, it’s also a life challenge for many. For this reason, preparing for it requires serious discipline and commitment. Over the next few months, my life is going to be very regimented as a result of my training. Because of the summer heat/humidity, 5am is when I plan to do my scheduled runs, which means going to bed by 9:30/10 with the hope of getting at least 7 hours of sleep. Although week 1 went pretty well, the thought of doing this for 15 more weeks has me overwhelmed already.

IMG_43292016 AirBnb Brooklyn Half

When I ran my very first race in 2014, (a lousy, lackluster 10K in which my endurance and conditioning were so bad, I peed a little on myself — Gross! I know), no way did I think I’d be training for my first marathon two years later. I even remember saying to myself that I’d never even consider running a half marathon. But challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life beautiful.

I’m nervous but also excited about the journey.

 

 

 

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How & why I became a runner.

Through the years, I was never too fond of traditional cardio. Science and theory has shown that resistance training complimented with cardio and a healthy diet must be performed routinely to reap the maximal perks of exercise. I hated cardio days early on in my fitness career. In fact, I dreaded them so much I would find excuses not to go. It just doesn’t have the same thrill as bench pressing, deadlifting, shoulder pressing and doing  biceps curl. There’s something more mentally challenging and exhausting about running on a treadmill, cycling on a bike and pedaling on the elliptical than doing strength training exercises. I could spend over an hour lifting weights but 20 minutes of cardio and I’m ready to kill myself! Despite my dislike for traditional cardio, I never stopped doing them.

Then something happened one Sunday morning in the summer of 2014.

The weather was picture perfect. Warm and breezy but not too humid. It was too nice of a day to stay in so I decided to go running at a nearby park that had an outdoor track. I ran 3 miles that day and I remember feeling like I just conquered something big. My endurance wasn’t very good, my lungs got really heavy after mile 1 and I panted heavily. But I still enjoyed the process of finishing. I didn’t think I would do it again but the following Sunday morning, there I was at the same park running again. After a couple of weeks, I increased my mileage to 4. I started to enjoy the feeling of having a goal in mind and going after it. Circling around the park track a number of times began to get boring so a couple of months later, I took my run to the FDR pathway along the East River.

Fastforward to 2015 and I recently competed and participated in the Airbnb Brooklyn half marathon, my first half marathon.

image1With my brother and sister at the finish of the Airbnb Brooklyn Half  Marathon.

Having participated in several races over the last calendar year and many more to come, I now consider myself an avid runner. Strength training will always be near and dear to my heart and my number one passion. But running has become a competitive source of joy for me and I plan to exploit it for as long as I can. There’s a unique challenge that running presents that isn’t quite like that of attempting a Deadlift 1RM or squatting for reps. The latter requires all-out, maximal exertion and power which last for about 90 seconds followed by an extended rest period. With running, there is no rest and there’s no use of force and power. The ability to get from the start to the finish without stopping is a mental challenge unlike no other. Being able to pace yourself so you can finish 4 miles without getting too tired after 2 miles is a unique challenge that many recreational activities don’t have. Basketball and football are our country’s two biggest sports and I happen to a be a big fan of both. The athletes who play those sports are highly conditioned and some of the best in the world. Yet I’d argue that many of them will struggle in a long-distance run.

Though I’ve only been a distance runner for a year, I’ve learned a whole lot. Here are a few of my takeaways:

  • You can muscle your way through a strength training working set but not through running. The ability to maintain a certain pace on a distance run without getting too tired requires mental, intestinal fortitude.
  • The beauty of running a long distance is knowing that there’s a short-term goal in mind : the finish line. This provides more of an incentive to embrace the challenge of the journey.
  • Many runners will stop periodically to catch their breath before going again. The urge not to stop at all is the key. This is the part of running that I personally find most enjoyable and a challenge I gladly embrace.
  • For first time runners, gradually increase your mileage ever week and month. For example, run 2 miles for 2 to 4 weeks before adding another 1 or 2 miles. I made the mistake of increasing my mileage too quickly early on and ended up with some minor aches and pain. As a general rule of thumb for beginners, add no more than a mile or 2 every month but always listen to your body and know when to take a step back if need be.
  • Good, running shoes are a big deal! Sneakers with high, durable heel cushion support are generally the best, though some seasoned runners run with flat sole sneakers. I battled with shin splints and other ankle aches and pain early on and still do today. In some cases you may need insoles or orthotics especially if you pronate. Again, pay attention to your body and see how your running shoes make you feel. As a rule of thumb, replace running shoes every 300 to 500 miles.
  • Stretching and strengthening the muscles of the glutes, calves, hamstrings and quads are very important for efficient running. Those are the muscles that are chiefly responsible for moving the lower limbs during a run. Soft tissue work like foam rolling and using a massage stick on the aforementioned muscles is recommended also.
  • Rest, diet and recovery are just as important as stretching and strengthening. The body must be feed with sufficient complex carbs and energy drinks to supply stored fuel during a run. Longer distance runs (above 6 miles) require more disciplined attention to detail because of the amount of stress the body will have to endure. Sufficient sleep and food the night before, pre-race meal and during-race energy gels/fluids will impact a runner’s performance. The days I’ve had my bad runs were usually preeeded by nights and days when I didn’t get enough sleep or eat enough of the right nutrients.
  • Aches, pain and injuries inevitably comes with the territory. Every runner has had their share of them. The repetitive stress the ankle, knee and hip joints have to endure will eventually cause some discomfort. As far as muscles, the hamstring is the most common site of injury. However the body adapts over time and becomes better equipped to handle the stress going forward. In the event of a running-related injury, take your time to heal fully and don’t risk returning too quickly.
  • Schedule days for cross-training (swimming, elliptical, soul cycle, rowing, etc). This allows the joints and muscles of your legs to recover while still being used at a low-to-moderate intensity.

Some people will never fully embrace running and I can’t say that I blame them. But then again, I used to be one of those people who hated running. Meanwhile I’m planning on running the 2016 NYC marathon.

A year ago, no way would I have ever imagined myself running a half marathon.

Once you control your mind, you can conquer your body.

Anything is possible.

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