Monday, June 25, 2007

Life lessons learned from my marathon experience

Lesson #4.
DREAM. Dream big! Completing a marathon is a challenge that many, if not most, people would never even think of, let alone attempt. Therein lies the value. In committing to this objective, I gave myself permission to fail and, in doing so, to keep trying until I succeeded. No one, including myself, ever thought I would make it. Don't be afraid to dream big dreams. They are the stuff that life is made of. No matter what your status, situation or age, decide what you want to do, then move toward it. I am living proof that it is possible.

Lesson #3.
KEEP THE DREAM ALIVE. For the last twenty years, I've had on the wall just above my desk a sheet of paper with 26:385 in 72-font bold script. This is exact distance of a marathon. It was always in the corner of eye and, therefore, continuously in the back of my mind. I cannot say I consciously thought about it, but now that I've accomplished my goal I can tell you that I looked at it often. Writing things down does two things: it clarifies thought and instills commitment. Write your goal down, put it on the wall in front of you and look at it every day. The mind is a wondrous thing. It will work on your behalf, knowing you were meant to accomplish this.

Lesson #2.
ACT. The one thing that contributed most to my success in this endeavor was the fact that I was prepared to pay the price required. My daily commitment to making training a priority, to extending this commitment to other areas of my life including nutrition and non-running activities during my injury period, all of which combined to ensure my success. The final outcome was guaranteed by the daily actions I did over the entire six months prior to the race. It wasn't the race that was important, it was what I did to prepare for the race. The after-race feelings were almost anti-climactic, although I enjoyed the attention and admiration that came my way. I look back now and realize that my actions were my success, not the outcome.

Lesson #1.
FIGHT THE FEAR. Of all the lessons I've learned through this experience, by far the most powerful one is the realization that my biggest obstacle was fear: fear of injury, fear of loss of face, fear of pain, fear of failure. This was never more evident than when I drove the marathon route the day before the race. The scope of my challenge became huge, as did the fears that came with my decision. I wavered many times during that last day, but kept coming back to one thing: what did I really have to lose? In that one question came the resolve to do my best and give my all. And in the end that was all that was required. Fate brought me a quote in the last week before my marathon experience. I posted it above my desk and read in numerous times as race day approached:

"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do." Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 - 1962)

And now, on to the next challenge,


Monday, June 4, 2007

The epilogue: reflections, the Seret Strategy, the team.

Reflections on my marathon experience:
It's now been a week since achieving my objective. I spent the entire week basking in the glory of my accomplishment. Almost 400 people checked out my race day diary. Many sent me congratulatory notes. What a feeling! I still get emotional when I read it or think about those last few kilometers. I find it's really hard to exlain this to someone who's never done it. Will I do it again? I'm not making any decision on this for a couple of months.

Full disclosure on my Secret Strategy:
Some people have asked about this (especially my youngest son). After I made the decision to run the whole marathon distance, I wanted to move away from thinking about the entire exercise. It kept scaring me too much. I also knew I wouldn't be running the whole time.
In my mind, I split the distance into four separate distances. Then, I accepted the fact that I wouldn't be able to run non-stop within each segment. And I developed a "Secret Strategy" to reach my goal.
My Secret Strategy was to run/walk each 10K section in a different proportion (10K = 9/1, 10K = 8/2, 10K = 7/3, 10K = 6/4). Although the theory sounded wonderful, I found that when I applied it to my 30K run I literally burned out. Each segment took more time, more time meant longer on the course, leading to exhaustion and dehydration. I ended up adapting this Secret Strategy by extending my 9/1 as long as I could, then dropping to my next level. This worked well. In fact, the race day dynamic of group running allowed me to extend this to 10/1 for nearly 28K.

Thanks to my entire team:
Personal Fitness Expert, Wendall Hughes (
Wendall, your contribution to my success goes way beyond a simple "thanks". From the moment I chose to accept this goal, your initial fitness program, your expert information on nutrition, your feedback on my progress, your support when I made the decision to go all the way and your on-going accessibility, all these made a huge difference. But the contributon that had the most impact was when you took the time to drive to course with me. I can't tell you how much this helped my confidence and my state of mnd. It exemplified your professionalism and your commitment to my success. If you're reading this and have a fitness goal in mind, contact Wendall. He can make a difference. I know. Without him, I wouldn't have succeeded.

Physiotherapist, Donna Lamport-Durocher (
Dealing with an unwelcome injury is an athlete's biggest nightmare. Donna's expertise, along with that of her capable team, carried me through almost two months of physical, emotional and phychological physiotherapy recovery. I'm sure at times I taxed her patience and her professional competence, but she never let it show. In fact, her positive attitiude and her consistent, caring approach kept me close enough to my goal that I was able to ramp up quickly once I got over my major issue. Thanks for all your support through a difficult time. I couldn't have done it without you.

Massage Therapist, Angela Wilson (
Just to show you how committed my physiotherapist was, she referred me to an ART (Active Release Therapy) Massage Therapist to speed up my recovery by stimulating (read as digging into) muscle recovery. Angela's involvement had a major impact in keeping me on track and complementing my physio program. As a runner herself, Angela was able to empathize with my situation as she worked diligently on my injured calf.

My family: Cheryl, Jennifer & Aaron, Jeff & Rachel, Jason & Maria.
Each of you has had a hand in helping me achieve this life goal. Cheryl, your belief in me every time I've seized this dream, especially this time, is incredible. Jennifer, your unwavering support through my ups and downs kept me going. Jeff, your confidence in me was sometimes greater than my own. Jason, you often acted as a barometer for my emotions and kept me focused. Aaron, Rachel and Maria, you were there the whole time, either in person or in spirit. Thanks, it made a difference.

And now, on to the next challenge.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

May 27, 2007: Marathon Day

I arrive at the race start area at 6 am with my wife, where we are joined by the rest of my family. The race starts at 7 am with cool, cloudy weather; a good sign. Race start is a very emotional time and my family all wish me well. I know their thoughts (and prayers?) are with me as I set out. My oldest son looks me in the eye and says "I know you can do this".

1K: my initial nervous energy lowers as we pass the Parliament buildings. I know I'm now in this for the long term.

5K: getting into the groove now. The running pack has opened up and I'm feeling pretty good about my pace.

10K: as I finish this first leg my time is good, even with the hills that seemed to pop up. I'm feeling some discomfort in my left foot. The weather is still cool and I've kept my pace up. The dynamic of running with others seems to carry me forward and reduces my focus on myself.

15K: we are now running in the busiest part of the course; lots of twists and turns. I'm starting to feel some pulling in my quadriceps. I was hoping for grassy areas to run on and ease the pain in my left foot. The road side is crowded with well-wishers, forcing me to put up with it. I've been able to maintain my pace but now feel it. I briefly think about how much distance is left and quickly re-focus on getting to the halfway mark.

20K: as per my coach's suggestion, I take my first "Shot", a gel compound that contains sugar and caffeine. I feel the effect in a few minutes, a burst of energy that gets me to the halfway mark.

21K: Halfway home. I take stock of how I'm feeling and don't like it. My left foot is now a constant irritant and my quads are burning. A short distance after this, we are joined by the half-marathon group and the road again fills with runners. Very soon after that, we cross the central point of the marathon set up where a huge crowd is urging all of us on. My family are there and I pass quickly so I don't think about quitting.

25K: I am amazed that I am still able to keep my pace up as I've now been out about three hours. I know that my tank is getting empty so I try and get one more 10-minute run before slowing to a walk. I do this a number of times, knowing that if I slow the pace, I'll be out here for hours. A light rain has started, cooling me down. Thanks, dad.

28K: my pace slows considerably. Now it's a question of shorter runs and walking until I get my breath back. I'm pleased with my time so far but know that I'll now start to slow. I'm very conscious that if I walk too long, I'll tighten up and the pain will get worse. My legs are getting very sore. As well, we are entering an area that has some hills, not big but the timing just adds to the problem.

30K: I take my final "Shot". I get a short boost, by now I'm feeling like one mass of pain, especially in my legs. My feet feel swelled up, my calves are burning and my quads ache with every step. As I head into the last hill, I think about "the runner's wall" and am pretty sure that's what is happening to me. This spurs me on as I now understand what's happening.

32K: I now realize I only have about 10K left. I think to myself "My God, I think I can finish this". My strategy now changes. I focus on the runner ahead of me. I walk a short distance to catch my breath, then start running until I pass him or her, then rest again. I repeat this, trying to ignore the constant pain in legs and feet.

35K: getting close now. I keep my focus on passing the next runner. The urge to walk longer is almost too much, but I know longer walking means extending my time and the pain. So again and again I walk, run past the runner or walker ahead, the catch my breath. The rain has continued and I'm feeling a little chilled. If I stop I know I won't finish. Another reason to keep going.

38K: now I can sense that the finish line is closer and closer. No way I'm giving up now. One thing I'm suddenly keenly aware of is my cardio is still strong. All those spinning classes are paying off. When I walk, I breathe deeply and can feel the oxygen helping me to keep going.

40K: now there's the semblance of a small crowd and I know the end is near. I renew my commitment to myself: walk for a short while, focus on the runer ahead, then run until I'm ahead.

41.5K: I see the sign that says "400 metres to finish". I can't believe I'm this close. Now I walk along and tell myself "One more run to the finish".

42K: at the 200 metre-mark I start my last run, passing my family who are cheering me on. I finish in 5:31:19. I cannot put into words the feeling of satisfaction from achieving this goal. What a rush of emotions: tears of joy, a charge of energy and a deep sense of accomplishment. It's been 24 years since I first tried to complete a marathon. My three previous attempts have all ended short. But now, I get to scratch this one of my list.


P.S.: my son advised me yesterday he wants to run this marathon with me next year.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

16 hours to race start.

All in all, this last week has been a good one. I spent last weekend at the cottage recovering from my 22.5K run on Saturday monring. I went for a walk on Sunday and Tuesday, but the rest of the week got so busy I wasn't able to think about running, let alone get out at all. So it's been complete recovery in preparation for tomorrow's challenge.

This flurry of activity allowed me to get away from any anxieties about THE RACE, until yesterday. I drove the course in the afternoon and again early this morning, this time with my coach as navigator. His comments and suggestions were very helpful in preparing myself mentally. I picked up my race kit late yesterday. My bib number is 3041. I've reviewed the location of water stations and distance markers. I have my Secret Strategy set. My running gear is set out and ready to go. My support team of family members will all be there to see me off at 7 am and all are planning to be there when I finish. Talk about pressure :).

I must admit that it's been a constant battle today to keep a positive perspective. After driving the course, I now see what's really involved. And it's not going to be a picnic. This is an incredible challenge. I find myself going from total commitment to abject fear. I keep pulling myself back to the fact that I've invested more than six months preparing for this. I know if I can make it past 30K in a reasonable time, I can finish. I have the plan, I have the physical capacity, I have the will and I have a positive environment that will supply strength and support.

In a couple of hours, most of my family will join me for a pre-marathon pasta dinner. It's something I'm really looking forward to. Their support has been overwhelming. Then, a quiet and relaxing evening and early to bed. Tomorrow: 5 a.m. wake up, then to event by 6 a.m and start at 7.

Until tomorrow evening,


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Managing the last few days

Well, it's down to the short strokes now. A few developments since my past post: I did complete a 30K run an May 11th but felt completely burnt out since doing this; a scheduled 35K run last Saturday really worried me based on my mental & physical state; my coach advised shortening this to 20-25K and assessing my situation then.

I measured a 22.5K distance and completed it on Saturday morning. I was able to cover the distance at the pace I expect to run next week (using my Revised Secret Strategy). My time was on target. All in all, I must say that I am pleased with how this went. In the spirit of full disclosure, I still have a problem with the metarcil bone in my left foot and my right quadricep got quite sore (I'm sure the two are related) and I don't know how much further I could have gone. But this exercise has somewhat eased my anxiety about the completing full marathon distance. If I can get past the 30K mark in a reasonable time, I can finish.

In a short conversation with my coach after my Saturday outing, he recommended I go into "full recovery" mode for this week, with walking and a couple of short runs rather than trying any longer distances. So now it's a question of mental preparation and keeping my fear at bay as the May 27th date draws closer.

until Saturday evening,


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Milestone Three - 15 days to go.

I spent most of this week recovering from the blister on my left foot. I had planned to do a long run on Wednesday but decided to postpone this to Friday. The blister hadn't healed enough to permit three hours-plus of pounding the pavement. I had to abort last week's run at 20K due to my metatarcil problem, so I had to check if my body would allow me to entertain this challenge. So, ready or not, I committed to a long run of 30K (20 miles) on Friday to confirm I could get close to the marathon distance.

I was mentally positive and felt strong as I set out. I set up a plan to keep me from being overwhelmed by the distance I was about to cover. Rather than establishing one 30K route, I made the decision to run my regular 10K route three times. This would allow me to replenish my water and keep me motivated by not having so far to go if, for any reason, I had to stop. This turned out to be good decision and kept me going. a number of times.

Well, I completed the distance. I'm not going to bore or burden you with a step-by-step description about how it went or how I felt at the end. Bottom line, I did it. My metatarcil problem is still there but I was able to deal with it. I did implement my Secret Strategy and although it went well overall, I did discover on fatal flaw I will have to deal with between now and May 27th. I am quite sore this morning but cannot say I am exhausted or in extreme pain. In fact, mentally I feel quite positive and satisfied with my effort and accomplishment. I take this as good sign. Now to see if I can recover enough to do the same, and a little more, next weekend.

until next week.


Saturday, May 5, 2007

22 days to go

After the euphoria of last week's decision to complete the full marathon on May 27th, I must admit that reality has now set in. My family and friends have all been extremely supportive. Everyone I've shared this decision with has expressed enthusiasm (although I can see a certain amount of incredulity in their eyes). I met with my coach Monday and he has set out a strategy to build my mileage to get close to the 26-mile distance before race day.

But let's face it, saying you'll do something and actually doing it are two completely different things. The anxiety about the size and scope of the challenge is now fully upon me. I need to double my mileage in the next ten days if I'm to get close to the finish line. This is as much a psychological issue as a physical one. My current mindset, to keep myself from being overwhelmed (read crazy-scared), is to take this challenge on one day at a time.

I must tell you that I'm not off to a stellar start. I scheduled a long run of 24+K on Wednesday to get me into the mid-marathon distance range. I had to end it prematurely as my left foot was very sore at the 15K mark. I pushed to finish 20.5K but it wasn't pretty or pleasant. My massage therapist advises it's probably the metatarsil bone and has suggested I put a pad in my shoe. I hope it helps.

I finished the week off today with a 16.5K run that went very well, although the foot issue re-surfaced in the last few minutes. Also, I tried changing my orthotics, hoping the new ones would supply more foot support and I now have a blister the size of a silver dollar on the arch of my left foot. Go figure. But I am buoyed by my good run today. I could have gone further and felt strong throughout.
P.S.: I think I've also come up with a secret strategy to help me get to the finish line. I plan to test and refine it next week, so stay tuned to see if it actually works.

until next week,