As a runner, I was Superman. But, that was a while ago.
When I started running marathons, I thought I was invincible.
The more I ran, the stronger I felt. This made me run more. As I added miles, my performances improved in turn.
I was strong. I was powerful. I was fast.
It was great.
And I… well, I was Superman.
I ran my first marathon, the New York City Marathon, in 2002. It was a magical and wonderful, inspirational and motivational experience. That race changed me. Before that race, I never thought I could run that far, and once I did, I knew I had to do it again.
I fell madly in love with marathons. I’m still in love with the race. In October, I’ll run my 20th marathon.
For that first marathon, I logged 368.50 miles in 16 weeks of training. In short, I followed a modest plan. I built slowly and it worked. I finished with a respectable time – 4:20:47.
The next year, 2003, I ran NYC again. I upped my training mileage to 432 miles. With more training miles, and a stronger base, I finished a little faster – 4:11:44. I was on to something.
I kept raising my training mileage, and running faster and faster marathons.
I first broke four hours (3:55:51) in Baltimore in 2004.
By 2006, at Disney World, I ran 3:34:34.
I had a plan, and it worked. More miles equaled better results.
Along with the higher mileage also came a new passion for speed work. I stared running intervals and other speed exercises. Yasso 800’s became part of life. So did an exercise I invented – Semmer 400’s.
I was a maniac. When I ran, I ran hard. My easy days were hard. My hard days were harder. I pushed…hard. Everything about my running was hard.
And I loved it.
As I ran and as I found personal success, I made some new friends. I won’t say that these friends changed my life, that’s too trite; too cliché. But, these friends are still with me today.
You know their names. If you’re a runner, or you have a passion in which you invest your time, many of these are your friends too:
(There are others…)
In preparation for the Chicago Marathon, also in 2006, I ran 642 training miles in my 16 weeks of training. I averaged over 40 miles every single week. And those were strong miles. Hard miles. I worked. I pushed. I gave it my all.
The result was my quickest marathon yet – 3:25:16.
I was Superman.
I have to add that I was also a running rebel. Or, at least I saw myself as such. I didn’t believe or follow most of the maxims.
I ate what I wanted.
I didn’t stretch.
I never iced.
I didn’t warm-up. I didn’t cool down.
I didn’t believe in recovery days.
When I felt pain, I told myself that I had to work harder. “Run through the pain,” I’d say. I was stronger than pain.
If I had pain that wouldn’t go away, I’d visit my chiropractor to “fix” me. I would only visit, though, if I was badly hurting.
I’d run the marathon distance, sometimes multiple times, in my training. Sometimes, I’d do this on my treadmill.
I felt I could do anything.
As I got faster and stronger, I believed that I’d soon run quickly enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I was getting close!
And I, I was Superman.
But, maybe like Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, my confidence and my success ultimately betrayed me.
I crashed physically and mentally during a marathon in the Poconos. I was ahead of Boston pace for the first fifteen miles of the Run for the Red Marathon, and then, instantly, I had nothing left in the tank. I hit the wall. Hard. I had nothing left to give physically or mentally. I gave up.
Yes, of course, I finished the race, but it was a long final eleven miles of walking and hating myself for most of it.
I finished that race well past four hours. It was a disaster. It was my first running failure.
Then I started to meet some new companions, ones I had hoped to never come in contact with. I am convinced, now, in retrospect, that I unintentionally invited each of these to visit me time and time again.
Many runners know these guys all too well:
(I have not yet met Iliotibial Band Syndrome, and I do not intend to.)
I kept completing marathons, but as I aged, and as I worked through and around various pains, and injuries, my times were getting slower and slower.
I haven’t finished under four hours since 2009.
Injuries became a constant part of my marathon training.
I ran the New York City Marathon in 2013 with a slight stress fracture in my foot. I finished, which gave me great pride, but, I finally realized I was no longer the runner I used to be.
Then, last year, I had yet another Achilles tear which negatively impacted my training. I finished the Lehigh Valley Marathon, but at 4:32:11, it was my worst time yet.
I got to the point where I was trying to find ways to just finish races. I wasn’t looking to run well. I wasn’t looking to compete, even against myself. I was just looking to finish.
I realized that I wasn’t Superman any more…
It was as I was training for that 2015 Lehigh Valley Marathon that I finally decided to get smart.
I’m in my late 40’s. My body was breaking down, more and more often. Something had to change. Either I was going to run smarter or I wouldn’t be running marathons much longer. In fact, with the constant injuries, I might not have even been running at all much longer.
I made many modifications to my running program and my overall health and fitness:
I started stretching
I begin most runs with warm-ups and finish most with cool downs that including walking.
I started to eat better.
I decided to try compression socks and realized (for me at least) that they work well.
Speed work became part of my training, not the total essence of all my training.
I reduced my overall weekly mileage for non-training periods, but have been focused to make sure that I have a run of at least ten miles every week to maintain a strong base as I head into the next Marathon training cycle.
I visit my chiropractor much more regularly for maintenance.
These changes have worked.
I am no longer the fast runner I was ten years ago. As I’ve slowed down, I think I’ve gotten smarter. I listen to my body. I give myself days off from running. I cross-train on my bike more than I used to. I lift weights more regularly.
In a little over a month, I’ll start my 16-week training program for the Mohawk/Hudson Marathon.
My base is strong. I’m running mostly 25 miles a week. If I have a big week (40 miles), I cut back the next week. It’s about balance. (That’s a new word for me in regard to my running.)
Speed work comes on occasion. Yasso 800’s come to visit, but I don’t do them every week. I will soon begin to alternate the Yasso’s with my own Semmer 400’s, but I’m not going to look to kill them.
When I run hard, I run hard, but smart. Most of my runs, though, are of the slower variety.
And I now know that’s fine. It’s smart and I’m staying healthy.
And then I realized today, as I covered 13.1 miles in a training run in a (very) modest 2 hours and 10 minutes…
That as I continue to push myself
As I log these miles…
And run marathons…
That I still am