How it started: How I Became A Runner

As I sit here with my leg propped up on some pillows, waiting patiently for Friday to arrive so I can have this damned cast removed from my leg and start rehabbing my ankle, I was thinking back to how all this running and triathlon stuff started.   As I get in the 'way-back' machine and think back to 2001, I wasn't fit at all.  I sat behind a desk all day (still do) but wasn't active in the true sense of the word.  I was about 35-40 pounds heavier than I am now, I ate like crap, and my fitness routine was a once a week football (soccer) game on Sunday mornings. 

I began to run (well, jog) as a way to get ready for Sunday League football (soccer).  Sorry for the Euro-phile phrasing, but as this league was composed mostly French guys, along with some Germans, Brits, Spaniards, and Turks, it was called football.  I figured I'd hit the treadmill at the local gym and get "in shape" for the upcoming spring and summer Sunday morning run-arounds.  I think I might have run about 3/4 of a mile on my first attempt.  I was destroyed.  My wife said I look like I was going to die - my eyes were sunk in and I had the complexion of non-fat milk.  But I kept at it.  Once or twice a week I would torture myself on the treadmill and I was proud of the accomplishments, albeit small ones, I was making.  So much so, that I started to talk about my forays into running with a friend of mine at work.  I knew he ran - at least I knew he ran more than I did - and we started to bond.

My friend at work, Brian, was great.  He was supportive and kept egging me on.  "...just run for 5 minutes longer next time.   You can do anything for 5 minutes"  This continued for a while, and I was soon pushing 2 - 2.5 miles on the treadmill.  I thought this was great.  Then came his next challenge: Get off the treadmill and run outside.

That changed things.  Running was much harder.  Wind, elevation changes, concrete.  This was terrible.  But I kept at it - always trying to run just 5 more minutes on my Sunday "long runs".  I hurt more than I did on the treadmill, but I still ventured outside 3 or 4 days a week.

What I wasn't aware of is that Brian not only ran, but he ran a lot.  Marathons?  Check.  Ultra's?  Check.  Why didn't he share this with me before?  I would have been a bit more cautious in what directions I took from him.

Finally, one weekend I ran 6 miles.  Then a few weeks later I ran 8.  Slow, but 8 miles none-the-less.  That apparently sealed the deal for Brian.  The next thing I know, with Brian looking over my shoulder in my office, I'm on the NYC Marathon web page and I'm registering for the New York Marathon lottery.  I was also instructed to sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon, as a backup, just in case I didn't get into NY.  Whoa.  How did I get here!?

Low and behold - I got into New York.  Now, mind you, I'd never run a 'race' before.  Ever.  Not even a 5K.  Now I have to train for a marathon.  I promptly went to the running store and got some better shoes.  The ones I had been wearing were 3 year old running shoes that I bought because they looked cool at the time.  I got a beginner's training plan from Runners World Magazine and plotted out my training schedule.  I can't remember how many months I had to get ready - it seemed like a long time, but it flew by.

My training for this first marathon, first race, wasn't good by any stretch of the imagination.  There was no speedwork involved.  I didn't know what that was.  I ran the same speed - every day, every run.  I just assumed that the "marathon miracle" would occur and I would somehow just be faster on race day.  I still ate like crap but figured since I was running, I could.  Nutrition and hydration on long runs?  Both inadequate I'm sure.  If there was a public service announcement on how not to train for a marathon, I would have been the poster boy.

Cut to race day.  It's mostly a blur as I think back.  But a few things do stick out, and I have memories of certain things that oddly seem quite vivid:

I remember the surreal atmosphere at Fort Wadsworth waiting for the race to start.  So many people there that looked very serious and I hadn't a clue what I was doing.  It took me a while to figure out why the roads were always sticky after passing a water station.  I vaguely remember entering Central Park and people yelling "'re almost there".  I remember thinking that they should just be quiet because I really hurt, and 4 miles to go really isn't "almost there".  It took a lot of effort to keep running the last 6 or 7 miles.  Math was impossible.  I remember seeing the 22 mile mark and saying to myself, "okay, just 4 more miles....wait, is it four?  23, 24, 25, 26 (visualize me counting on my fingers) that really 4?"

I finished in over 5 hours.  But I finished.  My legs were just solid knots, and walking took much more effort than it should have.  I took the subway back to Grand Central Terminal to catch a train home.  I had no long pants, or dry clothes to change into in my gear bag - I wasn't prepared.  I had no thought of packing clothes for after the race.  I was wrapped in a post-race heat blanket the entire trip home.

My wife JL picked me up at our train station.  I limped to the car and whimpered my way into the front seat. That night I swore I wouldn't do that again.  Well, we all know how that goes.  I ran a handful more marathons.  I worked my marathon PR down to a respectable 3:30-ish (I honestly can't remember what the exact time is off the top of my head).  Things snowballed from there.  JL started to run.  We joined the Sound Shore Runners and Multisport Club to get involved with the local running community.  I was introduced to speedwork thanks to my good friend and first running coach , Joe G.  I started running more races: 5 milers, 5K's, 10K's, 15K's, 1/2 Marathons.  We started eating better at home.  My race times started dropping - I started to get faster. Things really took off. 

I then discovered the drug that is triathlons.  I'll cover that in my next post.