It was Saturday afternoon, and I paused inside the vestibule of my downtown gym. One street over, swarms of frenzied children scampered down the middle of the road and into the nearby park. I vaguely recalled hearing that the Mercedes Marathon was this weekend and that it began with a kids’ run. Shrugging it off, I headed inside to start my workout.
Last Saturday, I stood pausing in that same vestibule. I smiled to myself when I realized what was happening. Exactly one year later, I was watching the same scene. Only this time, there was no confusion surrounding the race-day preamble.
It was the beginning of my very first half-marathon weekend.
Moving Beyond the Barbell
For someone who spends a significant amount of time in the gym each week, I had never once considered branching outside of weightlifting. It’s a sport in its own right, after all. But what scared me most is the idea I saw touted around the internet and broadcasted as infallible truth across YouTube. It’s the belief that long-distance running and weight training are counterintuitive. That you can’t do both and do them well.
Because of this, I shuddered at the thought of a sprint and considered anything more than a short jog to be not just futile, but threatening. I was just now making some real progress in the gym, so why would I want to give that up for a lousy run?
What ultimately pushed me to stop limiting myself by fear and routine was pure, unadulterated defiance. In the world today, our ever-growing, instantly-accessible body of knowledge brings good and bad. As an avid learner, I’m known to become obsessive in my research of things. I drive myself mad looking for the definitive answer. The research-backed, crème de la crème technique that is worth my time. But that’s just what was limiting me. Instead of listening to anecdote and opinion online, I said screw it. It’s my life, I’ll do what I want to, and I’ll be good at both of my sports.
And that’s exactly what I did.
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1 Mile Today, 13 Tomorrow
I joined the racing world with an unlikely start. Originally, it was a friend who called me and recommended we try running the Mercedes Half Marathon together. Always down for a challenge, I agreed. As it turned out, her team decided to forego the run. But just a few days prior, I had called my dad to ask for training advice, and that’s when he recommended we sign-up together.
As a 52-year-old man, the amount of time, effort, and sheer willpower that he put into this training has earned a new respect from me. Over the years, he’s competed in several full marathons, a few halves, and even a mini-triathlon. I don’t think I could’ve picked a better training partner.
Knowing a plan was paramount to my success, I started training in November 2017, working my way up to 3-miles of non-stop running. According to internet wisdom – which, yes, I was attempting to ignore – that was the starting point for any training plan.
Admittedly, I was a bit over-ambitious in my original selection. The intermediate plan I chose had me running more miles than was normally recommended for a beginner, but the long-distance Sunday runs ended up being my saving grace.
I would begin each week with a long run, increasing in distance as time wore on. By week eight, I set out to conquer the 10-mile run. But near the end, I noticed a sharp pain in my left foot. I had injured the cuboid area of my foot. This almost-crippling pain would continue for the next two weeks, barring me from running any real distance. Luckily, the pain lessened after a good bought of rest, and thanks to my originally-vigorous approach, the setback in weekday training didn’t affect me much.
For the most part, training was therapeutic for me. I learned early on that I preferred outdoor running to indoor treadmilling. The sense of exploration and being out in the world took training from being torturous in the beginning, to a form of meditation. I passed the time listening to the Spotify Running Mixes, Podcasts, or catching up with my dad when we ran together.
The zen wasn’t always there, however. The 6 a.m. runs before work in sub-40 temperatures are memories I’ve tried to expunge after the race. There was also a particularly loathsome 10-mile run I did during light rain and high humidity. In the end, this run is what prepared me most for the race since the conditions that day were practically the same.
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Mixing Iron and Asphalt
During the 12 weeks of half-marathon training, I still kept up my 4-day-a-week gym schedule. In all honesty, I favored the weights over the road if it came down to it. But I never skipped a long run, and I think that was important.
The biggest concerns in mixing strength training and heavy cardio have to do with degrading muscle mass, using up energy, and burning too many calories to put on size. With this in mind, I came up with a few strategies to not only mitigate muscle loss, but add strength and size during the process.
Most importantly, I used MyFitness Pal to track my calories and make sure I ate enough to replace what I burned running. Dark chocolate was a go-to for a decadent calorie boost, and I went through more milk than a freshly-born child.
Another tactic I used was spacing out the two types of training. I tried to put at least a couple of hours between weights and running, and I almost always did weights first since that seemed to require the most energy.
When it was time for the long runs, I took a few BCAA chews beforehand. While I don’t usually take these, they’ve been shown to delay muscle breakdown during intense bouts of exercise, so I figured, why not?
Sunday, February 11, 2018 – The race was here.
I barely slept the night before, a habit of mine before defining life events.
Serpentining through the atrium to use the latrine one last time before kickoff, I was impressed by how in-shape everyone looked. These are some serious runners, I thought to myself.
But that thought changed as we made our way to the 10-minute per mile pace group. The casual crowd there had me feeling much more amateur. But hey, on your first time you’ve got to start somewhere.
With only a couple of 30-second walk breaks, we finished in a little over two hours. The crowd, the cheerleaders, and the sporadic party stations blaring my favorite club jams definitely helped.
What kept me from croaking in those last two miles, though, was the food. I’ve never tasted Powerade, Skittles, or energy gel so delicious. It’s like the organizers knew my famished heart would not go on. There were even tiny beer-filled cups during the last mile. They must have heard I was coming.
The race is over. Months of prepping, self-discipline, and the occasional limp coalesced into one singular event, and now it’s done.
Crossing the finish line earned me a medal, but I have a feeling the true fruits of this labor will manifest in how it affects my future. In completing a 13.1-mile run, something unathletic childhood Luke would have never dreamt possible, I proved to myself that anything can be accomplished with persistence and intelligence.
Physically, I feel more balanced than ever before. I’m now fairly confident I could outrun a hefty assailant or make it across the airport in time for a premature takeoff. My vascularity has gone up, my resting heartrate’s gone down, and I find it easier to eat healthily and keep an overall fit state of mind.
At the time of writing, one day has passed since the race. My calves and hamstrings are still pretty sore, but nothing worse than some of the leg workouts I’ve done.
If you’ve ever considered running a half-marathon, I say go for it. Yes, you’ll get cool pictures and a few bragging rights, but most of all, you’ll teach yourself that you have no excuse to hold back from what you really want in life.