Journey to My First Half Marathon

me marathon

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?

Race Day

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 Takeaways

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.

How Volcano Climbing Lead to an Ironman Triathlete

Mt. Rainier

Growing up in Washington, Evan Peterson marveled at the soaring, snowy caps of Mount Rainier. To him, it represented both a landmark and a challenge. But it wasn’t until moving to Birmingham that he found his thoughts returning to the West Coast, and ultimately to the mountain.

Years after it disappeared from his everyday sight, Peterson made the decision to climb Mt. Rainier. In preparing for the climb, he’s accomplished feats and grown in ways that he never would have imagined. Peterson’s story is an inspiring tale of setting a goal and seeing where it leads. And it’s only just begun.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

After making the decision to climb one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, Peterson knew the first step was to start training. This was no stroll in the park, after all.

While Alabama’s mountains provide splendid views of the city and are home to expansive state parks, they’re no match for Mt. Rainier. Reaching the summit requires incredible amounts of strength, stamina, and endurance. So to train, Peterson started running.

“After a while, I was doing 7-mile runs 3 or 4 days a week,” Peterson said. “I realized I was already halfway through marathon training.”

As a step toward his mountainous goal, Peterson registered for the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon in Savannah, Georgia. On Saturday, Nov. 4, he covered 26.22 miles during his first ever marathon.

“I never thought I’d like running,” Peterson said. “When I played baseball for UAB, running was always a punishment. Now, it’s something I look forward to, and I’ve gotten lots of benefits from it.”

Running for three hours at a time is a huge commitment. It helps that one of Peterson’s former teammates signed up for the marathon with him. The two realized that running doesn’t have to be painful; instead, it’s a way to hang out.

“We were surprised when we realized that, after the first couple of miles, our breathing and heart rates evened out, and we could hold normal conversation,” Peterson said. “Being there to encourage each other is really important on long runs when the joint pain borders on unbearable. Knowing we’re going through the same things helps me push through. They say shared pain is half the pain, after all.”

It Takes an Iron Will

Training for the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon has opened another door along the way.

While training, Peterson began talking to several friends who had completed the Ironman Triathalon, one of the world’s longest endurance races.

ironman infographic

“Running a full marathon is one-third of the Ironman, so I figured why not sign up for the full thing?” Peterson said.

And so began the next phase of his journey. Peterson will compete in the Ironman Canada on July 29, 2018.

Having an extensive athletic background, Peterson has always enjoyed a physical pursuit. But he hopes to gain more than just material benefits from completing the Ironman.

“I expect this triathlon to be a spiritual experience in a way,” Peterson said. “It’s not like other races or competitions. It’s just you out there. There’s nothing to keep you going but your own heartbeat and pure willpower. Once I complete this, other challenges in life won’t seem so big.”

In fact, one of Peterson’s most compelling reasons for committing to a marathon, triathlon, and volcano climb stems from the desire for adventure.

“Adventure is a funny concept,” Peterson said. “Many people have this romantic view of what it means to be ‘adventurous.’ They create Pinterest boards and dream about living in Italy, but never actually go through with it. That’s why I’m doing this. To see what adventure is out there. Just to live.”

A Start is a Start

For someone wanting to start running, biking, or working toward any new goal, Peterson’s number one piece of advice is to simply start.

“It’s so easy to make excuses,” Peterson said. “You can wait till you’ve got the perfect pair of shoes, a new bike, or hours of free time. But the excuses will always be there. If you want to start running, go outside and run. It’s as simple as that.”

Another important piece of advice Peterson gives is to look at a goal like this as a lifestyle change.

“You can’t do just one piece of the puzzle and expect it all to work,” Peterson said. “When I first started training, I was still going out several nights a week and eating however I wanted. I quickly realized that something had to give. Getting healthy, or working toward any major goal, requires you to change your lifestyle, not just one behavior.”

The Goal is Just the Beginning

Peterson’s story illustrates a valuable lesson in the power of goal-setting. While the goal itself is the first step, it’s often simply the catalyst for much greater growth and change. The skills, self-confidence, and wisdom you gain while working toward a goal are benefits that last much longer than the day you cross the finish line. In fact, achieving your goal would feel pretty empty without all of the hard work and grit that built up to it.

So focus on the goal, but know that the true reward is in the journey.

 

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Taking Control of Bodyweight – My Story

I never thought my weight was something I’d need to worry about.

“You’re lucky, you have a fast metabolism,” people would say.

When I was younger, it seemed like I couldn’t gain weight to save my life. I remember awkward conversations with the family doctor over my suspected anorexia, supplemented by my mother insisting I guzzle a daily Ensure shake.

When I started becoming interested in fitness, I began to realize how the body’s weight gaining system worked. It’s a simple equation: consume more calories than you burn, and you gain weight. I spent hours pouring over forums, blogs, and magazines, desperate to build strength the right way. I was tired of being the skinny kid, and I was going to do whatever it took to reach my goal.

Fast forward three years.Dips

 

I’m standing in the mirror of my grown-up kid apartment, looking back at a reflection that would be unrecognizable to 16-year-old me. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, I can finally fill out the arm holes in medium-sized tees, and belts have graduated from necessities to accessories.

But despite all my progress, what’s reflecting back at me in the mirror isn’t the physique I’d always dreamt of. My newfound strength had come packaged in a soft-shell wrapper.

Gaining fat is a natural part of building up your weight, but I wasn’t going to quit at 50 percent. It was time to switch gears and uncover whatever was hiding underneath.

So I made my decision. Diet, or die trying.

20 Pounds Later

Every good diet starts with motivation. Sure, we all want to have a six-pack or thigh-gap, but wishing to look a certain way isn’t concrete enough. A more practical reason works better. For me, it was my upcoming music festival trip. Shirts weren’t something I wanted to have to pack.

So, on March 1, 2017, I made the commitment to lose whatever it took to get my body how I wanted it. Instead of focusing on a certain scale number, I’d let the mirror be the judge.

Over the course of four months, I went from 180 lbs to 157 lbs. While it wasn’t easy, I couldn’t have been happier with the results.

 

Transformation2017
180 –>157 lb transformation. Four months of cutting.

 

How I Lost the Weight

The secret to losing weight was already within me. It’s the same formula I had learned three years earlier, only this time in reverse.

To drop the fat, I knew I needed to eat less than I burned. But it wasn’t as simple as skipping a few weekly meals. I had worked hard to build up solid strength and muscle mass, and if I didn’t give my body the proper nutrients, it would all waste away.

I used three tools to shed the pounds in time for my quickly-approaching festival deadline.

MyFitnessPal

If you’ve dabbled in fitness and dieting, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of this popular iPhone app. It takes the work out of calculating calories and macros. Just set your goal (mine was to lose 1 lb per week), log your food and exercise, and treat the calorie limit like your bank account. If you spend more than you’ve got, you’ll have to pay the price!

A Food Scale

Don’t make food tracking harder than it’s got to be. Sure, you can eyeball 1/3 cup of cheese, but it’s a lot more accurate with a food scale. These small appliances are generally $20 or less and take the guesswork out of how much you’re actually consuming. And that’s important when you’re dieting, because an extra 150 misjudged calories can be enough to keep the pounds sticking.

High-Intensity Interval Training

Also known as HIIT. By alternating between periods of max effort and slower-speed active recovery, you can burn a ton of calories in a short amount of time.

My favorite HIIT routine was on the rowing machine. I’d go as hard as I could for 60 seconds, then back off and row slowly for 30 seconds, then repeat. The movement was constant, and the effects were noticeable.

Although I added HITT, my normal workout routine didn’t change much. To keep from losing strength and lean size, it was important to keep the intensity and frequency just as high.

Fighting Cravings & Staying On Track

Even with a planned-out system, these four months didn’t come without setbacks.

One of the hardest parts was seeing that calorie number nearly maxed out when I had barely finished my first meal of the day. I learned pretty quickly that the only way to stay on goal and not faint from hunger was to adjust my diet toward high protein, low-calorie foods.

I’ll never forget the times spent eating plain salad shrimp for dinner, running up and down my apartment stairs to repent for an earlier indulgence, or bringing cut cucumbers to wine night so I wouldn’t be tempted with chips and cheese.

I think the biggest challenge of all was getting past the “middle area.” Anyone who’s done a big cut down knows what I’m talking about. It’s that phase where you’re no longer big and puffy, but you still don’t have abs, and you just look overwhelmingly average. It can be easy to give up here, but if you can just push yourself to keep trucking, you’ll finally see those last couple of pounds melt up and harvest the sugar-free fruits of your labor.

Anyone who’s done a big cut down knows what I’m talking about. It’s the phase where you can tell you’ve shrunken, but you still don’t see any real definition, and definitely no six pack. You just look overwhelmingly average. It can be easy to give up here, but if you can just push through, you’ll finally see those last couple of pounds melt off and harvest the fruits of your sugar-free labor.

Anyone Can Do It

Losing the weight and achieving a certain look was the original goal, but what I discovered after this four-month journey is that the real reward comes from the struggle. Putting myself up to a test like that, exercising more self-control than I’d ever had to, it taught me that if I can do this with a diet, I can do it with anything in life.

If you have a bodyweight goal, I encourage you to get started today. There is so much free, incredibly accessible information right here on the web. But even without that, you already have the formula. Calculate your calories, track it, and don’t quit till it’s done. If you can stick with that, you’ll prove to yourself that nothing is beyond your reach.

If you can stick with that, you’ll prove to yourself that nothing is beyond your reach.

Running: How I Learned to Just Do It

When we discover a new hobby, it’s usually accompanied by the thrilling rush of a first-time experience. That sensation of utter novelty is what may very well hook us in the first place. But that wasn’t the case with my newest hobby.

Up until the past month, running was something I hadn’t done since my drunning pictureays chasing the Crimson Ride around campus. I preferred the smooth, controlled nature of resistance training to jiggling down the sidewalk, sweaty mop plastered to my forehead. It wasn’t until I experienced the freedom of a solitary, outdoor run that I fell in love with the sport.

Motivated by the new activity sharing feature on my Apple Watch, I was envious of my friends’ already-filled exercise rings. So, I strapped on my electric blue running shoes, grabbed my wireless headphones, and headed out.

Strangely, I was nervous. I watched people run up and down the city’s sidewalks all day long, yet this very normal activity was suddenly rather intimidating.

Casting reservations aside, I tuned for the first time to my Spotify running playlist. I was fascinated at this feature I never knew had existed. A voice came through my headphones and told me to begin running. Well, there’s my kick.

I started trotting down the sidewalk. The app measured my pace and adjusted the tempo of the music accordingly. I’d be lying if I said this magic playlist wasn’t what enticed me to run in the days following.

I found my pace, and at the same time found a foray of new emotions and sensations.

While I love a crowd and consider myself quite social, I’m usually a bit uncomfortable being somewhere like a park alone. As I neared the entranceway to the city park, I felt my perception of my own presence transform. I was no longer simply perusing through the park, feeling as though I needed to be on my phone or talking to someone. Instead, I felt both present and removed.

I watched people picnicking, children playing, lovers strolling. I was there with them, yet I was also there with only myself. It was a comfortable sense of removedness, enhanced by the rush of adrenaline from my pace. The music, which I feared would disconnect and distract me, instead acted as a filter on the world. It was the same scene, but experienced through a different lens. My own lens, one where I set the tempo.

This sense of ownership over my own perception added to the rush of emotions I already felt at that moment. Part of why I think I could appreciate this moment in all of its fullness was the absence of a competing priority. By running, I was relaxing, recharging, and upping my fitness all at once. This sense of accomplishing multiple goals in tandem is what let me be free to fully take in the moment.

I used to get antsy on rest days, not knowing what to do between my regular weight training sessions. Now, I look forward to a switch in routine, and to experience the sensation of being both there, and not there, that I only get on a run. If I wanted, I could rip the headphones out and halt dead in my tracks. But I don’t. After all, those moments of transcendence from the world are what got me hooked from the start.