week 16, day 7: MARATHON!!!

13 01 2014

IT HAPPENED: On Sunday, January 12, 2014, I, Victoria Scotia Crowley, ran a marathon. Let it be known: I RAN the whole marathonI didn’t walk an inch of that beast. 

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So here’s what happened.

I.

The Seafood Marathon (海鮮馬拉松) was the first of its kind this year and was held in Nan Fang Ao (南方澳), a hardcore fishing town in Yilan (宜蘭), a lovely spot full of fishing boats, seafood, a beach and extremely friendly locals. I had been to this place twice before and was now here for my first marathon. We (me, Amy & Sweetie) took a bus from Taipei to Nan Fang Ao Saturday afternoon, a two-hour affair. Upon arriving, we spent the late afternoon settling into the hostel, checking out the start and end point of the race which was right next to Neipi Beach (內埤沙灘), and getting dinner. We got noodles at the a place right next to our hostel, and the boss told us he would treat us to a drink if we finished the marathon. (Sweetie had also signed up for it.)

me sweetie and amy

Amy, Sweetie, me

before race day

The perfect spot for pre-race day meditation, right there on Neipi Beach. 

I had literally never felt more prepared for anything in my life. I was at that point of readiness when you’re so ready there’s nothing else to do but your nails, a face mask and sleep. So that’s what I did. We were in bed by 8 o’clock.

II. 

The Race Day’s events were scheduled as thus:

marathon schedule

Translation: 05:00 Runners begin arriving at starting point and storing their bags. 06:30-06:50 Runners begin to gather for the opening ceremony and announcements. 07:00 Take off. 09:00-13:00 Runners begin to arrive back at the finish line. 11:00 Award ceremonies begin. 14:00 The last runners finally reach the finish line, as the 7 hour time limit it up. Closing ceremonies. 13:00-16:00 A buffet is served for the runners. 

The morning started at 4am; the crickets on my phone began chirping and my body began to stir. I had already prepared my breakfast the night before, my yoga mat was already laid out, and my chip was already laced up on my right shoe; so I changed into my race clothes, stretched and had my breakfast. Once my pain pills were popped, the bib securely pinned to my shirt, shoes tied, and my race bag full of everything I would want right after the race, it was 5:15am. We headed out to the starting point. (The only thing I forgot were my flip-flops so I simply ended up barefoot after the race.)

The Seafood Marathon was a smaller race event, which was nice. Under 2,000 people had registered, and there was only one race: the marathon. So everyone there was signed up for the big one – no halfs or 5k fun runs. All 42.195 kilometers of the marathon. We got there before 6, so it wasn’t crowded at all; and there was plenty of space to watch the sunrise from the beach. It was the perfect most relaxing way to start Race Day.

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Soon the crowds began to gather, and the noise grew with the morning light. I got in line early for the toilets while they were still clean and stocked with toilet paper. I definitely had my own TP stash just in case, though. I went to the bathroom two or three times before 7. I wasn’t worried about water, because I had been hydrating for a whole week. I looked around at all the faces and started getting really intimidated. They all looked so hardcore. What was I thinking? As it got closer to 7, I was totally nervous. Suddenly I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this.

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And then they started the count down. At 7am, we were off. I could see the sun begin to establish herself as a glowing ball in the sky above the sea. Contrary to the weather forecast, we weren’t gonna see a bit of cloud or condensation during this race. There was nothing I could do now; the race had begun. I had started running a marathon. 

and i'm off!

III.

The route of this race was an experience in itself. First, let me just say this: Yilan is made up of rice fields, a river, and the beach. It’s cut off from Northern Taiwan (where Taipei is) by mountains so you get to it by driving through a 13-kilometer long tunnel. Yilan itself is fairly flat, simply hemmed in by mountains on one side and ocean on the other.

The first big land mark was the Nan Fang Ao bridge, which we crossed twice, because the route looped around the harbor two times.

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Then we were sent north of Nan Fang Ao on the highway to Suao, another harbor town in Yilan. We went through a tunnel (I know I should have taken a picture of that, but I didn’t) and then ran through neighborhood and rice fields and then a nature path that took us right to the ocean. A whole kilometer was run right along the beach. That was inspiring.

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That it wasn’t an entirely paved route was actually a rather surprising and unique feature of the Race.

After running along the ocean, it was more rice fields and neighborhoods and then what I like to call THE PURGATORIAL HALFWAY POINT OF HELL. It was the worst half-way point and by far the crappiest part of the Race. It was the only part of the race where I actually considered quitting.

We crossed the street to another elevated path along a dry riverbed. It was somewhere around the 19-20 kilometer mark. I noticed people running back on the opposite side of the path, so realized there was a turn around point somewhere at the end. The path was rather long and went all the way to the railroad. There was a water station serving food and beer and fruit in addition to the essentials in the middle of it. I was so happy to be finished running up and down it and receive my wrist band to assure completion that it was quite the mental blow to be told I needed to do it all over again. I went past that freaking water station 4 TIMES and  past all those faces on the opposite side of the path 4 TIMES and stared at this dry river bed 4 TIMES – it was 6 kilometers of hell! That wasn’t running! That was torture. If that man didn’t let me cross the street and told me to go back and do it again, I would have quit. That trail was getting to me and not in a good way. I was so happy to be running through rice fields again.

After that awful halfway point of hell that wasn’t really a half way point, even though at some point during that torturous back-and-forth I hit the 21k mark and I also took my one and only potty break, the route back-tracked all the way back to Nan Fang Ao. That was a mental relief, because everything was familiar and I could actually gauge my progress as I got closer and closer the finish line.

There were 13 kilometers left when I stopped at another water station. This water station was serving rolls. I needed one. I also needed a mental boost. The whole race was beginning to take its toll. My phone was dying, and with 29% battery left I knew it wasn’t gonna make it to the finish line. With the phone would go my music and extra voice in my head and the cheering that I heard every time sometime hit the cheer button on my facebook status.* I was feeling my feet, I was feeling the heat, but I wasn’t feeling beat and I needed to tell myself that. So I grabbed an energy drink and a roll and found some shade to stand in while I mentally geared up for the final stretch. I was only 13k from finishing. After a couple minutes, I was off.

*I used the “Get cheers” function on my Nike+ app for the first time. It connected to my facebook and told everyone I had gone on a run. I posted a picture of my face and told everyone I WAS OFF! During the run, my music would fade out for a few seconds and be replaced by the sound of people cheering and making noise. It was the coolest and most encouraging thing. 

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In training, the farthest I had run was 32 kilometers (20 miles). I did this 3 different times and then started my three weeks of tapering. The final 10k of the marathon would be the unknown territory, the place I had never run before, the place for which  I had spent 13 weeks preparing my body and my mind. For me, this marathon was two races: a 32k & and 10k. The 32k I had in the bag; I had done it before – 3 times before! The 10k was the race that counted, the one that brought me to the goal. 

Something incredible happened as I entered the “un-run” 10k ( the final 6 miles of the race). Two little boys and (probably) their dad were welcoming every runner into this final stretch with a cell phone and a piece of red string. As I approached, the two boys got into position, holding up the red “barrier” for me to break through into the unknown, into the place where victory was mine. The dad took my picture as I ran through, with my arms in the air. “還有十公里!” the dad shouted. (“10 more kilometers!”) “十公里!” I called back, my arms still in the air. I couldn’t believe it. Those three have no idea how much that did for me, what a profound marker they were for me in the race. I also couldn’t believe how I felt. I WAS STILL RUNNING. I wasn’t running fast, but I was running strong

Those final 6 miles were where all my training and preparation saved me. This was it.

The first time I had run through the tunnel, there had been so many people. This final time, it was me and the light at the end. I started picking people off one by one to pass, and pass them I did. At this point, people were intermittently walking and running. Clearing the tunnel and running the 3-kilometer stretch of highway was the loneliest part of the race. Cars whizzed by. The morning sun was burning my face. (All my training in the hot sun had seriously paid off.) I could see two other runners in front of me. The one closest started to walk. I passed him. The one farther up ahead was steady. I kept him in my sight, wondering if I would pass him but wasn’t going to try.

There was a man standing at the corner where the route turned left and went over the Nan Fang Ao bridge one final time. “三公里!” he told me after I asked how much longer. 3 more kilometers! That’s just under 2 miles! I didn’t show myself any mercy. I gave that bridge everything else I had. I let the slope back down propel my body  right into the next water station where an adorable boy was ready to pour Super Supao into my cup that I didn’t have. “I need a cup!” I yelled out in Chinese. I didn’t stop running as I eagerly grabbed the cups of water that were offered to me. Some of the water made it into my mouth the rest I dumped all over my face and head. I made a dramatic grunt as I hastily handed back the cups and kept running.

That final kilometer I was a crazy woman. I was getting angry at the people I ran past who simply stared at me in silence, so I started yelling 加油! at them. I was yelling 加油 at everybody and I pumped my fists if they responded. I was yelling 加油 at myself. I was a 加油 machine! A guy was standing at the base of the final hill I needed to climb to the finish line, directing the runners up to victory. I yelled 加油 at him. Amy had strategically positioned herself at the top of the hill (the steepest part of the race, by the way!) and successfully captured the moment immediately following my ascent.

so close!

I screamed/yelled as I crossed the finish line.

IV. 

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Things got really crazy after I crossed the finish line.

There was a female and a male announcer who were both faithfully greeting runners as they crossed the finish line and received their medals. I was getting the same encouraging and congratulatory greetings until the male saw my face.

“你是哪一國的?” (What country are you from?)

“美國” (America)

“哇! 你要跟大家講!” (Oh! You should say something!)

“好” (Ok)

“大家好,有一個美國的朋友要跟大家感謝!” (Hello! A friend from America wants to say thank you!)

He hands me the microphone he’s been talking into this whole time. You know I’m ready for this. I’m freaking Victoria Crowley! I get to make a speech in Chinese at my very first marathon. WWWHHHHAAAAAT!??

“大家好! 這是我第一次去馬! 成功了! 我來這邊四年多了,我愛台灣!謝謝!” (Hi, everyone! This is my first marathon! It was a success! I’ve been here for over 4 years and  I love Taiwan! Thank you!)

I handed back the mike. What else was I supposed to say?

After that, everything happened really quickly. A man ran over to make sure I remembered to turn in my chip. I responded my unlacing and removing my right shoe. With the chip in hand, I was then directed to the tent that housed all the technology efficiently printing off everyone’s certificates right as they crossed the finish line.  As I walked over, the female announcer greeted me (saying everything into the microphone) in English: “Congratulations, Victoria! Welcome to Taiwan!” And the in Chinese: “恭喜美國來的Victoria!” I gave her a hug. What else was I supposed to do? I was the only foreigner in this race! I was a celebrity.

I got my certificate and returned my chip and picked up my bag. I wanted to sit down and stare at the ocean and take off my other sock and shoe. I looked over my certificate and noticed that I was first place in my division of females 29 years and younger. 1/22. I pointed this out to Amy, not sure what to make of it, but it sounded cool. I was also pretty happy about having kept my time just under 5 hours.

marathon certificate

Amy and I were sitting under the buffet tent and I was attempting to nibble some food when this guy named Ben came up to me. He could speak English and greeted me by name, which was surprising. He basically let me know that they were calling me up on stage.

“What? They’re calling my name?”

“Yeah. Where is your certificate? Let me see. Yeah, right here, you’re 第一名 [first place]. They’re going to give you the prize.”

“Oh…!

I went up to confirm what all the commotion was about and ended up hurrying back to tell Amy to come take pictures of me on stage. I was getting a freaking trophy! I was first place in my division! It was my first marathon and I won something!!! Like I said, things got super crazy after I crossed finished line. 

Sure enough, I got introduced and congratulated by that same lady who welcomed me to Taiwan. And she told everyone in both English AND Chinese that I was from America and this was my first marathon. And she mentioned me twice because I was first place. She called me “Our Winner, Victoria.” I was a winner!

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Receiving my award 

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Me and Peggy

I ended up meeting Peggy while I was standing next to the stage, the second place winner of our division, who ended up being one of the “pink” girls I had kept my eye on and used as a pacer during the race.

On the way back to our place under the buffet tent, I was getting all kinds of attention because of the first place trophy I was now carrying with me. And I ended up exchanging words with my other “pink” girl, who had also used me as her pacer! I also talked to this guy who had a purple running bag because he had run a 100k. The purple was for the super runners. It took him 14 hours. He also informed me that the man who had ran in a red tutu ran 88 marathons in 2013. Another guy with tattoos all over his arms told me I was awesome for having run the whole thing.

Sweetie finished 15 minutes before the the 7-hour limit, exhausted. She made it.

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The two of us got a free ride back to our hostel from a really nice lady while Amy continued to wander and take pictures. After showering and checking out of the hostel, we enjoyed a superb free meal meal of soup, noodles, green vegetables and SUSHI from the restaurant next door.

Life was good, and I had run a marathon. 

marathon training schedule





week 16, day 4: the final stretch

9 01 2014

My return to Taiwan last Friday marked the final stretch of marathon training. A lot as happened since then, including some unexpected emotional obstacles. The last week before my race has become much more than a period of short runs, rest and carb-loading.

marathon training schedule

Friday night: I finally arrive back in my apartment here in Taipei. I find my race packet on my bed; it had arrived while I was away. I’m runner 1399. Everything for the Seafood Marathon is blue, the t-shirt, the bib. I guess the chip is gold. Having all this in my mind reminds me of what lies only days ahead.

Saturday: As I’m unpacking I’m hit by some news that only adds to the mess I’m already emotionally juggling. I still need to run 14k, and everything suddenly feels so much heavier than it did the night before. I guess I had taken support from the sidelines and the finish line for granted, because now some of my best friends in Taiwan weren’t going to be there like I had expected and hoped.

I go for my run. I’m angry. I’m hurt. I’m weighed down. The big picture has been blurred. As I near my half way point, a fellow runner on the trail passes me. I catch sight of another runner’s shadow a couple strides behind me; feeling competitive, I pick up my pace in order to stay ahead of the shadow. Soon, this 50-year-old Taiwanese man who I later find out later runs 8 hours everyday is running with me. I decide to be social and strike up conversation. He doesn’t seem to have a distance goal and actually turns around with me once I hit my half way point. Our 7-kilometer conversation revealed who was really running next to me.

This man has been retired for 10 years and has been running ever since then. He runs every day for 8 hours and advised me to run at least 1 hour every day. He also advised me to surpass the marathon distance, a distance he’s already completed a couple times in 2 1/2 hours. He doesn’t run marathons anymore; instead, he joins competitions in which runners literally eat, sleep, and run for 4 days straight or something like that. He came in second place at one such race in Australia! He coached me on speed control, lightening my step so I wasn’t pounding the pavement so hard, breathing, and relaxing everything but my abs while running.  He told me I wasn’t doing bad at all but that I should work on my speed. I listened to this guy; someone who literally runs for a living knows what he’s talking about! He cheered me on to a sprint at the end and kept giving me pointers on how to completely relax my body while running. The 7 kilometers I ran with him were like no other. 

Monday: I run an AM 5k. I’m still feeling weighed down with everything I have to process and get past.  I cry after my run and all morning after my shower.

Wednesday: I run 5k in the PM. I feel something (could be paranoia) in my right shin but decide it’s way too late to try to google anything; there’s nothing I could do differently at this point anyway. It’s wet and breezy, so I wear my blue slicker to keep the rain off. I get really angry during my last kilometer, but just keep running.

Today: After a relaxing full-body oil massage, conversations with multiple good friends on the outside of my crappy and non-ideal situation, my roommate confirming that she can go to the race this weekend, and communicating with people about my feelings of hurt, I’ve gained some perspective. I’m reminded that running, after all, is a journey; and like any thing else in life people will cancel on you or not be there have something else to do. I don’t have and I don’t get to have control over the circumstances of Race Day, and this includes things like the weather, the other runners and even the people who are there.

And despite the moments I’ve had of not wanting to run anymore in the last few days, reality remains.

And the reality is this: my body is ready.

I haven’t been this well-rested in a while. The 2 1/2 months of training has made me strong – and not just physically strong. People don’t run marathons on physical strength alone. Even the first Marathoner had an emotional motivation to get to Athens; and the task killed him. There is a strength in me that I have not even tapped into yet, and it’s been growing more and more powerful ever since I started this journey. It is being preserved for Race Day, because on that day EVERYTHING will be released.

So let’s run a marathon. 





week 15, day 3: final home run

2 01 2014

I ran a new route today, one I decided on at the last minute, a few kilometers before my actual turn-around point. It ended up being the perfect 10-kilometer loop and was a good way to conclude my Stateside training.

10k square

I got to run down all the old familiar streets one last time: State Street, Grove Street, 67th, 88th, 51st, 100th, 47th, and then finally 94th PL NE. After my plane ride back to Taiwan tomorrow, I’ll no longer be running loops around city blocks. It will be back to running along the river.

The fact that I actually brought my running home with me means a lot. For one thing, it has become a common denominator between both worlds. For another thing, it has actually been the one thing that has held my daily life together these past 6 weeks. It’s been an emotionally tumultuous time for me, and a lot of things have fallen by the wayside as a result; but my training schedule has remained a priority. I haven’t stopped running. It’s as if running is the one thing in my life right now that constantly keeps the bigger picture in front of me. No matter what happens in the moment, Race Day doesn’t change. And that’s the goal, to run the race.

And alas, all this brings me to Life Lesson #5 of Marathon Training: the race has already begun. Running a marathon is so much more than the 26 miles you conquer on the race day itself. Running a marathon starts on the first day of training. It starts when you decide to do it. For me, this marathon started 8 1/2 weeks ago when I thought I was running faster and farther than I really was thanks to inaccurate GPS readings. And I’m still running, with a week and a half to go.

Let’s keep running. 

marathon training schedule





week 14, day 6: pacing

1 01 2014

At the very most, I was only planning on running 20k. I read somewhere in all my research that two weeks before the race a 12-16 mile run is OK. So I was gonna do that, thinking it would be take me around 2 hours. Then, after exchanging a few words with my dad in the car on the way to the trail head, I decided to do a timed run. I had never done this before, but the more I thought about it, the better it sounded, especially considering I’m in tapering period AND the fact that it would give me a pretty accurate idea of my speed. It was perfect practice for pacing myself, since the idea of a marathon is to pace yourself, but never slow down.

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I felt great that entire run. I did it on the Centennial Trail, my last run on that tree-lined trail in the foothills. It honestly felt pretty awesome to not feel completely wiped out after a Saturday run, and I kept my pace: 6’23”/km was my average and end up running 18.8k (11.6 miles). Running that way for 4 hours will obviously not be easy, but knowing I could do it for 2 was definitely a confidence-booster with only two weeks to go until Race Day.

Until then, let’s keep tapering! 

marathon training schedule





week 14, day 4: tapering period

27 12 2013

I tried running on Monday, but as soon as I started running I knew it was gonna be short one. So I ran 5k and went on Christmas break, since the next two days were Christmas Eve & Christmas anyway. I was still pretty sore from that 20-mile-treadmill-adventure. I took a couple days to rest  up, letting my body (and my bruised toes) recover and felt pretty good on my 10k today. So now I’m back out there AND I’M TAPERING. 

Training for a marathon has taught me all kinds of new things, and tapering is one of them. If you asked me what tapering period was a month ago, I wouldn’t have had a clue. But suddenly it’s becoming a rather relevant and addictive topic for me. The opening of a Runner’s World article called “Taper Time” defines the tapering period perfectly:

“The final 3 weeks are the most important in any marathon-training program. Here’s everything you need to know and do leading up to race day.”

I’ve been pouring over articles and google-ing all kinds of tapering tips. It’s been over-whelming and encouraging and to be perfectly honest with you, I’m ecstatic that I’m not running 20 miles this Saturday. When I stumble across words like “Your body needs it. Tapering is vital, especially if it is your first marathon” & “The tapering phase is a critical part of your marathon training. During the last couple of weeks of your training, it’s important that you taper, or cut back your mileage, to give your body and mind a chance to rest, recover, and prepare for your marathon” I find myself nodding vigorously and getting excited about this three weeks of REST.

And alas, all this tapering talk leads me to Life Lesson #4 of Marathon Training: rest is essential to any kind of preparation.

There is officially 2 1/2 weeks to Race Day, but I can’t think about that right now. I need to rest. So let’s keep running, or should I say, tapering…

marathon training schedule





week 13, day 7: confined

23 12 2013

marathon training schedule

Because of the snow that fell on Friday (and only on Friday, since this is not normal winter weather around here) the sidewalks were still slushy by the time Saturday rolled around. And the Centennial Trail, which I use for my long runs, is shady and lined with trees, so chances of the slush being melted away were slim. I was confined to the great and expansive indoors, and you know what that means.

There was no way I could skip this run. It was my last long distance run in training. The final big one before tapering. I had to do this. I had to run 20 miles on a treadmill.  

My original plan was to break it up: 6-6-6-3 for a total of 4 runs adding up to 21 miles. I was gonna try to push myself as well, keeping the pace up  at 6 miles an hour for those first three runs. Then end it with a 3-mile push. This was my solution to surviving a 20+ mile run on a freaking treadmill.

Here’s what happened. 

After the first 2 1/2 miles I had to break because the toes on my right foot had gone numb. My shoe was tied too tight and I needed to pee. And my shoes actually raise another issue/mistake I had/made for this long run: NEW SHOES. I used a distance run on a TREADMILL to break in new shoes. WHAAAAT? Bad idea. My toes on both feet hated me for the rest of the day. (My toe nails are still feeling it.)

After my rather early potty-break, I ran the remaining 3 1/2 miles and then got off the treadmill to stretch and hydrate. I stayed rather hydrated this run as well, which actually might have contributed to the side-cramp I suffered from almost the entire last third of the run.

I packed a snack this time, too; I got a pack of Kellogg’s Fruity Snacks, cherry-flavored. I like chewy things, and I had yet to try taking an energy snack on a run. I cracked these open after my second 6-mile stretch. At this point, I had kept up my pace of 6 miles an hour. Because I had pushed myself so hard the first two hours, I gave myself a break for the next stretch, which actually only ended up being 4 miles. My final stretch had increased from 3 to 5 miles. I was feeling it. Plus, I was on a treadmill; so mentally I needed to start fighting harder.

After some more water and another mouthful of fruit snacks, I started my final five. Longest 5 miles ever – on a treadmill. That first 2-hour push took a lot out of me, so I found myself dragging – on a treadmill. It’s a completely different ball game for me when I’m on a treadmill. I kept running and picked it back up to a 6-mile/hr sprint (yep, that was sprinting for me at that point) and called it a day at 4.34 miles, clocking in at 20.34 miles (32.7k) for my last distance run in training. A little over 20, and definitely a little longer than my last run. I was sore.

If I can run 20 miles on a treadmill, I can do anything. Let’s keep running. 

  





week 13, day 4: plantar fasciitis

20 12 2013

After getting back from California, it was time to keep running in Washington again, a good 20-30 degrees F cooler. I got back on a Monday night, worked out on Tuesday since I didn’t feel like going outside, and then ran 10 miles on Wednesday. It felt good, and I even improved my time on that particular route.

After the run, however, I was experiencing quite a bit of pain in my left foot  that seemed rather reminiscent of the trouble I was experiencing with my right foot weeks ago (see previous blog post). So I iced it after my run, figuring it would be ok for another 10k today before resting tomorrow before my last distance run on Saturday. So I took off this morning, planning to be back in about an hour, but ended up WALKING a 3k loop back home. The pain was too severe; and on top of that, I still wasn’t walking properly.

You can click on this image that nicely illustrates my pain for you as well as plantar fasciitis for a precise and detailed summary of this condition:

plantar faciitis

My dad noticed that the arch on my left foot had collapsed and was swollen, which is what happens when the tendon connecting my heel and toes is having problems. I’m still limping around the house, and the pain definitely didn’t last this long with my right foot. I was able to stop limping that same day the pain started.

My dad has this same problem, so he knows what to do. And, a little more than a year ago, when my friends and I were all training for a half marathon, one of the guys discovered this same problem in one of his feet after a run. Getting arch supports did the trick. My running shoes have seen 300+ miles already so that and all the long-distance running on hard surfaces are probably what did me in. One of the 21 ways to make my first marathon a success (check out article here) is to “Get yourself a new pair of kicks. Good running shoes last 300-500 miles, but they lose 50% of their cushioning much sooner than that.  Get some new ones and break them in during your tapering period.  I ignored this in one marathon and got a nice stress fracture in my foot to remember it by.” Going shoe shopping tomorrow! I feel pretty confident plantar fasciitis will be a minimal obstacle; I start tapering next week anyway.

marathon training schedule

One more distance run of 20+ miles to go. I still remember all the numbers since I ran the half marathon distance: 13, 15, 17, 18.9, 19.9, 20. Wow. After Saturday, I start my three-week tapering period. Time really flies when you’re running. Let’s keep running!