On a sunny, hot Sunday morning, through the gruesome hills of the country-side-like town called Redlands, a 233-pound web designer ran an average 11 minutes, 34 seconds per mile to finish the 2012 Run-Through-Redlands Half Marathon at 2:31:40. It was one of my proudest physical achievements, especially considering it is the first time I have ever ran a half marathon, and the first time I have ever covered 13.1 miles in a single run. I did not know I was capable of such a feat. If you would have asked me two years if this was possible, I would have said no. I probably would have said no if you would have asked me 6-months before the race, when I first considered running a half marathon. In any case, no matter what my reservations were, in less than 6 months I prepared and ran a half marathon in a pretty impressive time considering the race-day conditions; and here’s how I did it:

 

Make the Decision

Throughout my weight loss journey, from 290+ pounds, I knew I wanted to quantify my results in some sort of physical challenge. As a kid, and in my late teen years, I ran “long distances.” In 5th, 6th, and 7th grade this meant I ran the Mile (a 1-mile run challenge every month) in PE class. To me, that was a long distance. I was one of the few who took the Mile seriously, and really faced no challengers in my range towards the latter years. In late 5th grade I would run it in the high 7’s (ex. 7:42). By the end of 6th grade I was running the Mile in the low 7’s. In 7th grade, my last year at this particular school, I set the school record at 6:21 if I remember correctly. It was shattered a few years later by a 6th or 7th grader who broke the 6-minute mark. Boooooo! Good for him.

In my late teens, age 17-20, after I struggled to lose weight at the age of 16, I finally broke the 6-minute mark on one run. The 1-mile runs seemed too easy so I started adding a mile or two here and there. By the time I stopped running at the approximate age of 20, I could run 8-10 miles in a single run. I never timed myself. I did it for the fun of it. Needless to say, as I got busy with responsibility, and slowly forgot about physical fitness I ended up gaining over a hundred pounds by the time I turned 26.

After losing weight, then breaking my back, gaining weight again, then finally getting on the right track, I was inspired by my younger brother to take up running again. He had started running to lose weight. The running bug caught him and he enrolled himself in various half marathons to challenge himself to improve his running. It worked. He went from nearly 3-hour half marathons, to only 10-15 minutes above the 2-hour mark. He lost weight, gained strength, and feels a lot better playing other sports. I wanted that, and I wanted my running back. In October of 2011 I made my decision: I would run my first half marathon in 2012.

 

Research

Although I had successfully ran before I knew it would not be best for me to just start running aimlessly. I had to have a plan, but what should it be. I researched a few reputable fitness websites and found articles by reputable experts on the best way to start a running regimen and train for a half marathon. Furthermore, I researched how to pick the right shoes, the best food, complimenting strength training exercises, and how to recover and heal (sore muscles and minor injuries).

I found there were a few resounding themes from all the articles I read (the links to some are available at the end of this post):

  • Start slow. If you’re over-weight, out-of-shape, and/or have not run in a long time, start by walking. Walk for 20-30 minutes at a time, until you feel comfortable enough to start slowly jogging at 1-minute intervals. At that point, try 1-minute jogs and 2-minute walks in one training session. Rotate back and forth for 20 minutes. After a week try 1-minute jogs and 1-minute walks for 20 minutes.  From here, depending on your personally chosen schedule, every week you’ll increase the amount of jogging time while maintaining 1-minute walk breaks in-between each interval.
  • Get the right shoes. Equipment in any sport is very important to successful results. Whether you’re running for fun or for time getting the right shoes ensures you will avoid injury and train successfully. Make sure your shoes account for your flat feet, high arches, over-pronation, under-pronation, and so on. Don’t skimp and buy cheap shoes just because they’re on sale. Research which shoes are best for your goals, feet and weight. Try them on. If you buy them, try and get two pairs of the same shoes. Running shoes change often, even if it is still the same model.
  • Dress properly. Some people like to run a feeling a little warm, and others like to run feeling a bit cool. Figure out your preferences then make sure you have the right coverage for the type of weather.
  • Eat healthy. Don’t just eat anything that is healthy. Find foods rich in nutrients. You’ll need proteins, various vitamins and minerals, and some carbohydrates for energy, especially as you start running longer intervals or distances. Don’t forget to make a feed plan for longer runs. In other words, when you start running over 30 minutes at a time, you might want to start feeding on your run. There are great supplements available over the internet or at sporting goods that are compact, but full of the perfect nutrients for energy and to help you avoid injury.  If you allow yourself enough time before race-day you can experiment with different combinations of supplements, foods, drinks, and watering schedules. Make sure to establish a routine a few weeks before the race so you can ensure it is ideal for your preferences and comfortable for your body.
  • Strength train. Some hardcore marathoners don’t believe this is important, but from the articles I have read, and from my own personal experiences, adding a moderate amount of strength training might help you combat fatigue and recover faster after longer runs. At worst, you’ll tone your body and look a little better in running shorts and tank tops. However, do not over-train. It really depends on your own fitness goals, but lifting a lot of weight will not only add a lot of muscle to your body, but also weight. Plus, if you’re doing too much too fast, the soreness might also hinder your training schedule.
  • Lose weight. If you’re over-weight, as I was, and still am, do your best to lose weight. Luckily, one of the best ways to lose weight is running. Losing weight will help take pressure off of your joints, you’ll feel lighter, run faster, run longer, and with less fatigue.
  • Take injuries seriously. An injury does not always have to mean a broken bone. An injury could be a pulled muscle, prolonged soreness (a mild to moderate sprain), and even a blister. This is all a deviation of your body’s typical functions. These deviations, if left untreated, or if ignored and you continue to exasperate the injury, could at-best disturb your training schedule, or at-worst cause irreparable damage. Take a break to diagnose any deviations (pains, sores, cuts). If you’re not sure what’s happening with your body, or if it is really painful, have a doctor diagnose your injury. Needless to say, if it seems like an emergency, take yourself to the emergency room. I almost made the mistake of not taking my broken back to the hospital. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I didn’t.
  • Allow time to recover. Rest is one of the best methods to recovery. If you’re not at athlete training levels make sure to rest from running at least one day in-between your run-training sessions. Remember to take in the proper proteins, vitamins, and carbs before and after a training session. This helps a lot with recovery. If you experience mild to moderate soreness, use the I.C.E. method to speed recovery and healing. “I” stands for ice, “C” stands for compression, and “E” stands for elevation. After long runs (10+ miles) I soak in a tub with one big bag of ice, then wrap my ankles (my weak points), and elevate them. The difference between using this method and the lack of it before is huge. My recovery time is faster and I feel so much better the next day.
  • Pick a half marathon to aim for well into the future. Whether your ultimate goal is to run a 5K, 10K, half marathon, or full marathon, pick an event well into the future that gives you ample amount of time to train, make mistakes, tweak your regimen, and recover before and after the race. It’s hard to train for an event if you’re not sure when it will happen. When I chose to run the Redlands Half Marathon the date for the event was not set, but because of their readily available past history I knew the prospective dates that were being considered (mid to late April). I planned accordingly.

 

Write-out, Execute, and Tweak Your Plan

How, when and why you train is really up to you. It’s best to seek advice through experts, articles, and experienced friends (ahem), but if at any point you feel you need to add, subtract, or modify the routine in order to safely and comfortably accomplish your goal, then go for it. Try it out. Remember to be safe, but nevertheless, change it up the way you need to. If you adopt this mentality then your run-training plan will simply become yours – a custom run-training program built individually just for you. With that in mind, here’s how mine looked:

  • P90X to lose weight and gain lean muscle. In October I completed the P90X Classic schedule for the first time after 3 previously unsuccessful attempts. I lost over 30 pounds in my failed attempts, and I lost another 15 or so between sports and my successful attempt. Initially I wanted to lose weight before the half-marathon, but after a few injuries while run-training and following the P90X Doubles schedule, I took a break and decided to gain lean muscle, lose fat, and at least maintain my weight. I managed to do so while following the P90X Doubles schedule for 9 weeks, then stopped a week before the race to rest and prime my body. Also, as I increased my weekly mileage, and crept closer to the race, I backed-off and eventually eliminated the Legs & Back routine from the P90X schedule because of the strain it put on my muscles and knees. Instead I would walk or simply rest.
  • Run 3 days a week. I scheduled my running days on the same days I was weight training with P90X. A 3-day run-training schedule is very typical and in my opinion fits perfectly into the run-rest schedule.
  • Utilize the Run/Walk method. Fairly simply I started with a 1-minute run and 2-minute walk interval. I did this for 20 minutes. I increased the level each week starting with a 1-minute run and 1-minute walk, and then 2-minute run and 1-minute walk, and so forth until I reached 10-minute run and 1-minute walk. All these 20-minute intervals were done at an easy to moderate pace. After reaching my goal I started running for time and distance with a 3-minute run and 1-minute walk interval for a minimum of 3 miles or 30 minutes. I used this distance and time as a benchmark to increasing my pace and strength on flat terrain, hills, and hot days.
  • Include 1 big run per week. 1 of the 3 runs per week was a “big” run. The run was not based on the Run/Walk method I used on other days. Instead, I would challenge myself to run a longer distance, faster pace, or in less than perfect conditions (hottest time of the day, with minimal water, etc.). Most of the runs were around 4 miles, but I purposefully injected a 6-mile, 8-mile, and 10-mile run here and there into the schedule. I would take walk breaks, depending on how I felt, but the main purpose was to increase my mileage capabilities, so the breaks were much fewer than on Run/Walk days. I typically performed my big runs at the end of the week where afterwards I could enjoy a two-day break.
  • Feed and water correctly. I learned a few rules that I apply: (1) No dairy or red meat less than 24 hours before a big run, and no big meals in less than 12 hours before a big run. (2) Drink 6-8 oz. of water every 2 hours before a run until 15 minutes before a run. (3) 15 minutes before a run drink 6 oz. of water and make sure to pee. (4) 2-4 hours before a big run drink a light protein shake that includes Vitamin C and potassium (ex. bananas). (5) 30 minutes before a big run pop two FRS Healthy Energy chew. (6) During the run I use GU Energy Gels and FRS Healthy Energy chews to feed every 20-40 minutes depending on how I feel. (7) Drink water during the run every 30-40 minutes on cooler days and every 15-20 minutes on hot days. (8) If the water is sloshing in my stomach I’m most likely okay on water intake. (9) After a long run I drink a lot of water and drink one Met-Rx Protein Plus Powder shake and/or one P90X Recovery Formula powder shake almost immediately. I usually wait a couple hours to eat solid food.
  • Compress before, during, and after. Because of my size, and fitness level, I soon found it necessary to apply compression before, during and after run-training sessions on legs. I put on compression socks that cover my feet, ankles, and calves 2 hours before a long run. I keep the socks on for the run and at least 30-60 minutes after the run. After I take off the compression socks I use sport wraps on my ankles (my weak points) if they feel sore for 20-40 minutes at a time. The difference and the benefits have been amazingly positive.
  • ICE (ice, compression, and elevation). After a long run I try to take a 20-minute ice bath. I fill the bath with cold water, sink-in, then slowly add a big bag of ice to gradually bring the temperature down without too much of a shock. If I skip the ice bath I try and ice my ankles and/or calves. During or after the icing I add compression to any sore or potentially sore spots like I described above. During the compression process I try and elevate my legs at or above the level of my abdomen. The ICE method has done miracles for my recovery process.
  • Prepare for race-day. To prepare for race day I made sure to make my longest training run 3 weeks before race day (12.5 miles), then tapered down each week on my long run until I only ran 4 miles  three days before race day. I refrained from working out the week before the race except for a mild basketball game, a soccer game, and the 4-mile run. I was extremely careful not to induce an injury. 24 hours before the race I implemented the special diet I outlined above. On the morning of the race I woke up, dressed, warmed-up, ate a very, very light breakfast 2 hours before the race, and went about my watering schedule. I made sure to pee and poo at least 30 minutes before the race.

So it was with this plan I ran the Redlands Half Marathon. It helped me tackle 70-degree heat (which is pretty dang hot for runners), and an elevation climb of over 500 feet for the first half of the race. To entice myself to run harder I set a fantasy goal of running a 2:30:00 half marathon. I was expecting to run it closer to 2:40:00 until I realized just how hot it would be. I told my wife and my parents to expect me to finish much closer to the 2:45:00 to 3-hour range. The training prepared me more than I expected. I surprised myself, my wife, and my parents. My family missed me crossing the finish line all because I ran faster than I expected. Hahahahaha! What can I say?

 

What’s my plan for the next half marathon?

My plan for the next half marathon is simply to significantly out-run my fellow runners that are 30+ years older than me. I was very proud of my performance, but I was being easily beaten and challenged by men and women in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. There’s nothing wrong with their athleticism, and in fact I was impressed to see them out there, but I believe there is a problem with mine. I know I am capable of running a lot faster and longer than I am now, and I plan to explore my limits.

In order to do explore my limits I must first lose more weight – 50 pounds to be exact (so I would weigh roughly 180 pounds). I have to be realistic and aim 10-15 pounds at a time, but I will probably not run another marathon until I am less than 220 pounds. The reason I am making this pledge to myself is because of my knees. Although my knees held up pretty well, they were curiously tender after the marathon. After talking with a few friends, who are both in shape and out of shape, with knee problems I would rather take as much pressure off my knees as possible before running another 13.1 miles on pavement.

My ultimate goal is to weigh 205 pounds before the 2013 Redlands Half Marathon (likely my next half marathon). So, after 5 months of P90X and possibly Insanity to hopefully lose 20-25 pounds I will restart the same intense schedule I outlined above to train for the next half marathon, and maybe in the next two years I will run a full 26.2-mile marathon. We’ll see what the future holds.

Here are some of the sources I used for my own training regimen: