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Joe Barrett

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So recently my wife decided that I should sign up for the Outer Banks Marathon and I agreed, because why not? I’ve been on a running kick over the last few months and have been steadily building distance. There’s no reason why I can’t run a marathon in November, as long as I stick to it.

In the process of throwing myself into the marathon experience, I tried to remember which races I’ve done in the past and how fast I ran them (I’m only going to bother with the 15K/10 mile or longer races - trying to track down all of my 5ks would be exhausting). This turned out to be harder than expected, but at least if I write it all down now I won’t have to try as hard to remember next time.

My Marathon - 2009 MCM

Back in 2008, some of my wife’s friends ran the Marine Corps Marathon, which had always been a goal of mine. I saw that they completed it and while their time seemed slow to me (I’m not the fastest guy, but I’m decently fast), the fact that they’d achieved one of my goals spurred me into motion. So I signed up to run it in 2009. I didn’t want to do any of the Team In Training or other run group programs, I just wanted to sign up, run on my own to train, and run the race on my own.

My mentality at the time was that it’s running, not rocket science. It doesn’t require a group and I don’t like running with people, so I can clearly just go grab some online training calendar and do it. It might suck at times, but it’s supposed to suck. Right?

During my training runs, every time I got up over 12-15 miles I started to have really bad knee pains where it felt like I was getting stabbed in the side of the knee with an ice pick (nice imagery, right?). I probably dropped $400 on different running shoes over the next few months, going to the local Virginia running stores and having them watch my stride and make various recommendations, all of which would help for about one run before it cropped back up.

Eventually, I think I decided I’d just go for it. I wasn’t going to let anything like crippling knee pain stop me from running a marathon!

Sure enough, about mile 14 of the marathon (somewhere out in Haines Point is all I remember) my knee started to flare up. I’d been holding a pretty good pace, but at that point I knew I was never going to achieve any spectacular time. I was still hoping I could finish in under 4, but that was looking less likely after the medical stop I limped up to told me they didn’t have any painkillers or ace bandages.

I gutted it out, trying to jog/hobble as much as I could interspersed with frequent walk breaks. My wife, parents, and friends claimed they yelled and waved at me as I went past at some point, but I was out of my head with the pain so I’m not sure if I even noticed. I finally finished in 4:33:35, which is certainly not a bad time, but nowhere near to what I’d been hoping for out of my first marathon.

Subsidizing Races

After that, I think I took a bit of a break from longer distance runs. I did sign up for the MCM a few times again - I’m not sure about 2010, but I definitely signed up in 2011 and 2012 but was out of the country for work in both instances so lost the entry fees. I’m forever disappointed that I didn’t do the Camp Leatherneck shadow run in 2011 as I was on a Marine Corps base in Afghanistan on the day of the marathon, but I couldn’t take a few hours off work. I may have signed up and not run in 2013 as well, can’t remember.

I think I did something similar with the Army Ten Miler for a few years as well, signing up and then making race-day decisions to sleep in as opposed to getting up and running. I signed up for the 2014 Richmond Marathon, then I think I dropped down to the half, and then didn’t even show up to run it.

Two of the runs that I actually did follow through with in that time period were the 2012 DC Ragnar Relay race and the 2013 Williamsburg half marathon. I did the Ragnar with a bunch of friends and it was an amazing experience - I highly recommend those races, so much fun. Something about the shared group experience made it a very enjoyable time as opposed to just being out on my own. When I did the Williamsburg half, I started to have my usual crazy knee pain about 9 or 10 miles into it. No idea what the time was, but I eventually hobbled my way into a finish.

Why did I ditch so many races that I’d paid good (non-refundable) money to participate in? Part of that was a general disillusionment with running (I like running, but I wasn’t having fun racing - except the Ragnar) and part of it was the fact that my knee was still giving me pretty steady low-grade pain and so I was just avoiding antagonizing it further.

Physical Therapy

In 2014, I finally decided to do something about my knee issues and went to see an Orthopedic Surgeon, who did some x-rays and referred me to a physical therapist. I don’t remember exactly what the verdict was, but that it wasn’t bad - I just needed to do some cross training and build up the surrounding muscles so my weight wasn’t all coming down on the knee every time. I went to PT a bunch and could definitely tell that it was helping. The more I worked through the exercises, the more I was able to do without having knee issues.

I wasn’t quite ready to do much in the way of running, but tried to mix up doing a few rides on my old mountain bike and some casual running. I eventually made it to the 2014 Army Ten Miler, which was nice as it had been five years since the last time I’d done it. Still a very awesome race. In 2015, I didn’t do anything - primarily due to moving and adjusting to a new area.

Running Clubs

When I moved to North Carolina, I started to do casual running in my neighborhood. Nothing fancy, just a few miles here and there over lunch breaks. Before long, I saw that my town had a running club group on Strava, so I joined that. Then I saw they had a Facebook page and despite almost never using Facebook, I joined that. And then promptly lurked for 10 months without ever participating in group runs or conversations.

Eventually, I got around to joining up and doing a group run this spring and (to my surprise) I enjoyed it. It was actually the first time in my life (or at least in the last 6+ years) that I’ve done a run with multiple people trying to go the same pace in a non-race scenario (and races don’t count as I’ve only twice raced with people I knew). And then I promptly got addicted to doing the weekly runs. Now I’m showing up to the Monday beer runs, Tuesday hill runs, the Wednesday 5-milers, the Thursday 3-miler with the Police Department, etc. I’m doing more mileage in a week than I probably ever have before, and I’m mixing it up with some cross-training and my knee feels fantastic.

So About That Marathon

So why not, right? I’m feeling great, I’m building distance, and there doesn’t seem to be anything (aside from the obvious time commitment while I have two small children) that could sabotage my chances of completing a marathon in November. I’m not going to throw down any kind of lofty claims like trying to BQ on it. I would like to break 4 hours, which I think is very achievable. And if I still feel good afterwards, I’d like to keep doing more marathons.

I did have to indulge my hyper-competitive nature by deciding that if I’m going to do the marathon, then obviously I should do the 8K the day before, because it’s a challenge. Hopefully that doesn’t sabotage me, but it’ll be fun so whatever.

If this marathon goes well - and that is a big if seeing as how the first one wasn’t great - then I’d really like to do something like 50 marathons before I turn 50, doing a marathon in every state, or a similar goal.

As part of my master training plan, I’m doing a 15K challenge (run a 10K then turn around and run a 5K 30 minutes later) in a few weeks and I’m looking to log at least one half-marathon over the summer. If I can find some 10-milers to include, that would be nice, but mostly I just want to keep running with the local club and building distance. And I suppose I’ll need to figure out nutrition and hydration, something I didn’t do great at the first time out. So here we go!

Past Races