My 2nd walking marathon (part 1)

This time last year, I was gearing up to walk my first marathon. Given the schedule, this year’s walk came sooner…but at least I knew what to expect this time around. Until I registered for the 2011 Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk, I figured that there’s no way I’d ever get to do a marathon. First off, I thought you could only really run them (not true). Second, I knew I couldn’t run one (true – and also would be in direct violation of my doctor’s “DON’T RUN” rule). Third, I assumed marathons were only for elite athletes or people who are VERY, very in-shape (not necessarily true). And it wasn’t until I did my first marathon that I figured out what was really true and what wasn’t. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, walking one marathon prepared me so much more for the successive ones than anyone’s advice could have, so I’ve decided to cram all those lessons learned into the next couple of blog posts.

As a reminder, the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk is an annual walking event in the Boston area that benefits the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a cancer research and treatment facility that has gained a lot of notoriety for their pediatric care, in addition to their adult care, as well as a boatload of research and treatment options that they’ve developed or pioneered. Loads of people support them, and they have strong affiliations with local sports teams, like the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Bruins. Kids with cancer – how can you NOT support that?!

You don’t have to walk a full marathon; you can walk a half-marathon (13.1mi), which departs from Babson College, you can walk a 5mi course that departs from Boston College, or you can walk a 5K course that departs from Dana-Farber itself. I chose the full marathon (26.2mi), which leaves from Hopkinton, MA, and follows the entire Boston Marathon route run by all those amazing people on Patriots Day every year.

The way I see it, walking any marathon comes down to a few essential things – and walking one for charity just adds an additional component:

  1. Event Selection
  2. Gearing Up
  3. Training
  4. Fundraising
  5. Walking
  6. Recovering

I’ll cover the first two of those items in this post, and the remaining two will go into the next three posts. Now for the VERY important disclaimer: None of the manufacturers, companies, etc. that I’m writing about have given me ONE THING in exchange for this. I’m writing my opinion about products, services, and businesses that I picked on my own without any kind of quid pro quo. Also, I’m not an expert. Before you go and do something as nuts as walking 26.2mi in one day, PLEASE consult with your doctor, personal trainer, and any other folks who can give you an eyeball up and down and determine whether they think you’re up for it. In other words, don’t do or say as I do until you’ve had someone else confirm that you should take part in a walking event.

Event Selection

There aren’t a ton of walking marathons in this area, or at least there aren’t a lot that I hear about. The Boston Marathon is one of those elite, world-famous races, so the temptation to get to do this amazing route is incredibly high. Since I know I can’t run a race (remember: doctor’s orders!), I figured I HAD to try to walk it. The bar for entry is incredibly low – anybody can register (small entry fee) and this year, you needed to raise a minimum of $300. In events like this, where there’s a minimum fundraising amount, the event organizer will take a credit card number from you (whatever you use for registering) and if you haven’t raised at least the minimum by some time on or after the event date, the difference to get you to that minimum will be charged to your card. So, there’s motivation to raise $$. If you want to try a walking marathon with no fee, I suppose you could always organize something that gives you bathroom breaks around every 2-3mi, walking past your friends’ houses for 26.2mi…but going with a professionally organized event is a much better bet. Really.

Gearing Up

I had some trial and error going on here, at first. My first selection of shoes, a pair of Saucony Grid shoes, was nice enough…but the toebox wasn’t really big enough for my ultra-wide feet. What this meant was that I ended up with a bloody sock and damage to my feet. NOT. GOOD. My pointer toenails STILL haven’t recovered from that, even more than a year later.

After a false start attempt with a running store nearish to my office, I found what I needed at Marathon Sports – a local chain of running stores that’s known for being serious about getting you into the right gear. In my case, my wide feet demanded a similarly wide shoe, so the right fit for me ended up being an EXTRA WIDE pair of men’s Brooks Addiction sneakers. What’s the lesson here? It’s not that you should go to a running store, since that should be a given. The lesson I learned was that I should ignore the mens/womens labels when it comes to certain gear, since the womens line may not have what I need to fit my size or shape. Mens shoes proved to be the right way to go.

As far as everything else – all I wear is wicking material. A trip to the nearby outlet mall scored me plenty of that; I have sleeveless shirts (tanks, but not spaghetti strap ones), capri pants, and jog bras that all wick moisture away from my body. I’ve come to the point in my life where I’m so used to wearing wicking materials that I can’t work out in cotton. I had a workout in a cotton t-shirt at BlogHer ’12 and I thought I was going to suffocate, the material was so hot and stuffy. UGH. I won’t link to specific items, since everything I got came from the outlet and is likely discontinued by now. I can say that I tend to favor Reebok items, because they’re local. Of course.

My socks are also wicking material. You may not care a ton about socks until you realize how much work they have to do on your behalf. You need the right amount of cushion but not too much thickness, you need breathable material while still providing protection…you need your socks to do a ton without costing you an arm and a leg. The ones I chose come from REI; they’re fab socks that go just above the ankle, so I don’t have to worry about any possibility of them slipping down and leaving my ankle exposed for blistering. Not that my Brooks shoes would ever TRY to give me a blister, but a little protection can go a long way.

At the recommendation of a friend, I even went with wicking underwear (also from REI). I can’t tell whether the stuff is magical or not, but I can say that having everything on your body in the same general level of breathability can contribute to your overall level of comfort, and even a little bit of straight-up cotton can throw things off. At least for me, that’s what I’ve found. In other words, your mileage may vary, so try stuff out if you want to change things up or leave them as they are when you find something that works. This is what works for me.

Next post: Training and Fundraising…

Slimming down the cost of getting fitter

When most people decide they want to get into some sort of exercise routine, their first consideration is often cost. You can start by checking the Sunday newspaper circulars – what’s on sale at Target? Does anybody know of any good workout DVD’s? Does Sears have a decent treadmill that I can put on my credit card?

The good news is that there are even more options than these, some of which are even free.

First things first: start by talking with your primary care physician (PCP) about your specific goals. Your doctor will tell you what they think you’re physically up to doing, and they can often refer you to a nutritionist, physical therapist, or other specialist, if such attention is needed. If your PCP is part of a “patient-centered medical home” (sometimes called a “PCMH”), your health insurance plan may cover visits to your doctor with a reduced (or $0!) co-pay. The key thing here is that you never want to start a new exercise plan without checking in with your doc FIRST.

Second: look at no-cost options. Make sure you actually LIKE the exercise/plan you’re trying out before you invest cash in it. Consider walking or running in your neighborhood before you buy a treadmill or get a gym membership. Cable TV subscribers can often benefit from “On Demand” services offered through cable providers like Cox, Comcast and Time Warner that allow you to view unlimited quantities of exercise videos as part of your cable subscription. Try before you buy those DVD’s!

Third: Use the discounts that you get through sources OTHER than the paper. Many health insurance plans, especially the national biggies (i.e., Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Healthcare, Aetna and Cigna) offer “wellness” programs that include discounts on everything from gym memberships to equipment to apparel. Some insurers also offer rewards for completing wellness activities, like completing online health assessments or going for an annual physical exam. Go to your insurer’s web site or call the customer service number on the back of your insurance card to get the skinny on these discounts.

Fourth: Look at work! Many workplaces have started to offer wellness programs and rewards, sometimes in addition to those offered through the insurance plan. Rewards can be anything from cash reimbursement for specific activities and memberships to discounts on gym memberships, race registrations, and more. Check with the Human Resources (HR) department, as applicable, for more info on what may be available for you.

I’ve gotten some great deals for myself in the last 12 months, like personal training sessions at my gym paid for by my company, and 15% off my awesome sneakers for the marathon (Brooks Addiction) at the local running store, thanks to our health insurer. I know about these discounts mostly because I read the stuff that’s posted on the HR section of my company’s intranet, and I glance at our health insurer’s newsletter before I toss it in the recycle bin. I also occasionally log in and check our health insurer’s web site for new discounts, since deals are often updated there and not put in the printed material. In other words, there are LOADS of things out there to help reduce the cost of getting fitter, and they’re not always hidden in the most obvious places. Happy hunting! (and if you know of other good, semi-hidden/non-obvious sources, feel free to post them in the comments so others can benefit from your wisdom!)

So, I was THAT person at the gym…

NO, not the tool who uses a machine and who fails to wipe it down. (ew)

NO, not the person who sings along with their iPod. (ew)

NO, not the person who lifts 250lbs and grunts like one of those guys from the World’s Strongest Man Competition. (*rolls eyes*)

I was (le sigh) the one who ended up throwing up – and I’m here to say it’s okay. Now, part of why it’s so okay is the fact that it wasn’t entirely due to my personal trainer’s efforts to get me a training routine that will come to the brink of just about to kill me; a lot of it was due to female troubles (*cough*) that have had me nauseous for days. Guys have no idea what manner of shit women have to put up with and they could never tolerate it for even six months in a row, much less decades.

Moving right along…

So, I consulted with the trainers at my office’s fitness center (where I work out) to see if I could get some personal training to help me better prepare for the marathon in September. I don’t have a ton of cash, but I did get some money for my birthday that I could use for this, and work will reimburse me for all but $5 of the 3-sessions’ worth of training that I signed up for. My plan is to use this training to help me get my legs in better shape so that my hips and knees won’t feel like they’re unhinging halfway through the marathon this year. Last year, I finished the marathon. This year, I want to finish strong(er).

My trainer set me up with three half-hour sessions, and my first session involved some partial squats (first without and then with 10lb free weights in each hand), some balance ball work and some “monster walks” (moving side to side with rubber bands around my legs). He has three more exercises to teach me, but things were cut short yesterday when I wasn’t able to think straight and needed to rest. The conversation:

Trainer (worried): Are you seeing stars?

Me: No – not yet. (ha ha)

Trainer: OK, well, that’s good. Do you feel like you need to throw up?

Me: Uh…I don’t think so.

Trainer (slight smile on his face): That means that you’re probably pretty close.

Now, I’ve heard of people who throw up from those boot camps, and I feel massive amounts of sympathy for them, because I can’t imagine going into a boot camp program and having my ass kicked in front of many people. Even here, this is in front of work people, but traffic when I go is low enough that it’s typically not a panic-inducer for me. And, thankfully, I had the presence of mind to walk (slowly) to the ladies locker room AND get to a bathroom stall before I threw up, so I consider it kind of a win.

I still need to go back another time to get the remaining 3 exercises down, so I can start the routine of alternating my walking with this. That will be either today or tomorrow. My quads are still somewhat sore at times, making me question just how strong I thought they were; it seems improbable that they were as solid as I thought for how much they were burning last night!

So, semi-humiliation of puking aside, and pain aside, I feel like I’m on the right path. Of course, these exercises have the potential to help me strengthen my legs (good for me and the marathon) and lose some weight (again, good for me and the marathon), so I’m actually looking forward to doing them. I think it’s 100x easier for me to take this on since I have a specific goal and it’s not something that I know I can’t do. I just have to get past having been that person.

And now I have.