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Half-marathon training poses many challenges

May 22, 2014 - Andy Flynn
This week: 400 lbs.

Last week: 400 lbs.

Start (Dec. 17): 470 lbs.

Total lost: 70 lbs.

My wife can’t understand why people compete in sports endurance events — marathons, triathlons, etc. — and when I’m working through the pain of training for the Lake Placid Half-Marathon on June 8, I sometimes wonder the same thing.

It’s not the pain I enjoy. Frankly, I can live without it. But if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. And I guess that’s the appeal. Most people will not walk or run a half-marathon in their lives, and certainly not while being morbidly obese. I plan on walking the entire 13.1 miles.

Back to Dawn’s question, “Why put yourself through the pain?” My answer — which doesn’t completely satisfy her curiosity — is two-fold. First, I wanted a goal that would force me to walk more, and by walking more, I would hopefully lose weight. Second, I wanted to achieve a difficult goal, at least for a person of my size, and a half-marathon qualifies.

When I told people in December that I was going to walk the Lake Placid Half-Marathon, some said, “You can’t do that. You’ll have a heart attack and die.” At that point, I weighed 470 and hadn’t trained for it. “I’m not walking it this week,” I replied. By the time of the event, I’ll be just under 400 pounds. It’s not ideal, but it’s a lot better than 470, and I’ve followed through on a training schedule, combining walk days with workouts at the gym. I’ve lost weight, have more energy, and I’m stronger.

I can’t really describe the feeling I get after achieving a goal that seems unattainable. It’s a mixed bag of emotions, including pride. More importantly is the ultimate byproduct of finishing such a feat: confidence.

If I hadn’t walked the VIC Marathon at the Paul Smiths VIC in 2002 — finishing 26.2 miles in 13 hours — I wouldn’t have the confidence I need to complete the upcoming half-marathon. While there are fewer miles this time around, I’m 30 pounds heavier and 12 years older. Plus, the event is on asphalt, not a trail like at the VIC, so the pounding on my feet, legs, knees and hips is worse.

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The confidence I’ll get by finishing the half-marathon will help me through the hard times of losing weight this year. Sometimes the words “I can do it” are not enough. This achievement is hard evidence — proof — that I can do it. Every time I meet a weight goal, I get an extra boost of confidence, and that gets me to my next goal. It’s the same thing with tests of physical endurance.

When I’m working through the pain on my long walks, or when I have a bad week on my diet, I hear the words of Fitness Revolution owner Hal Schmidt saying, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll do it.” That keeps things in perspective. When I walk up a hill and I’m fading, I keep saying, “One step at a time. Slow and steady.” And it gets me to the top. When my feet hurt so much I don’t think I can walk anymore, I hear the countless words of support from family and friends, “You can do it. You’ve got this. Do it!” And I keep going. When the pain is so bad that I have doubts about finishing the half-marathon, I keep telling myself, “I’ve walked a marathon. I can do this.”

All those mental tricks helped me get through the 12-mile long walk in Lake Placid this past Sunday. I completed most of the half-marathon course, and I felt better after 12 miles than I did after the 10 miles the weekend before.

A couple tweaks helped. This time, I reinstituted the use of walking sticks, as I had done during the VIC Marathon in 2002. They took some of the pounding off my feet and knees and helped me up the hills. I added athletic insoles to my sneakers, which gave me a little more cushion. Plus, there were a couple places for me to rest on the guiderails, which I hadn’t done while training on the hilly course in Saranac Lake the week before.

But physical endurance isn’t my only challenge for the half-marathon. My emergency surgery for internal hemorrhoids three years ago left me with a control problem, so I’ve been trying to adjust my diet and habits to prevent an accident while on the half-marathon course. It’s worse in the morning, and the event starts at 8 a.m. A couple times walking around Mirror Lake this spring I had to leave my training early because of accidents. So I just may have to use the aid station support for more than Gatorade on June 8. Luckily, I’ve been able to stop at the Lake Placid News office on Mill Hill a couple times for bathroom breaks while training, as the building is located along the course. I’ll admit, I fear this part of the walk way more than not being able to finish.

Still, I’m determined to complete the race within the six-hour time limit without having an accident, especially after hearing these words from Lake Placid Marathon/Half-Marathon co-organizer Brad Konkler during a recent phone interview:

“I want to be there to hang your medal personally. That’s my goal.”

I don’t want to let him down. I don’t want to let anybody down, especially my twin brother, Steve, who is traveling all the way from Salida, Colorado, to walk with me that day.

“The race day, that’s what I really call pay day,” Konkler said. “All the hard work pays off.”

Konkler has competed in the Ironman Lake Placid and cross-country ski events, so I value his opinion and I was looking for some advice.

“Number one, I really applaud you and all of the athletes because I think one of the hardest parts about doing a race like this is actually signing up and what I call ‘going public,’ meaning you’re telling your friends and family that you’re doing this,” Konkler said. “Then you’re really committed because you don’t want to be the one to sign up for something ... and then drop out. So there’s a little bit of pressure there. And for you personally, talk about going public, right?”

I really don’t want to embarrass myself that day in front of thousands of people. I feel as though there are so many things that can go wrong. All I can do at this point is keep training, have a plan and do my best. Konkler advised me to set miniature goals throughout the race, and he spoke of mental toughness.

“It’s good to have a bit of a strategy going into this race,” Konkler said. “Some people, their goal is purely to finish. And that might mean stopping. It might mean walking through an aid station if you’re a runner.”

That’s my category. Just finish.

Konkler also asked me what I consumed on long training walks. I told him Gatorade, and he suggested Power Gel. When he races, he uses about a pack an hour, putting a pea-sized glob under his tongue a little at a time.

“It’s like a slow-drip IV,” he said. “You’ll be surprised at how well it keeps the engine running.”

Then there’s the question of when to taper off the training so my muscles can rest for the big push on race day.

“I would say, as a former USA Triathlon coach, for you about 10 days out, you can really start your taper,” Konkler said. “A good taper will really build that glucose back into your muscles so you can spend it down on race day.”

I’ve got an 8-mile walk this Sunday in Lake Placid, and I’ll be training on the River Road. For the entire 13.1 miles, I already know all my mile markers and have figured out the splits so I can track my time along the way and stay on a six-hour schedule. I’m actually shooting for an average of 2.3 mph, so that would get me to the finish line at the Olympic Oval around 1:40 p.m. I walked 12 miles in exactly six hours on Sunday, but that included two bathroom breaks, a break at my car to change a shirt and three stops on guiderails. So I think if I can trim the breaks, dig deep and keep to my schedule, I’ll do it. Konkler seems to think I will.

“My guess is you’re going to step it up a little bit that day,” he said. “It’s easier to get amped up and dig a little bit deeper. I think you’re going to be amazed how race day is going to seem easier perhaps than just training out on your own on a cold, windy Adirondack day. The adrenaline gets going, and the roar of the crowd and the announcer, the music and that race-day buzz really helps our athletes have a peak experience.”

I’ll drink to that. Gatorade for now, Irish whiskey after the race.

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Blog Photos

Andy Flynn poses for a selfie on top of Harrietstown Hill outside of Saranac Lake May 11 during his 10-mile training walk. (Photo — Andy Flynn)