Stephen's Blog

Stephen’s Marathon Journey, Part 1: The Buildup

Note: This is part 1 of a four-part series on running a marathon by frequent guest and friend of the show, Stephen Stephano. In this series he will detail his real-life experiences in running ten marathons, and he will give a four-step process on how to run one yourself.

For those of you who have read some of my previous articles for LOTL, we meet again.  For those who haven’t, my name is Stephen Stephano. I’m a Clevelander in all but my physical address, as I have lived in Parma and Strongsville, and now I reside in North Ridgeville.  About a week ago I was asked by the folks at LOTL to detail some of the training I’ve done for my upcoming marathon race on November 16th.  The result is a 4-part mini-series where I’ll be taking you through the many aspects of training for a long-distance race, leading up to the final result.  To help clarify, I’ve given a name to each part:

1.The Buildup – this is the time before super-specific training, and focuses on good lifestyle choices and staying healthy and in relatively good physical shape.  This goes until about 60 days before race day. 

2.The Peak – this period focuses on building upon the foundation you in place during the buildup.  Achieving peak fitness is the end goal. This goes until about 10 days before race day.

3.The Taper – this period is where making it to the starting line healthy becomes more of a goal than improving performance.  It’s the calm before the storm. This covers the last 10 days before the race.

4.The Aftermath – this period is when you’re battered, bruised, and feel you can’t even walk to the bathroom much less go for a run.  But it’s also the period of reflection, and to hopefully bask in triumph.

Tonight I’ll be starting by discussing the Buildup for this year’s race.  The subsequent articles coming up in November (approximately the 7th, 14th, and 21st of November) will discuss the other three phases.  

The Buildup, as I mentioned before, is mostly about trying to make positive lifestyle choices.  It’s also about staying in shape, or getting into shape if you’re not. Most elite runners and coaches will tell you that running a long distance race like a marathon takes 4-6 months or more of buildup.  I tend to think that is a little extreme. My own experience tells me that if you’re an athlete playing other sports, like football, soccer, basketball, or even other fitness activities like cycling, swimming, or even mixed martial arts, completing a long distance running race is not beyond your capability.  

I am a 10-time marathon finisher.  I ran my first 26.2 mile race right here in Cleveland in 2010.  I ran through Tremont, Ohio City, Edgewater, St. Clair-Superior, and other neighborhoods before hearing the drumbeat of John Adams as I crossed the finish line.  That day I achieved something I never thought was possible. Full disclosure, I was a cross country and track athlete at Strongsville High School, so I had lot of competitive running under my belt by 2010, having run a personal best of 17:54 for 5k and 40:18 for 10k.  But I was far from what even high school coaches would consider elite. I never cracked a varsity squad for the Mustangs, who qualified to the state finals in cross country each year from 2001 – 2004. At one point my junior year, my coach actually told me I needed to lose weight.  Imagine that!  

From 2010 – 2015 I completed 9 marathons, running personal best times in Columbus and Akron before running my current personal best in Baltimore in 2014, a time of 3:13:38.  Poor race strategy doomed my efforts to lower that best time in 2015, as I ran very hard early in both Buffalo and Indianapolis in a vain attempt to achieve my ultimate goal of qualifying for distance running’s Super Bowl, the Boston Marathon.  I blew up badly on the back half of both races. Those turned out to be missed opportunities as I suffered a contusion and torn meniscus in my left knee in 2016. After surgery sidelined me for 6 months, I returned to the roads but have suffered through various injury troubles for much of the past 3 years.  Since 2016 I’ve only completed one 26.2 mile race, that coming in Detroit in October 2017. I trained to try to run races in fall 2018 and spring 2019 only to succumb to injury, one a contusion in my right IT band (the band running from the knee to the hip), the other a stress fracture to my left femur.

Given this negative run of health and form, I realized that I had to try to focus more on staying healthy and on getting more enjoyment out of my fitness outside of running.  This meant I needed new goals and a new approach to training. After returning from my femur injury in late April, my focus for the year was actually on soccer and basketball.  For much of May and June I was only running 2 – 3 days a week, playing team sports with friends on other days. The scores and the win/loss records really didn’t matter. I was out on the field and the court getting my strength back and having fun doing it.  Full disclosure – we went 3 – 6 in basketball and 0-12 in soccer – I have a decent amount of talent in the former, none whatsoever in the latter.  

During this phase I also did something very important.  My wife and I went to purchase new bicycles in late May of this year.  A complete novice to road cycling, I quickly discovered that cycling was a great way to gain cardiovascular fitness without constantly pounding my legs.  This led to me training for and competing in the Lake Milton Triathlon in July, finishing that race in 2 hours, 42 minutes. (I’d have done better if I had learned how to swim in a straight line. I kept veering off right of the turn buoys). So far, my longest bike rides have been between 25 and 30 miles in length.  To put that into perspective the top cyclists in the world routinely cover 100 miles or more in each leg of the Tour de France. But hey, I’m just a rookie in this sport.

This variety in training during the summer, I feel has allowed me to stay fresher and in better spirits than I ordinarily would.  By the conclusion of the basketball and soccer season in August, I was running 3 – 4 days per week, and slowly starting to transition more toward running.  The buildup phase was a success. I was injury free and feeling good every time I laced up my shoes. But this was just the opening salvo. Bigger battles lie ahead with the onset of autumn.  It was time for the peak phase, the phase in which I had failed in fall 2018 and spring 2019. Will my new regimen of cross training over the summer make the difference this season? We’ll cover that next time, so stay tuned.

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