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The key ingredient for a first marathon? Pure determination.

RobertScheer

Is running a marathon -- or a race of any distance -- on your goals list for 2013? Bob Scheer talks about how, at 43 and with little running experience, he made it through his first 26.2 miler.

Blog by Bob [Photojournalist, wine columnist, cyclist and newbie runner]

I laughed to myself as I walked into a local running store last September. I’d just had coffee with Scott Spitz, a friend who has run marathons in 2:25 and regularly wins local trail races.

During the coffee, I'd explained to my skeptical friend that at 43, I was going to run my first marathon  -- the 26.2-mile Monumental -- in early November after only seven weeks of training. He just shook his head and said, “I think you’re nuts, dude.”

Undeterred, I started training on Sept. 10.

Running a marathon has long been on my bucket list. I’d walked that distance a number of times, including the LA Marathon in 1998, but I felt like a fraud. I knew I needed to run one.

There was a big challenge, though: I wasn’t a runner. Though I’ve been a long-time fitness cyclist and have done plenty of tough karate training, I’d always told myself I hated running and convinced myself that I could never do it because of a couple of minor knee surgeries.

My first training run seemed to validate that hypothesis. I almost quit after three miles, at which point my legs felt like they’d been repeatedly whacked with a pole.

Still, I wasn’t about to give up. For me, this was a battle that was more mental than physical.

Propelling that belief was a philosophy by legendary boxer Bernard Hopkins to which I’ve long subscribed. Throughout life, Hopkins says, we need to make regular deposits in our body’s “bank” by doing things such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, sleeping well, avoiding tobacco and cultivating friendships and positive thought. The more deposits we put in, as we age, the more withdrawals we get to take. These withdrawals help us stave off illness, live longer, and pull off stunts like marathons.

With this in mind, I believed that I could run the 26.2 miles. And I proceeded to persist through the initial days of painful training.

Once my legs adjusted to the first two weeks of pounding, I settled into a routine, guided by runner friends who gave me tips. Each week, I cycled two days and ran three, incrementally increasing distance on my long runs.

I had to nurse a pulled calf along the way, and by race day, I’d only logged 100 miles, spread over 16 training runs, the longest being 12 miles.

Marathon morning was chilly, 35 degrees, but the communal experience was thrilling. I started out slow, with lots of people passing me during the first five miles. About eight miles in, my legs felt fresh, and I realized I was having a blast. Until about mile 20, I slapped every hand I saw, sent Facebook updates, played air drums to my iPhone play mix, and paused to chat with buddies I saw on the route.

Then at mile 21, the hail came, followed by icy rain.

Four miles from the end, I knew I’d run out of fuel when I had to ask a stunned 8-year-old at the side of the road to open an energy gel for me. My ice-covered fingers had stopped moving.

I plodded across the line just shy of five hours, running only on stubbornness and the promise of greeting a few friends who came downtown to cheer for me at the finish. I didn’t run fast, but I ran nearly all the course.

That first post-marathon night, I woke up every two hours in pain and famished. The next day wasn’t much easier. Still, I caught myself thinking, “I’d do that again.”

And I did. In December, I ran my first half-marathon, clocking in just over two hours.

While difficult, the experience showed me the power of positive thinking and iron-clad determination. And it’s made me wonder what I can pull off in 2013.

Scheer is a photographer and wine columnist for The Indianapolis Star.


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