Half and Half: Two Perspectives on a Half Marathon

The start of the 2016 Glass City Marathon. Photo courtesy of GCM at http://glasscitymarathon.org

By Keith Bombrys and Chris Watson

April 23rd, 2017 is the culmination of what, for around 8000 participants, has been weeks of training, sweating, working, stretching, pavement pounding, treadmill substituting, and above all, running toward a goal. The annual Glass City Marathon. Broken into discrete events, registered participants can run the full marathon (26.2 miles), half marathon (13.1 marathon), 5-person relay, or 5K (which if you are wondering is a shade over 3 miles). For many this event is their first or simply an annual event. For some it is a way to tune up and get ready for bigger events. For many it is an entry into a larger world of fitness. The marathon itself is an RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) Championship event.

Regardless of the “level” of running, the GCM is a large, well run, well attended, and for a good percentage of the runners, a pivotal event in both their running journeys and lives in general. Writers Keith Bombrys and Chris Watson represent such a pair. For both this is their second year of participation (Keith repeating the half and Chris having run the 5K) in 2016. Both have very different stories, different entry points into the world of fitness, different recovery times, different training schedules and regimes, even different running musical play lists. All that makes sense. Chris is 54. Keith is half that at 27. Despite their differences in experience, age, goals, even fitness knowledge, they have one goal:  finish the race.

Chris, 54 years old, 2nd GCM Event, former smoker, writer and musician

I quit smoking just 4 years ago. Then came the weight gain and the ‘puffy’ feeling. Of course, I was 50 so my belts were tight and my cheeks looked…well I just looked like I felt…sluggish. I joined a gym in the Winter of 2014. Anybody remember that crazy winter?  It snowed every other day and was overcast for two months.

I joined the gym because I was bored. I thought I would just walk on the treadmill and do a couple of sit-ups. Being raised frugal I started looking around the gym thinking that I was paying for all this equipment so I had better make use of it. That started some machine working, the so called ‘core training’, and the dreaded torture of ‘abs’. I was not an animal by any means. I just kept doing it, a little more each visit. And when the weather finally broke I started walking outside. It took over a year but by the middle of 2015 I was many pounds lighter and much happier.

Here is a fundamental rule:  the more you do, the more you CAN do. By the fall of 2015 I was still a regular at the gym and my walks were getting longer and longer. I simply couldn’t burn off enough of my new-found energy by strolling. A friend suggested that I either take up swimming, bicycling, or running. My gym doesn’t have a pool and when I looked at bicycles

Chris Watson at the Glass City Marathon expo.

sticker shock set in. Running shoes suddenly seemed cheap. So I started running…well really jogging…well walking and jogging…call it ‘wogging’. By the 2016 GCM I ran my first 5K and now I am doing my first half.

I think we all need goals. I had a bad time right before I started the half training. I just couldn’t get motivated to stay physically active. I made excuses not to exercise and, no surprise,  I gained weight. However, a friend reminded me that I had wanted to do a half marathon and in November…yes 5 and ½ months before the event…I bit the bullet and signed up for the Glass City Marathon Half Marathon event.

And I was committed. At least on paper. I was in training for 14 weeks proper with a month long “prep” period. For a while it was easy. Two or three miles, even at my snail’s pace, doesn’t take that long. However, a good first half marathon training plan sneaks up on you. You start doing 5 runs a week. The so called long run on Sunday takes longer and longer. The mid-week ‘triple threat’ (three runs back to back) become grueling. At my peak I was running around 30 miles a week. That consumes you…it takes time to do, time to plan, and time to recover.

But I did it. I stayed on the plan. In a most uncharacteristic action for a writer and a musician, I did what I was told…no improvisations and no deviations. And it worked. It became a compass, not a burden. I knew where I was heading and I kept going in that direction, one mile at a time…a little more each week.

So, why do it?  Because without a goal no one, not the highest-level Olympian or top notch professional athlete, can keep going. We humans are just not built like that. We are built to achieve. For some it may be simple weight loss. For others, it may be staying off of a medication or getting a good check up at the doctor. For many it is simply to hold pain at bay (see Dr. Pat’s article on movement and pain relief). It can be something as simple as wanting to enjoy activities like festivals, fairs, and outdoor markets again, anything that involves walking and standing.

As I prepped for the half my goal was to be ready for the event. Call it boot camp. When I run the event my goal is to survive. After that who knows?  What I do know is that I never doubted exercise and being healthy when I had the goal in mind. It wasn’t the specifics as much as the process. And during this process everything has been better. As cliché as it sounds it all comes down to mind body and spirit. If we set our mind to something (goal) and push our body to do it (exercise) the spirit will come along for the ride. 

Keith, 27 years old, 2nd GCM Event, Certified Fitness Trainer, Toledo Police Officer

I am a 27-year-old police officer and I am very passionate personal trainer and exercise enthusiast. I am very big into weight lifting, biking, kickboxing, cross fit, swimming, and any sort of outdoor exercise imaginable. Running, however, has always been a challenge for me, and even to this day it is still an uphill battle every time I lace up my shoe strings and prepare for a run. I have done multiple 5K races and short runs in my life. Last year, for the first time in my life, I decided to run The Glass City Half Marathon. This was my first ever half marathon and from that day forward, I decided that it would not be my last. This year’s run will be my second time running the Glass City Half Marathon.

Some of us are built for running, and yet others are built for, let’s face it NOT running. As a 6’02”, 225-pound male, I have always struggled to run. I feel most of this is due to my size and the amount of weight that I have to move forward with each step. I am certainly not making excuses, but being a bigger guy has always made running a little more difficult. I don’t have a problem keeping up for the long distance, but my problems are in the aches and pains that persist in that constant pounding motion on my body. My knees, ankles, and heels seem to suffer the most when I run. This is what makes it most difficult for me. Fighting through these aches and pains becomes the real challenge for anyone trying to complete any run.

On the campus of University of Toledo, runners and supporters alike meet the day before the Glass Marathon at the Expo.

A big part of finding success on race day is having success preparing for the event. Eating right, staying hydrated, sleeping, training, taking care of the body, and of course most people forget that resting is very important too. Preparation is a mini marathon in and of itself; most people have a set regiment they follow religiously in order to prepare for race day. I do my best to keep a training schedule, to run four or five days a week while still doing my regular workouts.

Even things like sleeping enough is the biggest challenge I face every day. It certainly isn’t an excuse, but there just never seem to be enough hours in the day. For my marathon last year, I was fortunate enough to have so much support and help to get me through my preparation and through race day. My family was very helpful, and in particular, my girlfriend Kassandra  was very helpful with my preparation. For as important as this event is and for the amount of energy, effort, time, and even money you will put into this event, I think that having an team of support and an accountability partner is very important for preparation to race day and even come race day. Many of my family members and friends were scattered throughout the course, cheering me on, holding signs, taking pictures, and offering encouragement.

Anyone who has ever run before can attest that running can be difficult, especially treadmill running. Most people will also attest that running can be very boring at times. Treadmill running, in particular, really bores me. Even if there is a television on in front of me, inside running can still be very difficult for me. Last year, I prepared for this event by grabbing my iPod and creating my own half marathon playlist for the journey. In the playlist, I put in many inspirational songs that really got my blood flowing as well as some of my favorite workout songs, and even some of my favorite songs that fir in neither category but were meant to change up the pace and keep me going on. Occupying your mind is a very important thing to do when running, especially if the run is a very long distance. Often times while running, I occupy my mind thinking about my life, putting to rest some of my problems, or even recalling good memories of experiences that I have had over the years. Between thinking to occupy my mind and listening to my pre-set playlist (which was ironically titled “It’s a Marathon, Not a Race” to help me keep my perspective), I had no room to think about the aches and pains of the race that really started to set in last year for me around miles nine and 10.

The biggest thing I have learned that running is not just an event to pass the time, but a lifestyle. Running these two half marathons has really changed my perspective and reaffirmed for me the importance of exercise in my life. For most of high school and all of grade school, I was out of shape and would have never dreamed of running 13.1 miles. Now, I look at the event and wonder why I ever made so many excuses to not run in life. It’s never too late to accomplish your goals and dreams in life, so why make excuses. So what are you waiting for; lace up your shoes, get outside, and start running towards your goals and dreams.