Some half-fast tips on getting started for the marathon

This is the first part of an occasional series looking at training for a half- or full marathon, leading up to the Long Beach race on Oct. 13. Members of the Post staff will share their personal training experiences, as well as stories of other local runners, race info and advice from experts. If you have a personal story you’d like to share, a suggestion for a story or other feedback, email Managing Editor Melissa Evans at [email protected]

When I have a writing project due, I wander the pen aisle of Office Depot comparing ballpoints, gels, markers and highlighters, then mosey over to the notebooks and size up binding and paper quality.

Procrastination has left me with drawers full of unused junk.

Since proclaiming in the newsroom a month ago that I intended to run the Long Beach half-marathon in October and chronicle the preparation for such a feat—and two reporters declared they would, too—I’ve spent a lot of time shopping online for socks: Synthetic or cotton? Double-layered? No-show or knee-high?

Important decisions, surely, but with 10 weeks to go before race day—a deadline looming—it seems the time has come to actually start running.

“You get the race you train for,” Dan Cruz, spokesman for the JetBlue Long Beach Marathon, said to me recently in the same sing-song way that an annoying optimist might declare that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”

I’m clinging to the hope that I can at least crush reporter Valerie Osier, the beginner in our Long Beach Post trio—though, at 24, she’s young enough to be my daughter. The other participant, reporter Jason Ruiz, 33, seems like the type who could roll out of bed hungover and log a 10K without breaking a sweat. Thankfully for us, Ruiz is losing three weeks of training time while on vacation in Africa; his only option this week is to train at the airport:

At 43, I’m even older than the now-empty City Hall; we’re equally run-down and seismically challenged. I am going to have to train for this—and yes, I do believe I deserve extra points for cresting the threshold of legal protected class status. I am a brave hero, an inspiration, a mahatma of marathoning.

I then finished reading the latest press release about the Long Beach race: There are 15 runners this year who have completed every single marathon in the event’s 34 years (this is the 35th), which means they either started racing in the fourth grade, or, more likely, they are at least a decade older than me.

And that’s the full 26.2 miles. Our goal is a mere 13.1—the more sane choice, and the one preferred by most participants in the local race. Roughly 10,000 competitors sign up each year for the half.

So, without further procrastination… let the training commence. Thankfully a number of groups, clubs and experts around the country have already done the tedious work of mapping out regimens for marathons, half-marathons and 10Ks. According to the Long Beach-based AREC (A Running Experience Club) calendar, at this point, I should be up to 8 miles for my once-a-week long run, which is plain crazy.

On a gentle jog a few nights ago, my left hip knotted up; I pressed on until it went numb. With .38 miles left to my goal of 5 miles, a stinging pain erupted from my lower back, across my right hamstring to the base of my knee. Again, I pressed on, pledging to henceforth stretch before setting off.

By the end of this triumphant run, tomato-faced and saturated in sweat, a defeating reality set in: This isn’t even half of a half marathon. 

“If you can do 5 miles you can do 13,” a friend and experienced runner told me nonchalantly the next day as I hobbled along the sidewalk. It seems to me a significant difference, but perhaps I should try a bit of optimism; God, after all, has never given me more than I can handle.

This week’s run

I’ve decided to do my three weekday “maintenance” runs at the gym to spare my hips and knees the wear of pounding on asphalt.

The long run, though, has to be outdoors; reading subtitles on some Lifetime sitcom featuring Alyssa Milano isn’t going to pull me through those moments when my mind convinces me I have an incurable lung disease and if I don’t slow down I could die at any second …

How many miles am I up to? That feels like an intensely personal question; I’d rather list my weight and let you rummage through the contents of my purse.

Here goes: I am now at 5.5 miles (my pace is none of your damn business).

My long-run route, if you’d like to give it a try: Start in the Whole Foods parking lot on Marina Drive. Stretch. Set off south toward Alamitos Bay Landing, past the hungover slobs drinking bloody marys at Schooner or Later, then take a left toward Seal Beach. Hang a right onto First Street (we’ve now crossed counties, which means we’re extra athletic), then take a left on Ocean Avenue. Run all the way to the end of the Seal Beach Pier, and turn around at the end (very important; at this point I want to belly flop into the Pacific and call it a day), and continue right onto Ocean, which will turn into Seal Beach Boulevard. When you reach Pacific Coast Highway, turn around, run back, then treat yourself to a freezer case full of mochi ice cream balls at Whole Foods.

From left, reporter Valerie Osier and editor Melissa Evans are training for the Long Beach JetBlue Marathon on Oct. 13. Photo by Thomas Cordova.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.