Watchung: A Trail Marathon
by William Mitrus
I need to begin by explaining how an overweight, cigarette smoking, barstool hugging guy came to want to even run a marathon.
So, here it goes: 2010 was by far the worst year of my life. My father had been diagnosed with Kidney Cancer and moved in with myself, my wife and our newborn daughter causing all kinds of stress, I have been struggling with my own alcoholism for years and it was just too much. I had been drinking on and off with a couple months here and there of sobriety but, my wife couldn’t take my drinking and left on October 31st.
My Father passed away on November 14th. I was 3 months sober and really not liking life very much. Needless to say, I started drinking again…heavily!
However, something clicked in my head (and heart) on 1/11/11. I became very afraid at my rapid rate of decline and I decided to try to get sober…again. So I drank my last beer…smoked my last cigarette and have not had either since.
Anybody that’s been there knows early sobriety really sucks. I was an emotional basket case for my first 6 months, didn’t know if I was coming or going and needed an outlet.
I found running in June of 2011. I wasn’t happy with my weight or how I was feeling and found running was a good remedy for both maladies. I weighed 260lbs. (today I weigh 213lbs.) and really wanted to shed some pounds so started running on the tread mill which became very boring, very fast.
My friend Karen Fennie had posted on my Facebook page a few times to get outside and off the treadmill. I did so and was hooked. I ran my first 5k in July, then a 4 mile race in August followed by my first Half Marathon on September 10 which I finished in 2:17. I am not going to break any land speed records but to be able to finish was an awesome feeling. This running thing had me enthralled and I wanted more. So I said…”Shoot, I’m going to run a marathon!”
I signed up for the Watchung Winter Trail Marathon and Ultra run by the NJ Trail Series, njtrailseries.com. I found it through marathonguide.com and what attracted me to it was what the race promo said “NO T-SHIRTS NO AWARDS.” With that statement it appeared to me that this race was more about the running instead of self glorification. More about having fun and just getting out having a good time in nature and…just running. I couldn’t ask for more. Oh yeah, the $25 entry fee was also very nice and grabbed my attention as well.
So here I am signed up for this Trail Marathon, a complete noob to running let alone running on trails. So I check out my local Fleet Feet store and much to my delight they are offering a 12 week Marathon Training program which ends at the same time my Marathon is.
I just have to meet for group runs twice a week and run on my own two other times a week. No Problem! I will do my lone runs on trails and then the group runs with them. I will be set! Plus, I get a bunch of stretching and nutrition tips from proven runners! This is great! Then, my car breaks down. The mechanic estimated $7k to fix it and I really didn’t have the money to fix it or for a new one so I had to scrap my car as well as my training with Fleet Feet for I had no way to get to the group runs. I felt dejected and really bummed out.
That is when I googled Marathon Training Programs and found this site. I downloaded the 12 week program and made this huge calendar with a map of the race course which I hung with total disregard to any type of feng-shui home styling. Needless to say Martha Stewart would not have been happy! At this point I have a Training schedule, an awesome trail map, and motivation. It would be nice to have some experience as well.
That is where my friend Karen Fennie…(who eventually became more than just a friend) had committed to this training with me. Karen is an accomplished Marathoner as well as Ultra-Marathoner and I could not have been more blessed to have a better training partner…let alone, a new partner in life.
So Karen picked me up on weekends and we did almost all of my long runs on trails in Chenango Valley State park in Upstate NY. She taught me about the importance of nutrition and hydration as well as sticking to a program, which I did with utmost vigilance.
During the work week for the scheduled mid week runs I would wake up at 3:30 am to get my runs in before work. Each week I found myself running a little further and further… astonished that I was able to do it.
I had some real good runs but then I also had some tremendous bad runs. Runs where everything was aching and sore by the time I hit 9 miles. Needless to say, those runs were not a lot of fun but I got through them. I just kept plodding through, all the while in the back of my mind hoping that come race day…I have a good run and not one of these bad ones.
Then came my first 17 miles…I felt like I was floating through the Forrest! Bouncing over roots, rocks and all manner of obstacle! I felt great!
Then there was and 18 miler and a drop to 15 miles for long runs which were real rough, but again…I just did them. All the while Karen by my side giving me much needed positive reinforcement.
Then the longest run to date…20 miles. This would also be the longest I would run up to the race. Those 20 miles was equally as good as the 17 miles I had felt so good on a few weeks earlier. I felt great, I felt confident. I was as ready as I was ever going to be for Watchung.
My ramp down was awesome but it left me feeling a little undertrained by the time I got to N.J. for the race. I was nervous, hi strung and really just wanted to get it over with. It was a beautiful January 7th with a temperature at an unusual 55 degrees. I was able to run in shorts and just a tech shirt. My nutrition was good and I was properly hydrated so I was ready to go.
The Trail was very rocky in parts and muddy in others, but for the most part not overly technical. I started out a little to fast but slowed down and had Karen, who ran with me as (part of her training run for the Beast of Burden 100 mile Ultra on January 22) remind me to keep it slow and steady. How did she put it…Oh Yeah: “I will tell you once and only once; SLOW DOWN.” I listened and am grateful I did. She helped me dial in a nice pace that worked. Over all I finished in 6:40.
I obviously did not qualify for Boston but what I did qualify for was a rich and rewarding life that is only getting better with ever mile I tack on.
So I will keep on running. Probably running on trails since that is what I really enjoy the most.
I just signed up for my first Ultra to be run on June 30 called the Finger Lakes 50’s. That means 50 miles is to be my first Ultra attempt and I feel pretty good that with the base I have acquired from this training program, I can build upon that and have a very solid Ultra training program as well. The one thing Karen said to me when I was feeling a little less confident maybe a week before the race to what she termed as “Ramp down Madness” was that I needed to “trust my training”.
You have developed a really good training program for one to “trust” and I would suggest it to anyone. I really just want to say thanks for putting it out there and sharing it, otherwise I may have never accomplished my first marathon.