On December 10, 2022, our brother Joe ran his first marathon! He casually threw this accomplishment into the mix of an already busy and stressful, highly textured, and wildly successful life. Joe is Commander and Public Works Officer for the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command in Rota, Spain. He and his wife Halee, the green eyed, raven haired sister our blonde, brown eyed crew gained by marriage, have been globetrotting for all of their two decades long marriage. They have been busy raising their two boys in so many amazing places our Navy has seen fit to send them.
Active in various athletic pursuits all his life, Joe is not exclusively a runner; but he certainly has the discipline for long term, hard training. He has ran at least two half marathons, one in Spain (a year ago, the same event as the full he just completed) and one before, while stationed in Virginia. Both were successful.
For the Virginia half he followed the famously difficult Hansons training plan. During those months he and I commiserated quite a bit, as I was dabbling with Hansons then, too. We learned together along the way, though living many states apart, and traded weird details about daily life that mostly only runners would care about. I was so inspired by his strong finish and adherence to that plan! I clearly remember one conversation in review of Hansons when my younger and more stoic brother pointed out that the only way to honestly evaluate a training plan is to stick to it scrupulously, to give it your best and most honest effort. Otherwise, how can you say it was the plan that either passed or failed?
For this last training block, Joe flew much more under the radar. Not a single announcement on Facebook about his paces or goal or inspired reason for running, no Babe Ruth homerun declarations, nothing. That autumn I noticed his Garmin activities building volume and suspected he had something up his sleeve, but Joe has this aura of mystery about him, like a wild (if highly disciplined) horse who doesn’t want to be caught, so I resisted the urge to ask anything directly. I just made a few oblique comments here and there and secretly used the Law of Attraction to get him to open up. Finally he messaged me very casually about having signed up for his first marathon. Wahoo!! From that moment on I stalked his workouts like a weirdo and coordinated our far flung family to surprise him with something fun on race day, since he was halfway around the globe and we couldn’t be there with posters, cowbells, and refreshments (more on this remote surprise soon).
Watching Joe’s fitness build during those weeks was both motivating and humbling, because I have at least a glancing idea of how much other responsibility he carries in life. Anyone who trains for a marathon knows that those few hours on race day are a drop in the bucket compared to the months of time and energy spent preparing. Training never happens in a vacuum.
Anyway, suffice it to say, I love my brother so much. We have been mistaken for twins several times, and I always take it as a compliment.
But if were twins, I know he would be the smarter (and faster) one. I would be the one slightly better at gardening and diagramming sentences, possibly baking. He is an inspiration to me in a hundred ways, and I feel so happy that we share a love of running and a sincere curiosity about the art and science of marathoning.
After his race, in fact after the holidays, I got him to agree to a short interview to indulge all of my curiosities. What a fun thrill for me to finally share this story, in his words! Enjoy!!
1. When did you decide to train for a marathon, and was there an event or moment that inspired you? Is this a basket list thing? I won’t claim it was a lifelong goal, but after having run a few half marathons, I felt it was inevitable, I just didn’t know when. I didn’t do any real structured training from 2020 into 2021, but then ran a half that December with only moderate training. The course was flat and weather was mild. So when the race organizers emailed out reminders the following spring (2022), I decided to go for the full this time somewhat on a whim. That gave me more than six months to prep, which seemed doable.
2. You used a very different training program than you used for your half in Virginia. Tell me why you chose a different plan, how they compared, etc. If you run another full, will you prepare the same way, go back to Hansons, or something else? I knew I couldn’t dedicate six days per week to a program this time. I had other commitments and desires, including military group PT (physical training) a couple times per week, a personal desire to lift weights, and a full plate otherwise. So I chose a plan that included only four days per week. It was one step above one of the real first-timer plans, but not much. If I decide to run another full, I would like to improve, so I think going back to the Hanson method is a good likelihood as it does seem like an effective method. Which means I will need to have the time and (mental) energy to do a plan like that!
3. What did you do for cross training? Were you running paces at current fitness or beyond (how did you set your goal)? I went to a group workout 1-2 times per week as part of my duties, which sometimes was a short run (usually 3 mi., which I’d substitute into my plan), or a body weight circuit, or even team sports. As I got into the last 8-ish weeks, I would opt out more often to save myself for the long runs and to recover more. I also tried to lift weights a couple times per week. Similarly, I stopped that in the last 4-6 weeks. My running was mostly pretty slow. 1-2 minutes per mile slower than my goal. That usually allowed an easy recovery. Looking back, I can see how much my sleep pattern wasn’t ideal. Mostly 5-6 hrs per night. I know better now. Maybe. I set my goal somewhat arbitrarily. I thought a 4-hr marathon would be an awesome baseline, and it’s a time you often see as a benchmark goal for amateurs, so I did the math and figured out that’s about a 9-min pace. A little slower actually. I’ve run sub-8 pace half marathons, so even though I wasn’t in that shape then, I thought it was achievable. Now I know that was too ambitious, or that I would have needed to pick a more aggressive training plan to have gotten there.
4. Did your training block go as expected or as planned? Tell me about any significant hiccups. Tell me about any pleasant surprises, too. Tell me how your confidence and motivation fluctuated as training progressed. Overall, it went relatively smoothly. No major hiccups. Looking back, maybe I took it too easy. I did get sick for a few days a couple times in the second half and had to adapt the plan. I missed a few runs, including a 13-mi long run. But that was actually a step down week, sandwiched between 18 and 19 mi long runs, so I thought it wasn’t a worst case scenario. The only on-road hiccup I recall was during my longest training run, a 20 miler three weeks before the race. The 19 mi run had gone well and was a confidence booster, but I was sick again a couple days later, so I missed 1 or 2 shorter runs. I felt mostly better by the weekend, and ran the 20-miler just a couple days late. In the last few miles of that run, my digestive track really started throwing a fit. I was searching for concealment and hopefully a discarded cloth to clean up just in case. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary and after a few minutes pause I was able to shuffle home the last couple miles. That’s when I started my 3-wk taper, not exactly on a high. Probably wasn’t fully recovered from being sick.
5. I know your race day was cold and rainy. How was the weather as you trained, overall? Did the weather in Spain change much over those weeks? I picked this race partially because of the weather. December (and fall in general) is mild in southern Spain. I knew it should be in the 50s on race day, which was about reality. The rain was always a possibility, but of course I was hoping for dry. Rain definitely makes your shirt and shoes heavy. I fared well through it, but I did get a couple of blisters on my feet late in the course, which took over a month to fully heal. My training plan had started in late July, so I went from running in the 70s to the 50s (I ran in the early morning 99% of the time). Very easy place to run year round. Very small percentage of time you can blame the weather for not training, so you have to get creative with your excuses!
6. Who was your training partner, and how did their marathon experience compare? I ran solo pretty much the entire training plan, but had signed up for the race with a Navy buddy, Chris, who had done the same half in 2021 with me. He’s a talented runner that generally just wings it (my perception of course, but I know he doesn’t follow a rigid plan). Chris has run a few marathons and is pretty consistent year round. So he ramped up for the race and crushed it. Well under his stated 4-hour goal (sub 3:40), pretty sure a PR for him. He’s also modest, so he may not have admitted his target out loud. By complete coincidence, another Navy friend, Ben, was deployed here and ran the marathon as well. Ben is an even more experienced runner who has run countless marathons, definitely in the low 3s, likely has a sub 3 under his belt. But more importantly, he also ran my first half marathon with me back in 2004; another chilly rainy race. We never saw each other on the course, but it was a cool happenstance.
7. What was your race day breakfast, what shoes did you wear, and what was your post race meal? Breakfast was coffee, two pieces of bread (no toaster in the hotel) with peanut butter and a banana. Very close to my pre-long-run meals. I ran in Altra Provision 5. Post race, we went to a local restaurant/brewery… I don’t remember what I ordered, maybe a burger? But I do remember we had quite a feast before getting on the road to drive home. I was a little worried about sitting in the back seat with two 12-yr olds for three hours. But I survived. The adults agreed that we’d stop to stretch out if needed. Never had to after all.
8. Did you know that Greg was going to cross the finish line with you? What was that moment like? It was very cool to see Greg at the finish and I loved that he wanted to do that. Didn’t know if I’d see him at all. Since Halee wasn’t able to come, Greg was hanging out with Chris’s wife and son (TJ and Isaac, one of our social circle’s staple families here in Spain). And due to the rain, it was unpredictable how much time they’d be spending road-side.
9. How was your physical recovery? To say I was spent is an understatement. I guess you could say I hit the wall during the race. Felt great through 17 or 18 miles, then digressed and had to force myself to finish. So I didn’t run at all for a couple weeks. The first week was just true rest/recovery, which was needed and effective. Then we had our holiday vacation to London the next weekend. So lot’s of walking in London for four or five days, but still no running. Got in a handful of runs starting in late December into January, but have mostly started focusing on lifting weights again. I thought I’d stick to three days of running per week as an ”off-season,” but haven’t got that rhythm going yet.
10. When is your next marathon, and can it be with me? : ) Soon as I realized I wouldn’t meet my goal, I started wondering if I’d “need” to do another one, or if I was going to be happy with having just survived one. Before the race, I even had thoughts that I might enjoy ultra training more. I do enjoy the long slow runs. But marathon training is a serious time commitment, where the long runs become a big part of every weekend. So with our move back to the States on the horizon, I don’t have any races in mind. I could see myself doing a couple more half marathons first. There are tons of races in the DC area and nearby, so I know there will be plenty of opportunity to develop a strategy, and lots of places to explore, potentially on long runs! I imagine I’ll do another full someday and would love to do it together! Maybe we can make it a destination race, or just have you out to DC for a race out there. The Marine Corps marathon is a big one that we may have to consider…
Thank you, brother, for sharing your marathon experience with us! You did a phenomenal job, and you managed to make it a family memory too. I love you, I am so happy for you, and I miss you like crazy. I am already scheming ways to get to the east coast once you relocate, so we can race MCM together.