Part of an occasional series about a novice runner training for the 2012 L.A. Marathon.
"I don't want to discourage you, but..." are not the words you want to hear from a marathon coach.
Still, that's what the coach of a Pasadena marathon training group said to me when I told her that with 10 weeks left until the L.A. Marathon, the farthest that I had run was eight miles. The group had already done 18.
I'd been out injured with plantar fasciitis since November, and the holidays hadn't helped with my training.
But with a bit of time to heal, and with my resolve steeled by a new year, I was ready to get back into the game.
Still, I wasn't feeling 100 percent. So that's when, at the suggestion of some readers, I decided to go with the run-walk method. (Please don't judge me.)
Being new to this whole running thing, I hadn't known that there was such a "method." I always thought that you either ran the whole thing, or walked whenever you got tired.
With this approach, you take short walk breaks after running for a set amount of time, before you get so tired that you're forced to walk. The technique actually helps runners record faster times because they don't slow down at the end of a long run, according to Jeff Galloway, a member of the 1972 Olympic marathon team.
The method uses different sets of muscles, keeping the legs fresh and helping conserve energy, according to Galloway's website.
"When a muscle group, such as your calf, is used continuously step by step, it fatigues relatively soon," according to Galloway. "The weak areas get overused and force you to slow down later or scream at you in pain afterward. By shifting back and forth between walking and running muscles, you distribute the workload among a variety of muscles, increasing your overall performance capacity."
Louie Lopez, a Porter Ranch resident who, at 56, will be running his first marathon, is using the technique to cross the race off his bucket list.
Like me and most new runners, Lopez was facing a litany of aches and pains in his knees and hamstrings. And after a long run, it would take most of the week for him to recover, only for it to be time for another long run.
"I was to the point where I was really wondering if I could finish the marathon," said Lopez, who slowed down to a pace of running for three minutes, and walking for one.
It's done wonders for him. He ran 10 miles on his own on Thursday, came away with some light soreness, and will do a 13-miler this weekend.
"I'm able to complete the mileage for the day and not have any borderline injury," Lopez said. "I recover much, much quicker."
And for Bynette Hebert, who leads the fastest run-walk group - six minutes running, one minute walking - at L.A. Roadrunners in Westlake Village, the method also offers a mental break.
Instead of counting down to the 26th mile, it's just a matter of looking forward to the next walk break.
"People don't think they're running straight through the entire thing," said Hebert, of Agoura. "It's not as stressful. It's only six more minutes.
"It's not like, `Oh my gosh, I have to keep this up for four more hours."'
And the group only finishes about five to 10 minutes after an 11:45 mile run group.
So for my first long run since my injury, I did 10 miles using a ratio of running for six minutes, and walking for one with the Pasadena Pacers in January.
And I felt great.
I finished the 10 miles in a little more than two hours, and I think I surprised some of my companions that I was able to keep up. I definitely surprised myself. Hopefully, I surprised that coach.
But then last week, I tried the method during a 13-mile run with the L.A. Roadrunners - and I wanted to die.
That run was by far the worst of all the runs I had done. For the last five miles, all I wanted to do was walk the rest of the way. My soles hurt, my calf was cramping, I was cursing the sun, and every time I saw a pine cone, I would contemplate stepping on it and maybe breaking a leg so I wouldn't have to run the damn marathon.
But I persisted. I had to walk mile 11, and part of 12 and 13, but I did it.
Afterwards, I found that my Achilles heel was bleeding because my shoe had been chafing, and my legs felt like they were imploding.
Maybe that coach wasn't so far off. Still, I'm chalking it up to a stomach bug and working late during the week, stopping me from eating and training as well as I would have liked.
Discouraging? Definitely. Discouraged? Not yet.