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Donna's Story

by Donna West
Preface by Val Lalor
October 2008

PREFACE: We come to running for many different reasons; they can be getting in shape, weight-loss, or a desire to challenge yourself. While some of us venture into the 10k, half-marathon and marathon realms, others of us are content to remain runners in modest, respectable distances that meet our expectations.

When Donna completed her first marathon, she shared with the club her insights and experience. I found her report so intriguing that I pressed her (gently) for some more information and she (thankfully) obliged. She agreed to share her thoughts and I am confident you will find them entertaining and eye-opening. It is said that after you run a marathon, your life is changed forever...I am more and more convinced of this as I re-read her account.

To begin, I asked Donna a few questions to get a sense of her perspective:

VL: This was Mount Desert Island (MDI) Marathon in Maine, correct?

DW: Yes, it was.

VL: Was this your first marathon? If so, why did you decide to run a marathon and why this one. If not, how many had you done before and why did you choose this one.

DW: It was my first marathon. I had run a half marathon 2 years ago after my sister died of cancer. I signed up with Team in Training and ran the VA Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll Half in her honor. I had always wanted to do a marathon but thought I never could. After completing the half I thought if I

could do that, then I could do a full if I trained properly. I decided on this one because we've been going to MDI for over 10 years and I knew the course would have to be beautiful. The course runs along the coast of the island through small fishing villages and with some of the most spectacular views of the Atlantic coastline. Had I known it would be so "challenging" (as they call it - I say "grueling") I probably would have picked a different one for my first! But it was beautiful and I would recommend it.

VL: How did you train? Did you use a guide by a personal trainer, from a book, online or did you design it yourself? I'm looking for a brief strategy or approach you used - what do you think worked for you, what didn't?

DW: I looked at a few training programs - Hal Higdon, MDI had one on their website and I looked in a few books I have - Bob Glover's Runner's Handbook and Runner's World Complete Guide to Running . They were all very similar so I designed my own making sure I got in two 20 milers, two 18 milers and a three week taper. 

But I have to say I could not have done the training without the support of the Sparta Runner’s Club. Doing long runs on your own is difficult. First you have to find a long enough route and then stash water along the way or carry it – which I found impossible. The Club allowed me to run on trails, which is something I wouldn’t have done on my own – they supported the runs by having water/drink drops which are essential on long runs. 

The variety of routes was also refreshing – having different scenery always makes for an easier run. And most importantly the camaraderie and tips you get are invaluable – my favorite was Pam’s suggestion of ice baths following a long run. 

The one thing I would do differently is to do one of my long runs on the road. The trails are great but mostly flat and I think you need to get your legs and mind around running on pavement and everything that goes along with it – hills, sloping grades, cars, etc.


And now, Donna's Story in her words:

I wanted to let you all know that I completed my marathon this weekend, in no small part to the support I got from this group.

It was a chilly start but there was a nice 2 mile hill in the beginning to get everyone warmed up. All the way up the hill were discarded sweatshirts and socks (many people used cheap socks as mittens). The MDI website calls this course "challenging" and accurately describes the hill in the beginning and the hill at the end. What it didn't do was describe all the hills in between. I'm convinced they leave this out because if they included this small detail, no one would sign up! It was basically all hills - I know this sounds impossible but the few down hills there were, were short and steep - very difficult on the knees. But it was beautiful and the scenery made it all worthwhile.

My time was decent - 4:48:33 - 11 min/mile pace. I wanted to finish in under 5 hours so had 11 minutes to spare.

Later that day when I was moaning and complaining about my aches and pain, my husband said "of course it hurts, but come on, you're not going to die." I remember my mid-wife saying the same thing in the delivery room and it got me thinking. Marathons and childbirth are very similar: you train for months and as the big day approaches you're both excited and nervous. About 3/4 of the way through you begin to think you won't make it but you keep going because stopping now is not an option. And as you approach the finish line you are amazed at what your body can do. You finish and you say I will never do that again but then as the pain subsides and a little time passes you begin to think maybe I will, maybe I will.


Congratulations, Donna, from the entire Sparta Runner's Club! While we played a part in your training - it was you, Donna, who crossed the finish line and we are so proud of you! Kudos!


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