From Treadmill to Marathon Julie’s Story — “I Did It!”

Joseph R. Anticaglia MD
Medical Advisory Board

You don’t have to be, as if anyone could be, Haile Gebrselassie to be a good runner. Haile is considered, by many, to be the greatest distance runner in history. This 5 foot 5 inch and 119 pound dynamo, in his prime, shattered 61 Ethiopian national records ranging from 800 meters to the marathon, established 27 world records and captured two Olympic gold medals. An Ethiopian national hero recognized by New African magazine in 2011 as being one of the 100 most influential Africans.

In contrast, Julie’s athletic claim to fame was being part of her high school’s junior varsity’s lacrosse team. She lasted one year. For the next 20 years she worked behind a desk in one capacity or another for a non-profit organization, in advertising and finally, in human services. How did it come about that for the past seven years running became a must-do part of her life?

‘It Was a Social Thing’

“When I was in High School, I got interested in horse riding. One afternoon, I was jumping verticals. These are jumps that consist of planks one on top of the other. They were only about two feet high. The horse landed funny and I buckled forward and to the side landing on my butt. That’s when the pain started. It was a jabbing pain in my lower back that went down the back side of my right upper leg. I still have it today if I’m not careful”

“Anyway, after many doctors, what helped me the most was going to the gym. I worked-out with a personal trainer with a background in physical therapy. He and I began a program to strengthen my back muscles. At about the same time I was doing back exercises, my company launched a ‘Get Healthy and Stay Healthy’ program. They gave out flyers about diet and exercising.”

“What interested me was that a bunch of people at work began running and it became a social event. Several started off on the treadmill and gradually moved up to competitive racing. I noticed their camaraderie, people losing weight, their energy and enthusiasm. From time to time, they would get together after work. They were running, working and having a good time.”

Treadmill to Marathon

“After I got an OK from my doctor, I started running on the treadmill. Working with my personal trainer, we figured out a program. I gradually dialed-up the distance from 1K to 3K — three thousands kilometers on the treadmill. I did my back exercises. I felt great.”

“What further piqued my interest in running was the office workers reaction to the company’s sponsorship of The Heart Health 5K. It seemed as if that’s all they would talk about. I decided to train for and signed up for the 5K.”

“Before the race I did a few things. I got a pair of good running shoes and used them for several weeks before the actual date of the race. They work as shock absorbers and you don’t want to run with worn down shoes. I kept to my gym routine and began to run outdoors more seriously. I became familiar with the course of the 5K and when it would start. I planned my runs with that in mind and kept a diary.”

“The day finally arrived for the 5K. I found my way to the registration desk with a bunch of other people. I signed in and it felt strange to be given an official number. My number was 1830. They pointed us to the starting line where scores of other racers had congregated. They were jumping up and down, and doing calisthenics. Although I knew the value of warming up before a race, for some reason, I was just leaning forward on my toes and back on my heels.”

“On your mark get set, go! It was nothing like that. We were bundled together and it seemed before you knew it, I was off and running! My plan was to pace myself and run nice and easy. Run relaxed with the body upright, elbows bent and moving and hitting the ground heel to toe. My preparation paid off. I joyfully completed the 5K and my back was OK. It was all smiles to get a medal and receive a citation that I completed the 5K. After a while I thought, what’s next?”

The Marathon

“I set my sights on the 10 K which I completed after several months of training. People at work were very supportive and eager to share their insights about running. I didn’t think much of it at the time when a co-worker told me: “trust the training!”

“Next up was the half marathon. This 13 mile race made me think of the unthinkable. If I do well in the half marathon, which I did, should I plan and train for the New York Marathon? The marathon begins on Staten Island near the entrance to the Verrazzano Bridge. The runners crisscross the five boroughs on their way to the finish line in of New York City.”

I wasn’t interested in the competitive nature of running that race. Victory for me was qualifying for the NY Marathon, running in it and finishing it. I was competing with myself!

Wikimedia commons: NY Marathon, Verrazzano Bridge

The Club

“When I decided to enter the marathon, realty set in. Because of the world wide popularity of the NY Marathon, thousands of runners were subject to a lottery for the privilege of participating in the race.”

“Another reality: My present training program was not going to get me across the marathon’s finish line. My co-workers suggested I join a runner’s club which I eventually did. First, I needed to be allowed to run in the NY marathon. My application was accepted after I completed several races sanctioned by NY Marathon’s committee.”

“The club I joined offered a 16 week program for marathon runners. One of the club’s questions included: ‘Why do you want to run in the marathon?’ My answer, I want to prove to myself that I can run and complete the 26.2 mile race in New York without being injured.”

Trust the Training

“My program outlined how often and how many miles per week I should run. Each week I made it my business to do a

  • Long run
  • Speed run
  • Hill run and an
  • Easy run. Early on, I did most of this work on the treadmill.”

“The goal was to gradually increase the distance up to but not exceeding a 20 mile run. If you can run 20 miles, you can run the marathon. Running 26.2 was not recommended since it would take you your body a few days to recover from that distance.”

“Three weeks before the marathon my longest distance run that week was 20 miles. The next week it was 15 miles. A week before the race my longest run five miles and two days later three miles. I walked a mile or two for a few days. And two days before the marathon, I rested, relaxed and visualized the race with me crossing the finish line with my arms held high.”

The Race

Pre-Race Day Diet

“I try to follow a healthy diet whether I’m running or not. A day or two before the race, I increased the amounts of carbs in my diet. I’m trying to maximize the amount of glycogen in my muscles. This helps to improve my endurance and cuts down on fatigue. I don’t go overboard on carbs.”

Race Day Diet

“When I start the run, I don’t want to be hungry or feel bloated. I had to figure out for myself what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat. You can get a good idea of what works for you from your previous runs.”

“About two and one half hours before the scheduled starting time of the race, I have avocado on rice crackers and a hardboiled egg. I’ve done this for many of my races. About 20 minutes before the race begins, I take a carbohydrate gel. I’ll take another one every three or four miles if I have a long distance run. I drink water to be hydrated and essentially don’t eat any food during my runs.

Mile 25

“What’s wonderful is that a lot of New Yorkers come out to cheer the runners along the 26.2 mile course. ‘Way to go Julie! Keep going! You can do it! Go Girl! That meant a lot to me and gave me that extra push to finish the race. Some offered slices of oranges or grapes to the runners along the way. Bottled water was always available during the run as well as Gatorade.”

“I felt good as I approached mile 25 in the race. I kept a steady pace. I resisted the urge to run too fast or too slow. Remember to keep your eyes on the prize. Finish the race without injury.”

“As I was running mile after mile I felt destined to complete the marathon. I felt strong. Then it happened. At mile 25, my right knee began hurting. It started to tighten-up. I tried to jog through it but the pain got worse. Was my right knee pain a detour or a dead end? Or did the organizers have something up their sleeves?

“I looked up from my knee and on the sidewalk across from me was a man connected with the marathon. He sat at a table, with a sign that said, Biofreeze! I went over to him, asked him to squirt the stuff on my right knee. I did a few stretch exercises. The knee loosened-up. I felt fine. I ran toward the finish line.”

The Finish Line

“When I crossed the finished line I felt ecstatic, relieved jubilant. I threw my hands up to the heavens and jumped for joy! I did it! In the mayhem someone placed a ribbon around my neck with the marathon medal. I followed the crowd of runners towards the area where food and drink were set up. There were apples .bananas, pretzels, a gift bag and other stuff. I cooled down and had peanut butter on a bagel.”

“Completing the marathon is a huge accomplishment. What I go back to is that I’m a small part of a sharing and caring community. Only one half of one percent of the people in the United States have completed the marathon. People at work were tired of my saying, ‘I need to get my run in.’ But they also told me to trust the training, and I did. I’m proud of myself. I Did It!”

Conversations with Julie
New York Marathon, 2019

This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.