What's Your (Running) Story, Chris Swanzy?
Over the the past few years I've been working with SportMe, I've dealt with countless runners. Most of the time, I'm telling folks what to eat, what to drink, how to suss out an injury, or something else training related. But, every once in awhile, I encounter something special.
I encounter someone who shares a great story with me. They share a story that strikes a chord. It's a story that inspires me to run, it reminds me why I love it, and why it's all worth it. These stories light my fire and keep me going. I want to share these stories.
So, we've got a new blog series we're launching called 'What's Your (Running) Story?' For our first post in the series we're shedding light on Chris Swanzy. Chris has a demanding job, a wife, five kids, and somehow managed to shoehorn in a marathon training cycle (and vlog it all) using Sportme Run Trainer.
He battled hot & humid summers in Texas. He got up at 4:45AM many times. Chris is now a marathoner and hungry for more!
Read on for what motivates Chris, why he wanted to conquer the marathon, and what he secretly contemplated putting in his Camelbak (*hint....it's NOT water!).
Got a compelling, inspiring, amazing, transcendent, or insanely funny running story for us? Drop Marathon Matt a line at MARATHONMATT@SPORTME.COM and we'll feature your story in the newsletter!
Congrats on conquering your first marathon, Chris! What was the driving force behind this whole idea of running a marathon?
Something has always intrigued me about running a marathon. In the back of my head for years was the idea of conquering 26.2. I am a very driven individual in business and other aspects of my life. But, I’ve never tackled anything as ‘physically’ daunting as a marathon.
I thought I could probably go out and “finish” a marathon with a little training. That wasn’t enough for me. My goal was to “run” a marathon. To do this, I knew it would take a tremendous amount of commitment to the training process.
You started your journey towards 26.2 miles THREE years ago. Why did it take you so long to get to the starting (and finish) line?
Three years ago the idea of running a marathon started for me. I laced up and started training for the 2015 Dallas Marathon. My training was going well and I was starting to see results.
In addition to training for a marathon, I was playing soccer for a recreational team. In early October 2015, I was playing in a game and a player from the opposing team gave me a solid blow to the ribs.
I heard a loud crack and was in excruciating pain. The result was several broken ribs. This halted my marathon training completely.
I was barely able to sit in a chair let alone run. It took me two months before I could even think about running again. At this point, my marathon was only a few weeks away. I had to elect not to run due to insufficient training.
This bummed me out pretty good. I basically just threw my hands up and gave up. I quit running all together.
For the next couple of years this failed attempt at a marathon was eating me up inside. But, I was struggling to motivate to start training again. I finally decided this year that I was going to force myself to do it. I was going to do whatever it took to make it happen.
I knew I was going to need accountability. So, I came up with the idea of documenting and vlogging about my journey on YouTube. I knew that if I put it out there and people were watching, I was going to have to go through with it.
I never open my mouth without backing it up. My wife, kids, parents, friends, YouTube, etc would all know about my decision to run the marathon. If I were to quit, I would let all of them down.
I especially wanted my kids to see that if you set your mind to something, you can do it. It may not be easy and it may take a ton of hard work but you can do it!
You've got a wife, kids, and a job. How did you juggle ALL of this along with training for 26.2?
This was probably the most difficult part of the training process. I underestimated the time it took to get the training in. In addition to a demanding job, my wife and I have five kids. (18,17,16,13,11).
At the beginning of my training, the time I invested was minimal. My early runs were short and with the sun setting around 9PM, I could get my runs in after work. As my runs started getting longer, it became increasingly difficult to make the time needed to get the miles in.
I had to tell myself if I didn’t do this now, I would never do it. It was now or never. I HAD to make the time.
I had to get creative sometimes. I logged more than a few miles REALLY early in the morning. Believe me, it was never easy waking up at 4:45 AM with only a few hours of sleep.
The only thing that woke me up was the little man on my shoulder reminding me of my commitment I had made to myself and everyone else.
You logged a TON of long runs during the course of your training. Did you 'treat' yourself following these long runs? If so, what kind of 'treats' are we talking about?
I love my beer! The evening following a long run or the day after, I’d often go out to eat with my wife and throw back a few beers. There were many times I considered putting a few miller lite’s in my camelbak as opposed to water!
You ran four times a week to prepare for your first marathon. Was there anything else you did to prepare for 26.2?
I didn’t do much besides put my shoes and shorts on for the first several months of training. As my runs became longer, I reached out to someone I knew that was a marathon runner for direction. I also watched several videos on youtube for training advice. I learned that diet was a big part of my training.
I needed to prepare myself before my long runs so that my body could hold up as the miles accumulated. I started bringing fuel (Gu packets) that helped replenish some of the energy I was burning. I started to see a difference in my endurance by introducing this before and during my runs.
I followed the training put in front of me with the SportMe App. I told myself, “If you follow this and do what your training plan indicates, you WILL accomplish your goal.” Turns out, I was right!
How did you ‘mentally’ manage your long runs as your marathon training progressed?
I live in Dallas, TX. We had a good span of rain during my training that never seemed to end. This presented a few obstacles. I can’t run on a treadmill (which I call a hamster wheel). I have to run outside.
Additionally, the normal trails I run were covered in water for a long time due to the rain. I had to run on suburban sidewalks. There was a solid month (if not longer), where everything was covered in mud.
Running on sidewalks in suburbia gets difficult when you are trying to put together a 9 to 18 mile run. It’s mental for me. If I run on a long trail, it feels easier. Sidewalks are a different story.
When I was running by houses on sidewalks, I just would see house after house after house. It felt like the runs were twice as long. So, I broke up the distance into sections. For instance, on a 15 mile long run, I would think only about 7.5 miles. I would tell myself, “you only have to make it 7.5 miles”.
I knew I had made it 7.5 miles in the past. Once I hit that 7.5 miles, I then would change my mindset to “I only have 7.5 miles left”. I would tell myself you have run 7.5 miles before you can run 7.5 miles again.
I had to trick my mind into thinking I was only running distances I had run in the past. So, after running the first half of the 15 miles and making it 7.5, I would say ok 7.5 is left. I can do this, I have run 7.5 before.
Then as I would hit 6 miles left, I would say I have run 6 miles before, this is easy. Then as I hit 3 and 2 miles left, I would do the same.
I constantly had to trick my mind into thinking I was running less. Then the next thing you know, you finish 15 miles!
I am a true believer that your body can do more than you think. But, you have to get your mind to go along for the ride. I think the ability to run long distances is (almost) completely controlled by your mind.
You live deep in the heart of Texas and the bulk of your training took place during the hot, humid months of summer. How'd you manage to get your miles in despite the heat and humidity?
Why did I ever think July would be a great month to start training??? Deep in the heart of Texas definitely describes it. I ran into a tremendous amount of heat for the majority of my training.
I tried as much as possible to run early in the morning. But, most of my runs took place in the evening when it was blazing hot! I told myself, If I can do this now, I can definitely do this in December during the race.
As rough as the weather was in Texas during the summer, it pales in comparison to Dubai! I took a trip there over the summer with my son. The temperature was 106 and it felt like 140 degrees with the humidity.
I had 12 miles scheduled and I barely made it to 8 before I thought I was having a heatstroke. This was one of the most brutal experiences of my life. Running during the summer in Texas no longer seemed so bad!
What were your biggest learnings during the five months you trained for 26.2?
I learned so much about myself through the training process. I learned I was made of tougher stuff.
I learned I have a strong mind. Training for a marathon strengthened this trait even more.
I learned to never underestimate a marathon and what it takes to get there.
Would you do it all again?
I finished my marathon on a Sunday and on Monday, I put a 26.2 tattoo on the inside of my bicep as a constant reminder of what I accomplished. A few days later I looked into the NYC marathon.
I pledged to raise $2,600 for a charity for the opportunity to run this iconic race. This time around my goal is to break 4 hours and 30 minutes. I look forward to the new challenge and what should be an amazing experience of running 26.2 in NYC!