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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 8, 2002

For marathon regulars, real test is keeping passion alive

 •  Special Report: 2002 Honolulu Marathon

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

When Eric Schatz says he has kept his marathon training to just the "bare minimum" this year, you'd best brush up on your understanding of relativity.

For Schatz, a core member of the aptly named Hawai'i Ultra Running Team (HURT), the bare minimum includes warming up with the grueling Volcano Marathon in July, the 10-mile Tantalus Trek trail run in August, and a birthday run in September.

What's a birthday run?

"That's where you run your age in miles," Schatz said. "I turned 40."

Actual marathon training started in October with a weekly schedule of one long run, one pace run, and a couple of easy runs.

The long runs included weekend jaunts from Enchanted Lake to Sandy Beach (and back), or from the Hygienic Store in Ka'a'awa to Kahana (and back). The pace session usually consisted of a 10- or 12-miler at faster-than-marathon pace. Easy runs were six miles or so.

Remember: relativity. Compared with the training Schatz and his wife, Millie, do for events such as the 37-mile, 10,000-foot-gain Haleakala Run to the Sun, or Millie's 100-mile Western States ultramarathon, training for today's marathon is actually kind of mellow.

"I don't go over 40 miles a week," said Schatz. "I've done enough of these that I hardly ever go really hard anymore. My goal is to not do any worse."

"Worse" for Schatz would be anything slower than usual, from around 3 hours, 22 minutes to 3:29.

"I feel like I've got three more years where I can challenge my PR (personal record)," he said. "I'm going to go out (today) and hurt a little. If I end up having to walk through the finish line, so be it."

Schatz will be one of an estimated 30,000 runners participating in the 30th annual Honolulu Marathon today.

It's the 12th consecutive Honolulu Marathon for Schatz, though he probably has completed distances of 26.2 miles or longer more times than he can count.

For experienced distance runners like him, the mystique of the marathon has melted away with miles and miles of intimate encounters.

(Fellow HURT members John and P.J. Salmonson have been known to double back over the marathon course once they've officially finished.)

Like many devoted but un-awed marathon enthusiasts, Schatz is far removed from any false modesty. He doesn't brag or apologize. He keeps running.

Keeping passion alive

So does 50-year-old Rodney Morales, a University of Hawai'i English professor and author of the newly released novel "When the Shark Bites."

Morales lines up this morning for his 24th Honolulu Marathon. He started racing the distance in 1978. The last and only time he skipped the race was in 1983, for the birth of his son. He returned the following year, despite a rib broken two months earlier.

"I had sort of forgotten about the race until the card came in the mail for the packet pickup," Morales recalled. "I ran 10 miles two days before the race to see how I felt.

I actually finished the marathon with a decent time."

Morales was in graduate school when he ran his first few marathons, breaking the four-hour mark once despite a light training schedule. He hit his stride in the 1990s after joining the Honolulu Marathon Clinic and adding speed work to his regimen.

These days, Morales usually clocks in at 3:40. Like Schatz, he's less concerned with breaking his PR than maintaining his level of performance. Still, he has found new ways to stay enthusiastic about the sport.

In the last year, while on sabbatical, Morales joined Team Ulua to prepare for his first triathlon. And he has stuck with the group through the marathon training season.

"This was my first time with a team," he said. "It's neat to have people to train with. I never would run as long on my own."

Morales keeps his weekly mileage in the 30s, relying as much on savvy as physical ability to see him through races.

"I have a backlog of so many years that I can finish faster than a lot of so-called fast guys," he said. "I'm not fast, but I'm steady."

It's not unusual for recreational runners to turn in their best times in their 30s or 40s. Given the amount of time it takes to maintain a marathon training schedule — five to 15 hours a week on average — many recreational runners put off serious training until they are established in their careers; some are interrupted by children and other family responsibilities.

Also, running coaches say it can take three to five years for an athlete's body to adapt fully to the rigors of distance running.

Creative renewal

Fortunately, recreational marathoners can continue to improve for years, despite their age.

"There's little limit to when you can continue to improve," said

Brian Clarke, a running coach for some 30 years. "Seven years is the traditional answer, but it can be as long as 10 or 20 years. The people who discover creative ways to progress are the ones who continue to improve. For every runner the factors are the same: shock, adaptation and exhaustion. You have to find ways to rest and come back."

Clarke, an accomplished miler and marathoner, specializes in training beginning runners. His combination of long, slow runs with moderate speed and hill work have proved effective for new marathoners and experienced runners struggling to overcome training plateaus.

"A lot of beginners are anxious about preparing for their first marathon, especially in the days right before the race," Clarke said. "You can't always tell who is going to continue with it. A lot of it has to do with what kind of experience they have during the race and how suited they are for running.

"The better suited you are mentally and physically, the more likely it is that you'll continue," he said. "But not always. I'm often surprised at who gets the bug."

Erin McCloud, a personal trainer and finisher of 22 marathons, said marathoners tend to follow a pattern of development.

"There's that initial training season where everything is overwhelming. There's so many variables, from shoes to diet to training, to account for," she said. "It frightening and exhilarating at the same time. Some people stop there. They get their shirt and say, 'That's it.'

"But others, once they know they can do it, their confidence just pushes them forward."

Honeymoon fades

Marathoners often enter an "obsessive" stage within their first three or four years, McCloud said.

"They improve so rapidly, and there's this sense of, how far can I take this? Again, it's kind of intoxicating, but ultimately if you're going to continue to do it, you have to find a way to accommodate the rest of your life. You have to find room for everything."

Cheryl and Chris Dacus know what that's like. Cheryl, 36, started with the Honolulu Marathon Clinic in 1996 and has completed four marathons. Her husband, Chris, 38, is participating in his third consecutive marathon today.

Both are self-employed, Chris as president of his own Web building company, Commerce Insight; Cheryl as a freelance marketing and promotions expert.

Chris started marathoning as a way to improve his performance as a triathlete. He trains six days a week — about 15 hours total — dividing his time between running, biking, swimming and weights.

Cheryl trains with Team Jet.

Although they meet just three times a week, the workouts can be intense. Tuesdays are hill days, with members running repeats up and around sharply steep Kilauea Avenue. Thursdays are spent doing half-mile sprints at Kapi'olani Park. Sundays are reserved for runs of as long as 21 miles.

"It can be difficult," Chris said of the delicate balancing act they perform during their marathon training months. "The house might not be as clean as it could be, the dishes might stay dirty a little longer and dinner might be a little later. But it all works out."

Indeed it does. Chris, slowed by five knee surgeries in 10 years, said training for marathons and triathlons has kept him pain-free for the last several years. He has dropped 50 pounds since he started training.

For Cheryl, "the magic and excitement" of marathon day and the camaraderie she shares year round with her training partner have been continuous sources of motivation. With an increased training regimen this year, Cheryl hopes to shave 20 minutes from her PR.

Even off-years can be fun for marathoners with the experience and perspective to take it all in stride.

Consistency works

Last year, Maui resident Alan Yoshioka, 54, lost nine of his toenails in the first half of the marathon. He walked his way to the finish for a PW (personal worst) of 5:50.

"It was so much fun," he said. "We laughed the whole way back."

Yoshioka will be at the start line this morning hoping for better luck in his eighth Honolulu Marathon.

A relentless experimenter, he's hoping a new regimen of controlled high mileage will pay dividends.

In past training seasons, Yoshioka used computer programs, heart-rate monitors and other devices to bring order to his training. This year, using concepts of low-heart-rate training advocated by some triathletes and ultramarathoners, Yoshioka has increased his endurance without aggravating old injuries.

"I ran twice a day, every day, for about three months straight," he said. "I've never done that before. I've been on the program for five months now, and my heart rate is five beats lower.

"I'm not sure if I'll be able to tell a difference in my performance yet," he said. "It might take a year to really tell. But we'll see what happens. I'll have fun either way."

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2461.