Good trainers, overall fitness and internal motivation key to running marathons
For athletes who run marathons, training to complete the long-distance races becomes more than a hobby — it becomes a lifestyle.
Galveston resident Heidi Walker is a trainer at Galveston Fitness who helps people prepare for marathons among other athletic events, and has seen many people take on the long-distance running way of life, she said.
To work with Walker, a runner with no experience in racing would first need to train for 5K and 10K races, and then in about a year’s time could be ready to train for a half marathon, she said. Once the shorter races become comfortable, then a runner is ready to train for a full marathon, Walker said.
“If you could comfortably complete a 5K, I could take you on as a full-marathon client,” Walker said. “Now, that training would be a longer course. I would not take someone who has 10 or 12 weeks until their race. That wouldn’t be safe. But, given a 16- to 20-week window, and you come to me with a fitness base already, then I could take on that athlete as a marathon trainer.”
Tatiana Verega, who lives in Galveston, began running marathons in 2017, and has her sights set on qualifying for the prestigious Boston Marathon, which tentatively has been postponed until next fall because of the pandemic. Before that, Verega plans to compete in Galveston and Las Vegas, she said.
To do that, Verega, like many long-distance runners, sticks to a steady routine of running and strength training when preparing for a race. Every weekend, Verega will run 10 to 13 miles on the seawall for conditioning, and in the middle of the week will work on her speed, she said. Daily, Verega will focus on some sort of strength training, she said.
“I feel like anything worth doing begins with training your core,” Verega said. “When you train your core and you train your body strength, then you’ll run faster.”
Clear Lake area resident Josh Lane is training for a half marathon, running six days a week for various lengths and intensities with the longest run of the week being in the range of 13 to 14 miles and the rest being around 5 to 6 miles, he said.
Lane first competed in a half marathon in 2015 and recently competed in an Ironman competition, he said. When Lane noticed how long he could run in training, he decided to start entering races, he said.
“I played soccer growing up, and then I ran track in high school and college, so for me, it was just something that I was good at and enjoyed,” Lane said. “It was just one of those things where I didn’t set out to do it. I just enjoy it and was having fun, and it helps me feel better. And once you’re there, you keep on striving for it.”
While building up for a long-distance run, an athlete will increase their longest run of the week by roughly 10 percent every week, but it’s not a completely rigid regimen, Walker said.
“There’s some formula there, but we’re not just constantly saying every week ‘You’re going to have to run this many miles this week and this many miles next week,’” Walker said. “Some weeks we’ll work on speed. Other weeks we’ll work on conditioning. I’m a really big stickler on fitness as a whole, not just our run fitness.”
Runners training for a long-distance event also should work on strength training focusing on their ankles, feet and core, Walker said.
“Our biggest thing is we want to make our athletes injury resilient,” Walker said. “Every marathoner you talk to will have suffered some injury at some point — hopefully minor. It just comes with the territory. But, we try to train in a way that will stop injuries from coming. So, we train our athletes smart.”
The key component for any marathon runner is the desire to stick to their training, even when the weather is bad and it’s uncomfortable to run, Walker said.
“Motivation is the core of everything,” Verega said.
Verega, whose best marathon time is 3:34, said a major motivation with each and every race in which she competes is to get her finishing time faster and faster.
“It’s not about the trophy, it’s about being able to run that fast for such a long time,” Verega said.
– James LaCombe
Dickinson native Stephen D. Holmes, a licensed attorney and Galveston County Commissioner for Precinct 3, isn’t your typical elected official.
Holmes, 55, who was a standout athlete on the football and baseball fields and basketball court at Dickinson High School, as well as a football star at Rice University, is an avid runner and has completed 28 marathons to date, he said.
He got the bug for running marathons after attending the Chevron Houston Marathon to cheer on his two sisters and a cousin more than 20 years ago, he said.
“After seeing them and all the other runners compete, it gave me the motivation to want to complete a marathon,” he said.
In preparing for various marathons in any given year, Holmes tries to get in four runs a week, gradually increasing his distance as the marathon gets closer, he said.
Holmes has a daily early morning running routine and recommends anyone contemplating a marathon to develop a training schedule and stick to the schedule as much as possible to prepare, he said.
“My longest training run before a marathon is around 18 miles,” he said. “I’ll begin to taper my running distance two to three weeks before a marathon. My best piece of advice is to not worry if you’re not a fast runner as you’re only competing with yourself.”
Among other races over the years, Holmes competed in the Chevron Houston Marathon 14 times — 13 years consecutively — and in 2017 completed 12 marathons in 12 different cities.
“There’s nothing like running a marathon and the adrenaline it gives you,” he said. “I plan to keep participating in marathons as long as my body will allow.”
– Angela Wilson
Galveston resident Justin Serrette always has been driven by goals, he said. He likes having a long-term objective. So, when his wife started running about eight years ago, he soon followed.
Serrette found his perfect pursuit — something that required consistent work and practice to achieve his goals of running marathons in Boston, Hawaii and Houston. But after a lymphoma diagnosis in 2017 and a long road to recovery, Serrette takes even more meaning and pleasure out of running, he said.
“Running helped me a lot,” he said. “Mentally, I’d received a setback and was inching forward. Literally, I started out slowly walking, then moved to running a bit and then finally running again.”
The year the University of Texas Medical Branch physician was diagnosed with lymphoma began normally enough, he said.
Serrette in January that year ran the Houston Marathon, a yearly tradition for him, and was feeling good, he said.
“It wasn’t the fastest ever, but I felt pretty good,” he said.
But Serrette noticed the lymph nodes in his neck and elsewhere were swollen and, shortly after the marathon, he developed pain in his left thigh, he said.
Doctors eventually determined Serrette had a tumor in his left thigh that was about the size of a volleyball and he began chemotherapy, he said. The chemotherapy wasn’t effective, and he soon was placed into a clinical trial. Early in the process, Serrette told his wife and doctor he planned to run the Houston Marathon like he always had in January, he said.
“They both thought I was crazy,” he said.
The pain in his left leg became excruciating during his recovery — Serrette could hardly use his leg for months — and even when the tumor eventually went away, he had to work to regain muscle in his leg, he said.
Serrette worked with a trainer to regain strength and begin walking again, he said. As the months went by, Serrette slowly began running again for short stretches.
“I did one, long run, but had to run it in stretches,” he said. “I’d run slowly for five minutes, walk for a minute, and then run again.”
That year’s Houston Marathon was far from Serrette’s personal 3:04 record, but he participated as planned, he said.
“It was just gratifying to get back to doing it, getting back to normal life as much as possible,” he said.
Serrette has been given a clean bill of health in subsequent checkups and continues to run marathons — even venturing to run one with a friend in Honolulu, Hawaii.
He’s planning to run a marathon in Chicago in 2021, he said.
“For me, running is like therapy,” he said. “It’s my meditation and quiet time. It allows me to slow my brain down and reset each day.”
– Matt deGrood