Running my first marathon | Back In Motion

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From couch to marathons

Published: 23 May 2017 - Men’s Health

Back In Motion Mitcham client, Lionel Wirth (pictured above) shares his journey from weight loss, through injury to ultimately running his first marathon.

Congratulations Lionel on completing your first marathon! It is such a great achievement! How do you feel?
Very happy. It was really satisfying to cross the line - not just finishing strongly but also uninjured.

Before we talk about the race, let’s talk about where you started with your fitness and health. When did you start to turn things around?
At the start of 2013 I realised that I had to do something about my weight. For some time I had watched it steadily rise to about 95kg having spent most of my adult years in the low 80s. My first son was due to be born in June and it dawned on me that keeping up with him in the not-too-distant future would be very difficult. I decided that I needed to get active and so I found a football (soccer) team, went to weekly training sessions and started playing on Sundays. I had played football at school and loved it but I had never played for a club.

How did that work out for you?
The first few kilos dropped off pretty quickly but it also didn’t take long before I started having difficulties with my hamstrings. I was loving the team environment and playing football on a regular basis and I wanted to improve my game and obviously play free of injuries.

What prompted you to see a physio?
In my second or third game I was the victim of a nasty tackle that resulted in my opponent crushing my perineal near my knee. I needed treatment quick! Luckily I knew someone on my team who had a physio clinic! 

In addition to this new injury, I had several lower-limb issues. Initially it was in my hamstrings and glutes and later my feet, Achilles and shins – the result of a nasty compartment pressure I had suffered at school. My physio Shiv advised me that was that it was coming from a weak core and back. I hadn’t even heard of the core before then. I had no concept of it or any understanding of its function.

What treatment did you have?
While we worked on my perineal impact injury, Shiv also gave me a series of exercises to do at home to start developing my core strength and that was supplemented by Clinical Exercise classes at the clinic.  

As well as dealing with the immediate injury, we took the approach of addressing the root cause the injury: my core and back.

Another pivotal piece of advice he gave me was to change my running style. I had started to do some short runs to help improve my match fitness, but they were contributing to my injuries. Like most people, I ran by heal-striking. Shiv explained that I should instead run on my fore-foot. That required strengthening my calves so I started doing some regular skipping.

How did you find your Clinical Exercise and core rehab?
Initially it was all a bit mysterious. It’s a different concept of exercise and strengthening. Most of it is a lot easier than you might expect. There are of course challenging exercises but the beauty of it is that you work to your own difficulty level and with regular application you make very meaningful and effective improvements. There's also a nice social aspect to the classes.

What on earth possessed you to do a marathon?  
By the end of 2015 my football game had improved considerably, my weight was under control and my fitness had improved to the point where I felt comfortable with my capacity to play with my son. Shiv and I had by now become great friends so at the end of the 2015 footy season he proposed some regular running to get ready for pre-season training. I was on board straightaway. Part of Shiv’s plan involved regular running sessions of four or five kilometres and it wasn’t long before the goal of completing the 2016 Run for the Kids 16km run was set. I ran that in a time of 1:04:39 – a pace of 4:02 min/km. I was hooked and the goals just escalated from there.

What changes have you made to get to where you are now?
Through my appointments Shiv taught me some basics about nutrition and how weight loss happens. I exercised regularly and frequently – including running and high intensity interval training which is a great way of burning energy and developing cardiovascular capacity.

By the start of the 2016 season my weight was down to 72kg. I was hooked on running and I decided to up the ante and signed up for the Melbourne half-marathon. During the race I tore my calf muscle. Shiv suggested I see a podiatrist and a sports medicine specialist. In addition to the MRI confirming my torn calf was recovering, it also showed that I had developed Achilles tendinopathy – in both Achilles!

My podiatrist advised me to run in different shoes. I worked with Shiv on changing my running technique so that I was striking mid-foot rather than fore-foot. I also worked on strengthening my glutes, hamstrings, and Achilles tendons.

Accomodating the recovery of both Achilles' tendons effectively meant I couldn't train for pace. All my training was aimed at two simple goals: running the full distance of the Canberra Marathon and finishing injury-free.

I stuck to my plans and my rehab, managed my in-race fuelling well and executed my new running technique without difficulty. Crossing the finish line brought a real sense of achievement – I managed a time of just over three hours!

How do you rate yourself now with your fitness, happiness, and life in general?  
I’m really happy with my fitness. I regret not doing something about it earlier! I've gone from an inactive, severely overweight, childless individual to a lean marathon-running father of two boys – just to mention a few of the highlights. Committing to the training was hard around work, family and other commitments - but sometimes you have to work hard to get the rewards. 

Ultimately, comparing now with 2013 is chalk and cheese. I’m running faster and with more endurance on the football field – and all without tearing my hamstring or some other muscle every week!

What is your advice for other people in a similar position to what you were in?
Motivation is key. Set goals that you actually want to achieve. Another person’s goal isn't much motivation. If you have a goal that will take significant time to achieve - set interim goals. A training buddy with similar goals can be a valuable asset particularly when your motivation drops off.

Be flexible with your goals. Setbacks happen and sometimes you won't progress as well as you hoped or expected. If you set goals without a flexible mindset, you're setting yourself up for failure. Problems have solutions, so when you have a problem, seek professional help from the right people – such as your physiotherapist. Listen to the advice and follow it.

Be prepared to give yourself a break. Cheat days in your diet are important for your sanity. Rest days from training are not only good for your sanity but an important part of training itself.

There is a way out there to hit your goals if you want it enough.

What’s next? Where do you see yourself going from here?
The football season has recently started. I look forward to playing my part in a successful team campaign. Beyond that, I'm thinking of maybe seeking vengeance at the 2017 Melbourne Half-Marathon, and then maybe attempting a sub-three-hour marathon - perhaps in Hobart in January 2018!

We wish Lionel all the very best for his next challenge!

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