Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pride, pain, perseverance

Despite struggles, four determined runners are eager to get to the starting line of Sunday's Manitoba Marathon

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One has endured a painful groin injury. Another, an agonizing knee injury. One has spent more time at work than on the pavement while another is still grieving the death of a family member.

It's been a wild ride of highs and lows for the four Manitoba marathoners we've followed since February.

With only six days left until race day on Sunday, our marathoners are tapering their training regimens and psyching themselves up to cross the finish line.

Here's an update:

Mike Booth

He's won the Manitoba Marathon four times, but elite runner Mike Booth admits he was a bundle of nerves up until a few weeks ago.

"I think I was freaking out a little bit with all the pressure I'd been putting on myself," says the massage therapist and owner of Massage Athletica, whose 12-hour days working at his fledgling business have trumped marathon training.

Today, Booth, 31, says he's more confident and at peace about the upcoming marathon instead of fixating on what others think about his race performance.

"If you run it, you do it for yourself. If you don't run it, you do it for yourself."

Booth, who came in fourth overall in last year's marathon, makes it clear he would like to win it this year.

He thinks he can do it.

His time constraints have forced him to take a more unconventional approach to training in the last weeks before race day. Whereas most runners training for a marathon complete several long runs, Booth has, instead, focused on high-intensity interval runs -- most of them completed on the treadmill, rather than pavement.

His intervals consist of high-intensity 60-second to five-minute treadmill runs completed on an incline.

For the last few weeks, he's been doing double workouts, one in the morning and one in the evening.

Such training, he believes, has been easier on his legs and prevented him from any injury this training season. But there are trade-offs -- the possibility that his "legs might not hold up" because of a lack of pounding the pavement.

Right now, Booth says race-day strategy is weighing on his mind.

He knows he'll start race day at 2 a.m. with a 3,000-calorie breakfast: A one-litre smoothie and a bagel. He'll take a quick nap and be ready to race at 7 a.m.

He'll start the race slow.

"I'm probably going to go out a bit more conservative and just worry about myself," says Booth. "If I start picking people off, than good for me. If I don't, (at least) I'm going to be able to make it to the finish line in one piece."

Corey Gallagher

After placing second in last year's half-marathon, Corey Gallagher is focused on working through the agony of his recent injuries and winning this year's race.

"There is still some pain there," says the stoic 24-year-old Canada Post letter carrier whose hip and groin injury several weeks ago has led to lower-back discomfort. "Just working through it. It's not really too much of an inconvenience."

Gallagher admits he had overworked himself -- walking up to 16 kilometres a day delivering mail, working a second job at running store Stride Ahead and training daily. A few weeks ago, those injuries became so debilitating that he had to take time off from running.

Now he's back.

With less than a week to his half-marathon, he has decided to "rest everything."

For Gallagher, that means reducing his workouts by 75 per cent. Where he used to do 10-kilometre track workouts and 21-kilometre distance runs, the St. Vital resident is now completing 6.5- and 16-kilometre runs -- mostly in the streets.

Gallagher knows the half-marathon course well. He's run all but one half Manitoba Marathon since age 12.

He wants to make sure he doesn't repeat last year's performance, when he struggled across the finish line after hitting the infamous "wall" halfway through the race.

"I was a little disappointed that I blew up and it hurt so much. But I was happy with the end result," says Gallagher. "This year I'm looking for a little more."

In an unusual move -- one that many experts would criticize -- Gallagher plans not to use glucose gels or water during the race for fear it will weigh him down and cause cramping.

"I've learned from my mistakes. I don't train with water so I shouldn't need it during my race."

His main focus during the run will be avoiding the so-called wall -- the part of the race where a runner is so fatigued "you're almost going backwards." (For Gallagher, that's around the 10K mark, near the Bridge Drive-In on Jubilee Avenue.

"The adrenalin and the hype and all the people around really get you going. This year I'm going to take it out nice, easy, relaxed," says Gallagher. "Even if I do hit the wall I'll be able to maintain and push through it."

Ramona Turner

Headingley hobby runner Ramona Turner is constantly replaying in her mind how she'll control her pace during her first full Manitoba Marathon.

"I think a lot of about what pace I'm going to do. I've become a little addicted to my Garmin watch. I like challenging myself to stay within a certain pace," says Turner, an administrative assistant who has been training three nights a week with a clinic hosted by City Park Runners, a Portage Avenue specialty running store.

There she has steadily progressed to 37K runs -- sessions she says give her the much talked about "runners' high." A recent damper: An old ankle injury that has forced her to wear a stability boot that she will use for the marathon.

"You step on a curb wrong, you step on a rock... you could very quickly, when something is injured, reinjure it," says Turner, 44, who has been training over the past few weeks with the boot.

Turner, 44, first hit the pavement in 1997 and hasn't looked back. She has run three half-marathons so far.

After completing her last long run, now she's taking it easy before race day and will compete short jaunts

Her biggest race-day worry? She hopes the weather won't be too hot and humid. "I'm nervous about being nervous," says Turner who, at the same time, is proud of her running accomplishments.

But she can hardly wait to hear the national anthem and theme from the 1980s running flick Chariots of Fire -- music played at the beginning of every Manitoba Marathon.

"It's just such a huge emotional experience with all the people all there for the same reason-- wanting to do their best," says Turner. "I can hardly wait to see my kids and my husband in the stands and cross that finish line."

Kris Wood

Kris Wood can't get race day out of her head even when she should be sleeping.

"Last night I was up at four in the morning," says the Charleswood resident, jokingly asking how elite runner Mike Booth deals with his pre-marathon nerves.

"That guy, he wants to win. I just want to run."

Wood, 38, who is battling a old leg injury, says she's only doing "easy miles" now that race day is so close.

Wood initially intended to take a Running Room training clinic. She's attended only a couple of sessions and instead runs on her own or with friends. She also swims and bikes. Visiting her ill stepfather in an out-of-town hospital didn't leave Wood much time to train. He has since died. In the midst of her family crisis, she lost her job.

For Wood, running is deeply tied to family.

Three years ago, Wood's 55-year-old mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. The thought of losing her sent Wood into a tailspin. "I was sort of on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I was overweight because I quit smoking a few years before and was sort of drowning my sorrows in the drink," says Wood, who worried about her own predisposition to Alzheimer's. Her doctor offered her a way to cope and to help protect her brain from the disease: Exercise. "So I quit my job and I started running down a gravel road."

She has since lost more than 30 pounds and is fitter than she's ever been.

She says she's running her first full marathon for her mother and stepfather. But she will try not to let thoughts of them overwhelm her during the race.

As for her training, she had a "fantastic" 24K weekend run in the heat to prepare her for race day. That was followed by "the worst run of her life" a few days later.

Wood's athletic therapist has given her hip-strengthening exercises to do three times daily designed to help keep her in the race.

"It's hard to remember to do them," says Wood. "I'm exhausted. Physically, emotionally exhausted.

Yet, she looks forward to race day -- especially knowing her daughter and husband will be there to cheer her on.

"I just want it to be here already so I can get over it and move on. I'm just trying to get my head in the zone."

Have an interesting story idea you'd like Shamona to write about? Contact her at Shamona.harnett@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 11, 2012 D1

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