Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D. Whit Photography

Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D. Whit Photography

Joe Divel can’t wait to run his first marathon.  With one final 20 mile run and just three weeks away from the Marine Corps Marathon, Divel is riding a high of anticipation.  At a recent event with the First Time Marathoners (FTM) that opened with a group run, Joe got a taste of the final hill leading up to the Iwo Jima memorial.  The group’s coaches lined the road leading to where the finish line will be set up to give runners like Joe just a taste of what the thrill of race day will be like.

“As we came up the street, all the coaches were there cheering us on and I thought – 100% I am ready for the Marine Corps Marathon,” Divel said.  He’s so primed with anticipation he’s sure that he won’t be able to sleep the night before.

“Joe’s going to go from being a runner to being a marathoner in 3 short weeks, and I’m really excited for him,” said Conroy Zien, director of FTM.

Divel has been decidedly diligent in his approach to preparing for the marathon.  He’s absorbed the information given to him and incorporated it into his planning for race day.  He’s confident going into the taper that he’s laid the groundwork for a successful marathon.  He trusts the input of his coaches and the miles he’s put in.  From this point forward, he’s just aiming to get to the start line healthy.

Zien and the other coaches stress that the taper isn’t the time to make up for missed miles, try a new workout class, or radically change your diet.  It’s the time to maintain.  In terms of marathon performance, in the time frame of the taper “there’s almost nothing you can do to help it, but there are a lot of things you can do to hurt it.  The biggest challenge is to get through next few weeks without hurting yourself,” Zien said.

Divel will continue with his normal track workouts, and keep his mid-week runs to three to five miles at an easy pace, dialing back the distance each Sunday after his final 20 mile effort.  The group will meet for a 14 mile tune up covering parts of the Marine Corps Marathon course the week prior to the run.

As far as his plan for race day, Divel has been doing all of his training runs at a 12-minute mile pace, and has no plans to shoot for an audacious time goal in his first marathon.  He just wants to finish.

“I don’t have a time I want to do it in.  My goal is to finish the race – no matter what it’s going to be a PR for me.  My goal is to beat the bridge.  My goal is to finish the Marine Corps Marathon and to get that medal around my neck.  My goal is to finish my first my first marathon,” Divel said.

Divel continues to be careful about staying healthy.  Knee pain slowed him down for a few weeks during training.  Through proactive measures, including rest, PT, and stride adjustment, he wasn’t sidelined that long.  That setback allowed him to become more aware of his form, something he continues to pay attention to and tweak.

Recently, he attended a stride clinic, and took away a valuable observation.  “They told me ‘you’re hunching over and watching your feet.’ So now I try to center myself like I’m a pencil then lean a little bit forward.  I look way ahead at a point instead of my feet or the person in front of me,” Divel said.

“Joe did have pain and injury like symptoms, but he’s very committed to doing the proper thing.  No more pain in the knee is helping,” Zien said, confident that Joe will get himself to the start line in good shape.

Divel continues to be enamored with the camaraderie he’s found through being part of a club that trains together and it remains one of his favorite things about the sport of running.  “Instead of being out there alone, we’re all in this together – a great group, a great sport,” Divel said.

The FTM group gets shirts every year, and this year’s has the line: “the path to success is never travelled alone” accompanied by a raccoon saying, “I’m not alone, I’ve got my 300 friends with me.”  Divel certainly agrees.  Running by himself doesn’t hold the same appeal as his new crew.

Divel is already planning to continue with running and with FTM (the program is open to both brand new and seasoned marathoners), and is setting his eyes on what races he might want to do next. “The program starts up again in March and I can’t wait,” Divel said.

Most people who run a marathon fall into two categories.  The first checks the achievement off their bucket list and vows ‘never again.’  The second, before they even regain the use of their quads, starts planning for the next one.  Divel is among the latter.  He definitely has the bug.

“I’d like to do New York, I’d like to Chicago. Next year I really want to step up and contribute any way I can, as a volunteer, be a part of it more in any way I can,” Divel said.

With training coming to a close and hundreds of miles logged, Divel has little to do except stay healthy and enjoy the excitement leading up to the big day.

“Something I try and remind the runners – you only get to finish your first marathon once.  If you forget to enjoy the experience it’s something you can’t redo,” Zien said.

Divel is planning to make the most of the experience of his first marathon, much as he’s done throughout the training process. “Getting that medal put around my neck, I’m getting really emotional just thinking about it. It’s one of the biggest accomplishments in my life,” Divel said.