Attitude is Everything

In the months leading up to 2015’s Fall marathons, RunWashington is following several local runners as they prepare for their races. We’ll chart their progress as they train their legs, lungs and minds for the challenges they’ll race on race day. Each week, we’ll catch up with our runners and see how they’re doing. This is the third story about Joe Divel, read the first and second.


Joe Divel. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D.Whit Photography
Joe Divel. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/D.Whit Photography

Joe Divel is applying patience and consistency as he puts one foot in front of the other in pursuit of his goal to finish the Marine Corps Marathon on October.  He’s had to make some small adjustments in stride since he started training in May, but he’s remained on the course, faithful to the plan and his training group, the First Time Marathoners program offered by the Montgomery County Road Runners Club. Along the way he has passed a few very significant milestones.  He has logged more than 500 miles, an idea he found completely daunting at the start of his training. He has completed a 20 mile run.  And, like many marathoners, he recently met “The Wall.”

“It was the perfect storm. I didn’t hydrate the week before like I should have.  Saturday night, we went to a different restaurant, and I didn’t eat properly.  I got really thirsty on the run but didn’t fuel up,” Divel said, as he tried to parse out the reason for unraveling in his last miles.

He was also experiencing knee pain at the time, and had to walk much of the last three miles.  He’s quick to point out, though, that despite Joe’s efforts to shoo him off ahead, pace coach Serey stuck with him until the end.  Divel’s takeaway from his first encounter with the wall? “It was a learning experience for this novice runner.  I’m gonna bring seven Gus with me on race day,” Divel said, not counting on the aid stations to have fuel for him.

To find out what he could do about his knee pain, he also went to RnJ Sports in Rockville to get his shoes checked, and a stride analysis showed that he was swinging one leg out when he ran.  He’s been paying close attention to form at FTM’s Wednesday track workouts and his knee is already feeling better.

It’s paying off.

“He’s very aware of his running form.  That’s part of the battle, being more mindful,” said FTM coach Glenda Garcia.

She knew that Divel had been held up by knee pain the last few runs but sees him coming back from it.

“He’s on the road to recovery,” she said.  She believes that patience will pay off.  She’s seen a lot of first time marathoner’s panic about hitting their training miles, to the detriment of listening to warning signs that injury was approaching.  “I think he’ll be careful and if he starts to have issues, he’s smart, he’ll hold back,” she said of Divel, “he takes advice and follows it.”

Many who undertake marathon training with weight loss hopes find that their post-long run appetite outweighs the calories burned in the output.  But Divel, who’s keeping off the 70 pounds he lost, an endeavor which began at the start of 2014, has found that he is making healthier choices.  “I’ll grab a banana instead of a candy bar now,” said Joe.

The FTM training program is in their sharpening phase now.  Joe’s weekly mileage is climbing with his long runs and the group does speedwork on the track on Wednesdays.  In repeats, he’s pushing the pace up to two minutes faster than his long run pace and he’s seeing results.  He feels himself building up strength and has found an unexpected side effect – “track work is a lot nice than I thought it would be,” he said.

That kind of outlook makes Divel an asset to his 12:00 minute mile pace group.  Initially one of the few men in the slow but steady crew, as members find their comfort zone the pace group has grown and is more varied in gender.

“He stays positive, he continues to be one of the core regulars,” Garcia said.

Even on the run where he hit the wall and was nursing a sore knee, he was encouraging the other straggler in the group to finish. Garcia appreciates Joe’s unflagging goodwill and dedicated consistency.

Divel is excited for the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon, but as he looks ahead, his feelings are mixed.  He’s gotten so attached to his running group that he knows completion of his goal will be bittersweet.  He’s going to miss the camaraderie of the group. Though ‘repeat offenders’  – FTM has many runners who have run marathons before – have assured him that groups get together throughout the year, still he knows it won’t be quite the same.  Divel has fallen in love with running – not just the act of it, but the people involved in it and the sense of belonging it lends.

“The whole team, the whole running community, it’s just behind you I feel,” Divel said.

Part of him is already looking forward to next fall and doing it all over again.  He’s even considered becoming a pace group coach as a way to contribute to the sport and group he’s come to love.

“I’ve gotten more out of this than I could ever give back to it, so giving back is something I’d like to do,” he said.

One silver lining he does acknowledge will come from no longer being in training – getting his Sundays back.  He’s made the most of Saturdays while in training,

“I have a very understanding and supportive wife,” Divel said, and they make sure to do something together on Saturday.  Church has gotten moved from Sunday morning to Saturday night, and weekday runs get done in the early morning hours.  It’s a serious time commitment, he allows, but he hasn’t had to sacrifice much, except “my lawn maybe. I figured I’m not gonna water it so I don’t have to cut it.”

Joe Divel may not mow his lawn, but he certainly shows up for long runs.  And that’s going to have to pay off for him in late October.

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