Pat McCain has achieved running goals and embraced a new family of runners in the Marathon Training Academy.
Pat McCain ran in college because it was required.
“Running was not something I chose to do but rather forced to do,” McCain recalled. “I remember the first time I ran — I couldn’t even make a mile!” After joining the Air Force in 1988, he continued running. “You might say that I have been forced to run for almost 30 years!”
But it wasn’t until recently when McCain embraced coaching and the Marathon Training Academy, both of which helped him achieve what he once thought was impossible.
A rough start on the marathon journey
McCain ran — or in his words, jogged — three to six miles about three times a week for years. In 2009, a friend challenged him to run the Charlotte Marathon. “I trained with him for a few months, and managed to crawl across the finish line in 4:57,” McCain said. “I was so sore that I could barely walk after the race!”
Later that year, McCain was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and decided to run the Okinawa Marathon.
“I really had no idea how to train for that marathon, either,” he admits. “I believe my longest run before the race was 13 miles — it was a mile or so short of our training goal only because I ended up tripping and face-planting. I ended up in the ER and received eight stitches on my face. Nevertheless, I finished the Okinawa marathon in 5:28.”
Back then, running “was just something I did to pass my military fitness test and have some fun,” McCain recalled. But things changed when he became a grandfather.
“I really wanted to use running as a way of staying healthy,” said McCain, an Air Force chaplain. “I wanted to be around a long time to be a mentor and influence in their lives as they grow up. I also wanted to inspire the young Airmen that I work with every day. So running became a way of me to take better care of myself and relieve stress.”
Getting help with a ‘seemingly impossible goal’
In 2014, McCain decided he needed a new challenge — becoming a Marathon Maniac. “I thought it would be a crazy challenge to try to run three marathons in three months,” he said, of his quest to complete the Air Force, New Braunfels and San Antonio marathons in quick succession. “My past experience with marathons had been pretty traumatic — I wasn’t sure if I could actually do this challenge. Most of my runs were at a slow pace where I plodded along endlessly until I gutted out the distance. I had no idea what I was doing!”
He needed help. So he opened up his laptop and started researching.
“I turned to the Internet for some help and discovered the MTA podcast,” said McCain of the Marathon Training Academy podcast, hosted by Trevor and Angie Spencer. “I really enjoyed the podcast — Angie had some great advice, but I mostly related to Trevor. I could really relate to his running struggles.”
McCain reached out to Coach Angie for help on “my seemingly impossible goal of running three marathons in three months. She was awesome, of course — she asked me about my race history, my running goals, and how I currently trained. She even asked me about what shoes I wore! She was more than willing to help me make my goal of three marathons in three months. With her help I earned my way into the Marathon Maniacs!”
But McCain was not finished with MTA coaching.
“I learned so much from having a personal coach that I decided to stick with it,” he said. “She taught me about fueling and hydration. Angie really emphasizes cross-training and injury prevention — so I was really surprised with all the core and strength work she had me doing in addition to running. She had me focusing on running form, cadence and flexibility as well.”
McCain credits his coach for helping to improve his gait analysis.
“Angie definitely helped me take my running to the next level,” said McCain, who has now finished seven marathons. “One of the things she suggested was that I get a gait analysis from an exercise physiologist. This was one of the best decisions in my running journey. He helped me move from a heel strike to a forefoot strike, and helped me move to a shoes that would improve my running efficiency. Bottom line, I ran my next marathon in 3:59, a 47-minutes PR for me.”
Learning lessons from repeated injuries
Not only has Coach Angie helped McCain’s running form, she has helped pull him through injury. During training for the 2015 Honolulu Marathon, he pulled a calf muscle a week before the race. After rehabbing for three months, he began training for the 2016 Erie (Pa.) Marathon with his eyes on a Boston Marathon qualifier.
“Angie was great in helping me improve my speed and I really thought I had a chance,” McCain said. “A month before Erie I pulled my other calf muscle at the end of a half-marathon race — this took me out of Erie and my BQ hopes. I was sidelined again for three full months of rehab.
“My injury really set me back, not just physically but mentally as well. Running was my happy place. I was so demoralized and frustrated.”
For McCain, the injuries served as opportunities to learn.
“My repeated calf injuries highlighted some of my weaknesses,” he said. “As a Masters Runner (I am 60 years old, but the USTAF Masters program begins at age 40!), I learned some important lessons from my injuries. First, I was trying way too hard. I wasn’t running my easy runs easy enough. This caused too much stress on my body over the long haul. Second, I needed to work on my flexibility. Finally, I wasn’t getting enough rest and recovery. The older we get the more important all this is.”
Thanks to Coach Angie, McCain recovered through core exercises yoga, strength work and cross-training like aqua jogging. “After three months of rehab, I came back faster and stronger than ever. I also think I run smarter and more efficiently.”
In fact, he finished the Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Marathon, missing his BQ time with a 4:01 finish, but winning his age group. McCain still eyes a BQ. After that, he wants to finish an ultra.
McCain offers this to other runners who may be experiencing the first signs of injuries:
“My advice would be to respect the recovery process. At the first signs of injury — be it PF or ITB issues — back off. Take care of your body and your body will take care of you.”
He has also taken care of his body with his vegan diet, which began two years ago.
“I had been on blood pressure meds and cholesterol meds for decades,” McCain said. “To make matters worse, my blood sugars were going up. My doctor, a fellow runner and dear friend, talked to me about my health and fitness goals. She talked to me about the advantages of a vegan diet. Just over two years ago, my bride and I became vegan. Within six months I was off of all my meds, my blood work was amazing, and I lost 20 pounds. I’ve never been more healthy in my life. Scott Jurek is my inspiration!”
‘I love the MTA community’
The MTA coaches, McCain says, are for any runners.
“I think someone should consider a coach if they want some help bring their running to a different level,” he said. “You don’t want have to be an elite runner — just a runner who wants to get better at running. A coach can help you prepare for a particular race, help you run faster or run stronger, or just run your first or even a series of marathons. An MTA coach is a personalized experience — they design training to help you meet your individual goals and perform at your best. MTA emphasizes injury prevention through cross training, strength and core work, and flexibility. It definitely helps runners perform at their best … for a lifetime.”
McCain not only welcomes MTA for the coaching expertise but the camaraderie among members.
“I love our MTA community,” he said. “They are an amazing family — we share our joys and struggles. It’s a safe place to learn and ask questions, and there is always a lot of encouragement going on. It’s fun sharing pics and funny stories with each other. Every once in a while we get to meet one another at different races where we have MTA meet ups. In Hawaii we call this kind of family, ‘Ohana.’ MTA is definitely my running Ohana!”
Name: Pat McCain
Hometown: Currently Honolulu, Hawaii; originally from El Paso, Texas
Number of years running: Off and on since college freshman (1975). Never ran before then. Couldn’t even run a mile.
How many miles a week do you typically run: Around 20-25
Point of pride: Healthier and more fit than most half my age
Favorite race distance: Marathon
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Ucan for fuel, VegaSport for recovery
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Freedom by Nicki Minaj (ha!)
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Run strong. Run happy. Run with purpose in every step.
Where can other runners follow you: Search for me on Strava, Facebook and Garmin Connect.