They say that ‘life is a marathon, not a sprint’…and this is because it takes a lot consistent effort to do it well, it costs more than you think it should, and there is always the risk that if things don’t go well, you will shit yourself in public. Nevertheless, I’ve signed up to do this year’s Melbourne Marathon. This will be my third marathon, although the second one doesn’t really count as it was at the end of an Ironman, and was more of a glorified stroll from Frankston to St Kilda as I tried valiantly to keep my food down, and ideally, stop vomiting blood. So I’m not a newbie…but I still don’t consider myself a ‘runner’. In fact if I think about running, there are three memories that jump to mind immediately.
The first is being at school athletics carnival when I was in about Grade 2 and running in a relay, I was running next to a kid who I thought was the slowest in our grade (shout out to Daniel Grover) and he started to pass me, and I remember having the choice of putting in all of my effort and trying to get back past him (and of course running the risk of still not beating him), or just ease off and let him go past, but not have to put my pride on the line by trying and failing. I heroically chose the second option, and I’ve never really forgiven myself.
The second memory is going for morning runs on school camp at Buxton when I must have been 12 or 13 and always being in the last couple of kids who would make it to wherever the faster kids had had to wait while we caught up. I was usually the lone skinny kid amongst the chubby kids…and I always felt the guy that ran the camp (shout out to Johnny ‘Bloody’ Malcolm) had a special look of ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’ that he saved just for me.
Man I hated running.
But then my third memory was from when I was training for the Ironman and saw that I had a 21km run to do on the weekend, and my first thought was ‘so that’s 2 hours I’ll have to set aside’. Not ‘Oh dear God! How the hell am I going to run 21kms?!!!’ or ‘How can I get out of this?’ There is an incredible feeling that comes with doing sufficient training to see 21kms as an allocation of time, rather than a major challenge. So a big motivator for attempting the marathon this year was trying to get back to being that fit…plus I’m 42 and the marathon is 42kms…so there was that too. I’m now less than a week out, and now seems as good a time as any to go through what I’ve learnt this time around.
So I’m no expert but here are a few things I’ve learnt about training for a marathon.
Be like Kim Novell
Ask yourself ‘Who is actually going to come out on the day of the marathon and watch me run?’ This is the exact number of people who are sufficiently interested in the fact that you’re running a marathon that you should post about it on Facebook or Instagram each time you train…and you’re going to be sitting around the dinner table with them tonight…so keep the #crazyrunner #marathontraining #longrun stuff to an absolute minimum.
Unless of course you’re writing a blog about it…in which case…shine on you crazy diamond!
‘Yeah, a marathon is tough, but have you heard of…’
For some people the thought of running 5kms seems impossible, for some people the thought of doing 10kms or a half marathon seems impossible, and for a lot of people the thought of running a full marathon seems impossible. If you’re running a marathon, then you have probably already proved to yourself that the first three aren’t impossible, and so you should have a sense of achievement…and once you’ve done a marathon, my God…you’ll never have to listen to someone else talk about their achievements again! But sadly, no. There are ultra-marathons, 100km runs, 100 mile runs, 100 mile runs up hills, multi day events, the 79km hop* and people will talk to you about these, and it will feel like they’re trying to diminish your achievement. But don’t let it. Just remember, you set yourself a challenge, you worked hard, and you achieved it. That’s awesome. If other people want to set themselves other challenges, then so be it, but you can only control what you do…and you’ve done something amazing.
*This may not actually be a thing.
Fingers and toes
When you think about training for a marathon you probably think about how sore your legs are going to be…and believe me they do get pretty sore…but the true victims for this campaign have been my fingers and toes.
For any run over 15kms I am now having to tape up most of my toes to stop them inflicting damage on each other. My little toe on my left foot now has a callous so sharp that it actually cuts the toe next to it…and the little toe on my right foot has decided that having a toe-nail is optional and so has done away with it altogether. Meanwhile, my big toes have conspired to poke their toenails through the tops of my shoes and the remaining toes appear to decided to use their toenails to attack the toes next to them.
But at least my toes have the decency to be hidden by socks and shoes at all times. On the other hand (*zing!*) my fingers have decided to react to the regime of early morning winter runs by developing chilblains. Yes, chilblains. You know those things that along with scurvy and ‘the vapours’ you thought were eradicated in 1800s. Well they weren’t and I’m living proof. When I started to get lumps on my fingers I made the logical assumption, ‘I have hand cancer!’, but it turns out that, much like the 79km hop, that’s not actually a thing. Then I remembered a TV jingle for socks in the 80s that mentioned chilblains, did some online research…voila! Chilblains! I also realise that basing my medical advice on a TV jingle and Google is the sort of approach that has health professionals across the country smacking their heads into desks and saying ‘Why do we bother?…Why do we bother?’ But to them I say ‘We don’t need expertise anymore, we have the internet! Facts are boring and uniformed opinions are FUN! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a rather important ‘Mr. Squiggle was a flat-Earther conspiracy’ rabbit-hole to fall down.’
The bare necessities
One of the great thing about running (as opposed to cycling for example) is that you pretty much just need a pair of runners and you’re good to go (as opposed to just needing a bike, shoes, helmet, cycling kit, socks that are the correct height, a power meter, a second bike [for Cyclocross/commuting/whatever excuse you can come up with], new set of carbon wheels, etc). However, if you are training for a marathon, there are a few other things things that I think you should invest in:
A coach – a coach will design a program that suits your situation (level of fitness, time commitments, goals) and will keep you motivated. There were a few times when people would ask what I had planned for the weekend, and I would say ‘I have to do a 32km run on Sunday’ and they would reply ‘Well, you don’t HAVE to do a 32km run!’ and I would laugh and say ‘Yeah, I guess.’ But deep down I was thinking ‘But what would Amanda say if I didn’t?! She would be both angry AND disappointed!’
I’ve had two coaches (one for the Ironman and one for this marathon) and they have both been excellent. So find someone you click with and get a program done…and if you’re looking for a personal recommendation, Amanda Meggison at Planted Life is fantastic!
A device – A Garmin, a Fitbit, an Apple watch, whatever…just make sure it can give you your heart rate, pace and distance. This will help you track how your fitness is progressing, let you know what your pace is while you’re running…and most importantly provide you with the stats you will need to gloat on social media / justify eating that second serve of French Toast.
For me on this campaign I have been amazed that the running hasn’t gotten any easier…but the times have gotten faster. If I was going on ‘gut-feel’ I think I would have given up a while ago.
Headphones – You are going to be spending a LOT of time by yourself, and unless you want to hear hours of your internal monologue saying ‘This sucks, this sucks, this sucks’, then headphones + podcasts are the way to go.
However, this will leave you with the quandary of whether to wear them when you do the actual marathon. This is a bit of tricky one for me. On the one hand, changing a key thing that you’ve done in every training session when you do the actual race is stupidity 101, and Lord knows it make life a lot easier if you’ve got a banging 4hr playlist to get you through the tough times. But on the other hand, I think that part of the challenge with any endurance event is that extended conversation you have with yourself through the really tough times…the mental toughness required for a marathon is just as important as the physical conditioning…so if you wear headphones, are you actually diminishing the challenge? I don’t know…but I have decided not to wear headphones when I run the marathon…and I expect to spend close to 4 hours regretting that decision.
Much like having a child or doing your tax return, there’s never really a ‘right time’ to do a marathon. You just kinda have to commit to it, and then start training. Having said that, having a two week holiday in Tasmania three weeks out from the marathon is either the smartest thing I could have done…or the dumbest. It’s surprisingly hard to find the time to sneak in a few long runs while on the road. But by the same token, it’s pretty hard to find 8 hours of sleep every night during my normal routine. So I’m feeling rested…I just hope I’m not TOO rested.
Also, having your heaviest training load coincide with work hitting bat-shit crazy levels of busy is really not fun…especially if you’re having to work long days knowing that you still have to get home and get a run in. At the same time, having a physical outlet for all of the frustration is pretty damned therapeutic.
So there you go, a few of the things I’ve learnt this time around. I’m confident that I will be able to get a sub 4-hour time, but from memory, I was equally confident of running sub 4-hour time last time as well, and that didn’t pan out as I had hoped (4hrs 11mins for those keeping score). But rest assured, I will do a brief race report afterwards to work out what actually worked and what didn’t…but in the meantime, I’m going to eat everything in sight and secretly pray for rain on race day.
If you would like to donate to the JMB Foundation please head here: https://melbournemarathon2018.everydayhero.com/au/chris-riordan and if the link doesn’t work, just send them some money anyway, they do great work!