I ran my first and only marathon in the fall of 2008.
My wife and I were living in London, UK at the time and with numerous countries within close proximity to run a marathon, I chose one of my favourites – Ireland.
“Mark, I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland! But, a marathon … are you nuts?” said my wife.
Yes, quite possibly.
I was a very active dude with a sporty upbringing. What was the big deal?
I had rattled off a few half marathons in the 5 years building up to this point. And with minimal training I might add.
Run a half marathon…then do another and you’re done!
was an idiot.
If you are considering running a marathon, I hope you can learn from my mistakes.
Do as I say, not as I did …
1. Don’t Wing It
I printed off the first marathon plan for beginner to intermediate runners that I could find from Runner’s World. It was a 16-week plan that assumed a good level of fitness going into it. Seemed good enough, but not near as good as a custom plan tailored for my schedule, fitness level and my goals.
2. Don’t Underestimate the Distance
I was fit, but I didn’t have a huge base of mileage in my legs and lungs. My “engine” was a bit rusty to say the least.
26 miles. 42.2 kilometers. It doesn’t matter how you measure a marathon – it’s a long friggin way.
Respect the distance, but don’t fear it.
3. Don’t Change Your Running Shoes
Next I went out and bought a new pair of running shoes. For years I ran in Mizuno Wave Riders, but this time I thought I would try something new.
At the onset of running more miles than I ever had in my life, new running shoes seemed like a good idea at the time. They felt great in the store.
Stick with what has worked for you in the past. Now is not the time to fiddle around with the most important piece of running equipment.
4. Don’t Ignore the Latest Tracking Technology
I felt like I could predict my running pace quite well on my runs, so largely ran for time. Not distance. My old Timex Ironman watch was my mate.
Here was Mr. Exercise Science Geek himself training for a marathon tracking nothing except his time trotting the streets of jolly London.
Get a GPS enabled HR monitor or at the very least, use a GPS enabled running app like RunKeeper.
5. Don’t Just Run Long and Slow
My training plan did not include any speed, hill and interval work. All my runs were slow aerobic based runs. Seemed fine to me, but again that’s all my basic training plan included.
Naive of me I know. I didn’t even know what “strides” were. If you don’t know what strides are, I recommend checking out this post by Jason Fitzgerald – What Are Strides? Why You Need to be Running Strides
Running marathon has a massive aerobic component however, the importance running at faster speeds has numerous benefits and should not be ignored.
6. Don’t Wait to Start Running Specific Strength Training and Injury Prevention Exercises
All was well for 5 weeks or so. After having run for 2.5 hours the day before I woke up one morning, took my first step out of bed and nearly fell over. The arch of my foot felt like it was shot. The pain subsided after I showered and had been on my feet for a bit. Must have been a cramp I thought. It was a “rest day” anyway. I’ll be golden tomorrow.
The plan was to run home from work the next day. It was about an 8 km run from my office though Hyde Park and South Kensington towards my flat in Fulham. The outside of my knee started to ache about 5 minutes into the run. The pain intensified slowly for a few minutes and eventually I was forced to stop.
Even after many years of pounding on the basketball court, I never had knee problems. I hopped on the tube (subway) home – disappointed.
My alarm went off the next morning. There was that electric pain in my foot again. Just a “niggle” – part of the price to pay for training for a marathon I thought.
Another after-work run was scheduled that night. I didn’t know my running partner was going to be déjà vu.
Same outside of the knee pain. Same tube ride home.
I went to see a physiotherapist to get my body back on track. Let’s be honest – I was falling apart.
My physio diagnosed both issues quickly.
Sadly, both injuries could have been prevented if I was a bit more proactive.
7. Don’t Commit Without a Specific Goal
What about goals? I didn’t have a goal for my first marathon…it was just to finish I guess. Not good enough. Being specific about your marathon goal will keep your focused and motivated.
The Pain and the Glory
Fast forward a few weeks.
I was under-trained, taking almost 2 weeks off training to get a handle on my running injuries, but I finished my first marathon in 4:34:43. The last 10 km was a disaster – my legs were DONE. I had to alternate between running slowly and walking, but I finished.
Running the marathon was one of the most memorable and challenging accomplishments of my life. I was proud and my wife who hitch-hiked around Dublin to follow me was sure proud as well.
If you had asked me at the finish line if I would ever run a marathon again I would have said no way. Time went by though and I reflected often of the marathon experience.
Maybe I could train smarter and run faster? I would change my approach drastically.
What? Oprah’s marathon time was 5 minutes faster than mine?!
Time for a New Game Plan
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
I recently signed up for marathon #2 – The Toronto Goodlife Marathon on May 5, 2013.
This time I want to break the 4-hour mark. I feel 4 hours will be both challenging and attainable.
I needed some expert guidance to help me reach my goal and knew I couldn’t rely on my 2008 reckless approach. I needed someone to design a marathon training program based on my fitness, running history, and past injuries that would fit within my busy schedule.
Some accountability was also needed. Left on my own, it was too easy to slack. Reporting to someone after each workout would keep me motivated to do the work.
And for those times when an injury creeps up, I needed someone to help me adjust my training plan to get back on track ASAP.
My Running Coach
I have listed a lot of marathon “don’ts” above. Here is a “do”.
Do hire a running coach.
Greg Strosaker is the man who has mapped out my training plan for a 4-hour marathon and is my running coach.
I am in the midst of week-3 of my training plan and already feel so much more confident about running a successful marathon compared to my 2008 disaster. Greg’s training plan and coaching is the reason for this.
I plan to write more about my marathon training experience and the benefits of hiring a running coach after my race.