Running a Marathon: Doing things that suck.

42.195kms or 26 miles 385yds, whichever way you slice it, that’s a very long distance for someone who hates(I realise hate is a strong word…I also believe it’s fitting in this case) running.

I can’t remember the first decent sized run I ever did, but I doubt I liked it.

There’s some things I’m naturally average – slightly above average at and running is absolutely not one of those.

Which is why it was hard to explain to people that I was going to run a marathon. I think the first time I decided to do it and start training I was about 15 or 16, playing football and in decent shape but by no means running much outside of footy.

A few of the blokes who went to the same church as me were pretty strong athletes, one was an avid cyclist, and the other was a competitive runner, like when I say competitive, had won a king of the mountain, running-up-a-brutal-incline type of race 7 years in a row or something obscene like that.

I was pretty excited to chat to them but their realism brought me back down to reality somewhat after I told them “I’m going to start training and do the Brisbane Marathon in 3 months.” 

Their reply? “Don’t do that, that’s not a good way to run a marathon, you’ll get injured and wont finish it.” 

“Yeah that’s not much of a plan, if you’re serious about finishing it you should start with a 5km race, then 10km, and if you do those, maybe a half, then you do a full marathon in a year or so.”

They were from church so I’m pretty sure that’s what stopped them shy of calling me an idiot, but definitely read the look on their faces as looking at me like I had grown an additional head. Being occasionally sensitive and yet also incredibly naturally stubborn, my first thoughts, in order were:

“What do you mean if I’m serious, they’re treating me like I wont go through with it!?”

“Well fine then, that’s okay, plenty of successful people had doubters, I’ll do it out of spite just to show you I meant it when I said it.”

Pretty sure my training lasted 3 weeks maximum before trailing off into the great unknown. They were right…this time at least, I wouldn’t run the marathon. They were both great blokes and had a lot more years of wisdom etc than myself in training their bodies and overcoming the odds, which I knew at the time, but also wasn’t big on doing things the same as everyone else. Some things haven’t changed.

Over the next few years and dozens of bucket-lists later, I would keep putting it on almost every fresh bucket list I wrote up, certain that I’d do it sometime. The timing just had to be right, then it would all fall into place like some magical puzzle piece showing me the final picture.

It didn’t though, I started chasing after this goal like a toxic lover a few more times, spending hours writing up new running plans, telling myself how I was going to really do it this time, then inevitably after a few weeks(maybe a month or two at most) I’d miss a run or two which would turn into ceasing running altogether.

Until one fateful day I met an ex-Olympic athlete who had built his life on running marathons and he gave me the key to finally overcoming this heinous hurdle…

Naahhhh, it would be cool…but that didn’t happen.

I literally just caught up with a friend and chatted about my most recent bucket list I’d written and some of the items on it. She enjoys running(I still don’t understand these kinds of people) so naturally I mentioned that running a marathon was on the list, but so are 61 other things(true story). We spoke about different marathons and she mentioned at the end of completing the Melbourne marathon that you get to run a lap on the MCG for the last few hundred metres, which, being a passionate and sometimes suffering AFL fan, greatly appealed to me getting to set foot on this holy ground.

After talking some more, mostly being encouraged by her about how magnificent running would feel when I gave it a good go, runner’s high and all that, and me disparaging myself multiple times about my actual running abilities…she gave me a book to read about how to run faster and better.

I went home, on what might’ve been a Wednesday night, nothing going on, and decided I’d run a marathon.

With a bit of outside help I got a plan together to go from not running at all, except occasionally chasing the footy around, to completing the Melbourne Marathon, which was in 17 weeks. Again with the short time frames, my friend suggested I do a half marathon first but I once again, wasn’t having a bar of that. My plan was do my running each day, grind it out, no real special diet or anything, just pretty much strong arm it. Kind of stupid in hindsight but sometimes stupidity and stubbornness are my strengths, it is what it is.

So I had a plan(which I ended up changing right before I started), took a photo of it, sent it out on snapchat saying “I’m running the Melbourne Marathon in about 17 weeks, nobody remembers reasonable people.” Then just ticked off runs as I needed to do them during the 4 months.

During the training plan I ran an average overall of 3 times a week. I always thought if I was to have any chance of achieving this that I’d have to be running 5 times a week minimum, which wasn’t the case.

I missed runs due to being sore and saying I couldn’t do it. I skipped runs saying I’d catch up the k’s on a day off…I didn’t. My mind wasn’t perfect and strong and ready to take on the world, there were some other big challenges happening in my life at the time too, which got the best of me at times and so I wouldn’t run and just watched tv instead.

I screwed up and ran slow, forgot how to breathe like a normal human, and some days it felt as if a one legged sloth could’ve outpaced me.

The closest I ever got to a “runner’s high” during training was occasionally when it was over I’d think thank fuck I’m done with that, and I’d appreciate the hell out of that day because I wouldn’t have to run again.

There were times when I’d see the upcoming run on the roster and start dreading it, almost fearing it. I know, my mind is soft as butter right?

But I still continued with the plan, which in the end, was the only thing that really mattered/got me over the line. Feeling like I’d done enough training that I wouldn’t fail at completing the marathon, I booked it in.

Running the marathon itself wasn’t necessarily a traditionally enjoyable experience either, cramping by halfway which just got progressively worse, feeling like I’d just like to nap for a week in the middle of it(I really like sleep), and just dealing with all the internal voices of being negative or thinking how much further I still had to run.

During all this though on the day, I’d made up my mind 2 months ago, that I’d die on the day if necessary to get the marathon finished. The majority of that decision was made by the fact I thought about the training I had to do and how much I hated running, and that there was no way in hell I would do all that again, so if I was going to get it done, now was the time. Again, not the purest or most noble of gameplans, but it worked, and I ran a marathon…not bad for someone who hated(and still hates) running.

So condensing the training/marathon down into bullet point lessons or takeaways, here’s what I felt/learned/wished someone had told me:

  1. Write a plan with basics, you don’t need all the answers, get a book or something to help if needed, then just start it.
  2. Have scheduled days you do your run, try keep it around same time, before work is when everyone says to do it which I completely agree with, because the days I didn’t have it done and tried to do it in the arvo I’d either be coming up with excuses non-stop throughout the day for why I shouldn’t do it that afternoon. Or, I’d be absolutely dreading it for the entire day and it’d hang over my head like a dark cloud.
  3. Get accountable, stupid as it sounds, sending that snapchat out and telling a few people, even though they probably forgot a day after I told them, was great for keeping me accountable because in my head they all might as well have been staring at me waiting for months just for the Melbourne Marathon just so they could check if I’d done it. I know, crazy and unrealistic but it does help to know how your mind works/what will motivate you, whether you logically know if it’s true or not.
  4. A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week. (This quote is by George S. Patton and is something to keep in mind for those of us who try to be perfectionists)
  5. Be realistically unrealistic. If I say I’m just going to rock up to run a marathon with no training and run it on the day, that’s unrealistic, and may indicate not wanting to actually do it if you wont put in any time to train for it to give a better chance of succeeding. However even though 17 weeks of training in hindsight is a bit tight on the training side, it’s still definitely possible. Pushing limits is fun, but I’m trying to stay away from setting goals that sound great but I know will discourage me immediately when I start pursuing them. I’m a serial offender for this, still attempting to find the balance between realistic and unrealistic myself.
  6. Don’t throw good money after bad. I had a plan and initially my mindset was if I miss any runs then I wont be able to complete the marathon. Good motivation to start with because I didn’t miss a single run for a fair few weeks, but invariably as the bumper sticker says “shit happens” and I missed a few sessions here and there(bad money). I didn’t want to lose the work I had already put in with running so far(good money) so I just continued on and put time aside to do my run the next day no matter what, from where I should have been in my plan.
  7. Keep momentum, if you miss two sessions in a row, prioritize the hell out of your next session, if that means running at midnight after work, so be it. The more you build it up in your mind as a rule, it might be simple as “I don’t miss three sessions in a row…EVER” the more you build strength within yourself for who you are as a person. We as humans tend to be verryy keen to be consistent with who we think we are, so we’ll find ways to stay true to that.
  8. Know what you want: I had a few rules that I wanted to stick to with this one, Being under 5 hours, if you were too slow by half time they would channel you towards a big park where you’d do laps to make up the distance(I didn’t want to see anything twice, it just makes a run seem even longer for me if this is case), and the big one of course…I needed to complete it. Don’t care if I broke an ankle, had diarrhoea (read about Wu Xiangdong’s half marathon, I greatly feared this happening to me) etc, they’d have to drag my body off the course because I was finishing come hell or high water. I started cramping at about 20kms in(I can hear all the runners reading this laughing at me now)and walked/ran on and off for the next 22 kms. 

I feel like we can greatly increase our chances of success when taking on a challenge, just by adopting the mentality of, I’m doing this regardless of perfect plan, or perfect training, or feeling perfect. 

The last one in particular is something I’m really trying to work on at the moment. 

If you want an often-recommended book about overcoming this, read David Goggins: Can’t Hurt Me. An eye-opening story of overcoming imperfection, and “not feeling it”.

What do you think you could achieve if you ignored, or even better yet, embraced, your imperfections?

Published by The Ethnosphere

Writer for The Ethnosphere, a universe in the making which is all about the ideas, failures, achievements, processes, goals, experiences, and everything which makes us human, adding to The Human Story.

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