Running a Marathon

By | November 2, 2021

I have always wanted to run a marathon, although, I am not entirely sure why. If I had to speculate about my motivation, it would likely be some combination of: (a) I was getting fat and wanted to get fitter, (b) my friends and family didn’t think I could, and (c) being ‘locked-down’ due to the pandemic, meant the opportunity cost was low.

In light of these motivational factors, I signed up for the 2021 Perth Marathon with the following goals.

  1. Complete the marathon under 4 hours
  2. Don’t walk

Training

Beginner marathon guides suggest the following ‘rules of thumb’ for training:

  • You should start roughly 12 weeks beforehand with a basic background in running being a pre-requisite.
  • Weekly km’s should build to a peak of circa 70-80km’s 2-3 weeks before the marathon.
  • Weekly training should comprise of at least one long run, one speed/tempo run, one recovery run, and one rest day.
  • Tapering should begin at least 10 days before the marathon.

Comparatively, my training comprised the following:

  • I started 11 weeks beforehand with a very basic background in running (e.g. a jog a week)
  • Weekly km’s built to circa 70km’s 1 week before the race
  • Weekly training comprised circa 1-2 long runs, 1 speed/tempo run, 1-2 recovery runs, and 1-2 rest days.
  • Tapering began 10 days before the marathon.

I would also classify my training as inconsistent and lacking in volume (you can see this below). My training was inconsistent as I didn’t follow any particular plan (I’ve always had an aversion to structure), and it lacked volume because I tried to run too far too quickly, resulting in all kinds of minor injuries that prevented me from running more (e.g. around day 31 and 49).

Chart 1: Daily Km’s Over Training Period

Chart 2: Health Stats

Chart 3: Race Day Stats

Reflection 1: When should you innovate?

Marathons have been run for years, and, for the most part, there isn’t really a ‘new’ way to run a marathon… yes there are better running techniques, training methods, diets, and shoes, but they are all relatively marginal improvements. For the most part, running a marathon is just about expending and absorbing enough energy to haul your body through a 42km ordeal. In the span of a lifetime, can you really fundamentally change how your body has evolved to do this over millions of years? So, if your a newbie (i.e. no where near top shape) and not trying to run the fastest marathon in the world (i.e. your payoff from innovating is small) then why risk trying something new? The marginal gain from picking the ‘low hanging fruit’ will be much higher than risking your result through trying to ‘innovate’ your way through the well established problem.

Reflection 2: Don’t doubt your body

The human body is a phenomenal organism. It’s ability to output and absorb energy (i.e. run efficiently), recover and adapt, is truly remarkable. For example, I expended ~14,340KJ (or ~3,400 calories), that equates to ~2-3% of my bodies total calories in a period of 4 hours (based on some quick Quora estimates that assume you blended me up and counted the calories in the resultant smoothie…). Being able to expend 2-3 of your biomass as energy – in the span of 4 hours – is pretty remarkable. How would this compare to other animals? Is this an important metric for understanding evolution?

Reflection 3: Exploring nature is nice

The experience of exploring my local parks and beaches made me feel good. I don’t know why it made me feel good, but it did. I saw baby turtles scurrying into the local lake (even helped a few over the path), snakes coming out of hibernation (no better morning kick than almost running over a sunbathing snake), birds singing, and kangaroos lounging.

Reflection 4: Its the journey that counts

The marathon itself was anticlimactic. Although It was my first time running the full distance, I knew I could do it… yes it would be tough, but I was confident that my training would get me through it. As a result, I found the ups and downs of the training experience far more interesting than the marathon itself.

Reflection 5: Big goals are just lots of little goals

A marathon is just a few 10km jogs and a cooldown.

Reflection 6: I collect a lot of information about my body – I should start using it better!