Saturday, April 04, 2015

Running a Marathon, the whole 46,145 yards

The Marathon, the ultimate endurance race, the common bucket list item, the new years resolution, the passion, the ego booster, the masochist's hobby. I finally thought, why not? The idea to run a marathon came from a mixture of ego, vanity, Facebook, bucket list, 2014 new years resolutions, etc. The idea was just the beginning. The race is long after that.

Alright, I got the idea. Next up, which one? Schedule, logistics and level of difficulty were considered. I finally settled on Napa as it would give me a few months to train, it was within driving distance and it was a flat course. Also March would mean cooler temperatures, which would help my cause. Now for shoes. I started with Vibram Five Finger as I had enjoyed running barefoot in the past. But my feet were pulp after 7-8 miles on asphalt. I needed the padding. So I decided to go with Asics Electro 33. Now running shoes are a religion and I will not get into that debate. You have all sorts of theories as to what works. I went for low price, minimal sole and light weight. Now I was ready to hit the ground running.

So how to choose a marathon training plan? Depends on how long will your training stretch and how many days a week you are willing to train. I made a hybrid plan after looking at a few websites. My goal was a 3:59:59 marathon. The training definitely tested my resolve. Running in the pre dawn darkness on cold winter mornings can make you question your sanity. Weekends had to be planned around long runs. Food had to be planned starting the previous night. One Sunday morning, I started running at 6am in the hope of the beating the rain forecast for 9am. I had 18 miles scheduled. It was cold and windy, but I was determined. A few minutes in, and the heavens open up. Here I was running in the rain. I couldn't run fast enough to keep myself warm and I started shivering. I felt like a moron. I questioned the purpose of this endeavor. I thought about a warm bed and a cup of hot chocolate. I eventually put mind over matter and slogged on for nearly 3 hours. I was cold and tired, but I felt accomplished. Life can be that way. You have your aims and goals. The going gets tough, and that's when the tough get going. You are done only when you decide you are done. On the plus side, I got to know my neighborhood very well. Running endless laps on the side streets introduced me to yard sales, friendly neighbors, pretty gardens, annoying dogs and rude drivers.

I used Mapmyrun to track my training. I thought it served the purpose without too many distractions. I highly recommend cold showers and ice baths for a quicker recovery after each workout. At one point, a few weeks into the training, I experienced sharp knee pain. I thought I had hit my limit at 12 miles, but it turned out my shoes were worn out. I'd advice new shoes after about 200 miles. I'd also suggest biking and weight training to help your knees. Oatmeal served well for a pre training meal and Cliff bars for snacks during longer runs. Three weeks before the marathon you begin your taper. A couple of days before the race, you load up on carbs and protein and avoid any exercise.

Finally, it was D-day! All the months of training had come to this. I was at the pinnacle of my fitness. I was pumped. It was time to get a run for my money. A few short speeches and we were off! I was feeling good. The numerous photographers and the cheering spectators lining the course made me feel like a celebrity. I waved and smiled. I high fived random people. I felt light and happy. Every step took me closer. I had some difficulty in pacing myself as I didn't have my watch and there were no clocks or pacers to be seen anywhere. I decided to ask my fellow runners every now and then to help me keep a steady pace. And then it came, I hit the proverbial wall at 20 miles. I was tiring out. This was the farthest I had ever run. I was wilting in the late morning heat. Where was that second wind? I stopped to take a drink. I couldn't start again! My legs simply refused. Eventually, I managed to stumble forward. I had to put mind over matter. I didn't want to stop again lest I might not be able to start again. My legs felt like jelly. I closed my eyes and I prayed hard. I cussed. I remembered all those hours of training. I thought about my goal of 3:59:59. I thought of my ego. I had never pushed myself that much before. And then the final stretch, the end was in sight. I saw the clock and my heart sank. It was 4:04. For a brief instant, I thought I'd have to do it again. But my tired legs kicked that thought into oblivion. Never again! Never have I been in that much pain. At the end of the race I thanked God for carrying me through, but also asked for forgiveness for cussing so much.

I have great respect for all marathon runners, Ironman triathletes and others who do masochistic feats. But I am done. given that it's my first marathon it is also my PR. I needed to use Paul Ryan's calculator to get a sub 4hr time. And since I like quitting when I'm in front, it was also my last marathon. There are lots of could haves and should haves. But I can't go through this again. I gave it my 100% on race day and I can't see myself going through months of training again. I learned that the race is no place for an ego boost, as people two or three times my age passed me. In fact the race is with yourself and your goals. As it is said, “a moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory”. Well not exactly a moment, and not exactly a lifetime as well, but still... Wanna run?

Training schedule


  1. Nice to see that you took the plunge, Daniel. And you seem to have been really well-informed for someone doing their first marathon - with the training plan, recovery ideas, running app, weight training, goal setting, being aware of shoe life, etc. The whole post was very positive but it was sad to read the last part. My bet is that you will come back to do another marathon some time in life! With more wisdom and miles in your legs, you will do way better. Trust me, it only gets better and better from here
    Didn't you try hooking up with training partners/running club? Makes a lot of things easier - pain, boredom, planning, logistics
    Next time, try alternating cold and warm water during the post-run shower. It does wonders to me

    -Raman Garimella

  2. Thanks Raman. I was well informed partly from info from the internet and partly from documenting my own experiences.
    I didn't join a running club or partner mainly because of logistics. It was much easier to plan runs on my own schedule. That way I could adjust the training around my own calendar.
    I probably won't run a marathon again because I rather spend my weekends doing something else than running. I still stay in shape and have incorporated in the interval training in my fitness regimen. But no runs for than 1 hr long. :)

    1. Okay, let us know if you change your mind :) any time in life