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Friday, December 14, 2012

Madame Marathon

I was recently emailed the following question...

"Okay Scott,
I am really enjoying running. I am enjoying it so much that I would really like to push myself. I plan to do a half marathon in February. However, I am having an itching to go beyond that and attempt a marathon... I have found two at the end of the summer that look doable for a 1st timer like me....anyway- any thoughts? I was thinking of a sprint triathalon in June. but would forgo it to work on this...this seems more challenging physically, but logistically easier (one type of training). So-am I too old? Is this nuts?"

The Lady that wrote this is in her early 40's, and with her husband, has recently embarked on a notably transformative journey toward a higher level of fitness.  In answering the question, I realized that I was articulating some important lessons I've learned over the past few years.  I share them here...

First of all, congratulations on breaking through.

Regarding the half and full marathon…
Bear in mind that 13.1 and 26.2 are arbitrary at best.  While they represent notable milestones of achievement, your body doesn’t have any clue that they are at all meaningful.  Your body is going to respond to the stimulus of increased training by constantly transforming to become more efficient at doing what you are training it to do.

If you train for a full marathon, then inevitably you will pass the half marathon point somewhere along the way.  So, training for a full marathon will include training for a half.  If your body wants a break along the way, then it will tell you.  That may not coincide with the arbitrary 13.1 milestone.  You may reach 10 miles in your training and hit a wall.  Or, you may never hit a wall and push right through to the Western States 100.  There are many things to consider that basically don’t address those specific distances at all…


Time – it takes a long time to train efficiently for long distance running. I’m not talking about the fact that you need to start training 8 months in advance.  I’m saying that training requires running long distances, which takes a long time.  I’m holding steady right now – not getting faster or further, but I still have to run 3-4 hours per week to maintain.  As I’m sure you know, running 3-4 hours involves at least 2-3 hours of prep and recovery.  In other words just to maintain my current ability, I’m spending 5-7 hours per week on something other than daily life.

Injury – your body is going to react to the training uniquely from anyone else.  If you can ramp up your training indefinitely without injury, then there is no reason to quit (in my opinion).  However, you need to be honest with your body, and back off if (probably “when”) the injuries occur.  It is unfortunately a natural part of long distance running, and if you read running literature, there is an amazing amount of print devoted to injury – for good reason.
Rest is an integral part of injury prevention.  Don’t let any goal get in the way of adequate rest periods.  Again there is ample literature on injury and rest, and it should be very familiar to you if you are going to embark on this quest.

Cost – Running becomes a little more expensive.  You will learn what to eat and what not to eat – and what to eat costs more money.  You will go through shoes every few months – and if you don’t, then read the paragraph above again.  You will buy more running gear, and do a lot of laundry.  But it could be worse - you could have fallen in love with auto racing or Rodeo.

Desire – This is a huge force.  If you want to run, then you will be unhappy if you don’t.  Yes, I know life is full of disappointments.  However, running is such a natural and innately good thing, that spending time running is hard to argue against.  If running means less time doing other inane or unnecessary activities, then fulfill the desire and let the endorphins flow.  I don’t watch any TV.  But the same people that can’t figure out how I can find time to run 10 hours per week while training for a race, also think me odd for not watching TV.  It’s all about desire.  I’m personally unwilling to diminish a healthy desire, when many frivolous desires are nefariously clamoring for that space

Objective – What is your objective, really?  If your objective is to reach a milestone, then drag it out as long as possible.  No sense getting there too soon and then leaving it and the benefits behind.  If your objective is a lifestyle, then there is still no real hurry.   You will get there when your body is ready.  If you need the clearly defined goal of a specific race on a specific day to maintain the greater objective, well then, there you have it.

...So I conclude with this final thought.  Marathons are great.  I've begun a habit of running one solo every few months.  However, I have not allowed them to become an end in and of themselves.  Madame Marathon, is simply invited to the dance on occasion to test and measure my skills.  My first marathon was a milestone to be sure, but the mud wasn't even dry before, I was certain that the music would continue to play and that the dance was just beginning.  
What distance or what test you measure yourself by is going to be uniquely personal, however, I feel strongly that we should all establish some criteria by which we judge our life, and are periodically driven to self-enforce.  For my fitness, it's the marathon.