By: Jay Doughnuts On: June 22, 2012
It was Sunday, October 9th, 2005. I was on one knee nervously lacing and re-lacing my banana colored Nike Mayfly running flats. The smell of Ben Gay, sweat, and fear was singing my nostrils all at once. This was the point of no return. 7 months earlier, I met a lovely girl from Chicago that convinced me to come out with her for a leisurely run. Now I was in her home city, on the precipice of beginning a previously unthinkable feat: covering 26.2 miles along with 40,000 of my closest friends while an entire city cheers me on. The pressure was palpable. The corral was closed. There was no escape. While resting on my left knee, I began to hear a young and optimistic voice belt out our national anthem and I did what any man would do in this situation… I adjusted my short-shorts and discretely relieved myself while genuflecting before the running Gods.
Three hours and nine minutes later, covered in a silver space-age blanket and decorated with a crusty white sprinkling of evaporated sweat, I proudly lowered my head to receive my first Marathon finisher medal. This deeply spiritual moment was one of the proudest of my life and one that I did not know that I was capable of achieving. My thoughts were of my girlfriend, her belief in my ability to cover this distance and of Boston as I had qualified for the oldest marathon in the land on my first attempt. Accomplishing something that you previously viewed as unthinkable has a way of changing a man and I dare say that I have been a better person from that day forward.
People have asked me to write a little bit about running for some time now. I’m not the fastest guy in the country, city or even the neighborhood. I’ve won a few races, but my total prize winnings hardly top $1,000… a sum that in no way offsets the cost of my career race registrations. Even in my fastest marathon (2 hours, 48 minutes in 2010) I was bested by 339 people, 43 of whom were women. I am in no way an expert or a professional, but I can pass along a few universal truths that have helped me achieve satisfaction and fulfillment on race day and in life.
“ Running is a big question mark that’s there each and every day. It asks you, Are you going to be wimp or are you going to be strong today?” ~ Peter Maher
I can summarize the essential lesson of this column in our words: “Don’t Be a Pussy”. I am in no way implying that distance running is the sport of Gladiators requiring eye-black and gustatory pregame speeches. In fact, most runners have the musculature of Michael Cera and are probably not going to be your first call if a Roadhouse style bar fight erupts. You will notice, however, that the good ones are pretty tough Sons of Bitches. No, not the guy mean-mugging everyone at the starting line of a race. Not the guy with a full tat sleeve and aggressively trimmed facial hair. I’m talking about the guy at the front of the pack that is absorbing pain with every stride and tuning it out because he wants it more than everyone else. I’m talking about the new Mom that circled this 5K a few days after the birth of her first child and is running as a celebration of dropping the baby weight. See also the Dad grimacing through the last 400K of a 20 mile run with his son because it would be really meaningful for him if they could run a marathon side by side.
Completing a marathon is eminently achievable if one accepts that he or she can not be a pussy. As with any goal in life, there is a baseline level of effort that one must put forth to make this happen. There is no shortcut… there are no fast tracks to success… to survive this race one must do some work. Take a week off… pay the price. Cuddle under warm blankets on a Saturday morning… pay the price… Rage until 4am the night before a training run… pay the price. Put in the work… reap the rewards. By and large, the people that have the most enjoyable and fulfilling experiences on Marathon Race day are those that did not make excuses, did not take the easy way out, chose not the path of immediate gratification and understood that it takes work to achieve something worthwhile. See also “Non-pussies”.
“80 percent of success is just showing up” – Woody Allen
The first counter argument that will be thrown out by objectors when this is thrown out will be related to genetic ability or God given talent. They will point at the effortless stride of the lead pack of Kenyan and Ethiopian runners at the New York City Marathon (awful race by the way) and assume that these guys were born with superhuman ability and are hardly trying. They like to joke that they can not run a marathon because they are not Kenyan and they don’t want to shit on themselves on a Sunday. I politely laugh at these hackneyed jokes, but I don’t really believe that there is any truth in it. I am absolutely convinced that anyone that is able bodied and cleared medically to run CAN run a marathon if they put their minds to it. It IS absolutely something that ANYONE can do. You just have to be willing to get out there and put in the work. If you sign up to train your body and follow through with a plan, you WILL get a medal placed around your neck and a story to tell your Grandkids. It is really that simple. You just have to ask yourself if you are going to show up. Are you willing to get off the couch, cut the bullshit and try to do something special? Follow the plan, be true to yourself, put in an honest effort… good things will happen.
So what is this plan that I speak of? Is it some kind of mystical formula? Does one need to enlist a professional coach to crack the code of the marathon? Who has the best plan? What do the pros do? The answer is that there are variations on training plans, but, in my opinion, there are not that many essential rules:
1) Volume, Volume, Volume. Nothing is more important to running 26.2 miles than training your body to run a lot of miles. The more comfortable your body is at running a lot of miles, generally speaking, the more comfortable you will be covering these miles on Marathon day. Generally, I will say that someone should get their weekly mileage up to 30 miles/week to start a beginner 18 week marathon training program that will top out at 50 miles, A minimum of 50 miles/week to start an intermediate program topping out at 70 miles/week and a base of 70 miles/week if one wants to train really hard and achieve a time of under 3 hours.
2) 80 minute runs. You will be running for a long time on marathon day. You should get in a minimum of two 80 minute runs per week to get your body used to this.
3) Run fast at least once a week. Newsflash: running fast makes you fast. Don’t overdo it though. 3 miles of speed work on a track will do wonders. Signing up for a race or local 5K counts as speed work. Fartleks or longer runs with some component of speed, are great. A favorite fartlek of mine is 10 minutes easy, 20 minutes hard and 10 minutes easy. Try not to do more than two speed workouts a week or you will beat your body to a pulp.
4) Don’t get hurt. This is easier said than done you say? Perhaps, but what I mean here is listen to your body if something feels injured, take a day off. The first 6 months of training often include injury because your tendons and ligaments are not used to working like that. Once they are used to the drill, try to listen to your body so you don’t do too much damage and have to take a month off.
This is a logical segue to the question: “Why do people give up” My easy answer is that they are not having fun doing it and can probably make a few adjustments to make things more enjoyable. Also, people often take the advice of people that don’t know what the hell they are talking about and get into bad running routines and defeat themselves. Let’s cover some things NOT to do.
What Not to Do:
- Don’t decide to run at the hottest part of the day. Look at weather.com. If it is going to be hot as hell from 10am-2pm it might be a good idea to schedule your run for another time.
- Don’t dress for the first 10 minutes of the run. If it’s 50 degrees out, the first 10 minutes in a T-shirt and shorts might be a little chilly, but the rest of the run will be glorious. Conversely, if you are wearing pants and a jacket, after 10 minutes it is going to feel like you are melting in the Sahara desert and you will likely decide to head back home. It always shocks me to see how many runners fail to grasp how to dress for the temperature.
- Don’t run in place at the stop light. Stop. You look ridiculous. 30 seconds of rest is just fine.
- Don’t bring 6 little jugs of water strapped to a belt with you on a run. This is uncomfortable as hell and you look like a drug mule.
- Don’t wear headphones in a race. Do you think Tom Brady is listening to Arcade Fire in his helmet when he drops back to pass? It’s race day for fuck sake, you should be entertained enough already. Also, it’s dangerous. What if a vehicle is trying to pass you to get to a fallen runner ahead on the course and you can’t hear it because you are Party Rockin’? Bush league.
Another truth that I have to tell you is this: gear is not the answer. Running is a multi Billion dollar industry. Hundreds of companies will sell you ANYTHING and don’t give a shit about helping you get the most out of your potential. I know very few elite runners who would ever pay more than $75 for a pair of shoes (many of us wear test shoes for companies… thanks Brooks!) and we do a great job of finding good deals because we go through 10+ pairs of shoes a year. Just because retail price on a pair a shoes is $150 does not mean it is better than its $85 counterpart. Get fitted at a quality running store and take a look at what speedy runners train in. It might surprise you.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve toed the start line with a guy decked out in spandex from head to toe, race visor, Ipod, earbuds, $180 sneakers, breathe-right nasal strip, heart rate monitor, magnetic necklace, Garmin watch, sunglasses, race belt, gel packs, compression socks… every expensive piece of gear known to man. I breathe a sigh of relief when I see this guy because I know that he spent more time researching and purchasing gear than putting in the work needed to run faster than I can. Working harder is a better allocation of resources than acquiring ridiculous gadgets.
“All I want to do is drink beer and train like an animal.” - Rod Dixon 1983 NYC Marathon Champion, 1500M Olympic medal holder
As with anything in life, a runner needs balance. When I was training for my first marathon, my wife encouraged me to come out on Wednesday nights to join her “club” which I letter learned was the New Canaan Triathlon club. Upon joining, I was put through a brutal three miles of track work by seasoned Kona Ironman veterans that left me completely spent and desperately gasping for air. Moments after finishing, I was squatting on my knees and grimacing in pain when one of this club members asked if I was coming out for Pizza and Beer. I scratched my head and could not believe that this club would immediately go out for brews and pepperoni pizza after putting their bodies through such hell but I quickly learned that this was THE fundamental tradition that kept everyone coming back for more. Like anything in life, balance is the key. Work a little harder, reward yourself with beers, laughs and pizza. Without that balance, life would be a total bore… don’t ever get so uptight that you can’t cut lose over pizza and beer.
“What distinguishes those of us at the starting line from those of us on the couch is that we learn through running to take what the days gives us, what our body will allow us, and what our will can tolerate.” – John Bingham
Some people will ask you “Why do you do this?”, “What is the point?” and this answer will be a little different for everyone. For me, it has given me tremendous confidence and made me realize that we are probably capable of more than we have ever dreamed of if we make up our minds to work at it. Also, it keeps me off the couch… as we get older, it gets easier to lounge on the couch, drink more beer, eat more chips and become unhealthy. I’d like to live to be 100 and see my grandkids graduate college and I hope running gets me there. Also, most people work out in a stale gym… mostly to look good naked for their partner. I’d rather pick a race, train for that race and see what I can accomplish. This seems like better motivation to me.
“If you’re starting out or trying to get to the next level, surround yourself with people who keep you motivated and energized – people who inspire you to achieve your best every day. When you do this, you can’t lose.” –Anthony Famiglietti
Haters are going to hate. People are going to call you “crazy” for signing up for a marathon. Remember, these people are probably going to have to lift up their foopa just to have intercourse with their partner. Are these really the people you want to appease? Think of their foopas and laugh off their criticism.
“The best pace is a suicide pace…and today is a good day to die.” – Steve Prefontaine
If you absorb some of the nuggets that I’ve presented above, you will be able to commit to a marathon training plan that will properly prepare you for race day. Hopefully, if this is the right hobby or you, you might even ENJOY going out for a run and look forward to it… it might even become one of the best parts of the day. You may even pick a few “test races” along the way to get a sense of what your body will accept from a nutrition perspective (bland pasta and Salmon works best for me for dinner, half bagel with jelly and a banana for breakfast) and gen an understanding of what it feels like to “push” as opposed to coast. If you put in the work and were diligent about your training, you should WANT to do the very best you can. You should feel those natural competitive juices flow. You should say “I will not let this chick in the pink singlet beat me”. You should choose not to run with the “jiggle zone” competitors and instead look to run with a pack that might be faster than you think you are. This is what makes it fun. Tapping deep within yourself and finding out what you are truly capable of. If you are running because it is one of the things that you most enjoy doing on the planet, you won’t be afraid of dropping dead. There are worse things than going out doing something that you truly love. Maybe this is why we get a little nervous at the starting line… far better are those that sacrifice and take a chance trying to accomplish something great than those resting on the couch who never try at all. Don’t be a pussy… true in running. True in life
Coming Next Week- I will publish my Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Marathon Training Plans and some final thoughts-