Marathon Motivation: 42.2 Steps to Avoid the Deadly DNF

This past Saturday; I completed the Kuwait Marathon. I had only decided a short eight weeks earlier, during the ‘best’ time and place to make an important decision; 2 am at the diwaniya. Thankfully, I had been training regularly for about 10 weeks prior, as part of my three-month boxing/cross fit rehabilitation to get back into fighting shape from an all-time high of 88 kilos in August due to hair lining my right wrist courtesy of a showjumping spill. I decided that it was high time to cross the Marathon off of my personal bucket and commit to running those 42.2 km (26.2 miles), with the singular goal of “no stopping.” Below is a list of the 42.2 steps I accumulated across my odyssey.

Before we dive into the list, why the 42.2? Well, it all has to do with ancient Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger who ran 42.195km or 26 and 385 yards from the city of Marathon to Athens, to report that the Greeks had beaten their arch-nemeses the Persians. Now, keeping up with the theme of antiquity, I have also divided my list into four parts, signifying the way I myself divided the race, naming each part after the four fearsome Julio-Claudian Emperors.

Tiberius — Preparing for the Race

Caligula — Training for the Race

Claudius — The Day of the Race

Nero — Surviving the Race

As the old saying goes, the only way to eat an elephant is one piece at a time, so feel free to cut up that 42.2km into as many pieces as you like. Whether is 6x7km or 3x14km or two 11km and two 10km, a piecemeal approach to the Marathon is the only way to go. I personally used all of the above during my race and even tackled its timewise, convincing myself that I only had 1 hour and then 30 minutes to go towards the end.

Just like the heads of that legendary hound of Hades, Cerberus, there are three main enemies you must vanquish during your Marathon:

  1. Your Self Doubt — Slay Your Inner Demon
  2. Boredom
  3. Pain — yes, there will be plenty of pain

So cutting up the Marathon definitely helps with Number 2, I also liked to calculate the percentage of the race I have completed. Hopefully, the next 42.2 steps will help with enemies 1 and 3.

Tiberius — Preparing for the Race

  1. Top 1% — the realization that only 1% of all mankind has completed a marathon really motivated me to achieve this milestone

2. Read — read as much as you can about the Marathon and different mental tricks used by runners

3. Commit — pay that participation fee and block times for training sessions in your calendar accordingly. Screw 16 weeks of prep, I did it in 8 weeks. Screw training 6 days a week, many marathoners train only 3 to 4 times per week

4. Proselytize — tell everyone you know that you are preparing for the race. Feed on their positive energy (or their doubt!)

5. Buy a Smart Watch — yes, it is really worth it and your smartphone is no substitute

6. Buy New Shoes — the lighter the better. I personally went all out and got the Asics Metarides — Black and Red, after trying on at least seven different pairs of shoes.

7. Download a Running App — I personally stuck with RunCoach after downloading three different apps.

8. Set a Dream Marathon Running Goal — this to me was key, even though I knew that my comfortable MRR or Marathon Run Rate was 7mins/km, I had RunCoach set my training schedule to run a four-hour marathon at 5.44mins/km. Prepare to mentally underpromise yourself but physically overdeliver during training!

9. No Need to Carb Load Yet — you should continue to eat well-balanced meals (and maybe even boost your protein intake to build those muscles). In general, be as healthy as possible

10. No Treadmills — the Marathon is a road race, run on the road

Caligula — Training for the Race

11. Stretch, Stretch and Stretch — -before, during and after your practice runs. The more flexible you are, the longer (and faster and more comfortable) your runs will be

12. Morning Glory — most marathons (if not all) start at ungodly hours on a weekend. So ideally have your training mimic your race time

13. Longrun Weekends — your running app will probably suggest this anyways, but definitely schedule your long runs on whichever weekend day is the most relaxing for you

14. Upper Body As Well — you are not a droid made up of a torso and two legs, so remember to train your upper body as well. Alternate your run days and recovery days with anaerobic and resistance training. Swimming and biking are also great options to give your joints a break

15. Rest Day — take a day off, but enjoy active rest that will help with your recovery. Jogging barefoot on the beach or on a forest trail is ideal

16. Recalibrate — don’t worry if you miss a day or exercise

17. Wear A Knee Guard — no its not cheating, it's just another item of clothing

18. Double Knot those Laces — one of the best pieces of advice I got. During my initial training, my laces would go out after 3K or 5K, once I double knotted those bunnies my laced stayed in place the entire way (including during the actual marathon)

19. Baby powder those Shoes — the dryer your feet the fewer blisters you will have

20. Blisters — pop them and move on. Your feet will eventually become tough and leathery. You are a marathon-gator!

21. Protect those Nipples — bandages, nipples guards (if you want to be fancy) or just some Vaseline

22. Practice Eating / Drinking While Running — also practice throwing up ;)

23. Mock Marathon — another great piece of advice was to use a half marathon as a mock marathon day. Even though my training schedule had my long run at 15km, I still pushed myself to complete the entire 21km, even though it was at a pathetic pace, it showed my body that I was capable of running a continuous long-distance. I personally never did more than a half marathon during my training (I did a total of two), but I would see the benefit of even doing a 30K as your peak run day two weeks before your taper begins.

24. Taper — this is key, start a week before and enjoy those short runs

25. Carb Load — the fun begins. Remember, cheese is full of fat, so focus on tomato-based pastas and prioritize rice over bread (yeast and sugar are your enemy)

26. Know the Terrain — in Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the Chinese Military historian reminds us that a great general must navigate the terrain of the battleground before engaging the enemy. This is also true for the marathon

27. Dress Rehearsal — like all great stage performances, make sure you wear your entire race day outfit (including storing any snacks and power drinks) before the actual race

Claudius — Race Day and Pregame

28. Smile at the Start — put all that cortisol at bay and boost your natural testosterone

29. Picture a Smooth Race — mentally, in your mind’s eye, just take yourself through the entire course through a birdseye view, watching yourself glide smoothly past every milepost

30. Focus — forget how many miles Johnny or Suzy ran per week or how many weeks they trained. Focus on what you achieved not what you missed. Believe in your training

31. Unload Your Bladder — there is no need to drink copious amounts of water at the start

32. Icy-Hot — feel free to apply your muscle relaxing cream ahead of the race, especially on areas that tend to get sore or old injuries

Only 10 km left!

Nero — Surviving the Race

This is where the Marathon becomes more of a mental challenge than a physical one. For me personally, there were two turning points, KM 11 and KM 30. So don’t just expect to knock down one mental wall, expect the Marathon to throw at you multiple ones. Just remember the mantra, “mind over matter”

34. Start at a Slower Pace — remember, you are in this for the full 42.2km, so it's ok to start at a pace slower than your MRR

35. Drafting — if you are not running with a buddy or a team, just lock your eyes on someone running at a similar pace. It’s ok to have multiple drafting partners throughout the race.

36. Ignore the Smartwatch — once you have verified your ideal MRR, just ignore the watch and enjoy the experience

37. Don’t Stop — don’t lose that momentum, avoid stopping at all costs. Slow down to a crawl if you have to. However, even if you do stop, stretch it out and pick up that pace once again. You are climbing a mountain

38. Pacman Power — every time my pace helped me conquer a fallen foe, I felt like the flashy pizza-missing-a-slice protagonist eating an energizing power pellet

39. Pop Those Pills — remember those pain pills, feel free to pop them if you need them

40. Forget the Road — I focused instead on the way the sunlight was dancing across the bay

41. Dig Deep — as many times as you need to. Believe in your training. Remember that you have endless extra cups of energy and that completing the marathon is all mental! You can definitely do it!

42. Recovery — you must must must dip your legs into an ice bath. I personally don’t have a bathtub, so I just spent 30 mins waist up in icy seawater after my marathon, it definitely did the trick. Ice packs work just as well, but an ice bath is the ideal

42.2 Have fun and remember that you never have to run a marathon ever again!

Marathon Medicine

Recent new research from Barts and University College London finds that first-time runners who train for and complete a marathon benefit from improved heart health, shaving four years off their vascular age,

During the study, 138 novice runners attempted to run the London Marathon after six months of training. Researchers found after completing the marathon, the runners’ blood pressure was reduced by as much as if they had been taking prescribed pills, with their arteries regaining some youthful elasticity, known to reduce to risk of strokes and heart attacks.

Across all the participants, the average time for running the 42.2km marathon was between four and a half to five and a half hours.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, who funded the research, said that smaller amounts of aerobic movement are likely to have a comparable effect.

Of course, in recent years there has been multiple headlines when runners with a pre-existing but undiagnosed heart condition collapse during races, however this is very uncommon.

Talking about the potential risks of training for a marathon, lead researcher Dr Charlotte Manisty said: “People with known heart disease or other medical conditions should speak to their doctor first. But for most people, the benefits of taking up exercise far outweigh any risk,” they added.

Professor Metin Avkiran from the BHF hails exercise as a pseudo “wonder drug”.

“The Way of the Future”