Marathon running is as crazy as it is unpleasant. Training hurts; an average marathon training run is 10 kilometers long; during which, even the most level headed runner will oscillate, several times, between misery and an almost meditative state where all sense of self is gone, thought becomes impossible, and existence is reduced to the putting of one foot in front of the other.
After running on an injured leg through a Canadian winter, with only tights for warmth, and after not giving up on something that I’m still not sure I enjoy, race day arrived somewhat out of sync with my level of confidence. Standing in the middle of thousands of people, waiting for the starter pistol to fire, I thought: if only I hadn’t told so many people I was going to be doing this, leaving would still be an option. The nausea that I was experiencing had also found some binding reason not to leave; and every pertinent insecurity passed through my mind. Each lasting only long enough to make its mark, before kindly vacating my awareness and allowing the next tormented thought to have its private moment with me. But, I’m running ahead of myself.
I signed up for a marathon clinic offered by one of those increasingly popular running store chains. The clinic, which cost approximately a hundred dollars, lasted for 18 weeks and was “taught” by running enthusiasts — not coaches. Each week there were three scheduled runs and one in-store “class.” The class sought to teach some element of running while inevitably featuring some unnecessary or gaudy item that the store was only to happy to sell to you.
Week by week the clinic did what it claimed it would: it produced capable, long distance runners. Over the first 14 weeks the running volume doubled, from 26 km to 52 km weekly. Long runs were organized every Sunday, and got progressively longer. The mid-week run saw one of three types of technical runs: tempo, hills, or speed. Tempo runs are designed to increase aerobic capacity and muscle strength by running at a pace that is just beyond comfortable. Hill training, running repeatedly up and down hills, conditions the body to cope with muscle fatigue. While speed training differs in that its emphasis is not on endurance. The runner runs one kilometer as fast as possible, then jogs for 200m, and then repeats the pattern. The number of repetitions increases week to week.
For the final month of training, running volume and intensity is tapered. In the lead up to the marathon the body needs to recuperate from all of the training, and slowly tapering ensures no loss of fitness. Marathon running is often times detrimental to the body. This risk is reflected by the fact that the entire 42.195 km is never run during training, the closest long run is only three quarters of the entire distance. The last week of training was anti-climactic. I ran only 6 km, in my own time, and without the support of the group.
After having witnessed my friends and loved-ones politely lose interest as I talk about running a marathon, I realized that I cannot make a five-hour run interesting. So, for the marathon all I will say is this: I did it, the nausea passed, the uncertainty didn’t, and I cried when I crossed the finish line.