I have been on a quest to finish a marathon for quite a few years.
It all began in 2015. 2012-1014 were years when I reinvented myself and began working freelance, owned a small agency as well. I worked on many things, learned a lot and wrote about it – especially after travelling the world in 2014 (North and South Americas in winter-spring, Balkans in the summer and South Africa in late November-December).
When travelling I had a lot of time to think through things that mattered most to me – be it my family (parents and brother who I love), my second family in my best friends and no less important people who simply inspired me to grow; the work I did and where I spent my time – in growth, reading, sports or nerding out.
Yet I felt lost. In 2015, I started cutting down the number of projects I worked on (mostly, at the time, client work), instead thinking (dreaming?) and planning (procrastinating?) on working on something of my own.
I remember those days well. I would wake up with grand plans, maybe work on some client work, then sit at my computer, stare at the screen.. And run away and do something else.
I was scared. Scared to start, scared to grow. Lost my motivation to start new things and work on old ones. Not that I did not want to do anything – I simply did not want to do work. I was not happy with the projects I’ve done or, in some cases, clients I dealt with.
So in that undriven state I decided to clear my mind and began trying to go out for runs. The distances weren’t great – at the time even 10k seemed far away. But I persisted.
Come 2016, I fell for someone, got hurt bad and then needed a way to escape feeling like shit all the time, so I set a half-marathon as a goal for late May. It was my first somewhat longer run (10k at that point was easy), so I started off fast, outrunning many runners, but on lap two I died. Hint: know your pace.
Short disclaimer, there’s several things about me and my training regime that go opposite to great results. I only ran from spring to early autumn. The rest of the year I would spend working at home or in the gym, usually with opposing goals (less cardio, more weight gain etc.).
So every year I would, at least at the beginning, struggle quite a bit – in form, in cardio readiness, due to in some cases weighing more than I should (though I was not overweight, just on the upper limit).
So back to the quest. Each and every year, in some cases right after my birthday in March, I would dress up and start going out on runs (once I ran at -15C, Lithuanian springs can be rough).
There’s several things I learned over the years, some of which might be useful tips.
Cross training while running. While working out with weights is great for strengthening the body (I would do squats and deadlifts a lot), never found myself to be able to do both thoroughly and get great results. One does complement the other, but never together at max performance. Weights do indeed make you run better and endurance cardio can make you burn some extra calories to look leaner, but I vividly remember the year when my summer’s goal was to train for a muscle up (got close but not close enough). I would start the morning with pull ups and other exercises, then run for 10-15k, come back, try to do a few more pull ups. And nothing, there would be no juice in the muscles at the time. Sadly, it’s necessary to choose – be better at one, rather than be good at neither.
Get a training plan and stick to it. No matter the weather outside, no matter how bad / good you feel that day – get up and go (I ran in the mornings). When the weekly distance started piling up (70ish kilometers), it felt so easy to run short distances, with no exhaustion afterwards. Just a quick run and you’re done for the day. But you have to stick to it and not slack. If possible, look for a plan that takes longer – more than 12 weeks, depending on the length of the running season. 12 weeks is pretty rough on your endurance, as you would have to increase the distance a bit too fast and continue running long runs for weeks, with little rest in between. Longer programs have time to mix things up, to recuperate more, so aim for those (the internet is full of them).
During summer especially, you have to rehydrate. Not only for magnesium (cramping), but overall (I drank a basic mix of minerals, aptly named Basica). I learnt this the hard way one hot summer, when I tried getting up in the morning but felt awfully dizzy. Every turn of the head made me want to puke; if I tried getting up, I could barely walk straight. At first I thought it might have been an ear infection, but a pharmacist recommended a rehydration drink – I drank that for a few days and felt better.
(full recovery from the dehydration still took too long, so I did not feel ready enough to run the distance and had to cut down on training).
Massage and warm up / cool down. Whether sports massage from a specialist, or rollers / massage balls – massaging your muscles after runs will help with recovery. By the end of the this (2020) season my leg muscles were completely fucked up so I also decided to go do massage therapy as well. Warming up (dynamic moves) and cool down (static stretches) are also a must, as they will help you with recovery and lessen the issues afterwards. Each year, problems with my legs were especially apparent in the last few months prior to the race. I would never have enough time to recover so my legs would be super stiff for the beginning of the run (the longer the later in the season). On some days, I would only feel comfortable running 6-8k in. Quick hack – running uphill and the cooling down worked well to cut the time, at least for me.
Get proper shoes and don’t be stingy. Maybe if you’re thin and sporty already, there’s less need for proper shoes (but a friend of mine who’s in that category ran faster, but had pushed one of his toes too hard into the front of the shoe and is still waiting for the nail to heal itself). But as I’m tall and not the thinnest, I bought expensive running shoes (~160 eur), even then I probably should’ve bought a second pair by the end of the season. Prior to this year, I ran three seasons in the same running shoes, somewhat cheap ones, meant for half-marathon training and running only. In August, 2019, I was out on my long run (I was running around 30k for several weeks at the time), at around 26k, right when I was about to head back, I felt actual pain in my foot joints. I thought about pushing through for a bit more.. but the realisation of how fucked my feet were at the time was obvious. So I slowly waddled home instead and could not run for three-four weeks (rip that season).
Whether you get one pair of shoes or several, make sure they’re proper for the type of surface you’re running on. This year I made a tactical mistake. Hiking enthusiasts / volunteers made a 100 km track around the city, mostly through forest paths, rarely on solid surfaces (claiming that to be better). I did indeed enjoy the runs – there’s little better for me than be in the forest early in the morning, pleasant smells, sunshine and clear air. But the expensive shoes were solid surface “road” shoes, with thin soles in the mid foot. Not entirely sure when, might have been because of many days of running on rocky paths or roots, I hurt the foot arch muscle (closer to the heel), whatever the name of it is. I could barely walk, limping, for weeks. Luckily nothing in the bone structure or joints got hurt, so after a strong warm up I would be able to continue running the distances according to my training plan. But it was harder than it would’ve been if I stayed on the roads (which I did, for the rest of the season).
So after learning a lot about running in general, how to properly take care of my body (and myself), after 4 years of real training I finally did it.
Truth be told I expected to be super happy when I passed the finish line. But I was not. I hoped for a better time than my 4:52ish, because of the all the training I endured.
But that’s why I like running so much. There are no hacks or easier ways to game a full marathon. Persistence and proper training, day in day out. Sacrifices.
Instead of being the finish line for my running journey, felt more like a step in it. Now, going faster or maybe even longer is my goal. And as this quest began when I was in a bad mental state, what I gained the most is mental clarity, motivation and eagerness to grow again.
And I decided to write again, weekly, so more stories coming up.