What a feeling it was to cross the finish line after 42.195km: stiffness like I’ve never felt before, pain in my right hip like a knife stabbing me from the inside, but, above all, an amazing sense of achievement running through both my body and mind. This is your reward for running a marathon.
My very first marathon took four hours and 30 minutes. The original race. I’d followed the same path Philippides ran all the way back in 490 BC, but my journey was in fact much longer and along the way, I learned a great deal about what it takes to complete such a feat.
Taking the plunge
When I was looking for a race, it was crystal clear to me that Dublin Marathon was not an option. I live in Dublin, I love to travel, and I needed that little bit of extra motivation to drive me through my training.
My biggest fear was that I would lose the motivation with which I started, and I knew that merging a trip and a marathon was my best option to commit myself and prepare thoroughly to run the 42.196 kilometres. Then one day, flying from Dublin to Valencia, I found the perfect match: the Athens Marathon.
With my commitment firmly established, it was now time for me to turn it into action.
Having the right frame of mind
Based on my life experience, a routine is the best way to reach your goals in sports and work.
I’m not talking about getting up every day at the same time, following the same path, doing the same exercises or clicking the same buttons on the keyboard, I’m talking about committing to your ambitions.
Having been a committed footballer, I chose to give up my football boots and I put on my running shoes (as if it was that easy with other things in life, or maybe it is…).
And so I began with my preparation, mentally and physically, because whether you want it or not, the two go hand in hand.
I did not go to an expert to follow a specific training plan (I will do for the next marathon), but I had a few chats with fellow runners, read a bunch of articles and talked with my brother – a physiotherapy student – to give myself some structure.
I followed my body’s requirements, maintained my commitment to the challenge and followed the tips I received from my brother and other runners. I then trained regularly from January to November.
I didn’t get obsessed with following the training plan 100%; there are unexpected circumstances related to work, trips, injuries and other sudden situations. So, I skipped a session when I had to, with no regrets at all.
I also looked hard at how I was eating to ensure I was at my optimal ‘fighting weight’ for the race itself. Nutrition is incredibly important when you’re putting your body through such a rigorous programme.
Bringing a strategy to your race
I based my strategy on three factors: level of tiredness, elevation of the road and mental blocks (food checkpoints and what I’m going to listen to). I divided the race into six parts and I created a sort of handicap level based on accumulated distance, elevation and pace.
In the end, this was just a theoretical strategy because once you are running, legs and mind rule, but certainly I was lucky and I could follow the established plan.
Actually, as I said, I had luck because I could follow the plan but I made a mistake considering the last 7km a level 3 of hardness, it should be marked as level 3+: It was so tough!
By all means, I’m as happy as you can imagine after running my first marathon but obviously, there are details that I’m going to improve and change for the next one.
On marathon day, I felt I was in really good shape for the first 33 kilometres, but then started my descent into hell. The last 6km were horrific. Could this have been different if I had gone further during my training? Maybe with some longer training runs, but who knows?
My next challenge
Following my win-win strategy ‘marathon + travel’, I’m now looking to run a marathon on each continent, something I believe will keep my motivation strong.
Next up is the La Habana Marathon in Cuba. This time around, I’m challenging myself to learn faster and train stronger. We’ll see how it works out.