How I Got Here – Marathon Training: Week 1

So here it is, after a lot of faffing around, getting injured and planning ahead, I’ve officially started training for my first full marathon. 26.2 miles!!

If you had asked me even 5 years ago I’d have said there was no way I’d even be capable of running a marathon, let alone have the commitment to train properly. I am not a runner, I don’t even like sports. I spent my high school gym classes yelling at the teacher and making jokes about how terrible I was. I once broke my toe because I played basketball with no shoes on, that’s how seriously I took the whole thing…

Fast forward to 2013, I was looking for something that summer, some self-confidence boosting, lose weight fast scheme that would take my mind off exams and give me something productive to do with my time. Enter, running.

I bought my first pair of running shoes at a discount warehouse store with no more thought than whether or not they were good value. I “ran” about 20 minutes per day around a lake near my house, and had no idea what I was doing. I made the rookie error of trying to sprint because it felt comfortable for my legs, only to stop, panting and wheezing, after about 100m. Slowly I got the hang of it, and built up to a solid 3km, where I stayed for the best part of a year. Meanwhile, I got into going to the gym and built up my fitness, but it never occurred to me to run longer because even after all this time, 3km still hurt.

In April 2014 one of my very good friends ran the Paris Marathon. I went along for moral support and I was blown away by how wholesome and motivational the whole experience was, even from the side lines. There were thousands of people, blaring music and just the most enthusiastic feeling in the air. If you ever lose faith in humanity, please go watch a marathon. Of course, it helped that the sun was shining, but still! Watching her cross the finish line after 5 hours of pain, and months of training, made me feel like there was nothing you couldn’t do if you put your mind to it.

Luckily for me, that friend is a big enabler, and when I told her I was interested in lengthening my running distance, and maybe running a 10km, she told me if wasn’t enough. She found a half-marathon in my area in September and said if I signed up she would come visit me and we would do it together. Who says no to that?? So, I registered for the Dublin half marathon 2014.

I spent the summer training, which was an exercise in itself given I was working in Tel Aviv at the time, the heat almost killed me, even running at night. I had no training plan whatsoever, nor any structure to my life. I was working full time and partying more than I should have been. I would just go out and see how far I could go basically (spoiler alert: bad plan). The furthest I went was 18km, and I only did it once. The day arrived and I survived, finishing in 2hrs and 30 minutes. I ran alone as my friend couldn’t make it in the end, but there was no way I was going to let that stop me. It was easier than I had anticipated to start with, I was 8km in before the suffering began. I hit a hell of a runners high around 12km and legitimately danced to Ellie Goulding for a while, but then my ipod Nike app told me I was at 20km, about 5 minutes before the mile-markers told me that I was only at 18km, and my heart broke. I lost all my spirit, and walked a lot. I somehow managed to run across the finish line thanks to a girl I had met about 300m earlier, and smiled in my finishers photo. My lack of nutrition plan hit me immediately, I felt freezing cold, nauseous and angry within 20 minutes and just wanted to go home, until I had a plate of nachos shoved in my face, then I felt a lot better. I had no real pain issues afterwards, somehow managing to go on a night out after a shower and a nap.

I quickly caught the bug, and had signed up for the Berlin half within a few weeks, it was in March so I gave myself a couple of months off, before getting back to it in December. Once again, I had no training plan and it caught up with me in no time. First day back, I got on the treadmill and slammed out 8km. The next day I couldn’t walk down stairs, at all. I had a classic case of runner’s knee. And with help from a physio, I got through it, but Berlin never happened. I was told that I shouldn’t run long distances anymore and that it would happen again, so I spent two years limiting my running to 5km, I did a lot of strength training and cycling, I also climbed a mountain but that’s a different story.

By the end of 2016 I was in the best shape of my life, but I couldn’t stop thinking about running., Which is entertaining and confusing in and of itself because most of running is pain.

I was living in New York and I didn’t have access to a proper gym, so a lot of my old routines were of no use to me, and I was in a rut. Coincidentally, the New York marathon route went right under my window, and thus once again I was enticed by the atmosphere of it all. I hatched a plan. For the first time, I was going to follow a training plan, exactly! I found a 3-month schedule which had me running 3 times per week. I stuck to it religiously, getting up at 5am to run before work, completely disregarding my cycle commute (one hour each way) as real exercise. However, as life caught up to me, I missed a couple of weeks and tried to compensate by running 4 times per week instead (mistake). In February I ran a trail half marathon in a forest an hour outside of Washington DC. It was a tiny race, there were maybe 10 of us running the full distance, and I finished second to last. The weather was unexpectedly boiling, so I went from training in the snow, to getting sunburnt on race day. On top of that there was very little in terms of support, water and Gatorade only every 6km or so. I have no idea how long it took me, but I survived. The drive home killed me though, I spent an hour in the car with little to no movement. I jumped in an ice bath the minute I walked in the door, but the damage was done, I was in a lot of pain. My left hip was suffering.

I flew to Europe the next day wearing compression socks. I gave myself a week and a half off, walking everyday but no other exercise. When I finally jumped on the treadmill, I almost cried after 3km. I was done, yet again. I took 6 months off, apart from one ill-advised 20km run that I didn’t train for at all, and ran entirely out of sentimentality. My hip kicked my ass, but I survived and finished in 2hrs and 40 minutes, which I was pretty proud of considering.

In September 2017, I was in pretty bad shape, apart from some yoga over the summer I hadn’t really done any exercise in months. I felt the pull, and within a week I was back on it. I played it extra cautious, took 6 months to train and spent the first weeks running a single mile. Though this was my most effective and injury-proof method, I felt the training burnout pretty intensely by the end. I just didn’t care about running anymore. This was also my first training cycle done entirely outside, with only 2 treadmill runs the entire time. Initially I hated it, I find it a lot easier to push myself on a treadmill, and a lot easier to talk myself into going into a gym than out into the cold/dark/rain. Either way, it all worked out well, and I completed the March 2018 Rock and Roll half marathon in Washington DC with no injuries, or problems of note.

Once again, I gave myself time off to recover, which probably turned into too much time. It took me a month to gather the heart to run again, I was just so over it, I didn’t see the point in pushing myself back to it for no reason. At this point I was studying for the New York Bar Exam, and was in serious need of an outlet for my nervous energy. I just ran, with no plan, no goal, and no external aspirations. I ran because my brain needed me too. As work intensified I signed up for a 10-mile race to keep myself accountable. On the 1st of July 2018 I ran 10 miles in 38-degree heat, full sunshine.

That was the last race that I ran. I have been running on and off since, but nothing to that level of intensity. I hiked Macchu Pichu in August, and I like to believe that it kept my fitness up, but mostly I did yoga, running to class and back, and cycled with my Dad.

Which, long story very long, brings us to now.

I have signed up to run the Midnight Sun Marathon 2019, in Tromso Norway on the 22nd of June. My program is 23 weeks long, running 3 times per week, including a half marathon along the Great Wall of China half way through (may or may not be a horrific, injury inducing mistake). Shit is getting real. My main goal is to survive, though the time cut off is 5 and a half hours, so I would like to finish before that.

I know that you’re supposed to cross train and all that, but realistically, I probably won’t. I’d like to aim to do some kind of yoga and some kind of strength work once per week, but knowing me, odds are that will not happen. I’ll have to manage with just walking a hell of a lot (I live in London so that’s a given), and cycling to work once I get my life together to sort that out.

Goals:

– I still have yet to figure out nutrition, so my first goal is to integrate gels on runs longer than 10km.

– Secondly, I want to get my 5km consistently below 30 minutes.

– Thirdly, I want to be consistent in following my plan, and miss as few runs as possible.

I don’t have heart wrenchingly emotional story about how I found running, and I haven’t discovered some hidden talent leading me to set world records. I am a very mediocre runner who often chooses wine or sleep over my training, and has spent two years saying I’ll try and break the 2-hour half marathon, without even pretending to put in the requisite effort. But running has taught me that I can push myself, and achieve something that feels impossible. It calms my raging brain, and gives me purpose. This is not going to be easy, or pretty, and it very well might kill me, but this is the story of how I am going to run a marathon.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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