“No matter how it’s run, whether it’s uphill, downhill, or flat, a marathon is 26.2 miles, and you have to respect the distance. There are a lot of guys who are going to be in great shape. I just want to run my own race, relax, stay in the mix, and be ready to react. That’s the beauty of racing. You do all your training to prepare the rest of your body, but coach Joe Vigil used to say what counts on race day is the nine inches above your shoulders.”
Meb Keflezighi, 36, winner of the US Olympic Marathon Trials.
Love the quote and I think it resonates on so many levels. Not only would you need some common sense and keep a level head during the race but also in the preparation for the big day. Like many, I’ve been often caught in the thrill of logging workouts after workouts in the name of umm…. working out. The purpose and goal of the workout seemingly lost in the whole scheme of things. It’s an easy vicious cycle to be caught in. Here’s why. After several weeks adjusting to the increased stress of training, the body has finally adjusted. It becomes easier for you to check off the miles, hitting the pace and so on. All well and good.
That’s when things can swing the other way. Unchecked, the body may be stressed to the point where even a 15K feels like late miles in a marathon. The legs may be feeling OK but the heart rate reading is just telling a different story. You find it increasingly difficult to roll out of bed. The niggles are taking longer to go away. You get a bit of the sniffles. Now, you know where this is headed right? You don’t need medical nor physiological explanations to tell you that these are warning signs of burn out. You feel it. Choosing to ignore or ride this wave may not be doing your training or race preps any good. Remember that the pros have a team to make sure they don’t get into this situation, from a coach, a masseuse, dietitian, and the luxury of naps a couple of times a day (in a RunnersWorld article written about their training – will try to look them up again – the Kenyans nap twice a day). Contrast to working stiffs in Malaysia who spend 3 hours a day caught in traffic, long working hours, late dinners, it’s so darn easy to get into a rest/sleep deficit. As dedicated, passionate, hardy and resourceful endurance athletes are, the whole mix is as delicate as a lit match among drums of fuel. There’s the risk of premature peaking to contend with.
It’s 2 Sundays to race day and it’s time to start my own recuperation mode. Last week has been so tiring that I abandoned my plan to run a fast 21K as part of the Brooks Half Marathon simulation as the final long run. Instead, I’ll be taking 2 days off running and thereafter sprinkling a few 8-10K tempos right up to the end of next Sunday. In his marathon taper article Pete Pfitzinger mentioned of a 11-13 mile run the Sunday before the race and it’s certainly something I’ll be doing, provided I’ve rested up. Hopefully all these will allow me to finish the race on the 26th, as Pfitzinger put it, “pleasantly exhausted” .
“Whether it is a mine entrapment or a divorce, a bankruptcy or a bad review, we all run from something, or to something. The fact remains; we all run to settle our souls. There is a thing that wants to jump out, grab us by the throat, and choke us to death. It is unwieldy and loathsome. It wants our lives. However, through our resilience, we give it no stake hold. We let it live initially, to temper us, then…we kill it, with the ambitions of our heart.”
To all the rescued miners, welcome back! All of you were in my prayers and your tenacity and will to live continue to move and inspire me and I’m sure many others.
“The marathon’s about being in contention over the last 10K. That’s when it’s about what you have in your core. You have run all the strength, all the superficial fitness out of yourself, and it really comes down to what’s left inside you. To be able to draw deep and pull something out of yourself is one of the most tremendous things about the marathon.”
– Rob de Castella, 1983 World Marathon Championships Winner, Australian marathon legend.
The Marathon. 42.195KM. If you find the number in kilometers a bit unfathomable, please go ahead and adopt the US standard of 26.2 miles. Any which way you look at it, Usain Bolt will have to run his 100s 422 times to earn the title Marathoner. It’s the distance that you’ll normally complain of when driving from Shah Alam to the Kuala Lumpur City Center. The distance is significant enough that big cities around the world design and market their Marathon courses as a way for tourists to experience the culture and place. Also in the case of big city Marathons, 35-40,000 Marathon finishers in a single race is the norm. Downtown Manhattan avenues shut down to welcome participants and 2 million spectators line the streets 5 deep in some places to see the show. On a much smaller scale, commercial and organization-wise, but no less welcoming, enthusiastic villagers hand out refreshments and cheers to runners in road races in Thailand. In KL, touted as the largest marathon in Malaysia, things aren’t quite as spectacular. Runners cover the capital’s streets watched by indifferent and sometimes rude residents who would honk and shout at the tired runners, and curious foreign labourers on their day off. There may actually be more volunteers than supporters en route. Things definitely are cheerier at the start and the last KM of the race. What still entices the 3,000 marathoners (out of the 28,000 total participants) to the streets this year are definitely not the mass support and raucous cheer teams they’ll get along their journey. Instead, the drivers are the fun and fellowship among fellow endurance athletes and personal goals.
“To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who’s never run it is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind.”
– Jerome Drayton
The Marathoner. The average runner is said to go through 52,000 foot strikes in a Marathon. Yet world beaters run the distance at a speed of over 20 kilometers an hour. Astounding. Mind boggling. Even runners wonder how can these feats be possible. Marathoners typically put in 3-6 months of training that peak with a 3 to 3.5 hour long run, to be able to eventually cover the distance in the least uncomfortable manner and shortest amount of time they can, even though not everyone runs the entire the distance nor seek a personal best timing. Life’s many road bumps will ensure that many will not be able to put in the optimal training required. But being perpetual optimists that they are, Marathoners will still stubbornly harbour hopes of a good race, if not in their finishing time then in terms of a rollicking good time with their fellow runners.
“Of all the races, there is no better stage for heroism than a marathon.”
– George Sheehan
“The marathon is a charismatic event. It has everything. It has drama. It has competition. It has camaraderie. It has heroism. Every jogger can’t dream of being an Olympic champion, but he can dream of finishing a marathon.”
– Fred Lebow, New York City Marathon co-founder
They turn up on race morning at the starting line, nervousness masked by laughters and high-fives. Some have personal missions. Most will be jesting around and posing for photos. Many will be in costumes, in vests bearing messages for the cause or charity they believe in. The odd one or two will run sightless, limbless without a doubt inspiring all around them. Chances are there will be cancer survivors in the midst, all raring to go. Each one have given up something for this chance to run and complete the race. Each with a story to tell on how they got there. In a parallel world, they could very well be the superheroes we cheer. Yet, one of those who toes the starting line could be your co-worker, friend, neighbour, grandfather, aunt, parent, son, daughter or teacher. Ordinary folks doing extraordinary things.
In the final quarter of the race, some will be introspective and casting their gaze downwards as they shuffle along seemingly reaching into the depths of their battered spirits and bodies still hoping to draw on some undiscovered energy source. A few will be vocal, urging their fellow sufferers to never let go of their dreams and to keep moving forward and cross the finish line impossibly happy.
“The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy…It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed.”
– Jacqueline Gareau, 1980 Boston Marathon Winner
“I’ve learned that finishing a marathon isn’t just an athletic achievement. It’s a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible.”
– John Hanc
“We runners are all a little nutty, but we’re good people who just want to enjoy our healthy, primitive challenge. Others may not understand running, but we do, and we cherish it. That’s our only message.’
– John J. Kelley, Boston legend
Now that you generally know what it takes to finish a Marathon, and if you’re even mildly inspired, I invite you to come out this one early Sunday morning to witness the drama unfolding first hand. Position yourself anywhere within the last 10KM of the route where they need all the encouragement they can get and applaud the runners as they pass and give them your best smile. Tip: “Keep it going!” is much preferred to “Looking good!“. You may still not understand why a person would put themselves through this. Chances are the Marathoners won’t be able to explain to you concisely either, simply because the reasons are usually the stories of their lives. A number of them may gesticulate at the medal and finish sign and say “Because of these“. One runner in particular may point at his blade prosthesis and remind you that, “Because I want to show you that if I can do it, anyone can“. In this challenging and stressful times we live in, are these not examples of the indomitable human spirit that embodies all that’s right and therefore worthy of our support?
“There is the truth about the marathon and very few of you have written the truth. Even if I explain to you, you’ll never understand it, you’re outside of it.”
– Douglas Wakiihuri speaking to reporters who have never run a marathon
Yes, I am a Marathoner. Maybe one day, you’ll be one too.