Friday, May 13, 2011

7 Lessons I Learned Training for and Running a Marathon

The Seven Lessons I Learned Training for and Running a Marathon
"There will be days you don't think you can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime of knowing you have." 
Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character. T. Alan Armstrong

I ran over 1000 miles to train for a 26.2 miles marathon run. Investing 35 weeks my goal morphed my mind and body into the machine needed to meet a challenge reported to have been accomplished by less than 1% of the population of the world.

It had been over 20 years since I had a ruck sack on my back and running long distances in paratrooper combat boots and BDU's for the Army.   Deep down inside I wondered if I still had it.  Since that time I had knee damage and a lot of years of martial arts training.  Top it off with an Achilles injury at week 16 of marathon training, getting sick 2 days before the race and this shaped up to be a pretty good challenge. 

It Got Cheesy. (Sorry couldn't resist.)
Initially my goal was the PF Chang's Rock N Roll Marathon in Tempe Arizona.  Due to an Achilles injury I had to take 5 weeks off to heal and reschedule for the Wisconsin Marathon "The Cheesiest".  That was a lesson in patience in itself.  The mental and emotional battle of having to wait, reschedule and stay optimistic was harder than much of the training.  I wanted it over with.

"Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it." Oprah Winfrey

1 |
The first lesson I learned is that the body is highly adaptable and capable of amazing things if we properly train and prepare it. This is a lesson I have experienced prior to the marathon while doing Army training over 18 years ago. It really comes down to mindset and the willingness, discipline and dedication to prepare. "Winners are simply willing to do what losers won't." You can amaze yourself with what we are capable of doing if you are just willing to take on the challenge.

Running is a big question mark that's there each and every day. It asks you, "Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?" Peter Maher, Canadian marathon runner

2 |
Anyone running 26.2 miles deserves respect and credit for mental toughness. It is a test of spirit that peels away one's outer layers and uncovers something about the individual. It isn't just the run itself, rather it is the training, discipline and dedication required by the training as much as the marathon race that shows this.

"The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare." Juma Ikangaa, 1989 NYC Marathon winner
From the PF Changs Rock N Roll Marathon in Arizona to the Wisconsin Marathon
My goal was not to run the fastest race, but to train and finish 26.2 miles with my friends.  Over 30 weeks ago I threw out the challenge and had two takers, my long time training partner and student Anthony Miles and my life-long brother in the martial arts, Master Brian Van Patten.  Though Mr. Miles wasn't able to make the rescheduled race (due to my achilles injury I had to reschedule) Master Van Patten and I came across the finish line together. Mission accomplished.  The lesson?  It's far better and more rewarding to train and run the marathon with friends.  We'll have that memory forever.
"Pain is nothing compared to what it feels like to quit."

3 |
Success is duplicable if you are willing to follow a successful plan.  We live in very blessed times.  We have access to successful training protocols and programs refined over time.  Science has taught us how to optimize our nutrition and bodies for maximum performance.  You can go from coach potato to marathoner in 18 weeks.  It isn't a mystery.  The guesswork has been taken out of it.  

I did learn to listen to those who run and avoid the self proclaimed 'experts'.  There is a lot of marathon advice out there, and some of it is bad.  Choosing a good program that works for your goals, lifestyle and body is critical.

"The greatest pleasure in life, is doing the things people say we cannot do." Walter Bagehot
4 |
Listening to your body is king. It is an important skill to learn to deny yourself at times and know when to rest, change training protocols, diet (nutritional habits) and equipment.  But listening to your body is a great lesson for everyone to learn.  Successful training requires goals, nutrition, proper training (listening to the body) and rest to do it right.  Tune in and respond accordingly.  The body never lies.

"Whether you believe you can or believe you can't, you're probably right." Henry Ford

5 |
One spectator at the finish line told me she was surprised at the types of people who completed the marathon. She was shocked at the various types of bodies, all shapes and sizes coming across the marathon finish line. Heavy set, thin, athletic, and very average looking people took on the challenge and finished 26.2 mile historical run. You really can't judge a book by it's cover.  We are capable of far more than most people ever discover.  "Power never concedes without demand."

"Racing teaches us to challenge ourselves. It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go. It helps us to find out what we are made of. This is what we do. This is what it's all about." PattiSue Plumer, U.S. Olympian

6 |
Based on my research and personal experience, I don't recommend marathon running.  Perhaps to do it once to say you did it, but my experience showed it to be abusive to my body.  More power to gifted runners who enjoy it; they have my complete respect. I felt pretty awful for most of the training and sustained lots of irritating little injuries along the way.  My body just continued to break down until the tapering off period of 14 days.  (I had to stop running long distances to feel better.)   Professionally speaking as a teacher and trainer, I would recommend other endeavors instead as a better and healthier investment of energy and time.  For me, I'm glad I did it to check it off my bucket list of life goals.  But I can't see myself ever repeating it or recommending it to others.  
"Human beings are made up of flesh and blood, and a miracle fiber called courage" George Patton
7 |
Those who complete a Marathon have courage.  There is no way you can do the required training and take on a distance of that type without courage.  You have to be able to deny yourself comfort, make sacrifice after sacrifice and stay steadfast in your goal to complete it.  Kudos to those who do.  In the end, I think earning a Black Belt would be a much better endeavor with far healthier and lasting practical benefits.  To each his own.

Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." Confucius

I learned that while I run, I am definitely not a runner. Runners are a different kind of athlete, many of them with a predisposition and physical gifts that lend themselves to it. Runners, in my view, are unique individuals who enjoy the act and training of running. I do not enjoy it but respect those who do. I consider myself a martial artist who stomp kicks the earth into submission.
"We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves. The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom. No one can say, "You must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that." The human spirit is indomitable. Sir Roger Bannister, first runner to run a sub 4 minute mile

When those of us who have run a marathon are asked about it, most people think of the event of 26.2 miles on race day. What they don't see is the 1000 miles we ran in preparation to get there. The training to me was far more substantial than the actual day of the marathon itself.  It's one of those 'journey, not destination' things to me.

The History of the Marathon

People have been asking me how my first marathon went. Considering that Pheidippides, the first marathoner of Greece died on completion of the run in 490BC, I'm doing quite well. The origin of the marathon comes from the Greek legend of a messenger who was dispatched from the battlefield of MARATHON to Athens to tell that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon. So the first marathon legend goes, Pheidippides was said to have run the entire distance without stopping and upon arriving to the assembly saying, "We have won!" or "Victory" (depending on translation) upon which he collapsed and died.
"I run because it's so symbolic of life. You have to drive yourself to overcome the obstacles. You might feel that you can't. But then you find your inner strength, and realize you're capable of so much more than you thought." Arthur Blank

Taking on a challenge of this size reminds me how important it is to confront the self imposed limitations we can shroud ourselves in.  It makes us question who we are and what we are really capable of.  It can inspire us to move forward in faith and crush our fears, to believe in what is possible rather than focus on the impossible.  It is for this reason that the marathon served a metaphorical purpose.  I sincerely dislike running so to face it, conquer it and confront it was an attempt to step out in faith and test my inner strength.

"Your feet hurt because you are kicking so much butt!" -Marathon sign

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up.
It knows that it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve.
It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or a gazelle
when the sun comes up you'd better be running.

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