Feet are impossibly heavy and soleus muscles are both cramped, you are not exactly running anymore – you’ve adjusted yourself to all the new kinds of pain in your body and it’s much more like dragging your feet the least painful way you can. You look at the ‘’35 km” sign and for a moment you hate your life. As stupid as it sounds, you start talking to yourself: “Goddamn it, Ivan. You can do this. If you can do this, nothing else can stop you.”
It’s not about the 42.195 that’s so hard about a marathon, it’s actually the last 7 that’s the closest I’ve been to experience what’s waiting for me in hell – 7 km before I experienced some of the best dopamine-endorphin-love kicks in my life. But let’s get 35 km and two years back when I started running regularly.
I can’t exactly tell you why I stared running but I remember that it was a period in my life when I was dissatisfied with my career, so I guess it was a runway. I needed a reason to get up early in the morning so I picked a 5km route in my neighborhood – half of it in a small park, and the other half – around some streets nearby. My earliest Strava record: 5km in 30 minutes – a 6min/km pace. I hit the streets every two days and it quickly became a habit – I ran exactly the same streets, entered the park on the same spot, noticed and observed the same sleepy dog owners in the park and soon discovered the first benefit of running:
When I’m running I don’t have to talk to anybody and don’t have to listen to anybody. This is a part of my day I can’t do without. – Haruki Murakami
Running can be a really satisfying meditation. It’s a stress-free, people-free zone where it’s only you and the track beneath. In an era of app notifications, multitasking-gurus and productivity bullshitters, a simple action like a 30-minute run can help you rearrange your thoughts, plan your day or just think about what’s really bothering you without checking your phone every minute, without trying to multitask (because, duh, productivity), without loosing focus (because of a Facebook status or a link or a photo).
That doesn’t mean that I don’t take my smartphone with me when running. In fact, I feel I’m taking the most out of my smartphone when I’m running.
Of course I started by tracking my weekly runs – first on Runkeeper, but soon I switched to Strava – my running app choice up to this day. You might check Nike+ too if you don’t mind branded content. But if you tell me that your grandma didn’t use apps to map her runs, I’d tell you that she might feel sad about that. Running apps visualize your progress, they help you plan and and observe when preparing for an event and they do the annoying math for you – because every aspiring runner will soon find the importance of pace.
In fact, my Strava map inspired me to create my own route. Up to this day I do my weekly run on the same 60%/40% trail/road route in Borisova park. Thanks to my app I mapped my route and at each point of my run I know how much I’ve run without looking at my phone.
Music is another cross point between running and smartphone-ing. One hour of running is great to discover new music without the distractions of browsing, working, etc. Here comes Spotify and you should check Your Running Mix at least once – the feature detects your pace and creates a mix based on it including songs by your favorite artists.
Try e-books and podcasts too. You’ll be surprised at how much information you can absorb when listening. I have listened to most Tim Ferriss’s podcast episodes on my runs. Before that I was able to follow and complete the first season of Gimlet Media’s Startup Show one episode at a run. For Podcasts I recommend the Podcast Republic app.
Anyway, technology fosters isolation and while running can be perfectly practiced alone, it was when I discovered running with other people when I took my passion to the next level.
It was the summer of 2015 and I was already running regularly on my 10k route in Borisova. I told Rumen about my routine and one Wednesday he joined me. The next Wednesday another friend of ours joined us and soon 4-5 of us became regular early Wednesday runners. My habit became our habit and soon we created our Facebook group – a tiny runners’ nano-society of 25 people (and no, not all of them know each other) sharing the passion. 25 may be close to nothing, but thanks to it:
- Some of us started running regularly and improved their performance
- A friend of ours ran his first 20k motivated by our group efforts
- Another friend completed her first competition only few months after she began running at all.
It’s a ‘boomerang’ inspiration – inspiring others motivates you when you’re low. You can join Wednesday Runners too 😉
Since we created the group, we started running together more often than before – I rarely run alone anymore actually. Although different people joined us on our Wednesday jogs, a core team of four of us emerged – Nikola, Emil, Rumen and me. It was in late 2015 that we promised each other to run a marathon together in 2016…
The Summer Before a Marathon
If the last 7km is the worst part of a marathon, then the summer before it is the best. The marathon inspired me to train regularly, lead a healthier lifestyle (oh, okay, at least a month before the race) and also explore new places and celebrate friendship.Although the four of us are long-time friends, the shared goal brought a new layer of our friendship – we took on a challenge together for the first time and as running may seem to be a solo-sport, we felt it as a team effort.
Reading this, I guess you’ll imagine that we followed some serious training schedules – X runs three months before the competition, Y runs two months before it, Z condition trainings, special food etc.
Not at all.
To be precise, we had no plan how to prepare and when the Day came we felt kinda unprepared. We started training in the spring. For few months we kept gathering for our morning 10k but nothing more (+ occasionaly skipping a run). Each of us is engaged with other sports so we were running once per week and the other two weekly activities were dedicated to other sports.
In the summer we traveled a lot on the weekends and this is when I discovered running as a way to explore new places. We ran at the seaside, we ran in the mountains, we ran in different towns, we ran with a hangover, we ran literally barefoot.
Usually when you go hiking or on a holiday at the seaside you reach your destination, you have fun, sleep and go back home the next day. But if you find an hour to jog around a new place you will look at it from few angles more, you will feel it in a different way than the others, you will keep richer memories. If you are into running, next time when you’re on a trip to a new place, please take your running shoes with you 😉
And if you doubt that a marathon preparation can lead you to a healthier lifestyle, think about that – one night in September we prefered running barefoot for charity than drinking beers….at 1 AM.
One month before the marathon I stopped drinking alcohol and started sleeping as much as my body needed. Two weeks before the marathon I ran 42+ kilometers in a week (two 10k+ runs and one 20k+) and one week after the marathon I felt stronger than ever before.
The only rules I tried to follow in my preparation were: 1. be able to run the total distance in a week and 2. do at least one run covering 50+ % of the total distance before the race. The week before the competition I didn’t train anything – I just focused on sleeping enough and eating good food.
How To Finish
Smile! Smile like an idiot, for no reason, as much as you can. I don’t remember where I’d read it but it was one of the most important things that kept me running for 3 hours and 41 minutes. The supporters at Sofia marathon are not very loud and cheering, but when they see you smiling they “get infected” and smile and cheer back and boost you up.
The only strategy I had before the marathon was to run the first two 10k laps with a slower pace and then try to speed up or at least keep the same pace. Maybe because of the excitement or the adrenaline rush, I completely messed up my strategy – rising constantly my pace until the 25th kilometer and then slowing down and trying not to die.
A fun fact I learned about running – besides everything else it will teach you to adapt. On your first marathon you’ll encounter completely new types of pain in your body you but don’t fear – you will change your running style to adapt to them – I guess I was looking like a running duck minutes before I crossed the finish line.
The four of us started our run alone. Preparation and weekly runs are one thing, but at the marathon you must rely on yourself only. Because of my fast start and quick pace I was running few minutes faster than the others throughout the whole race, but I was looking for my friends all the time to check whether they were still running and make sure they’re allright.
When I entered the last 7km of the race the pain, the stress and the fatigue hit me hard – from 4-something pace I had dropped to almost 7-something. 4 kilometers before the finish my body did something strange – my breath quickened, my heart started beating wild and for few seconds I just couldn’t slow them down and calm. Some people describe panic attacks the same way but it had nothing to do with mentality – I felt calm inside, but my body wasn’t sure. Anyway I kept running and soon Niki who meanwhile had cut the distance between us joined me and we started running side by side – just like the whole summer. I was constantly repeating some stupid shit like “we can do it, bro, we can make it, fucking marathon” – boy it must have been annoying. Although I felt like the one to keep the team spirit up, 20 meters before the finish line it happened again, but this time stronger – my body just didn’t want to move anymore and it tried to signal. I said “Niki, I…I’cant!” Then he slowed down and started shouting at me and cheering me up. I’m not sure if I would make if not for him. Once again I felt how running can be a team sport. Thank you, guys.
I can’t describe the seconds that will follow after your first marathon – I can’t do it properly and I can’t risk spoiling your experience.
For your first marathon forget about the following two days. According to some scientists, it takes a month before your body fully recovers from a marathon – I’d say a week. Two hours after I finished the race I had a fever. I barely slept the same night because of overexcitement and although I had a huge delicious meal for dinner, I woke up at 4 AM for a midnight breakfast. And on the day after I barely walked and there was no single muscle in my feet that didn’t hurt.
One thing I was sure about in those moments after – I’ll run another marathon in 2017.