Now that everyone is fully versed on who should run, how they should run and are prepared to break PR after PR on the 5km and 10km distances, let's move on to a brief discussion on longer distances. Without further ado, I present the highly anticipated Part 2 of A Slowpoke's Perspective on Putting in the Distances.
Before starting, I should point out that there are some major differences between preparing for a 5km or even a 10km and preparing for half and full marathons. While that would seem like a statement from not just, Captain Obvious but backed by a statement from his boss; Admiral No Shit Sherlock. However, since it's something that I don't think I took seriously enough before completing my first marathon, I felt it was important to say.
The Half Marathon
I fully realize that I am like the 108,746th person to say this, but I really like the half marathon distance. It is long enough to be challenging but short enough that you don't need to be an elite athlete to complete one. The half takes an upfront training commitment that realistically shouldn't be ignored and while I know of several people in really good shape who completed a half with limited training, they have all admitted afterwards it was probably a bad idea. Kind of like that time I ate an entire pizza by myself. Adrenaline and stubbornness can make the body and mind do amazing things but usually comes with consequences.
There are lots of great half marathon training plans available online and a wide range of different running approaches that can get you successfully to the finish line. For instance, my wife Laura, completed her first half marathon this past May using a walk/run model, while others, like me, tend to run the entire way. There is an ongoing debate in the running community over which one is better, but it simply comes down to finding a training style that works and commit to it.
Each time I ran a half, I started out with the intention of running at least three or four times a week. This worked great right up until my long runs got over the 16km mark. At that point I found that I needed more time to recover and ended up missing a few runs here and there. Now granted, I wasn't really doing it to break any speed records and it was always more about finishing uninsured, but I still found it frustrating to deviate from the plan I had originally set out.
While it was much worse for the full marathon, I found that training for a half marathon meant sacrifice once the mileage started to climb. Whether it was not having that extra drink the night before or needing extra time to recover after the 19km long run, training meant sacrifice. I think the extent of these issues decrease with the number of half marathons a person completes, the better shape they are in and the more consistently they run. Like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets. My second half was mentally and physically much easier for me to complete. I knew when to push the training and when to back off and let my body get some extra rest and I think I can take many of these into my next half which I'm tentatively planning for this Fall.
In my previous post I wrote about how much I enjoyed and encouraged the 5km and 10km run as something that families can do together. This could also be true of the half marathon, but likely not as something to do with your 3 year old (running stroller people aside). I have read some wonderful stories about young adults cherishing their long runs with a parent and then completing a half or even full marathon together. I not-so-secretly hope at least one of my girls will develop a passion for running and want to complete a half with me. I think it would be a great way to spend time with your teenager doing something together and really connecting over the challenges. I could really see those long runs would being a great opportunity to talk and find out what is going on in your kid's life. I've even less secretly got my eyes on running in one of those Disney Half Marathons with the girls but that's more than half a dozen years away so I suppose I shouldn't get too far ahead of myself.
Running in a full marathon is a real SOB and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. For the average everyday person like me carrying around more than a few extra pounds, attempting to complete a marathon without serious commitment and preparation is definitely a bad idea.
Marathons are long, really long, and grueling. Even the training to complete them is tough. I can only speak from my experience, but I had spent several years running at least twice a week, had just completed my second half before embarking on a roughly 15 week training program to prepare for the full and I still don't think I was really ready. The longer runs beat me up to the point where I struggled to put in the regular runs. The amount that I was trying to run affected my appetite and I honestly think I may have ended up in worse shape than when I started. I actually think I ended up on runner's overload and kind of lost motivation at one point. I also tried to push through a minor injury but just ended up losing a few important long runs. I think worst of all, I ended up finishing the last of my long runs in brutal Canadian winter weather only to complete the marathon in scorching Florida heat.
In the end, I finished the marathon and to be honest it really was one of the most rewarding things that I have accomplished. After the initial rush, I don't talk about it much anymore, but I'm proud of the fact that I completed a marathon. Sure there are lots of people who have done it, but not that many, and it honestly feels pretty good to shrug nonchalantly at a party or gathering and say, "Yeah I finished one. No big deal." Maybe I wasn't fast and I *may* have injured my foot completing it to the point where I had to take several months off of running. But I finished and I have the medal to prove it.
For anybody considering a marathon, I would recommend taking some time and seriously consider the commitment required. It was really hard for me with young kids. It was even harder during holiday seasons and I had to ask my family to put things on hold or plan around my training plan. My wife was great and supportive but I could see there were times that she was fed up with the whole process.
Again, I think that those in really good shape or who have already organized their lives around a serious commitment to fitness, would have an easier time of it. However, for average Joes like me, the recovery from your 24km through 32km long runs is significant. It takes time to run and your body needs even more time to recover. I'm sure the speedsters don't mind them as much, but for me those last long runs were just torture. Three to four hours, alone, running in below zero temperatures with a few energy gels, some water and the iPod led to one frozen exhausted dad who was essentially useless for the rest of the day.
The ironic thing is after all my cautioning and complaining, I keep thinking that I think I'd like to run another one. I want another crack at 26.2 miles but this time I want to make sure I'm prepared. I want to pick a race that ensures the training occurs at a time that's convenient for our family and I want to make sure that it doesn't put too much pressure on us. I don't think it's going to be this year, or likely even next year, but I guess if I keep running regularly at least I'll have a base to build from if and when I decide to go for it.
One last bit before I go. While I have no experience with Ultras, I didn't think I could finish this post without mentioning them. Those of you who run and compete in ultra events are amazing. I don't know how your bodies and minds do it. Enduring the strain of the training and focused commitment to get in the kind of shape required to even compete, let alone complete these types of events. I salute you, even if you are just a little bit crazy (especially the 100 milers).