Runners who don't run marathons are still out there training and improving.
In my first autumn of running I entered a 10k event. I loved the experience so much that I entered another one. That went well enough, too. That’s when the idea of working up to a marathon pushed its way into my head. I entered a half marathon. I researched a training plan for myself. I bought lots of running socks. Half marathon this year, I thought. Full the year after that. It’s got to be on every runner’s bucket list and I am now a runner (yet another post!). Therefore, I will run a marathon.
Well, what an eye opener that was! I was thumped back down to earth. The bucket list became one item shorter as item 1004: run marathon went for a burton.
Why I changed my mind about running a marathon
What was it that changed my mind? Well it was two things, actually. In the first place, the commitment to training and in the second the experience itself.
Let’s take commitment to training first. I had as my goal to run the whole distance, however long it took. I carefully chose a training plan which committed me to train on 4-5 days per week. At first, all went well. It didn’t increase my time commitment to running very much at all in the beginning. But a good way into the plan, I started to come up against my limitations.
With hindsight, this should not have been a surprise, because I am a very slow runner. I will always be a very slow runner. If you ever see a video of me running, you’ll notice immediately that I don’t even look as if I’m running.
My training plan, geared as it was towards endurance, was slowing me down even more, not speeding me up. It also directed me to run fairly long distances. As my distances got longer, the amount of time I was out pounding the pavements was increasing exponentially. I was finding it harder and harder to make time to stick to the plan because of the demands it made on my time. But stick to it I did, turning down barbecue invitations and countless cycling trips through the beautiful local summer scenery. Running was my priority.
Training for longer distances is easily derailed
But then came a once in a lifetime holiday invitation. I was so committed to that half marathon, that I even thought briefly of turning down the holiday. I put the full on 10 day travel itinerary next to the training plan and tried and tried to reconcile them. To no avail.
Something had to give, and it was the training plan.
I did run whenever possible on holiday and I thoroughly enjoyed it when I did. But it came at a crucial time in my training plan. All the long endurance runs on my schedule were abandoned.
My half marathon experience
And so to the big day. I had already accepted that I would be walking some of the distance, and I vowed to run for as long as possible before I switched to walk run. I knew I could get through the whole distance even if I had to walk for most of it, but the task was going to take time. A very long time indeed.
I got round in 2 hours 39 minutes. And I’m absolutely fine with that now. But I wasn’t at the time!
The feeling of camaraderie that had almost overwhelmed me during my 10k runs gradually evaporated as the half marathon field, with over double the distance, strung itself out, slowly but surely. At first, I ran in a group. Then I could see a group in front of me. Then a single runner. Then I was completely on my own.
The loneliness of the long distance runner
I felt genuinely alone. I felt very keenly how much further I had to go without support. Once or twice, as the course double backed onto itself, I saw happy, chatty little groups of runners who were several kilometers ahead of me.
I started walking for a while as I ran. Then I was running for a while as I walked. The few hundred metres downhill to the finish felt completely flat. It had none of the euphoria of that 10K the previous year.
The results show that 19 people finished behind me. What they don’t show is the feeling of isolation I had running in a social event. For me, the experience was the complete opposite of those 10k events, where I set of alone and was swept up in and embraced by the group. And I’m an introvert who doesn’t often feel lonely!
Marathon? Not for me, thanks
And so to the idea of the marathon. Funnily enough, I expect that, despite the double distance, running a marathon would be more sociable than running a half marathon - at least in my neck of the woods. Both 10k and the marathon are more popular with beginners than the half marathon, so statistically I would be much more likely to find myself in a group. I also suspect that we don’t invest so much emotionally in a half marathon as we do as beginners in shorter distances or in the all-or-nothing bucket-list-item-ticking marathon.
The bottom line, though, is that I won’t commit to the training time. On a marathon training plan, some of my runs would be over 5 hours long. I’ve learned that the limit of my commitment to training is an hour and a half. I’d rather accept the barbecue invitation, choose a walk over a run or hop on the bike on a sunny day.
But I have kept running. And therein lies the twist - it’s far more important to keep up the regular exercise than to go all out for a goal which makes you hate the journey to get there and becomes the end station instead of a waypoint.
Lessons learned: an hour and a half at a time is the limit of my running commitment; I’ve found my speed.
Thinking of setting yourself a running goal? Here are some questions to ask yourself;
- How much training time do I realistically have each day/week?
- How many weeks of training do I have?
- Do I have any major commitments that might reduce my training?
- Do I want to keep running after I’ve reached this goal?
- Is this really my own goal - or am I being influenced by what others plan to do or have done?
- How soon after I’ve reached my goal do I want to start running again?
- How much physical discomfort (blisters, rashes, etc.) am I prepared to put up with?
And above all: try to enjoy yourself.