Over the last 4 years, I’ve been dedicated to trying to figure out the marathon. I’ve read countless articles and books, sought the advice of elite runners, and scoured the internet for answers. While I've received great information and inspiration along the way, the most beneficial resource has been myself. My experiences. My triumphs. And most importantly, my failures.
The funny thing about failure is that, to me, it’s not actually failure in the traditional sense of the word. The word "failure" tends to conjure up all sorts of negative emotions. Fear. Self-doubt. Pity. Empathy. Sorrow. If running has taught me one thing it’s that failure is not a negative thing. These moments of so-called failure - having to stop going up a hill at kilometre 36, the injury you get from over training, the dehydration, sun-stroke induced blackout in the Boston Marathon - all of these moments are learning moments. Cheesy, I know. But stick with me.
The marathon is a complicated beast
Every time I think I’ve cracked the secret marathon code, it puts me back in my place. It drop kicks me in the chest and stares me down as I lay on the ground. The marathon doesn't let you get cocky, or complacent. It’s ruthless and mysterious. It’s like trying to put together a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle without the full picture for reference.
But it’s not all nasty.
The marathon is a truly beautiful thing. It lures you in and keeps you coming back. It offers these flashes of hope and success. A new personal best. Qualifying for Boston. An incredibly satisfying training run where you feel like an elite. All of these things are what make the marathon incredible. It’s a never ending journey - a challenge that I will take on over and over, even though I’ll never perfect it. In my opinion, no one ever will.
I used to have this idea in my head of one day running the perfect marathon. A nice cool day where I run an effortless 42.2 km in under 3 hours looking like I hadn't broken a sweat.
I’ve since thrown this idea right in the trash.
I’ve shifted my mindset. No longer do I strive for perfection, but rather for improvement. For quality and effort. Success is now characterized differently. Train hard. Run hard. Be proud. Sure, I still have time goals, but the way I approach it has changed.
All of these failures I’ve experienced along the way serve as learning moments. They are lessons and reminders of what to do - and what not to do. What to focus on. What to worry about. What you can (and cannot) control.
As I enter into a new training season, I wanted to make sure that I kept all these learning moments in mind, so I figured it was about time that I put them down on paper. These lessons will guide me over the next 4 months. They will keep me in check and remind me what’s important. They are my marathon commandments. There are 15 of them...for now. I’ll try to keep them short and sweet.
1. Run with purpose
What is the purpose of this workout? What are you trying to achieve? What is the desired outcome? Ask yourself this before your workout and recap afterwards. Every kilometre - every step - should be run with purpose.
Pretty straight forward. Sure, you have weekly mileage goals. But running 120 kilometres in a week and doing three-a-days while driving your body into the ground won’t do you any good. Focus on quality (purposeful) workouts.
3. If it’s broke, fix it
Ignorance is not bliss. Have a nagging injury? Rest. Let it heal. See a doctor. Visit your physiotherapist. Don’t blindly run through it.
4. Your workout doesn’t end when you stop your watch
Do you click ‘save’ on your Garmin only to immediately crash on the couch in your damp running gear with a bag of potato chips. Don’t be an idiot. Here are the 5 things you need to do immediately after your run:
1. Hydrate (water, not beer….yet)
2. Stretch (take your time)
3. Shower and change (don’t stay in your damp, stinky clothes)
4. Refuel (with a good, healthy, protein rich meal within 30 minutes)
5. Rest (naps are your best friend)
5. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
Your training should help your body prepare for race day, so you better get damn comfortable with being uncomfortable. Trust me.
6. Train hard, rest hard
Give your training everything you’ve got. Don’t only earn your rest and recovery days, but take advantage of them. As my wife always says "napping is one of life's greatest luxuries".
7. Fuel responsibly
I could write a whole post about the importance and benefits of responsible nutrition (and I probably will). Treat your body with respect. Consume the right types and amounts of food before and after your workouts. Trust me, I love pizza and beer, but I don’t have it every night. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll get better results.
8. Be patient
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Literally. Take your time. Be patient. Not just during the race, but in your training too. Don’t expect immediate results. Learn the value of dedication, commitment, discipline and patience. Here’s a great quote from Canadian marathoner Rob Watson on learning patience from his first marathon:
9. "I bend so I don’t break"
This is a mantra that I’ve stolen from my friends at Elevate Yoga. They have this quote in a frame on the wall in their studio and it’s always spoken to me as a marathoner. Take care of your body. Treat it with respect. I bend so I don’t break.
10. Get tough
People wouldn’t typically describe me as a “tough guy”. But I have toughness. Running and marathons have given me more toughness than I ever thought I could have. And, to be honest, you'll need it. When the going gets tough, the tough keep going.
11. Redefining strength
“Strong” is another word that I want to redefine. It’s not about how much you can bench press or how big your biceps are. I am strong, despite what my lanky 6’2, 170 pound frame would lead you to believe. It’s more than just running. It’s squats and core work. It's an extra hill repeat. It’s mental strength. It’s endurance. It’s heart. I have those things. I am strong.
12. Think negative (splits)
Over the past year, I’ve become a huge proponent of running negative splits - that is, running the second half of a race faster than the first half. Not only has this been my new racing strategy, but I’ve applied it to training runs and have achieved amazing results. I highly recommend giving it a try. Start conservative, finish strong. It’s a beautiful thing.
13. Enjoy the journey
Training for a marathon is a long journey filled with a million little moments. Allow yourself to be present in the current moment. Appreciate the experiences, the struggles, the successes and the places that running brings you. Take in the beautiful views, breathe the fresh air and feel the warm sun (or bitter cold wind) on your face. All of these micrometers make up the journey.
14. Celebrate your successes
You worked your ass off and you achieved some pretty great things. That's awesome. You need to celebrate that. Have a beer. Go to dinner. Get your race medal engraved. Appreciate what your body has allowed you to achieve. Cherish those successes and use them as fuel for your next challenge.
15. Love your supporters
The people who cheer you on, who ask you how training is going, who read your blog posts, who travel to your races, who take the dog on early morning winter walks while you’re doing hill training (Thanks, Katie). These people are so important, so show them the love. Hug them. Thank them. Be grateful. Make them know that they are appreciated.
These are my marathon commandments. The divine rules by which I live my running life. These are the things I repeat in my head and remind myself of when I start to veer off-track. These are not set in stone - they will evolve and change over time. These commandments will continue to guide me through my marathon journey, which is destined to be fraught with it’s own set of new challenges, failures, and triumphs.