Have you ever thought about what it takes to run a marathon?
I hadn’t – until recently when one of my sons entered one.
Brendan’s involvement made me curious and the consequent research led me to believe running a marathon is much like living a life.
You have to overcome fear, train yourself to focus, deal with physical pain, think positively, and show determination to make it to the finish line. And music always helps.
Here is Brendan’s story – an inside view into what it takes to run a marathon – and to live a life.
October 1st, 2016, at 5 am.
My alarm goes off and I wake up as if I wasn’t even asleep. I am ready…
Four months ago I made a commitment to myself to enter a marathon – 42.2 km. And while I didn’t care about what place I finished, I was already setting some fairly tough expectations on myself (as usual). I wanted to run the whole race without stopping and based on the times I was getting over 10km, I thought that anything under 4.5 hours would be a good time.
Unfortunately, my training didn’t go as planned. I had to deal with a knee injury and also fell sick for a couple of weeks which meant I almost missed out on a complete month of training.
The closer I got to today, the more pressure I felt to catch up on the training that I had missed out on.
Having three beautiful girls (Carly – Wife, Lilly and Layla – Daughters) in my family, definitely keeps me busy. We lead a very busy lifestyle with plenty of social events and jobs which keep Carly and me away from home more than we would like.
This just adds to the pressure, but pressure is what motivates me and pushes me further. I know this, which I why I deliberately put myself in these situations.
As I get my breakfast ready, I think back to when I decided to enter a marathon. I did a lot of research as this helped me plan, although, as with everything online, too many different opinions can make it very difficult to figure out the best approach.
Luckily I have some close friends who are personal trainers and their advice helped me connect the dots.
- Never run the full distance of the marathon when training
- You should be able to run a total of 50km in one week, this is a good indicator that you are ready
- Wear Band-aids on over your nipples to avoid chafe
- Don’t make any drastic changes on race day
- Start carb loading 3 to 4 days before the race (only good carbs like rice and pasta)
- Run your own race and pace yourself, it is common for first-timers to try to keep up with other runners and run out of fuel too early
- Concentrate on your form, injuries usually happen when you are fatigued and start to slump
- Apart from the obvious cardio training, core training is also very important. Especially towards the end of the race
These are the main points that I had based my training around (and I can confirm that they are all great tips and worked well for me).
As I take a sip of my coffee I wonder how I somehow overlooked the advice to start decreasing my training 3 – 4 weeks before race day.
“You should peak about a month before the race and slowly decrease the length and frequency of your running as you lead up to the event. Some runners don’t do any training for 2 weeks’ pre-event.”
I stumbled across this advice just a few days ago and it sent my thoughts into a tailspin. This week I had run my biggest two runs ever (22km and 25km) and was now seriously doubting if I could finish the race let alone run the whole way in under 4.5 hours…
In any case, there is no more time to worry about these things. I have prepared as best as I can and my focus has shifted to just finishing the race in any timeframe and with as many breaks as required.
THE SECRET WEAPON
I finish my breakfast (Jamie Oliver’s Granola Dust) and pack my bag. This included some protein bars for after the race, Powerade, Water, Panadol and Nurofen (in case the knee played up), running gels and my headphones which to me are the most important item. I had spent a lot of time creating the playlist for my run as I know that music can really take my mind off the pain when it is most required. This is my secret weapon.
The regatta centre is only 25 minutes away so I arrive with plenty of time to spare. I walk over to the registration area and start stretching.
I look around and wonder how many other people are trying a marathon for the first time.
I had already picked up my race number (38) and can now see that the dark blue colour race numbers are for the marathon runners, while the half marathon, 10km and 5km runners all had different colours. This allows me to see who I am up against and it is obvious that the majority are extremely fit.
MASTERING THE MIND
I don’t let this faze me though because I am ready. I know that my body will get me to the finish if my mind allows it and staying positive is absolutely critical when preparing for any mental challenge.
Our minds can be our worst enemy or our biggest enabler.
The first call to move to the starting area comes through the PA system. The commentator has obviously done this before as he sounded very friendly and confident while directing the marathon runners to the starting line.
It is now 6:20 am and the race is due to kick off in 10 minutes. The nerves are building but the mind is as clear as ever.
I have my headphones around my neck and my running tracker loaded on my phone. I listen to the race organiser tell us all of the safety precautions, where the toilets and drinks stations were located and a range of other information which seems to be all so familiar. Kind of like when you are waiting for a plane to take off and the flight attendants give you the standard run down of common-sense safety tips which no one really pays attention to.
The one point that does get my attention, though, is when he asks how many people are running their first marathon. I put my hand up and look around to see how many other people are first-timers. I would say somewhere between 10 per cent and 20 per cent. Now I realise that I am not alone and feel more relaxed and ready to go.
A WONDERFUL CAUSE TO FOCUS ON
It is really amazing to see how many people are running for charities and other great causes. I had almost totally forgotten that I was raising money for Beyond Blue and as I look down at the singlet I received from them, I am filled with even more positive energy and on that note, the race kicks off!
I start my running tracker and music. The first cab off the rank is a mix I had created myself. I DJ’d at an event only a few weeks ago and I recorded my set. I have had plenty of experience starting a set out at a low pace and slowly increasing the speed and energy with each new track. This is the best way to get people dancing, but it also works perfectly for long runs.
As I hit the 2 km mark (just over 10 minutes), I can hear one of my favourite tracks coming in (Hoxten Whores & HXTN – Power). This song always gets a good reaction on the dance floor and definitely helps me to pick up the pace.
I am focused on my breathing and trying to get into a rhythm. The first 5 km are generally the hardest in terms of breathing. I feel short of breath but I know this will pass. It always does.
My tracker speaks to me through my headphones as the music fades slightly, Distance: 5km, Time: 29 minutes 3 seconds, split pace: 5 minutes 46 seconds, average pace: 5 minutes 48 seconds per kilometre.
THE FIRST CHECKPOINT AND FEELING POSITIVE
I have reached my first checkpoint and am feeling good. My breathing is fine and I have settled into a good rhythm. My form is intact as well. During my training, I had practised checking my form every 5 km to ensure I wasn’t leaning over to one side or dragging my feet.
The music has really picked up now and as I approach the 10km mark, my running tracker tells me that I am now one hour into the run. This feeling is very familiar as most of my training runs were at least 10km.
At this stage, my legs are starting to hurt, but there is no sharp pain. Just aching muscles and tight joints. I knew exactly how I would feel at this stage as I have been here before.
Almost 25 per cent of the way through the race and the song that is playing is exactly what I need. (Nothing Lasts – Las Salinas & Elad Efrati). This song has the perfect amount of energy and feel-good vibes to put me in the right state of mind.
Again I check my form and everything is fine, although my shoulders are starting to tighten up a little.
I approach a drink station and grab one cup of water and one cup of PowerAde. I have just had my second running gel and it is important to consume liquids to dilute the gel to avoid getting tummy pains.
As I drink the water, the dance music comes to an end. My set is over and at the 15km mark, I am glad to have a moment of silence while the next album in the playlist loads.
MASTERING THE PAIN
My legs are really hurting now and my knee is occasionally shooting a small sharp pain up the back of my leg. I am not concerned though as I have been in this position before and as long as I keep my form I am confident that I can continue.
I try and loosen my shoulders and arms and focus on relaxing my upper body. Then the new album starts. This song really gets me pumped up (Muse – Supremacy). I pick up the pace a little so that am I running two steps to each beat of the song. Perfectly in time with the music.
The end of the third lap is close and two hours into the race I can feel the temperature rising.
The forecast is perfect, reaching a top of 26 degrees. It is supposed to rise past 32 degrees tomorrow so I am thankful that the race is today. I started my training during the winter so haven’t been exposed to much hot weather.
I am now at the halfway point. As I start the fourth of six laps I smile as I see a family cheering on a man in front of me. His wife is holding their daughter’s hand so that she won’t run onto the course.
CHOOSING WHAT TO FOCUS ON
Now I am thinking of my wife and kids. Being a parent changes your perspective on so much and unlocks a hidden strength that you didn’t realise you had. Carly has been so supportive leading up to today and without her I probably couldn’t have got to this point. And the thought of seeing Lilly and Layla at the finish line along with my Mum (who is bringing the girls while Carly is at work) made it easy to keep pushing through the pain and fatigue.
It is funny what you can use to inspire your mind when things get tough.
The generosity of donations that totalled more than $1,000 is also making it easier as I approach the 25km mark. I don’t want to let anyone down and surprisingly, even though this is the longest distance I have ever run without stopping, I am still keeping a solid pace and feeling ok, although my head is throbbing a little and my knee is a little worse than before so I decide to have some Panadol.
The album (Muse – The Second Law) I am listening to is coming to an end now and I am looking forward to what is about to play next as I need something to push me through to the end of the fourth lap.
THE MAGIC OF MUSIC
It is back to dance music, but this time a lot more energetic and fast-paced than before, Ben Nicky @ ASOT 750, Utrecht , Holland. My younger brother got me onto this set. The opening track is a remix of the song that was played during mine and Carly’s first dance, the day we got married, so it was bound to pick me back up… And it worked. I pick up the pace again and tell myself that it is all downhill from here. Less than two laps to go now as I reach the 30km mark.
All of a sudden I notice that my form is now fading, I am coming up a long straight beside the lake and the wind is blowing strongly against me. Everything is hurting and I now realise why core training is so important. My abs and back muscles are aching and feeling like they are about to start cramping up. I am tempted to stop to stretch and rest for a moment but I know that is a bad idea.
If I stop it will be very hard to start again and I will be disappointed in myself.
I refocus on the music which helps, but even with Ben Nicky smashing song after song, the mental game is really stepping up the intensity now.
I am in unknown territory having been running for over 3.5 hours but then I realise that I am on track to finish in the time frame I had set four months ago.
I cross the starting point for the final time and start my last lap. One of the volunteers who has been standing in the same position for the whole race, directing spectators, looked at me and clapped with encouragement. I respond with a peace sign as this requires the least amount of effort at this stage.
I am exhausted so every bit of encouragement helps.
My mind is telling me to walk the last lap as I have made it far enough to finish before the cut-off time of 6.5 hours. I think of my family and all of the people who supported me in the lead-up.
I am determined to go all the way!
The final segment of my playlist comes on. I have had dance music, rock music and now it is time for something different again – rap. I was obsessed with rap throughout high school and my best friend, J-Dawg, and I still rap when we catch up.
This music isn’t uplifting like the dance music, or exciting like the rock music. It is angry and emotional, but that was the plan.
Music is like a timestamp and listening to songs from the past can take you back there as if it was yesterday. Being a teenager is a crazy time in life and I knew this would psych me up. While rap music is fuelled by anger, the lyrics can be very motivating (Lose Yourself – Eminem). Almost like a personal trainer yelling at you to push through the pain.
I am now entering the long straight alongside the lake for the last time. The wind seems to have picked up more and I feel like I am going nowhere. My pace has really taken a nose dive and I don’t even have the energy to be concerned about my form.
I can see the finish line and there is less than 1km to go. I just want to sprint to the end so that I can stretch and sit down for a moment, but my body won’t allow this.
I stop looking at the finish line because it doesn’t seem like it is getting any closer. I just look down and focus on the music and make sure I am still breathing ok…
The last song on my playlist finishes and I look up, I am literally 50 metres from the end. How did I know exactly how much music to put in my playlist? What time will I get? How many people are still running the race? All of these questions hit me as I see Mum, Lilly and Layla in the distance. I cross the finish line and walk over to them.
I did it…
Running a marathon is not easy, although, for me, the lead up was actually more stressful than the run itself.
While the distance is physically demanding, the mental battle is actually much harder.
I chose to run a marathon to challenge myself and grow as a person, however, there are many people out there who don’t choose to go through mental battles, and they endure them on a daily basis.
That is why I chose to raise money for Beyond Blue. Thank you to all of my supporters! Together we raised over $1,000 but more importantly, we raised awareness.
Race time: 4 hours and 23 minutes.
No surprise that I am one proud Mumma.
I hope you enjoyed Brendan’s insights on running a marathon.
Wishing you determination, focus, lots of music and a gleeful week, Tamuria.