Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How do you run a marathon?

I've run a marathons. Well, more than a few. Maybe about 30? My first marathon was in 1996, I believe, at the Chicago Marathon. I had never run more than a half marathon and that was just a month prior to the marathon (Yes, in those days you could still get registered for the marathon that late in the year). I ran that 1/2 marathon in just over 2 hours (got to the start line late and had to run to catch up with the racers - some things just haven't changed over the years!). I then ran the marathon in just under 4 hours. I finished and said, "I wanna do that again!" And I meant RUN it again, like turn around and run back to the start. I just didn't want it to end. I found my fix.

(pic: after my first marathon - me and my friend Sam from medical school)

I couldn't walk for days after that.

But soon, I recovered and I ran lots of marathons after that, always for the fun of it. I sometimes ran harder, sometimes I lollygagged, but I never had any desire to run Boston or anything like that. That's what everybody else wanted to do, and I liked to go against the flow. So, I never cared about speed or my finish times. I can say only that I more often than not finished around the 4 hour mark.

My last year of medical school was in 1999. I had some extra time - compared to the 3 previous years of 60-120 hour work weeks. (Yep, I averaged 120 hours a week during my surgical rotation, which was 9 weeks long. I had 2 days off during that time. I ran maybe twice. I crashed my car twice because I feel asleep at the wheel, and I fell asleep during surgery several times. ... but I don't want to get started on the stupidity of how hard students and residence are often worked!). So, anyway, I had some extra time and decided I would try a 50-mile race instead of trying to run a faster marathon. Distance was much more intriguing to me than speed.

I was clueless, freakin' absolutely clueless about how to run a 50-mile race. In the end, I survived it with 24 minutes to spare under the cutoff at the finish line. I was hooked. I just LOVED the people. That was my appeal.

Again, I couldn't walk for days after that. I thought I would never walk right again.

But soon I recovered, and well, I couldn't quell the urge to keep upping the ante. And I loved it all.

So, now....

I run ultras. I do not particularly like marathons. I like trail marathons that take me through beautiful scenery. But road marathons are too short and I don't know how to run them. Really, I don't. I can run them fine, but I'm not very good at them. I don't know how to run fast; I only know how to run at a steady slower pace for a long time. I've run maybe 30 marathons, but I've run at least 60 ultras. I've lost my niche for the shorter races.

Last winter, Tim and I went to Death Valley for the marathon there. He asked me how fast I wanted to run it. I said 3:40. He said ok. He's a much better pacer and stronger running than me, so I just hung with him and we finished in...3:40. It was easy.

This weekend I'm running Spokane's inaugural Windemere Marathon, whose route hugs the Spokane River. It'll be fun. I think. So, if I don't particularly like marathons, then why am I running it? Well, it's here, for one. I like to support local events, and many of my friends are running it as well. For a "road" marathon, it will be fairly scenic and the River will be nice to race against. It looks like it is going to be very well directed. I bet the weather's going to be great. It's not hilly. And there are no rocks or ankle-catching traps on the course. Yes, I imagine it will be fun.

But, how do I run it? Do I run it fast? What is fast? Certainly, I'm not fast. Never have been, never will be. I'm jiggy with that. I often joke that if I didn't run out of course so soon, I would have done better. I often feel creaky for the the first hour or two, and only after that can I groove. By then, the marathon is more than half over.

Do I try to keep even mile splits? Even 5k or 10k splits? Do I learn how to work the "splits" function on my watch? Would I even remember to look at my watch anyway? Do I run easy the first half, harder the second? Do I try to run a PR? Should I care about that at all anyway? I mean, who cares, really?

But then again, it's good to push ourselves, right? To see what are we made of, What are we capable of? What are our limits? Shouldn't we push those? Shouldn't we keep testing the stuff we're made of?

Hmm. Is that really necessary? Why would limit-testing matter at all? Certainly my marathon time will not be on my tombstone epitaph. Nor will my 100-mile time, for that matter.

I had some time to think about this upcoming marathon last weekend, at least for a brief moment. I asked Tim what he thinks I should run. 3:30-3:35 he said. Ok, I said. I made him promise to run ahead when I started to slow him down. He can run a much faster pace than me (though he's run only 2 marathons in his lifetime, and those were long after he had run many ultras, even long after completing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning - where he finished first male)... but I digress...

Can I even run an 8-minute mile pace? He said sure I could. I don't know. I don't do speedwork and fartleks or run 5k's or 10k's and all that good stuff in training. Heck, even I wouldn't follow my own style of training if I had a choice. Basically, my long hours at work just prohibit me from "proper" training. I wish I had more time (don't we all?), but I don't. That's my choosing. I'm self-employed. I make my hours and set my standards of care that I am not willing to compromise.

So, last Sunday I decided to see if I could run 8-minute miles. I picked the least hilly route, which included a big hill (I can't get away from the here), and I ran five 8-minute miles. Ok, now I know. It's possible... at least for 5 miles.

My final thoughts on the whole thing: Whatever.

So, I can only guess I'll run my best without stressing myself. I have no desire to not be able to walk the next day. I don't push myself that hard in my longest ultras either. I like walking the next day. I've got things to do. So, I guess that's one of my self-imposed limitations and I guess I'll accept that one. And from there, I'll just run and keep it fun.

I've always thought (and IMO known) that those who run with joy run well. Those who run with anger or contempt for fellow races or toward themselves do not run well. You can see the difference. It's not the physical struggle that separates the two, it's the "joy" factor. Hm, I don't know how to explain it. But if you've run angry or if you've run with joy, you'll know what I mean. When I start running with bad feelings, I'll stop running. So, as per my usual plan, I will run well, not so hard that I'm too sore the next day, and most importantly, I will run with JOY!

Maybe THAT'S how to run a marathon...if you're me, that is.

Your mileage may vary.

See you there!



I agree with your view. Wow, you have soo much experience! I have run for years on the trails. Then I ran my first Marathon EVER 2 weekends ago. It was a "respectable time". And thats the marathon: your time. As opposed to trail running: the journey!. I push myself, but don't kill myself cuz its not like I'm going to win or be anywhere near the Kenyans!

Lisa B said...

Congrats on your first thon! I checked out your blog, and yes, that's at least a very respectable time! Woot woot is right. Now, if we could win a purse of $100,000 like them'd be worth every bit of the Frankenstein walk, yep. :)

olga said...

And I am certain you'll run with joy! Not to mention, break stupid 3:30 with ease:)

Journey to a Centum said...

"I was hooked. I just LOVED the people. That was my appeal."

The people, the attitude, the incredible athletic tallent, is also what attracted me to this wonderful sport.

As far at the marathon goes I think you should run as fast as you possibly can for as many miles possible. Then when the wheels blow off in all directions do a death march to the finish! That describes many of my first marathons. They taught me to respect the distance.

Have fun this weekend! I'm sure you and Michelle will find each other before the start. I'll be out on Cougar and Squak Mt's doing some loops with some of those great people we talk about.

Lisa B said...

Ha! Olga, yes. "Stupid 3:30." I understand completely. :)

Eric - Maybe I'll try that. I've never blown up in a race and always have plenty left in the tank at the finish. Maybe I should do as you say and run balls out (or whatever the female equivalent) and crash and burn. That sounds like a new adventure. Good to try new things. I like it, really. Have fun on the trails. Looking forward to seeing Michelle.

Backofpack said...

And I look forward to seeing you! I could have written your post - except for those times you put in. 5:40, 5:30, that's more my speed. I'm all about running with joy and trying hard not to blow up. I don't find blowing up fun, and I don't like feeling sick for hours after. I like keeping my heart where it should be (both figuratively and literally). I still find the marathon all about the journey, and most definitely about the joy. (Funny, read my last post!)

Ian said...

Hi Lisa, Have "fun" at this weekend's road marathon. I still remember traveling up to run the last Lake County marathon with you and me running a PW for some reason (maybe the 50k 4 weeks before?) and you having to wait at the finish line for me to return. Oh the old days hehehehe.

Journey to a Centum said...

Lisa - you crack me up! Have a great run!

Journey to a Centum said...

Lisa - I hear through the grapevine that you took my advice. What a dumb ass!

I suppose I should build a web site and start promoting myself as a running coach that specializes in promoting poorly concieved race strategies. I'll garantee that if my clients follow my 10 steps to failure even the most gifted athletes will blow up and record their PW.

There just may be a hidden market here that could lead me to fame, fortune, and a really good book deal. Then again... maybe not.

Can't wait to read about your experience at Windemere.

Lisa B said...

Hehe! I love the training program you sent me, Eric, especially the 57" flat screen, red meat, and Camel non-filters - just for gettin' started the first week! I'm gonna really like this. Thanks.

Ok, coach, gotta run... I mean... head to the couch with my 6-pack (and I'm NOT talking abs now!) and fried onion rings. Yes, I'm gonna really like this! :)