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6-Week Marathon Journey (Part 2)

While consistent and thorough training obviously matters, a big part of running long distance is getting into the right mental state of mind. I believe that the reason I didn’t run a full marathon for ten years is not because I physically couldn’t do it—I just didn’t try. Because trying is only possible with a major dose of motivation.


Books


To amp up my enthusiasm for running the Rotterdam marathon I read a number of books. There’s endless literature on this topic and from what I can tell it’s all pretty similar stuff. Everyone from Haruki Murakami to Abdelkader Benali to Alexandra Heminsley runs for the same two reasons: because it makes them feel good first, and because it has physical benefits second. They have good tips but generally just encourage you to do what you can and never give up.


Music


Music is a great way to distract yourself when you get bored and to feel strong during a run, so I wanted my Spotify playlist to be on point. I ended up with some 80 songs including rap, pop, rock and blues with favorites like “Zitti e Buoni” by Maneskin, “Machine” by Imagine Dragons, “Burn it to the Ground” by Nickelbag, “Diamonds & Gold” by Kenny Shephard, “Unstoppable” by Sia, “Freedom” by Beyoncé, “Love runs out” by One Republic and of course: “Till I Collapse” by Eminem.


Visualization


I tried to visualize running for four-plus hours. Previously, I’d tried to avoid that crazy thought altogether, but I changed strategies based on yet another book I’d recently read. It said there are five stages of thinking during a long run. I forgot what stage 2-4 were, but I remembered that stage 1 is the best stage, where you focus squarely on the task at hand: putting one foot in front of the other. Stage 5 is where you obsess over how tired you are and how badly you want it to end.


This resonated with me, because I’d noticed that it’s easier to run without thinking about the end, or thinking in general. Even 500 meters can feel like an eternity when you just want it to be done. Focus on the process (being ‘in the moment’) and you suddenly remember why you’re doing this: the challenge, the runner’s high, the nice view, and the spectacle of it all. Having “done” a race isn’t nearly as much fun as anticipating and actually doing it!


Facing your fears


I think the biggest fear marathon runners have isn’t related to injuries, dehydration, or bad weather conditions; it’s not achieving the goal they set for themselves. Marathon runners almost always set goals because it’s the only way to make yourself run so often and so far. The possibility of failing to live up to the goal, losing confidence and losing face (even if only imagined, because probably nobody cares but you) is what makes many runners give up OR gives them the push they need to improve.


I had a colleague who ran the Berlin marathon with the goal of finishing under three hours. He’d only done one marathon before, so I found this rather ambitious. He did extremely well but his finishing time was 3:01. When I congratulated him on his massive achievement he seemed dejected. “It’s too bad I didn’t make it under three” was pretty much all he said about the experience.


For many people a sub-four (or even sub-three) marathon is the goal. In my case, I think I could perhaps run it under four hours if I had proper, prolonged training. I’ve got plenty of energy—I just need to strengthen my muscles so they don’t get so sore all the time, because the pain slows me down. I’d also need to do serious speed/interval training. The original goal I had for this particular marathon (4:30-4:40) was still in my head for most of my training. But after a while I decided to let it all go. So what if it would take me five hours to finish? It might mean I didn’t technically “run” the entire 42K distance, but at least I would’ve run the vast majority of it. It would still be an achievement, especially if things got tough. After all, it’s easy to run a race when you’re top fit. The people who finish despite nearly burning out are the real heroes of the race (although I’m obviously against taking any serious health risks).


Nutrition


Despite not having trained enough, I was determined to take better care of my body than I did previously during long runs. I didn’t want to run on empty anymore, so I trained with eating and drinking to be able to properly nourish and hydrate myself on race day. I’d recently started drinking water even during short races, and now I added an isotone drink.


In terms of food/carbs, I opted for gummies. I’d had a terrible experience with a gel once so I avoided gels, though now I doubt if my fear was justified. When someone heard about the horrible side stitch I got from the gel, they asked if perhaps I’d been dehydrated—I probably was, since I didn’t drink any water during runs at the time. Now I’m chewing gummies into a mush and swallow them with water… so it’s basically a gel! I’ve also tried raisins but that’s a lot more work to eat.


New shoes!


Running shoe technology is developing fast these days, but after reading some serious research about carbon plates and corrective shoes I was convinced that the science is not out on this stuff yet. But since I was in the Netherlands a few days before the marathon I decided to visit a good running store and make a video of my running to get proper shoes that fit my running style. The thing is: my running shoes had started to bug me—they gave me lots of blisters and little support.


As soon as the saleswoman found out I was running on some outdated model she talked me into running the Rotterdam marathon on new shoes. I was skeptical at first, but she dispelled the myth that you can’t run on new shoes. What did I buy? I didn’t end up going for the carbon plate—this novel “trampoline effect” feature was somewhat noticeable when I tried it, but I followed the only advice all runners seem to agree on: pick the pair that feels most comfortable. It was a thick-soled pair of Asics called Novablast 4. They were white and I knew they’d be hideously brown after a few runs in the Mumbai dirt, but so what. I’m too focused to be vain these days, which I consider a benefit. Of course, it helps that I’m looking as strong and lean as ever!


To make sure I could run well on my new shoes, I completed a 5K test run the next day. I wanted to make sure the shoes felt good and thankfully they did! I couldn’t resist running around the Dutch fields and admire the windmills, inhale the fresh air, and enjoy the Dutch nature in springtime with a final, relaxed run. This was a much better “final run” to prepare me for the big race that awaited me two days later…


Rotterdam NN Marathon 2024

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