Marathons and hitting the wall

Occasionally on the blog, we check in with Drew (who helps us out with our social media and news stories) on his efforts to be a healthier man. Drew ran a marathon for the first time a few weeks ago, so here are his experiences and tips for other guys to hit their fitness goals:

Well, that was hard. Last weekend, I ran the first marathon of my life. The fact I’m calling it the ‘first’ tells you that I’m not ruined by the experience, and am up for another. But good grief, that was tough.

As per our blog from February, I’d been training for this marathon over the last couple of months. Training for a marathon is tough in itself, as you need to be both running and doing other exercises for a significant proportion of your time each week. As such, your free time does go on the back burner, along with your desire to do anything more strenuous than sleeping in the evening! But no regrets, and I feel healthier and fitter now at 35 than I have ever been.

The start and end of the race – that hill is a killer after 26 miles!

The start and end of the race – that hill is a killer after 26 miles!

I ran the Windermere marathon, which really well organised by the children’s charity Brathay. My fiancée was there to support me, and the weather could not have been better. Given that the Lake District is known for rapid rain and mist, beautiful sunshine throughout the day was a gift. I spoke to several of the other runners before we began; amongst the other helpful advice, the common theme was “you’ve never run a marathon before – and you picked Windermere for your first?!’ Fair to say, the course was definitely “undulating” as a friend put it, loads of up and down, but the beautiful scenery around lake Windermere, the mix of forested roads, open plains and spectacular views across the lake really made a massive difference to keeping me (and my fellow runners) motivated through the race.

I’ll leave the final time till the end of the blog, but having now completed my first marathon successfully, there are a couple of lessons learned that I think would be relevant for any other guys planning to hit a big exercise goal, marathon or otherwise!

1. Preparation is key. Oh god, believe me that preparation is key. Particularly as you get older, you need to be conscious of your body and its capacity to injure/repair itself. I went through a number of minor injuries during my training, but because I had a good plan that allowed for some flexibility, I had adequate time to rest and recover. Likewise, I did my research; I got proper running shoes, appropriate to my feet and gait, and took the time to run them in. I read up on the best ways to train, invested in different food to make sure I was feeding myself protein and carbs at the right times, as well as bought a variety of plasters and surgical tape to patch myself up as needed.

This really paid off in the race; I knew how far I could run, what my best pace was, and how to vary it depending on what my body was telling me. It was still the hardest run I’ve ever done, but it would have been impossible without that training. The same would apply for any exercise goal you have – read up on how others have done it (including blogs!), get yourself the right kit if needed, and set yourself realistic training goals to get there.

The walk to the start line…

The walk to the start line…

2. Overcoming adversity can be better than facing no obstacles at all. I ran a great race…until 15 miles in. I was feeling physically good, mentally I was positive, but I had overpaced myself. I ran the first half-marathon quicker than I have ever run before, and that hit me like a tonne of bricks shortly afterwards. Having hit the wall, I really struggled to keep going. But it’s true what they say about adversity teaching you something – with a massive mental effort, the thought of eating a massive dinner with all the things I’d been denying myself for weeks, and the support of people cheering us all on, I stepped forward and kept going. Though I alternated between fast walking and jogging for much of the rest of the course, I never stopped.

In a strange way, if I hadn’t hit the wall, I would never have known that I could beat it. Having faced that, I now know what to do if this happens again in a race. Moreover, I’ve discovered reserves of physical and mental strength I didn’t know I had. In that way, if you do hit a block when training, racing or in any other scenario, try to remember this really can be a great learning experience.

3. Set your next goal soon. I stumbled past the finish line at 4 hours 35 minutes. That was a bit longer than I’d hoped, having aimed for 4 – 4½ hours, but who cares?! After 26.2 miles, I was just proud of myself and my fellow runners, and not-so-secretly relieved I had survived! I was asked soon afterwards whether I wanted to do another marathon soon, and responded there was no way I was thinking about it now.

Worth it!

Worth it!

That lasted about 12 hours! Even after the buzz had died down, I realised I wanted to keep running, to test myself again and see another course. Also, the feeling of community, and striving together in the marathon was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before, and frankly I already missed it – you make all sorts of friends when you’re running for that far and that long.

It strikes me that setting a new goal is as important as celebrating the goal you’ve achieved. It’s too easy to rest on our laurels; you should celebrate any fitness or health goal achieved. And there’s no need to forever try to do bigger and better – otherwise we would all be failures for not swimming the Channel! But it is important to set your sights on the next thing, to keep your fitness up, make sure you maintain your health as well as help you look forward to the next exciting challenge. I’m not decided yet which marathon I’ll run next…but Snowden is looking good. I’ve never been one for the flat runs…:)