Running a marathon -- it only sounds crazy

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Wilson
  • 338th Training Squadron
While running a couple laps around the Crotwell Track, a coworker of mine mentioned he ran a marathon in Germany several years prior. "Why would you run that far unless you absolutely had to?" was my response. Although the idea of running 26.2 miles seemed impossible, ridiculous and pointless, for some reason, the thought of it was intriguing. Having always assumed that only gifted athletes could run those distances, I immediately counted myself out.

Over the next few weeks, the thought would not leave my head so I did what any reasonable person would do and attempted to convince myself it was not a good idea. It was an easy task. I had recently come off a medical profile for an ankle injury and did not want to risk reinjuring myself, there is not enough time for the required training, I don't want to wear short shorts, I've never run more than 3.1 miles before -- the list could go on forever. On the other side of the coin, the potential benefits could not be ignored. --I would not have to worry about a PT test for awhile, I'd have a newfound ability to eat almost anything with reckless abandon and I'd have a sense of accomplishment.

Not being able to shake the idea, I spoke with a few people about the subject and read a few articles online and learned several things. First, running a marathon was a very achievable goal that almost anyone, regardless of condition, can accomplish with proper training. Second, someone told me I could not do it. That was enough for me...

Once the decision was made, things progressed quickly. The first order of business was to determine goals. After a crash course on marathon training via a number of free websites, I decided that my goal would be to simply cross the finish line. According to the experts, this goal could be safely achieved with about 20 weeks of training. The search began for a training plan that was compatible with my schedule and goals.

In the search for a training program, I discovered that most programs are fundamentally the same. They typically lump workouts together. Each week the program will include five workouts. One workout will be a cross-training workout to give the muscles used for running a break, but still give your body a aerobic workout. The other four workouts are all running. Three days are shorter training runs and the fourth day is a weekly long run. The long run gets progressively longer each week, culminating in a 20-mile run. After weighing all of the options, I selected and implemented a plan.

It can seem a little overwhelming entering into a 20-week marathon training program. Having never run further than five kilometers before, it was unnerving to think about the upcoming long runs each week. With hesitation, I jumped into the program and decided that I would plan ahead, but take each run as a singular task and not worry about the big picture. When necessary, I broke the runs down into more manageable tasks. For an example, I might mentally break long runs into quarters and think of each quarter as its own short run. Then I simply worried about getting through the short run and next run when I got to it.

This approach worked remarkably well. It turns out the biggest challenges were not physical ability or motivation -- they were time and logistics. Finding the time to train could be challenging. I often found myself up at 2 or 3 a.m. running because there was no other time in the day available. Logistics also got tricky at times. My long run routes were planned with three criteria in mind -- safety, uniqueness and distance. Satisfying these criteria made for some interesting runs. I often found myself driving to neighboring counties, parking my truck and running home along any number of roads and sidewalks. While I was about 14 miles into one training run down a rural, wooded road, I heard rustling in the forest off to my left. When I looked to see what the noise was, I saw a black bear about 20 yards away. The next mile felt like the slowest I ever ran, but was probably the fastest. Luckily, the bear never gave me a second look.

As the weeks of training rolled by, the runs became easier and I actually began to look forward to the long runs each weekend. Before I knew it, the training program was wrapping up and race day was approaching.

On the morning of the race, I had typical pre-race jitters. Having never run more than 20 continuous miles during training, I was a little nervous as we lined up at the start. After a crowded first couple miles, the pack thinned out and I settled into my planned race pace. The miles rolled by as I chatted with other runners along the course. Between the new scenery, chatting with others runners and enjoying the crowd support, the first 20 or so miles simply blew by. Miles 22-25 were the most difficult; my knees ached, it was hot and my energy was low. However, with a little determination and some help from above, I got through them. The last mile was actually of the easiest of the day - I was high on adrenaline and the thought of the finish made that mile almost effortless.

In hindsight, the race itself isn't an iconic day from the past, but a capstone accomplishment to the months of training. In addition to the personal benefits this experience has brought, it has made significant contributions to professional qualities. The hours and hours of training, often conducted alone, have improved my physical, mental and spiritual fitness. All of which directly enhance every NCO's responsibility to maintain the personal readiness required to accomplish their mission.