My First Marathon: Rio de Janeiro 2011

Running 42km and 195 metres (or 26 miles and 385 yards) is no walk in the park. And having voluntarily signed up for and completed this act of physical torture, I can vouch for this. The name ‘marathon’ originates from the tale of a Greek messenger running from the battle of Marathon to Athens and declaring to the Greek people that they had won the battle before collapsing and dying. Recent advancements in technology now mean that running a marathon doesn’t necessarily result in death. Phew…

The Rio Drama (as it unfolded)

Pre-race Stretching

Running a marathon along some of the World’s most famous beaches couldn’t be too hard right?

The first 15 km passed in a haze. I had set myself a time of 5 minutes per km and stuck to this time for the first 15 km without any problems. The weather was a perfect 20 degrees without being too humid and the sun had just risen. I was tempted to increase my speed at this point but decided to go with my pre-marathon internet research and stick to the pace.

Having hit the halfway mark at my planned pace (1 hour 45 minutes), I was just about giving myself a silent pat on the back when I hit the first hill and tunnel. The gradual ascent seemed never-ending but the cool tunnel at the end of the hill helped me claw back the minutes I’d lost on the way up. The end of the tunnel marked the beginning of the stretch of Rio’s world famous beaches.

São Conrado gave way to Leblon, Ipanema and finally Copacabana. The crowds heading to the beach stopped by and offered occasional hi-fives to the exhausted runners. This was between the 25 km and 35 km point. Although I wasn’t tired, I’d already been running for 2 hours by then and my resolve was being tested. Spotting a few backpacker friends on the road with signs reading “Vai Jason” (Go Jason – in Portuguese) did a lot to keep me going.

Km 35 - Rio Marathon 2011

Kilometres 35 to 42 were probably the most intense and difficult physical activity I have ever attempted. It was pure torture. I tried my best to keep my mind occupied and off the run but maintaining my pace was impossible. After having slowed down to an easy jog to grab a bottle of electrolyte, I never recovered. The brass band on Copacabana and laser show in the tunnel offered momentary respite but didn’t do much to mask the pain. The final 200m sprint didn’t seem like it was worth the effort until I noticed a 70 year old man shuffle past me. That snapped a chord and I broke into a dash for the finish.

The result: 3 hours 39 minutes and 58 seconds.

Success.

What I learnt from my first marathon

1. Train like your life depends on it

Nothing will prepare you better for a marathon than a solid 18-week training schedule. Make your schedule and then stick with it. To prepare for my 42 km run, I ran 640 km in training over a 3-month period, slowly building up my mileage every week. I used Hal Higdeon’s training calendar and downloaded it to my calendar using “Your Training Calendar.” A lot of blood and sweat goes into the marathon before you’ve run past the start line. And for good reason. 18 weeks down the line, all you’ll have to do is relax and let your training take over.

2. Don’t experiment on race-day

As you work your way through your training, you’ll pick up a few tricks and learn more about your body and your running style. Maybe sleeveless t-shirts get you sun burnt and chocolate gels spur you on. These tiny details will help you finish your marathon. Come race-day, you should know exactly when you’ll hit the halfway mark and at which km you should reach for your first gel sachet. I used a larger water bottle on race day (1L on race-day vs. 650 mL in training) and the extra weight of this bottle was on my mind throughout the entire race. Moral of the story: don’t experiment on race day.

3. Have fun

Running is fun. If you treat this marathon as a chore, it’ll end up being horrible. Remember there’s nothing as liberating as running. I kept repeating the following 3 words throughout my marathon and it made life a lot easier

Breath… Smile… Run…

As you being to enjoy this experience, focus not on the finish but on the journey. This way things get a lot easier. You notice the blue sky, the cheering crowds and all of a sudden, your legs get a lot lighter and it feels like you’re flying.

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