His training days can be long which means that JP Bedard knows all about pushing past “the wall” and giving yourself a boost when you need it most. But can anyone really run a marathon? The triple marathoner answers your questions, along with one from Canadian elite runner Reid Coolsaet.
In the months leading up to you Triple Toronto Waterfront Marathon, what was your longest training run? Also, your longest training day, if different?
I’ve trained for many ultra marathons over the years, but last year’s triple Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon required a slightly different approach. Typically, ultras are run on trails and softer terrain; however, training for a triple road marathon meant that the majority of my training needed to be on asphalt. Consequently, I was leaving myself more prone to injury during the lead up to the race. As result, I increased the number of massages every month in order to help break down the accumulation of scar tissue and to keep myself as limber as possible.
The other concern I had was with the psychological toll of having to run the same course three consecutive times – and after the fact, I don’t think I adequately prepared myself for that reality. Leading up to the race, I ran the entire course on two consecutive Sundays, but for this year’s attempt to do a Triple Double (I’ll be running the course twice on Friday, twice on Saturday, and twice again on race day), I have been shortening the route of my long runs to 20km, but running that same route 2 or 3 times during a training session. It’s utterly mind numbing, but I know it will pay dividends on race day.
My training for last year’s triple marathon took place over the span of 3 months. I had already built a very strong base leading up to that, so during those final months, my long runs were never less than 40km, and I maxed out at 55km four times. Another tweak to my schedule involved running 20km the morning after every long run in order to get used to running on tired legs and depleted energy. I think as I build towards this October’s Toronto Waterfront Marathon, I will focus more on ‘time on my feet’ rather than on distance. I’d like to work up to 4 or 5 runs of 6 hours. I have to admit that the most exciting part of all of this is trying to figure it out along the way!
When you hit that part where you start to question your reasons for doing the race –‘the wall’ – where does the power come from? Fear of failure? Will to finish? Sheer stubbornness? I know my limits, and have my iPod marathon playlist set to play EPIC TUNES about the time I’m at my lowest, but I’d love to hear how an elite handles it. And high-fiving spectators… that’s definitely a mood booster for me.
Even after completing well over 100 marathons, there comes a point in every race, when I just want the pain to be over. In some regards, the more I’ve raced, the less daunting this feeling becomes, but in another way, it’s made me realize the inevitability of that pain waiting for me on the horizon. And no one enjoys knowingly walking into hell.
There are three strategies I enlist to get through the tough times in an endurance race:
ONE: I dig into my bag of mantras: “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.” “Run with your mind, not your legs.” “30 minutes of pain now is better than months of regret and what ifs , later.”
TWO: I focus on the runner immediately in front of me, and gradually try to reel him/her in. Once I have passed that runner, I focus on the next one, and then the one after that.
THREE: I try to stay in the moment and concentrate on each step rather than on the 4 or 5km remaining in the race. It always helps me to encourage other struggling runners I pass in the last few kilometers of race. Focusing my attention on someone else simultaneously keeps me present in my surrounding, while distracting my attention from the pain I may be going through in that moment.
What advice do you have for old out of shape people who want to try a marathon for a personal growth triumph?
I’m turning 50 at the beginning of June, so I guess I’d have to include myself under the “old”, or should I say – “mature” category. The growth in overall participation in both the half marathon and marathon has steadily increased in recent years, and I’d like to believe this has a lot to do with the general perception that long distance running is no longer the purview of elite athletes and hardcore weekend warriors.
I had the pleasure of speaking at an event recently, and the Running Room’s John Stanton was one of the other speakers that evening. In his talk, John said something that really struck a chord with me. He said, “If you don’t think you’re a runner, then I encourage you to hang around a finish line at a marathon or half marathon. It’s hard not to be inspired by the people you see there, and before you know it, you’ll be signing up for a race too.”
My advice to someone considering training for their first marathon would be, “Don’t start out on this process unless you’re willing to have it completely change your life.” You may initially believe you’re doing it to ‘get healthy’ or simply ‘knock something off your bucket list’ – and those will most certainly happen. But, what you’ll soon discover is that running brings so much more into your life: a sense of community, a discovery of inner fortitude, and a feeling of optimism that comes when you surround yourself by people who are intent on bettering themselves through sport. Enjoy the ride: You definitely won’t regret it!
Send your advice and questions to JP firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more tips, tricks and practical advice from JP Bedard? Check out his previous posts with questions from elite and everyday athletes.