How to run a successful marathon, and keep on running

Running with others and for others helps rebuild communities in ways social media cannot

Published : 30 Apr 2023 08:01 PM | Updated : 30 Apr 2023 08:01 PM

On April 23, I completed the Madrid International Marathon. It was my 14th overall full marathon. It was not an easy feat.

When I ran my first full marathon in 2008, I merely wanted to complete a single run, and only to prove something to myself. I had no plans to keep on running. But I did.

A few months before my first race, I underwent back surgery, a complicated procedure that was meant to prevent a worst-case scenario, losing partial feeling in my right leg and, ultimately, being unable to walk properly, if at all.

But even after the surgery, I was told that “life will never be the same again”, and that “I will always have back problems”. I was also advised not to carry heavy weights, and to walk at intervals, while resting between each interval for a few minutes.

How I started running

At the time, I was only 35. I lived in London, where walking was essential to moving about in the city. The physical pain of recovering from surgery, and the mental pain of accepting that “life will never be the same again,” was too much to bear.

I needed an escape, and I did the worst possible thing, at the time. With no preparation, proper running clothes or shoes, I went for a run. Though it only lasted for about 15 minutes, I could barely move out of bed for nearly three days. My US-based doctor told me over the phone that they may have to operate once again.

They did not. I eventually recovered, and kept on running, this time without being impulsive. I wanted to do it right, so I began reading about running, particularly running a marathon.

The physical goal can be tracked through time and distance. The mental goal is something entirely personal. Always keep these goals in front of you.

-As I dug deeper into the specifics of the sport, I realised that long-distance running is not only about physical strength but also patience, wisdom and gradual training. I also learnt that, unlike sprint running, and other sports, age is not a major factor in long-distance running.

I registered for the Vancouver Marathon in the Spring of 2008, and I successfully completed it. It was the most difficult physical effort I have ever endured in my life. Yet, by the time I crossed the finish line, I had decided to run a second marathon later that same year.

I have been running ever since. After a particularly gruelling marathon in Singapore — who knew that humidity can be such a great obstacle — I decided to diversify my training. I learnt, at least for my age group, that long-distance running should not be delinked from overall health or fitness. This allowed me to carry on running throughout the years.

How to run a marathon

Below is a short summary of my do’s and don’ts, which helped me run a marathon, and keep on running:

1. Run with a cause and for a cause

While consistent physical training should be enough to allow anyone to run a marathon, running such a distance as 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometres) requires more than physical stamina. Mental focus and determination are a must. Find your cause, be it personal or collective. Associate your run with overcoming a seemingly impossible mental or emotional hurdle.

2. Be patient, calculating, but also consistent

Do not run despite your injuries, but do not use your weaknesses as an excuse to stay still. Keep moving. One step at a time, one mile at a time. Incrementally, increase your distance and duration, every week and with every run.

3. Set a goal

Everyone runs for a different reason, and sometimes the goal is simply to remain fit. But having no goal can make it difficult to continue running over time. Set a goal, whether it is running a 5k or a full marathon. The physical goal can be tracked through time and distance. The mental goal is something entirely personal. Always keep these goals in front of you.

4. Diversify your training

Fitness cannot be achieved through a single sport. To be sustainable, fitness requires a comprehensive approach that combines the physical with the mental. For example, to run, you must learn how to go for long walks and hikes, and you must also build your overall fitness and stamina. This will allow you to complete more than a single race, be it a full marathon or any other type of running.

5. Use running to do something good in the world

Running does not have to be a solitary endeavour. It can also be a communal activity, involving friends, neighbours and the community. Digital media, though ‘connected’ us in some ways, separated us in other ways. Running with others, and for others, helps us rebuild our communities in ways social media, for example, cannot. Moreover, in the age of rising obesity rates, encouraging children to run can have a significant impact on their lives as they grow older. Indeed, running can save lives.

And, if you decide to run a marathon someday, you will only then understand these words by legendary Czech long-distance runner, Emil Zátopek: “If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.”

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and author. 

Source: Gulf News