My brother-in-law has signed up for the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore 2012, which he has decided to take up as a challenge to mark his 42nd birthday year. When he told me about his intention to take part in the race just before my holidays in Singapore this summer, I was highly supportive of his endeavour: I managed to find a pair of his favourite running shoes (manufactured by the French brand Salomon) in the sales here in Lausanne (which was quite difficult even here, as he wears size 48) and I put a special issue of a French running magazine entirely devoted to the marathon into my suitcase, hoping that the magazine would act as a source of inspiration for him simply by being visible in their  flat. Once in Singapore, as my wife had been a library manager before she left the Merlion city to come to Switzerland, I was able to go to Woodlands regional library and borrow some books on marathon running for him. We even trained on the race track of Bedok Stadium with some friends of  his who were preparing for the Port Dickson International Triathlon 2012.

However, despite this good start, I must admit that my initial intention of providing further moral support to my brother-in-law via this blog (see my very first entry) simply fell through. I guess I failed to do so partly because it is always difficult to keep up with one’s good resolutions and partly because, contrary to my running objective for this year, I did not run the marathon that takes place in the region at the end of October mainly because I felt I was not sufficiently ready, having not being very assiduous in my training for the marathon in August and September, and I thus deemed that it would be safer not to take part (as my right calf still has not recovered fully from the cramps I experienced in April 2011 as part of the 20km of Lausanne – see my wife’s entry on that race).

On Monday 19 November, I wrote him an email to enquire about his progress, feeling a little awkward about the fact that I had only enquired once about the progress accomplished in terms of his marathon preparation. Upon reading the following sentences in his reply email, I felt even more uneasy:

Currently, I’m following the 16 weeks programme which I got from the book you borrowed for me [Bruce Fordyce’s and Mariëlle Renssen’s Marathon Runner’s Handbook, Cape Town/London, 2003]. But I missed out a lot due to work and family commitments. I try to have a long run every weekend but last weekend I missed again. Yesterday, I managed to clock 26km, the longest I have run so far, and next week I am supposed to run 16km.

Now I’m reading Jeff Galloway’s book on running [Marathon!, Atlanta, 2000] […] and I thought of following it by doing the marathon with regular walk breaks.

[…] I didn’t go training for past 2 weeks due to work. Hope I can finish the marathon.

To which I replied:

The main problem with running a marathon is finding the time to train sufficiently regularly to get the body used to the gruelling distance of 42km plus.

Yes, Jeff Galloway is a proponent of taking walking breaks – he even thinks it can help improve the time for amateur runners like us. There is no shame in walking. I think I’ll try his suggestion for my next marathon.

I am sure you can finish if you do not start too quickly. Do not let yourself be carried away by other runners with whom you might want to catch up. Give yourself the objective of crossing the finish line irrespective of time.

The carbo-loading phase is important as it should give you enough energy to carry on even if it is walking; here are some articles on carbohydrate loading […]

My brother-in-law then sent me an email, entitled ‘My weekend long runs’, with a picture showing his most recent long runs (as recorded with his iPhone):

Although his long runs were not as long as I had hoped they would be, I nevertheless felt a little reassured to see that he had run at least 20km (or above) several times. I then recalled that a former Zurich-based colleague had written an email to me before I ran the Geneva marathon, claiming that (I still have the email, which I am quoting from)

Marathon? Not bad, hope you do well… Andreas [XXX] once did a marathon too (without any kind of training before, he was not able to walk for some days after the running but he did it). 🙂

and that in Gail Waesche Kislevitz’s book, First marathons: personal encounters with the 26.2-mile monster (Halcottsville, NY, 1998), an American, Bill Begg, claimed to have run a marathon on a preparation period of ‘three weeks with a zero base’ and with a longest run of only 8 miles a week before the race. This brought back to mind an article on the same subject (whether or not it is possible to run a marathon without training) I had seen on the BBC’s website at around the time of the London Marathon (which takes place in April). I quickly found the article on the Internet. The article, entitled ‘Could you run a marathon without training?’, reviews several such claims but reminds would-be marathon minimalists of the dangers inherent in such an undertaking (including but not limited to) heart attacks (10 deaths over the London Marathon’s existence), cramps, muscle strains, excessive wear and tear of the joints, etc (a former boss of mine once told me that he fell prone to serious vomiting while running the London Marathon). However, the article quotes John Brewer, professor of sports science at the University of Bedfordshire, who believes it is possible:

If you’re a runner and your body is conditioned to running 5k or 10k in distance, as long as you set your goals properly and you run at a very slow pace, you could probably get around.

If you walk briskly at 15 minutes per mile, that’s six-and-a-half hours to do 26.2 miles – most people could sustain it. […]

I wouldn’t ever recommend anybody tackling a marathon without proper training – you can’t underestimate the physical effort and energy demands involved.

The article then goes on to caution runners unaccustomed to long distances that ‘recovery will be longer and more painful. Additionally, first-time runners who have eschewed health check-ups would run the risk of triggering any undiscovered medical condition’.

Marathon Challenge by Paul Sanft

While researching this topic, I kept playing a documentary by Paul Sanft on a group of runners who were preparing for the US Olympic trials for London 2012, Marathon Challenge, which I found to be highly motivating (I love the minimalist/post-minimalist music).

On Sunday morning, I woke up feeling super enthusiastic about the idea of going for a long run, as I shall be taking part in two races this week (Course du Duc and Course de l’Escalade) in/near Geneva.

As I had had a very late meal Saturday night … 400g of Swiss fondue with 360g of bread … some time past eleven pm, I decided to skip breakfast. The drinks I had before going on my jog were a cup of coffee, an energy drink from Migros (250ml) and the French isotonic drink isostar (125ml).

In addition, I decided not to skip my electrolyte/glucose replenishing drink. I usually tend to mix a packet of PowerBar gel to water (4 small 115ml bottles) so as to replenish the electrolytes consumed during my long runs.

I carry my fluid intake attached to my marathon belt, which allows me to carry energy bars and shots as well as keys, ID documents, bank notes, etc.

My favourite energy bar … a mixture of grains, fruits and other ingredients from a French brand.

And my favourite energy shot (i.e. an energiser in liquid form), which I usually drink before starting the uphill part of my long runs (the stretch which takes me basically from the Olympic Museum to Lausanne-Vennes).

For my long runs, when I do not go running to Mauvernay/Chalet à Gobet, I tend to run all the way down to Ouchy and then along the lake as far out as Lutry. In the first case, I run uphill first and then downhill; in the second case, it is the opposite. The decision is usually based on my mood and on whether or not I want to go for a distance close to 20km.

As I shall be taking part in a race of 17.5km Friday evening (called Course du Duc) on a relatively flat course, I opted for the lakeside run, hoping to cover a distance roughly similar. It was only whilst approaching this point that the idea that I had crossed my mind earlier (i.e. to see for myself whether I would be able to run 42km on previous runs not exceeding 25km this year) gained a firmer hold in my brain.

Although I had run the distance of 42km only once, at the Geneva Marathon on 15 May 2011 (see my wife’s entry; please note that this David is sporting a half-marathon number as the organisers wanted to avoid having only a few hundred marathoners cross the finish line – this really pissed me off at the time as I felt that mixing the half-marathon runners with the full marathon runners was simply not fair to the latter), I had decided not to take part in this year’s Lausanne Marathon because I had not run any long runs (30km) this year. So although on Sunday I had initially contemplated extending my intended 20km run into a 30km plus run (and why not into 42km so as to find out whether it is indeed possible to run a marathon with minimal training), I felt it would not be wise to do so as I had only four water bottles of 110ml each, a Gerblé energy bar and a Sponser Activator shot (with ‘160 mg of caffeine from guarana, green tea and mate in combination with pure natural caffeine’). In addition, I had no money with me and the shoes I was wearing were still relatively new …

Course of the Lausanne Marathon (Courtesy Lausanne Marathon)

However, after having passed the beach at Lutry, I decided to go for the 42km run so as to encourage my brother-in-law for his race this coming Saturday. Despite having run only a marathon once, I had been a keen cyclist until moving to Lausanne a little over 10 years ago. And since moving to Lausanne, I have been running 10km on a regular basis. In other words, I knew my cardiovascular system would allow me to run 42km. In addition, having recently obtained medical clearance from the  sports centre of CHUV for Course du Duc, I also knew that this huge jump in mileage should not result in any cardiac problems. However, I feared that the distance might hurt my feet with two races less than a week away and that I would hit the wall badly, having not done any carbohydrate loading (unlike for the Geneva Marathon) and having not even had any breakfast (my energy bar was gone less than half way in my unofficial marathon run).

However, I decided to carry on … and I ran as far as Hôtel Le Castel des Tourelles just after Saint-Saphorin. Luckily, just before reaching Rivaz, I found a fountain with flowing water. In all, I drank less than a litre during my unofficial marathon, far less than for my first marathon. I suppose that the weather was of great help in this respect as it drizzled for most of my run (please note that the photos of the lakeside were taken on 10 December 2011) and the temperature must not have exceeded 12 degrees Celsius (in other words, the ideal weather to run an impromptu marathon). My legs started to hurt after about 25.8 kilometres, but I carried on undeterred along the route Cantonale with Lausanne still hidden behind the hill that extends down from Grandvaux to Cully.

However, at some point shortly after or before Villette, I spotted CHUV and the huge chimney tower nearby in the far distance. As these two landmarks are located less than 4km from home, this gave me a huge energy boost. If one has built a certain level of fitness, running a marathon is more a question of mental tenacity, I think. Fortunately, perseverance is one of my strong points.

At this point, with less than 10km to run, I knew I would finish the marathon unless I would tear a muscle or sprain an ankle … or

… if, foolishly, I would decide to follow the same course and run uphill back home (in such a case, I would have been presented with the challenge of running uphill many such steep slopes). Instead, I decided to run along the lakeside and cover the same distance on flat ground. I did so until I reached a point about a hundred metres after the swimming pool at Bellerive and then completed the final hundreds of metres by running to the M2 station at Ouchy. I had done it! And with less than 5 stops (the longest at Rivaz to replenish my water bottles). But I did not even lift my arms in the air to express my joy. The area was full of people enjoying a stroll by the lake on a Sunday afternoon. They did not know that I had run 42km … how could they have known … I was not part of a wave of runners reaching the finish line at Ouchy with piles of medals stacked on tables nearby and crowds of onlookers cheering. However, I had my own little token to be proud of:

This is what kept me going … the thought that I would be able to capture the number of kilometres run on my Polar FT60 watch and then show the picture to my brother-in-law as proof that it is possible to complete a marathon with the training he has done (even if it will probably entail a little walking here and there). Let us all wish him the best of races this coming Saturday for the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore 2012. Just remember that you can walk briskly too, there is no need to try to run the full 42km!

Based on my personal data (weight, height, etc) and the intensity of my run, my calorie consumption totalled nearly 3,000 calories according to my Polar watch … so that a few more such runs only separate me from a leaner me …

Probably I can now start contemplating much longer runs — years and years ago, I suggested to my brother that he bet against me that I would go round Lake Léman on my rollerblades (my brother kindly did not take me up on that offer).