Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Walk and Run to complete a marathon...

Marathon’s for everyone – Walk, Run, Walk! – Completing three marathons in three months.
The marathon distance of 42.195km strikes fear into the hearts of so many would be runners. Watching people struggle to reach the finish line, many failing and telling their tails of the difficulties of their race, fills the rest of us with the doubt that even if we were to try, we would probably fail. Add to that the fear of all the training that is required to reach the iconic distance, and we become overwhelmed. It’s all just too much effort!
Well, I’m here to tell you that YOU can run a marathon! Whoever you are!
How do I know? And why am I able to make such a bold statement? Research! I have run three marathons for you in just a week over three months, with absolutely no training. My objective was to study how any reasonable fit person can complete the marathon distance in a reasonable time without any training and assuring a lifetime personal victory. Several things you should know:
1. I am aged 43 years old
2. I weighed 119kg at the start of each race (being 186 tall, that is overweight), except the third, where I weighed 120kg
3. I am an active person – moving around a lot during the day, not completely desk bound, which accounts for some basic fitness, despite my weight
4. I did not train in any way whatsoever for any of the three races (any exercise done is detailed below)
5. I put in my mind that 42k is a nice distance that allows me to see and explore the location and enjoy the beauty and sights around the race and not “a very long distance” – part of the success is to conquer the distance in your mind
6. I was determined to finish each race and was not concerned what anyone thought of me for walking – I also took out of my mind (this foolishness of always) having to have a personal best – leaving that for the professional athletes
7. I always started each race slowly (well it felt like that anyway, even though the data shows that I didn’t), attempting to conserve my energy for the end of the race
8. Running for me means to run at a comfortable pace for my body – which was about 6min 30secs per km or around 9kmph
9. Walking for me means to walk absolutely as fast as I possibly can, which obviously gets slower towards the end, but was around 8min 30 secs per km or around 6.7kmph to 7.2kmph
10. When I could no longer achieve “walk-run”, then I took 1 minute very slow walk breaks within my walks to allow recovery, thus becoming “walk-veryslowwalk-walk”
11. I visited a doctor and did a series of tests before starting. There were no anomalies in my blood tests and exams, being certified as “fit” other than of course, being overweight.
Marathon 1
Athens Classical Marathon, Greece:
I did absolutely no running of any kind from 7th August other than 5 exercise sessions with my wife for a grand total of 14km at an average pace of 9mins and 13sec per km, hardly marathon training. Additionally I suffered an injury to my calf muscle (playing basketball!). It was during this period from 7th August to 7th November that I gained 5kg of weight. Just to be honest, my previous completed marathon was Rome marathon which I ran in 5:00 straight, in April 2008, and for which I trained a total of 667km in 71 hours for an average pace of 6mins 27 secs per km or 9.29kmph. So any residual fitness could be considered as general fitness. I have previously run 3 marathons, being Glasgow (86), London (07) and Rome (08).

The inspiration to start this study came from the advertized “power-walk” at the Athens Marathon, which I decided to register in on Saturday (day before) since I was in Athens for the AIMS Symposium. I had recently read an article in “Marathon and Beyond” that talked extensively about the concept of walk-run-walk. That fellow made it a science and over a period of about 3 years got down to under 4hours. So with this in mind, I decided to test his theory for myself and share the results with anyone who would give me enough time to explain them.

November 7th 2008 – 06:00
Woke up bright and early on race day and headed off to the start of the power walk:
Distance Walk Run Walk run time/km km/stage time/stage
1km - 5km 3min 3min 3min 3min 0:08:09 5 0:40:45
6km - 10km 3min 3min 3min 3min 0:08:24 5 0:42:00
10km - 21.1km 3min 3min 3min 3min 0:07:57 11.1 1:28:15
21.1km - 27km 3min 3min 3min 3min 0:08:22 5.9 0:49:22
27km - 35km Walk Walk Walk Walk 0:09:15 8 1:14:00
35km - 42km 3min 3min 3min 3min 0:08:24 7.2 1:00:29
42.2 5:54:50
• The phase between 27km and 35km is where the race goes over a serious hill. Complete recovery was achieved by 35km and the process of walk run resumed
• The course was well attended with energy drinks, gel and fruits and food, allowing replenishment of energy along the way at a moderate pace
• Carrying a water bottle all the way allowed my arms to work like a pendulum, holding the water first in one hand and then the other, made the upper body participate more in propelling the body forward, especially uphill
• Now, think about this: I trained, running over 665km, for Rome marathon, and achieved 5:00. I did absolutely no training at all for Athens, and achieved 5:54. Imagine my great satisfaction.
• The only injury sustained was rubbed nipples, which I had to fix with band aid somewhere along the course at the medical station
• The only challenge physically was at about 30k where one of my hip bones felt tired and I asked for two Panadol at a medical station (which I had to sign for) to relax the pain. It was fine after that
• My recovery consisted of a swim and a sauna on the afternoon of race day, and two Panadol twice on Monday and twice on Tuesday, and a good long sleep on Monday night
Marathon 2
So, spurred on by my big success in Athens, I decided it would be a great idea to develop the idea further, so I registered for the next marathon, which was exactly one month later and very near Beirut. The weekend before the marathon I was working from Saturday morning till Sunday night without any sleep at all, managing the BLOM Beirut Marathon. Tuesday night and Wednesday night were spent measuring the Amman International Marathon (so again a shortage of sleep), and then the race was on Friday. So I had no real time to recover from my strenuous work prior to run-walking the Red Sea Marathon.
Red Hills Aqaba Marathon, Jordan:

Distance Walk run walk Run time/km km/stage time/stage
1km - 4.85km 3min 3min 3min 3min 0:07:16 4.85 0:35:15
4.85 - 10.16km 3min 3min 3min 3min 0:06:54 5.31 0:36:36
10.16 - 21.194 3min 3min 3min 3min 0:07:29 11.034 1:22:38
21.194 - 27.051 walk 0:08:02 5.857 0:47:03
27.051 - 35.630 walk 0:08:48 8.579 1:15:31
35.630 - 40.9 walk 1min walk 1min 0:08:08 5.27 0:42:50
0:07:49 40.9 5:19:53
If the last km had been completed at the average pace achieved 42.2 0:10:10 5:30:03
If the last km had been completed at the pace of last 5km 42.2 0:10:34 5:30:27

• Aqaba Marathon starts from the top of the hill and descends to sea level, then proceeds out into the desert where it is hot and completely unsupported, returning into the city for the last few k.
• The km markers were incorrectly set, being always 1km ahead of the markers until 32k when suddenly you arrive at the finish line 1k early – very disorienting and challenging to the mind, because for a good 15km you think that the race is going to be 43k so you conserve energy for the end, then discovering that it is short you cannot maximize your remaining energy
• There is only water between start and finish. No fruit. No gel. No energy drinks. No entertainment. No single spectator (other than my wife who waited at 10k, at 33k and near the finish – which was the best encouragement ever!).
• Definitely not a marathon for the weak hearted or beginner.
• I completed 4 training sessions of 3k each, run walk run, because I wanted to be beside my wife as she prepared to compete in her first 10k race
• I also organized the BLOM Beirut Marathon (my full time job) one week before Aqaba, where I completed about 7k of running and walking around the start line and finish line
• I had a secret weapon at 35k – my wife showed up to cheer me on… and she kept appearing along the way all the way to the finish line where she was my biggest fan!
Marathon 3
BLOM Beirut Marathon 08 ½ :

• Having chosen Dubai Marathon as my third and final marathon for the “three marathons in three months” I had to modify at the last minute due to solving my work papers (no way to travel if the work visa is not in order), so instead of travelling, what better than running the BLOM Beirut Marathon? Only one catch, the marathon is already over. Since I organize the BBM event, what better than to have my team set up a marathon for me? Water stations, Gatorade and fruit stations were organized according to the exact marathon standards. A lead car was organized and so very early (06:00) on Sunday 18th January I set out for the third and final challenge, together with the Race Director (who ran 10k) and Race Manager JeanClaude Rabbath (who completed his first ever marathon)
• I completed only one training session of 2.88km of walking with my wife in the month between Dead Sea and Beirut
• I “enjoyed” Christmas, Eid Al Adha and New Year celebrations with plenty of good food (nothing to drink as I am a tea totaller) with the outcome being plus 1kg
• It rained consistently from 27km to 33km but there was not much wind
• At 30km I stopped and waited for ten minutes for JeanClaude to catch up with me as I he had fallen 1km behind and I thought that he might give up if I left him alone.
• At 34k we ate a Mars Bar and a Galaxy bar each
• At 41.2k JeanClaude decided that he would sprint off to the finish line, and he completed his walk run in 5:41 and some seconds… which frankly disappointed me… I had imagined that we would cross the finish line together, especially as I had waited ten minutes for him… but there you go – that’s the “competitive” spirit
• I was able to deploy my secret weapon again, with my wife cheering me on at 40.5k and of course cheering me over the finish line!

Why complete 43km when you can do just 42.2?
It is of prime importance that you take the shortest visual line around the course. Why? The course is measured by professionals from the IAAF and AIMS who spend hours calculating the shortest possible trajectory that a runner can take through curves and corners. I watched so many of the leading athletes in the race take an arbitrary route that follows the general direction of the race. They have run much more than they need to and could cut off time from their race by being as close to the curbs and the apex of every corner as possible. You as a walker can do that. In the example below you will see that the careless runner who takes the middle of the road will complete a distance of 521m while an aware runner, getting within 15cm of the curb will only complete a distance of 514m. That equates to an average of 600m more in a marathon – which if you are on an 8min per km pace will be an additional 4:48 seconds added to your finishing time. That’s huge. And following the blue line painted on the road may not be the shortest route either. Many times the blue line painting machine cannot get to the shortest possible route due to parked cars during the time of painting, and so becomes a guideline rather than gospel.
Your best course of action is to keep your head up and focus on the curves and turns and try to be as close to the curb as possible as you go through the corners; remember, you must not step off the road onto the curb or sidewalk as that will be considered as cheating.

Looking forward to seeing you all on the finish line and celebrating your victory!

Good Luck!

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