I ran a marathon alone; here’s why… and how

I saw this marathon as a personal goal and challenge; a commitment only I could embark on. Dito natin pwedeng sabihin ang “the pandemic made me do it.”

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In 2021, I was able to complete a full marathon for the first time. I did it alone, at the UP Academic Oval, on a crisp December morning. It was not a fast time, but it was a strong finish I could be proud of. Afterall, I did not have aid stations every 5km the way a huge marathon event would have it. Moreover, I did all of this without any running buddies or other friends to keep myself busy throughout almost six hours. My friends and family, however, did ask me why I was doing it.

Did I really wake up one day with a bright idea of finishing a marathon? I can tell you that it was far from a whimsical decision. Perhaps the thought came from the need to find purpose in all my base training. During the height of our country’s lockdown in 2020, what kept me sane were running and cycling—but more running as it was easier and safer within our small village. A little background, I’ve been a triathlete since 2018. By the end of 2019, I started taking it more seriously and had my whole 2020 lined up with triathlon races.  Well, we all know how that year ended for all of us.

After an entire year of running around our village, despite joining virtual races, I eventually felt unmotivated. I started asking what I was doing all that for; with no races or “face to face” events, there seemed to be no purpose for all my running. I also felt so down, because I hoped that 2020 would be the year I would set PRs. I felt defeated, my plans derailed because of pandemic restrictions. So, I decided to run a marathon for a sense of purpose, for my routine to have a goal, and to put my triathlon plans back on track.

Okay, but why do it alone? For starters, it isn’t easy to look for someone who is willing to run a marathon with you. I saw this marathon as a personal goal and challenge; a commitment only I could embark on. Dito natin pwedeng sabihin ang “the pandemic made me do it.” And with 42 kilometers or 26.2 miles, mahirap yata mang budol ng kasama sa ganitong distance!

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So, how did I do it alone? Here are a few things I learned leading up to my Marathon Day.

  1. It’s all fun and games until…

Until you have to commit to a 12-week training program that includes at least three days of running and two days of strength and conditioning. I’ve been joining fun runs and races since 2016 and those are nothing compared to an entire 42 kilometers. Since I am a morning person, I had to wake up well before dawn so I could do my long-distance runs. I decided to get a fitness coach to help me through my strength and conditioning, since I wanted a program tailored to my needs. I had to buy new running shoes in the process, because six weeks in, the ones I had broke. Halfway through I started doubting myself and asking if this was all worth it.

  1. Be careful with over training and peaking too soon

I had to be careful not to push my pace too fast, even when I felt that I was getting stronger and faster as the weeks progressed. I learned that the hard way because, on my first attempt in March 2021, I bonked and stopped running at 36km. I could not move my legs. I sat down on a roadside curb for 15 minutes, until I could walk back home.

It turned out, that I ran a long distance too near “race day”—33km three weeks before it. Then, the following week, I went ahead and beat my 21km Personal Record. Because of that, I reached my training peak two weeks before my planned “race day.”

  1. It’s okay to fail; you can always try again

So, I failed my first attempt in March. I gave myself some time to recover and learn from the experience. I finally did it by December, with better nutrition, conditioning, and timing. The romance was sweeter the second time around!

  1. Always do your research; it’s good to ask for help

42km is no joke. To avoid fatigue and injury, I watched several vlogs and read a lot of articles. More importantly for me, I believe that hiring a fitness coach truly contributed to the success of this challenge.

  1. “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional”

As Haruki Murakami wrote in his famous autobiographical piece What I talk about when I talk about running. That book was my guide throughout those 12 weeks. People who decide to run a marathon know that feeling pain or our muscles hurting is unavoidable. But it’s up to us runners how much of that pain we are willing to endure. When I pushed myself to finish my second attempt, I chose to withstand the pain; every kilometer brought me closer to my goal, every step felt like an accomplishment.

All in all, running a marathon alone—training for it alone and setting up an aid station you must keep running back to for proper nutrition—is not a pleasant walk in the park. I mean, it’s great for mental toughness and all, but I think that with pandemic restrictions easing, and “face to face” events finally happening again, I can’t help but feel relieved. I would still say that a big event with fellow runners around is still the best way to finish a distance. The festive energy and atmosphere truly encourage us to keep going.

Would I want to run a marathon again? Absolutely! Will I do it alone again? I can, but I don’t have to anymore. This time around, I’ll be running The Bull Runner Marathon on February 2023.  I’ll be joining their weekly running clinics, so I can train with fellow crazy people. Well, if we’re willing to put ourselves through that kind of pain, I’d say we’re kinda crazy. It’s the good kind of crazy though.

Yes, running 42 kilometers is truly daunting. To me I always see long distances simply as mileage to cover, the way I love randonneuring (long distance cycling). A more profound way of looking at it is close to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s journey, wherein “the journey of the hero is about the courage to seek the depths; the image of creative rebirth; the eternal cycle of change within us…” The thought of covering such a long distance excites me. Knowing the work I have to put myself through, the training I have to do, the focus I need to finish, all of those stimulate me. I recognize the creative rebirth and eternal cycle of change that are necessary to go through the long journey.

We run long distances because it helps us experience life to the fullest. I personally don’t run to live longer, but I run because it makes me feel more alive. As Murakami also wrote: “If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life… I believe many runners would agree.”

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