This weekend I head to New York to run the New York City Marathon. This will be my third marathon of the year and fourth time running 26.2.
I realize though that I have never really run a ‘marathon’ in the sense that most people think of it. The New York Marathon will have nearly 50 thousand finishers. For most of them, the race is a grueling test of their will lasting 4-6 hours. For many, the goal is just to finish – and doing so is a great accomplishment.
That is a very different event than the one I have participated in. Though it was the same distance, it wasn’t the same test.
I raced an event that took me 2:42 at my best. I say this not to brag, but to set context about the fact that I am actually exerting myself for a much shorter amount of time.
For endurance running events, this is particularly important. In fact, the 2.5 hour mark is a bit of a magical one – that is about how long a person can go on fuel that their body has stored before they either crash or have to refuel. Racing at 2:42 meant that I had to take a few gels during the race to buffer in an extra 12 minutes of energy into my body. Racing a 6 hour race means the participant has 3.5 hours of unaccounted for energy outside of what their body has stored. That is about 17 times as much as was my case. So you see, I am not running the same race.
In a strange way, the faster you run, the faster you can run. Speed makes the marathon easier.
Whether by time or calories, if you compare my race to the average person’s, they just aren’t the same race. Theirs is much harder.
I want to experience that. I want to see what it is like to have to gruel through a run that takes 5+ hours. To go past my energy stores. To have to find the mental motivation to keep moving as my body crashes. Locomotion at all costs.
I had to dig deep to motivate myself during my race, but it was a different kind of motivation. I was watching my heart rate and pace and trying to keep below 6:30 as my internal systems began to shut down. I want to race something so hard that I stop caring about pace and just focus on moving forward.
I have some ideas about how I could experience the same thing.
I could run a 50 mile or 100k race. Those would put me in the 5-6 hour range and much closer to the calorie burning and length of time experience of others running a marathon. Even then, I would likely adjust my training and pace accordingly and experience a long but properly paced race. I would probably still be watching my Garmin and making sure my heart rate was in the correct range. I certainly did that for 11 hours when I raced an Ironman.
Maybe I need to run even farther. Maybe, because of my running experience, I would need to run 100 miles to get out of my comfort zone and experience what the average person feels at 26.2.
Maybe I would prepare for that too though. Perhaps I need to not train or at least not adequately in order to experience the same race. Part of the reason I was able to move so much faster on race day is that I had spent months rebuilding my body from the inside out to be an efficient racing machine. If I want to see what it is like to race like the average person, maybe I need to enter the race much more like the average person – inadequately trained. I wrestle with that idea though, I value the work that goes into an accomplishment so much that I have a hard time feeling an accomplishment is valuable if it wasn’t adequately prepared for.
Another option might be to race a different event all together. At this point the muscle memory and capillary beds in my body are just too optimized toward running. Even after taking years off, I got back in shape relatively quickly because of that. Maybe if I race an endurance rowing or SUP race, something that relies on more core and upper body strength, I would be able to experience the feeling of locomotion at all costs. In fact, as I think about it more, swimming was somewhat like that for me when I raced an Ironman in 2014.
Whatever path I take, I want to see what it is like to run a ‘marathon’. To struggle to move forward and yet continue to do so. To cross the finish line and be happy with having finished regardless of the time it took.