“Thou shalt never run a full marathon in training“
As it says in the Holy Bible. But why the hell not?
As a first big goal of 2017 I’ve set Elbe-Lübeck-Kanal Ultramarathon. An ultramarathon is any running competition that covers a longer distance than a marathon (42.2 km or 26.2 miles). This might sound crazy, but I’d still like to try this at least once in my lifetime.
The race I’ve selected is a rather easy ultramarathon, if you can say so. At 61 kilometers, it’s just 18.8 kilometers longer than a standard marathon. The course is quite flat along a canal, and the weather is usually not too demanding at the end of March in northern Germany. So it should be doable.
Still, when doing something you have absolutely no experience in, preparation is key. But how? In standard marathon training you often come across the sentence: “Never do a full marathon in training, because it’s just to hard on your body!”
Sure, after almost all of my 29 marathons so far I’ve later felt in my legs that I’ve done some sports. But isn’t that the supposed effect training should have on your body? Sore muscles get repaired and grow stronger. So why exactly is it so bad to run a full marathon?
The ultra-running scene is a vivid one consisting of mostly crazy people who have amazing will-power and endurance. 61 kilometers is a joke to them. Real ultras are at least 50 miles (=80.5 km) and traditionally go to up to 100 miles (=161 km), or 24 hour runs, even multi-day stage races. The world record in running without sleeping is 563 km (=350 miles) by Dean Karnazes in 81 hours total. The longest run by a woman was almost as much at 500.5 km (=311 miles) in 86 hours by vegetarian Kiwi Kim Allan. Can you imagine running straight for three and half days and nights? I can’t. But I’m intrigued! Humans can clearly do a lot more than we think we can.
Who know what distances our ancestors may have covered when on the run from whatever life-threatening dangers or towards whatever life-saving nutrition! I think it’s fair to say, back in the day there was bound to be some serious running involved.
I believe that we have lost the ability in the last couple hundred years, because it’s not necessary for our survival anymore. But at the same time I’m quite sure we still have those skills in us and can awaken them.
That’s Why I’m Trying This
Self-experimentation. For my first ultra I increased the amount of longer training runs. But 30k would be just half of what I’m supposed to do in March, it’s not good enough. So I thought, a full marathon, done very slowly, would be a good idea. But is it really?
Some people cringe when they think about running for fun. Not to mention for such a long time. I don’t. I enjoy it. It’s like meditation to me – as is for many ultra runners, I’m sure.
So I Set The Alarm To 5:15 AM
This is exactly four weeks before the ultra, on a Sunday. Waking up, getting dressed, having my signature 1 liter smoothie, three HoneyPowers into my pockets, and off I go.
6:07 AM: I’m Out Of The House
It’s dark outside, because it’s the end of February. The weather is wet and rainy, just a few degrees above zero centigrade. Quite uncomfortable for most, very homely for Hamburgers.
6:17 AM: Teufelsbrück
Pitch back sky. It feels good to be awake and outside before the streets are crowded.
6:42 AM: Blankenese
35 minutes in, 5.6k. Very slow and steady pace of 6:00 min/km, as planned.
6:48 AM: Blankenese Lighthouse
6:52 AM: Blankenese Beach
7:27 AM: Wedel
This is the place where I usually turn around for a 21k run. So it’s new territory for me, and so far I like it. Also, it’s the perfect time to have the first HoneyPower. When I remember what time of day it is, it’s clear it has to be the HoneyPower Espresso type. Delicious!
7:31 AM: Wedel
It’s a pensioner’s village, so I’ve heard. And it has the slow and cozy vibe to it which that requires. But then again, it’s still an early Sunday.
7:37 AM: Willkomm-Höft
It’s a symbol of Hamburg’s open-mindedness towards the rest of the world. Being a city with a big port, we’re traditionally welcoming towards any people from all over the world. Hopefully that’ll stay this way, regarding recent anti-migrant developments all over the world, and in Germany as well.
7:49 AM: Sheep
So there are sheep living on the green meadows right before the western borders of Hamburg! I didn’t know that. Seems like a good place for them. Just a few kilometers later, at 17, I turned around to head home. I planned on doing that because I didn’t want to take any water with me and I figured I could go about 35k without water.
8:03 AM: Wedel Beach
Some sand is a welcome challenge for my legs to use some other muscles. The monotonous movements of running slowly have a strenuous impact on them. I’m quite glad the wind isn’t too strong here and the weather is still holding up quite fine.
8:37 AM: Wedel Lighthouse
Running towards home is always easier. 24k in, I have another HoneyPower, but the one without caffeine. I’m awake already.
8:55 AM: Blankenese Lighthouse
I’m sending a text to Sophie asking her to come out of the house with the kids for me to have some moral support and just see some people for a change. Of course she’ll do that. I’m glad, because this is getting a bit lonely out here.
9:25 AM: Teufelsbrück
Just 2 kilometers left until my stop-over at home. I’m starting to look forward to that, because I’m getting thirsty now after 32 kilometers already.
9:33 AM: Home
Water can be so delicious! Another HoneyPower (Salty this time) and a kiss for the wife and kids, and I’m off for the last 8 kilometer lap into the other direction, east.
9:55 AM: Övelgönne
The feet are a bit heavy by now, but because of the slow pace I’m not exhausted and feel like I could go on beyond the 42 kilometers. But it’s Sunday, and some time with the kids would also be nice! So I turn around at 38.1 and head back home.
10:23 AM: Home
And there I am! It’s not even half past 10 and I have already successfully completed a full marathon. How about that. In these situations I often think back of the times where I was in no way capable of achieving such a feat. There were years were I wouldn’t even be awake that early, let alone out running. So with a bit of pride I look back on that as a good long training run for my first ultra. I have no idea why people would tell you a full marathon in training isn’t healthy for the body. I feel good now! I mean, I had a 20 minute power-nap and ate a lot of veggies afterwards, but that’s it. No sore muscles.
I Guess I’m Prepared
But you never know. We’ll find out on March 26!