Friday, August 23, 2013

Marathon training by the numbers

This Sunday I attempt (operative word: attempt) my first full marathon.  More or less without interruption I've been training for the last 20 weeks.  Reflecting on this makes me realize the enormity of the task at hand.  Tomorrow I will post a short blog on all the gear I have to make sure to bring with me to the run and the race strategy I hammered out to show you just how much preparation goes into the marathon distance.  But I wanted to quickly jot down some numbers, for those of you who enjoy them, to give you a sense of what kind of commitment you have to make to train for a marathon.

For any of you thinking of adding this to your bucket list, don't let these numbers discourage you.  In fact, they should encourage you.  I am just an average man of average fitness (or was before I started training).  I do not eat perfectly healthy, I don't do any strength training or cross training, and according to medical criteria, I am at LEAST 30 pounds overweight (please see below for discouraging news on this front).  Bottom line is, anyone can do this.  But not without commitment, preparation, and a bit of pain and misery along the way.  And copious amounts of stubbornness.  I have that to spare if you need some.

You can't just jump into a marathon.  But you can wade in slowly and hope you make it through.

Weeks of training: 20

Days containing a run: 61

Total miles (km) run: 258 (412.8)

Average miles (km) per week: 12.9 (20.64)
(Which, by the way, is VERY low by marathon training standards. At my peak I was running 20-25 per week.  Most experienced runners do 40+.  However, you have to listen to your body and if you are developing an overuse injury or just plain tiring out, you are better off taking a few days or even a week off to recover than forcing through it.  That is what I did so it brought down the average.)

Total time running: 43hrs 10min 21sec

Average hours per week: 2hrs 9min

Weight, end of July 2012: 199 lbs on a 5'8" frame.

Weight, end of July 2013, after 16 weeks of training: 199 lbs

That's right.  I didn't lose a SINGLE pound during the course of my training.  Many people assume exercise is the cat's meow for weight loss.  It's not.  It is a terrible way to lose weight.  Particularly long distance running.  You know why?  Do you know what running for 18 miles makes you?  Unbelievably hungry.  So hungry you could eat all day and still not be satisfied.

There is an abundance of medical literature showing that exercise is not a very effective way to lose weight.  It is incredibly healthy for you, reduces mortality and disease-free survival, cardiovascular fitness etc etc etc.  But when it comes to body weight, it just sucks.  The only thing it's good at is maintaining body weight.  If you modify your intake and lose weight, ramping up the exercise is almost the only surefire way to keep the weight off.  But it won't help you get there.

In the last two weeks I have been tapering.  This means gradually reducing mileage to help conserve energy for the race.  Without tapering, most people burn out before finishing the marathon.  But tapering had a welcomed side effect.  I wasn't as hungry.  So I focussed on my intake religiously over the last two weeks and have shaved off five pounds.  This is probably the single most important thing I've done for the success of my run on Sunday.  Why?

Let me show you how exquisitely torturous running is on your body.  My goal time on Sunday is 4hrs 30 min (although secretly I hope to come in slightly ahead of the Oprah line).  My starting body weight, for ease of calculation, was 200 lbs.  After shedding 5, I'm at 195.  I average roughly 180 foot strikes per minute while running.  This means each foot hits the ground 90 times in a minute.  Exercise scientists estimate the force at the foot when striking is 2-3 times body weight.  I will be conservative and say 2.  At 200 lbs, each foot over the course of a 4 1/2 hour marathon would endure a pounding equivalent to 4409 metric tonnes.  At 195 this equates to 4299 tonnes.

Therefore, simply by losing 5 pounds, I've spared my feet each 110 tonnes of force.  I've just taken a small blue whale off their backs.  This won't necessarily make me faster, as I have a pretty concrete pacing strategy I'm sticking to so I don't bonk.  But it would if I let it.

According to some, by losing that 5 lbs I should be able to shave 1:20 off my per mile pace.  Not gonna happen.  I'll pass out before the finish line.  But, if I run at my planned pace, I will conserve a lot more energy, should not be quite as exhausted at the end, and hopefully recover faster.

Plus it also allows for a much larger post-race binge.  Five pounds is a lot of food.


Kevin Biller said...

Very enjoyable blog post. Reminds me of my own toils training for 'just' a half marathon now 6 years ago. Physio bills, orthotics, and several pairs of shoes later, I learned the hard way I'm not a runner. Good luck on the run Tony! Enjoy your post race pig out...mine included several beers :)

Dave said...

Why on earth is someone intelligent, like yourself, running a marathon?
What benefit is there? And surely any benefit is outweighed by the countless negatives that running marathons, and training for them, have.
There is NOTHING healthy about this sport/pastime. In fact people do it because they become addictive and obsessive about running.