Training for my first marathon: How I found the belief that I could do it
BlueJam co-founder Adam Gold tells his story about how he went about training for his first marathon. If he can do it, anyone can!
In October 2017, I signed up for my first marathon. This surprised a few people as I’d always been adamant I’d never run that far. After all, didn’t the first person to cover the 26.2 mile distance – a messenger taking news from the Plain of Marathon to Athens – die at the end?
But I didn’t really have a choice.
BlueJam co-founder Kieran Alger was running the 2018 Hamburg Marathon to celebrate his 40th birthday, and invited me to join him. I couldn’t say no to that, could I? He also promised it’d be a bit like a party, with a bunch of his running mates going and a couple of nights away in Germany. It almost sounded… fun?!
Here I am (left) supporting Kieran on one of his ultra runs, before he talked me into running my first marathon…
Err, where do I start?
With the marathon taking place in April, I had six months to get from here to HERE. As BlueJam’s mission is to help people get fitter and healthier, mainly through the medium of running, this was my chance to really show I could take my own medicine.
I was no stranger to running but neither was I in marathon shape. I run-commute most days and have done for years. Just not that far. An average of 3-5 miles a pop. I’d never even run a proper organised half marathon before. How was I going to bridge the mileage gap?
Turns out that, as with all the best adventures, I needed a plan.
My six-month marathon training plan
Kieran had got me into this, so it was only fair that – as a veteran of almost 30 marathons – he helped me get through it. I asked him to devise me a fail-safe marathon training schedule.
His plan featured four runs a week for the full six months. Two were to be run at 70% intensity – where I’d only be able to say a sentence or two without getting out of breath. One would be interval training with sprints and recoveries, and one would be a long run to build up the mileage.
Hmm. I beginning to think Kieran was evil. I was also wondering if I would have the discipline to stick to this – throughout autumn, winter and spring – including during what would turn out to be a total of three ‘Beast From The East’ snowstorms?
This is me on the left in the grey top, getting in the zone:
The 4 things that helped me stick to marathon training
It turns out, I would that discipline. And as well as my own commitment, there were a few things that drove me on.
I built up to the marathon gradually, increasing the distance bit by bit over the months. This sensible approach meant I never felt overstretched and soon found I was really enjoying the training. In fact, I felt really weird if I didn’t train – which, in itself was, well, really weird.
2. Using runs to be productive
I thought I might struggle to square running with being in charge of my own business and being a hands-on dad to two young children. After all, there’s a lot of training involved in a marathon. Long runs alone can take two or three hours out of your day.
But I found I could use my runs to be productive. By adding extra distance to my commute and listening to industry podcasts and audiobooks, I’d be training, commuting and learning all at once. Some people say they never have time for books any more – marathon-training could be the answer!
3. I felt great
Running had gone from a means to get from A to B to something with a target and a true sense of accomplishment. I was losing weight – 10kg in total – I naturally veered towards healthier food to fuel my training, and I felt amazing.
I wanted to use marathon training to learn how to make running a lifestyle habit and two months on from race day I’ve developed a great routine for running and keeping fit and healthy, around my work and family life and I’m continuing to eat well – I even have vegetables for breakfast!
Now when I talk to people at work – thinking of BlueJam’s mission to help people make healthy habits – I know what it feels like to have changed the way I live for the better.
Finally, good old-fashioned pride played a part. I wanted to make a good account of myself as a runner in front of Kieran and his mates. After all, no one wants to be the one in the group who DNFs.
Here I am top left, in the dark zip-up jacket. I couldn’t believe I’d done it!
The big day
And what about the marathon itself? Well, what a fantastic life experience. I’d followed Kieran’s plan almost to the letter and as the day drew nearer, I felt myself getting focused. My game face was on.
Race day was hotter and sunnier than any of my training days had been. Remembering the advice I’d been given by plenty of experienced marathon runners – don’t destroy yourself, go out and enjoy it as you’ll get a PB just by crossing the line – I held back a bit, saving my energy for the last few miles. After all, miles 18-26 were an unknown. I’d never exceeded 17 miles in training (that was the bit of Kieran’s training plan I hadn’t managed to meet!).
And it worked. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and feeling surprisingly good. I’d done it in 4 hours 14 minutes. Having turned 40 years old 10 days earlier, I’d take that. Now I’ve got a good target to beat next time!