Training for a marathon in under 30 days

And how to enjoy every moment of it

This is a project from the first month of my 1month1challenge series, which I aim to reach hard objectives through focused learning.

Full squad after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge

What helped me get through this challenge was Jules Ehrhardt training Plan: An Idiot’s One Month Marathon Training Programme. The structure, lessons and equipment advice in this post are an iteration of what worked for me.

Background:

I weigh 75kgs and measure 182cm. Although I had not run long distance in over 2 years, I already had a tolerance for it, having completed a half marathon in 1:39:46 and getting injured while training for another marathon. Health wise, I am pretty good. I lift 4–5 times a week and swim every once in a while. My work-life balance is a little bit more chaotic. I work full time at Opentrends, I am actively involved in Celera, the Global Shapers community and with a group of friends, we are working on creating a wearable to facilitate the navigation of the visually impaired.

Disclaimer: Don’t take this as advice to train for a marathon in one month. If you want to run, my advice would be to train longer than I did. This is just the story of my journey with the insights I was able to gain along the way. It is not the recommended method for those interested in running a marathon.

Why?

They say that no great story begins with someone eating a salad. In my case, this challenge would not have been possible if I did not have a little bit of crazy and impulsive in me. I am not proud of this aspect of my personality but in this case, it led to a great experience.

I was surfing Craiglist searching for a San Francisco Half-marathon ticket. No one was selling one. I saw one ticket for the full marathon one and I began to wonder:

Could I actually do it?

The short answer was NO. I had tried to run a marathon back in 2015 and I got injured in the process. One month was not enough time to prepare and I already had one challenge ahead in July, the Imagine Silicon Valley. But then, a small voice started to whisper in my ear — maybe I can

What if I can do it?

  • I will prove myself capable of a challenge that I had failed in before
  • It will give me the motivation to overcome other life challenges
  • I will get cramps, a cool medal and a T-Shirt. The cramps will fade
  • I will increased my muscle strength and VO2 max
  • I will push my body beyond its limits and expand them

And what if I can’t?

  • I could get injured
  • It could decrease my self-esteem
  • People will know I failed
  • I will lose the invested money

I decided that, if I was able to overcome the risk of injury, the other negatives weren’t significant and the positives were all worth fighting for. I bought the ticket and almost immediately after that I entered panic mode: I had 25 days left.

The Plan (based on Jules Ehrhardt’s Guide)

My version of the One Month Marathon Training Plan

I took the original one month marathon guide and tweaked it according to my needs. I decreased the miles in order to avoid an injury (which happened anyways) and erased cycling until I was able to find a spinning room. I’d like to say I did the burpees but I failed tremendously at it.

Here is a link to the program, which you can tweak to your specific needs:

The Preparation

Diet wise, I didn’t do any crazy stuff, basically because the entrepreneurship program I was doing meant always eating out and I wasn’t going to be able to keep any promises.
My philosophy was very simple:

CALORIES IN=> CALORIES OUT

I tracked my eaten calories on MyFitnessPal and made sure to keep a balance between carbs, protein and fat. Another recommendation that I liked from Jules Ehrhardt was to drink a gallon of water a day in order to clean out the toxins and avoid a lactic acid buildup. It was hard to commit to and it involved a lot of bathroom trips but I am certain that it was one of the main reasons why this crazy plan worked.

My Gear

  • Running Shoes: One word → ASICS. It’s worth the investment. When you go to their store, they perform a running test to check your footstep profile and tailor your shoe to it. It also gives you an insight on how you run and which injuries you are more prone to.
  • Shirt: No specific recommendation. Avoid cotton and whatever you do, do NOT wear a new shirt at the marathon (or your nipples will bleed).
  • Pants: I really enjoyed these ones. Comfortable, easy to use, can carry a phone and keys and have an inside pocket for the energy gels.
  • Headphones: Did not think this would be a game changer… but I was wrong. These bone conducting headphones allowed me to run, take calls and hear nature noises, all at once. I am still using them at work since they allow me to focus in an open office and at the same time have social interactions.
  • Compression Socks: Believe it or not, I was 50/50 into buying this. Lebron James and other top athletes use them daily in order to reduce muscle vibration and fatigue yet recent studies state that they have no major benefit. · This is what bugs me about sport science. In math, 2+2=4 always. In sports, because we all have different bodies and training conditions results may vary. I thought it was worth it to give them a try, even if it was a placebo effect. The days I wore them, I felt less sore which is what mattered for me, can’t confirm whether they actually worked or not.

The Training

Yosemite Experience. 3/3 marathon finishers

One of the things that they don’t tell you is how crazy the experience leading to the marathon is. Besides all the different landmarks I saw, I believe that all the different emotional states you go through are mention-worthy.

I started my first run on a cold night @ 12 am. Went from San José to the beach at a calm pace, listening to Tim Ferris. As the night got more and more dark, I persevered but the cold was getting the best of me. I realized that if I got a cold, I wouldn’t be able to run. However, if I wasn’t able to train, I wouldn’t make it either. I compromised at 6 miles and went back home.

At the start of the Imagine Silicon Valley program, we went for a retreat at Yosemite. It was an incredible opportunity. First, because I would be able to do the altitude running necessary to prepare for the SF marathon and because I love running through nature. The first day, I couldn’t breathe. The second day, I couldn’t breathe. The third day, my lungs opened up.

Another benefit of being in the wild is that you can’t just stop running and get a Caltrain/Uber home. If you go for a run, you have to be able to go all the way & come back. The last day was particularly intense as I went training with my friend Ernesto who had done an Ironman, and with another friend, Joan, who was in excellent physical shape. We got lost on our way back and ended up taking a long detour. We kept the same fast pace and while I was stubborn to push through, my lungs were complaining.

What kept me going was remembering the following Texas U graduation speech by Admiral McRaven. The only way to complete the marathon was to do every small task beforehand, overcoming every single obstacle. And thus, I developed my mantra:

If I can do this, I can finish the marathon

As we established our base at Draper University, the morning runs with Ernesto became more and more intense. I was always behind him, reaching for my last breath and trying to keep up with his brutal pace. Sometimes, I couldn’t keep up and slowed down. Other times, my legs were sore from the previous day. I made sure to complete the distance and push my body beyond its limits, as this is what the marathon was going to demand from me.

I remember that one particular day while doing the 13 mile test, Ernesto had to do a pit stop and gave me a head start. It was obvious that he was going to catch-up.

What if I could challenge that?

I changed my whole mindset. I went from chasing to being chased. Like the first marathon, I imagined that I had the duty to complete this task. On my headphones the soundtrack from Gladiator started playing. Running is nowadays a sport, an option, a recreational activity. But not a long time ago, marching upon the enemy gates was a matter of life or death and there was no other choice but to go through with it. It’s amazing how much can change when only your mindset changes. I ran and ran and managed to complete the run in 2h05m with Ernesto 1 minute away from catching up!

The Soundtrack

So, if music could have such a great impact, what was the best possible playlist? I played a while with different ideas, such as listening to the Beats per Minute according to my desired pace, but ended up discarding this plan due hills and terrain of the SF marathon. Instead, I crafted a playlist that compiled the most motivational songs that I could gather and some Roman times epic music so I could picture myself escaping from the Persians again.

San Francisco Marathon

The night before the run, I couldn’t sleep. I went to bed early but my mind kept spinning. I woke up at 4am and I was very sleep deprived. I jumped into the shower and turned the handle to maximum cold. A survival instinct kicked in and so did my adrenaline. I got dressed, ate a bit of pasta and met with Ernesto, Xavi and Joan. Already fired up, I met with Ferran and his friends who sought to do a similar time as me. If there is one piece of advice I would give you for the marathon it would be this:

Find someone with whom you can train and run the full marathon

It will take you to another level. It turned pain into fun and it was way easier to keep the pace. Also important to remember: you have trained for this. All the hard work was done before the race on those morning runs and it’s now time to stick to your rhythm and enjoy the race.

Another example of a mindset shift was going though the Golden gate bridge. It was foggy and windy but we decided to focus on the uniqueness of the experience. We were crossing the bridge though the main road. Our pace was slightly faster than the people in front of us so we had to figure out a way to pass them. Oh and, it is very exciting to run towards an unknown territory.

We kept moving forward, getting closer to the half marathon mark. Joan was running the half and came cruising towards what I thought was going to be a 1h40m finish. As we entered the Golden Gate Park, I took my phone and deactivated the airplane mode. I then messaged my family and friends to let them know I was half-way done and synced it with my smartwatch in order to receive encouragement messages if needed but not be allowed to reply. I saw that Joan, instead of finishing the half, had decided to keep going and do the full marathon. What a beast. Who do you know that has finished a marathon without any previous training? I was concerned that his rhythm was too high for the final 10 km and told my friends I would try to go at a slightly faster pace in order to find him and help him focus on a pace.

SF Marathon Course

Left the park and there was no sign of him. The roman music stared to kick in and as I descended down the hill, I thought it was an easy descent from there. But another uphill came and then another. The turns were horrific. The stadium and beach were nowhere to be seen and I knew I still had some miles to cover.

My feet, my knees, fatigue was kicking in.

And then, in one corner, I saw Joan. Both of us were hurting but we ran and ran, promising to each other that we would not stop. Hill after hill, we kept going and hit the 4h mark. We started talking outloud: One tv show and we are home. A ted talk and we are there. 3 songs and we will be done. 2 songs, 1 song, 100 feet. And as we looked back, we had finished the marathon and collected one of a lifetime experience.

And now, after all this suffering, the mantra has evolved:

If I could run a marathon, I can do this

Co-Founder & CEO of Akademy.ai. Passionate about AI. Global Shaper @WEF. My dream is to use technology to create a positive impact in our society.

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