Over the years, I have seen many articles on "how to run a marathon", "how to run your first marathon", "how to break three hours in the marathon" and so on, but I have never seen an article upon "how not to run a marathon". So I decided it was my duty to write this. Actually, it was not even my idea, but Charlotte Hartwig's. I was whining to her, as usual, about a singularly bad marathon I had just completed in Seattle, and all of my excuses, belabored rationalizations, and personal frustrations, when she suggested I do this article. So here is my lame counsel. Duck!
First, register late, without a clear picture of what you are doing or why. Just know deep down inside that you've done this before, and it will work out ok - somehow! Don't make reservations at the race site in advance, and leave your travel plans to chance - and to the last minute. It will all work out in the wash.
The week before your run, see if you can find a nice "tune-up" race, the harder the better. It is a great confidence builder to feel the wind blow through your (thinning) hair as you gallop madly down the road in that shorter, faster, final tune up run. Then periodically test your preparedness through the final week by doing some short tempo sessions. Again, these are great affirmations of your superb conditioning. And you need to know that!
About 3-4 days before the big event, go camping on the coast - all the better if you get 10 inches of rain and flooding to contend with. Sleep poorly and worry greatly about the flooding. Move your car out of harm's way from the rising waters as the friendly, adjacent, babbling brook of summer becomes an angry raging torrent leaping out of its banks and coursing through the campground, threatening everything in its wake. Rise bleary-eyed the next morning and walk aimlessly down miles of beach surveying the damage. Carry lots of heavy junk (treasures in beach combing parlance) back with you. At the end of the day - now two days from your big event - eat hot dogs and sauerkraut for your carbo-loading dinner. And sleep in your car this night when a yurt-mate's snoring keeps you awake past midnight; "Funny, I didn't know it got so cold on the coast at night!". Drive back home to Salem the next day, the day before the race, over varied detours. Unpack, repack, grab some quick leftovers on the fly for lunch - and don't forget that hasty shower - your first in two days since the showers were closed in the flooded campground on the coast. Now rush out of the door at 2:30 pm and drive madly through the rain, the impending darkness, and the Thanksgiving weekend traffic to the race headquarters in Seattle. Hmm... where was that headquarters again? At the what hotel?
Get to race headquarters at the Westin Hotel fifteen minutes before the end of packet pick-up at 8:00 pm, and try to find parking. Run frantically to the hotel and up three flights of stairs and pick up your packet in the waning moments of the two-day runners' expo. Now decide that it's really too late to find a place for dinner, so skip it and drive to the start - somewhere in the vicinity of the Space Needle at the Seattle Center.
Since you don't have a place to stay, find a quiet nearby street, on Saturday night (ha!), in the rain, and plan to spend another night in your car. Just ignore the revelers coming back from restaurants and bistros along the Center's streets. Try not to hear all the traffic zooming by your cold, fogged up car on the side of the road. By 2:00 am, all is silent, and as tired as you are, you really do fall asleep! By 6:00 am, you are awake again, and stiff and cold! "Damn, I feel bad". And no coffee! Oh well... Since you are already freezing, and it is cold and wet outside, overdress. Yeah, put on two shirts and a vest - and a hat, bandana, and gloves. Yeah, this is almost comfortable - almost!
Now start the race, tired, cold, hungry, and stiff. It has to get better, right? Yeah! And run the same as you always do, red-line the old tachometer, after all, you want to place in your age group, don't you? Yeah. Don't let that old fart run by you - he looks as old as Methuselah. Keep up with him. He's gotta fade and soon. Geez, why am I so tired, it's only been three miles! There goes another old guy - I think I'll let him go - can't seem to keep myself going! What? It's only been ten miles?! Damn. I don't think I can keep this up. Twelve miles now: yuck, if I can only keep from walking! Fifteen miles: just a short walk - up to that fire hydrant. Sixteen miles: "I know, I'll just walk at the aid stations, the mile markers, and all the hills". Good grief - l0 miles to go! How will I ever get there? This will surely be an all-time personal worst!"
It finished, as all marathons eventually do. And I resolved not to keep kicking myself over my detailed preparations - not! After all, this was "another one in the book" and next time I'd surely have so much to improve upon that I would simply have to run better - right? Yeah!
Run The Planet thanks the Willamette Valley Road Runners (www.wvroadrunners.org) for the permission to reprint the article "How not to run a marathon", Eb Engelmann's humorous account of his 1999 "Seattle Marathon". Text copyright © 2002 by Willamette Valley Road Runners, all rights reserved. Illustration copyright © 2004 by Run The Planet.