To run marathons

marathon-paris-2011I have been jogging since I was 16, when I was obliged to trade speed racing  for an endurance sport after a surgery at my leg for a muscle tear. During the first years, I limited myself on 3 and 5 km (2 to 3 miles) runs, twice or three times per week.

Years after years, I increased the distance.

My first marathon

I was 21 years old, and without any peculiar training, I tried to run 40 km (25 miles). Conditions were not ideal on August 7th, 1997, in the little village of Châteauvieux in the French Alps; the weather was bright sunny, it was very hot, and I was smart enough to start my run at 1pm, the worst possible time of the day, on a 10km lap with 120m (nearly 400 feet) of altitude change, which is close to 500m (1600 feet) total for the four laps and 40 km (25 miles).

Last but not least, I was suffering from diarrhea…

I was obliged to go to the toilet at each lap…

I finished my four laps in 5h15min…

I suffered like hell…

Not long ago I ran again on this road, I think my lap were closer to 9.5 km instead of 10 (5.9 miles instead of 6.2). Still, I count this race as my very first experience of running a marathon. I suffered a lot. I completed the last 10 km (6 miles) walking, and after that day I could not run again for 3 months; I had a very tedious pain in my right knee. I only started to run again in October 1997, when I was in Nancy, East of France.

For the next 10 years, I only ran a long distance twice, 19 km (12 miles) and 25 km (15½ miles). Most of the time, I only ran for 5 to 12km, twice per week.

Real marathons

When I left Mandriva at the end of 2006 I decided to try again and run a marathon, so I  registered for the Paris marathon of April 2007. I then followed a 4-months training program with 4 sessions per week, supposed to help me run a semi-marathon after two months, and a real marathon at the end of the program.

On April 10th, 2007, contrary to the one of April 7th, 2013, the weather was hot, close to 18⁰C (64⁰F), if I remember correctly, that was very hard… The very last 15 km (10 miles) were really difficult, and once I finished this marathon, I suffered so much when walking I couldn’t run for two weeks. But if during the last 10 km (6 miles) I swore to never run a marathon again, I switched my mind just after crossing the finishing line! There are so many things you would like to change, to do better, like the training, the food, the drinks, the speed… During that race I drank about 4 liters (1 gallon) of water and ate energetic gels, and it gave me stomach aches during all the race. I finished this first official marathon in 3h52min.

Next, I ran the marathon of La Rochelle, in 2008; that was nice, some rain and cool temperature. The race was close to perfect for the three first hours. I was running in autonomy, drinking water mixed with some energetic powder in a camel bag I carried. However, after three hours I felt completely drained, suddenly, I had a massive loss of energy and I was close to forfeit. I was exhausted, unmotivated. I think I didn’t eat and drink sufficiently. It takes about three hours to the human body to drain out all the sugar stored in the muscles, and if there is no new source of energy, the brain kind of stop working, and everything fell down. The body cannot only run on fat, it needs at least 30% of energy from carbohydrates to keep its will power. Hydration is another fundamental part of the human body mechanics, without enough water, 30% of its power could just go away. So this is easy to understand that without enough carbohydrates and water, you are suffering like hell to do anything! So after this big slowdown, I took a break, walked a little bit, drank, ate one or two cereal bars and managed to get some energy back. Anyhow, I managed to finish in an honorable time, 3h38min, a 14 min improvement from my previous time.

In May 2010, we visited Marseille with Leeloo and I ran the second edition of the Marseille Marathon. I like this town, this is a pity the marathon consisted in two laps instead of one bigger tour. I finished it in 3h35, suffering a bit the last half hour, but nothing like my first marathon!

In 2011, not really prepared, I ran the Paris marathon again. Since the Marseille marathon one year before, I had made a big change in my running technique, before I was running with the heel first on the ground, or heel-striking, now I was putting down first the front part of the foot, what is called mid-food or front-food striking, which is a more natural way of running. My pace in this marathon was one of the steadier, except for the departure, which was still a bit complex because of the number of runners, and the very last kilometers when I was a bit tired. But still, the 3h33min of this marathon were really enjoyable.

At the end of 2011, I ran with my friend Chty the Saintélyon, a winter trail happening at night, 68 km (42 miles) between Saint-Étienne and Lyon. That was hard and I finished it in 10h30min, I stopped running and walked from kilometer 40 (after 25 miles).

Statistics

For my third Paris marathon in 2013, I decided to gather some info about my 5 first marathons. Unfortunately I do not have precise data from the Marseille marathon, so this study is mainly dedicated to the three Paris marathons and the La Rochelle marathon.

Here are a summary of my arrival time for those 5 marathons:

Year Location Duration
2007 Paris 3h52m39s
2008 La Rochelle 3h37m28s
2010 Marseille 3h35m15s
2011 Paris 3h33m35s
2013 Paris 3h28m42s

I was quite satisfied to note that I had progressed for each marathon. But one day or another I won’t be able to beat my best time, and I honestly do not think I will ever be able to run a marathon in less than 3h20min, at least not without too many compromises for my training and diet.

The next graphic shows my average speed along the 4 marathons I have enough data for:

It was clear that I was running too fast on the first part of the Paris marathon in 2007. I drained myself in 25 km (16 miles). I finished this first marathon at a very low pace, my speed dropping from 11.5 km/h (7.1 mph) to 9.5 km/h (5.9 mph).

During the next marathon in La Rochelle, I started the race at a very low pace; I managed to keep some energy to keep up and even accelerate a bit after the 25th km (15th mile). But my lack of energy for the last 6 km (3¾ miles) is clearly visible.

During the 2011 Paris marathon, the departure was not easy, and contrary to my first try on this marathon, I did not speed up during the first kilometers, not trying to pass as many runners as possible as in 2007 Paris marathon; I just followed the crowd up to the 15th km (9th mile), and managed to keep my pace up to the end. I slowed down a bit after the 33rd km (20½ miles), but I managed to get some energy boost and finish this marathon at a reasonable speed.

For the last marathon of this study, the 2013 Paris marathon, I took advantage of the start in several waves to limit the density of runners in the first part of the race. As a consequence, I hit my targeted running speed nearly from the start, but I couldn’t keep it after 32 km (20 miles), and I finished this marathon at a lower speed than the one of 2011!

If this graphic shows a very steady running pace, this is mainly because the 5 kilometers (3 miles) checks remove most of the small variations. For the Paris marathon of 2013, I kept my time for each kilometer, and the result is quite suprising:

One can clearly see my first food supplying stop  after the 10th km (6th mile), and when I peed at the 15th km (after the 9th mile). My lack of energy after the 35th km (22nd mile) can easily be spotted, but contrary to the previous graphic, it is interesting to note that I tried to speed up a little bit up to the 39th km (24th mile), but at the very end I just couldn’t fight anymore, only the finishing line gave me a last little boost.

Conclusion

I do not consider myself as a marathoner, I only run a marathon once in a while to stay healthy, but I think I prefer more technique races like trails with changing grounds, different  altitudes and landscapes… I do not plan to become a real marathoner, I am not ready to dedicate too much time on training, and I am reticent to change my diet, my weight, the way my body is muscled up. However, I would like to run a marathon every other year, just to keep a minimum level of endurance, and this is a good opportunity to visit and discover a new town!

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