At 7.00am on Sunday, August 18th I was at the start line of the Edmonton Marathon. The last time I ran this race was in 2009 so this would be my 10th Anniversary. The morning was overcast with a misty drizzle and the temperature was 10C, just how I like it. I felt good.
In any race I set myself a number of goals. In this one I set three: the first was to beat the time I set 10 years ago, 4 hours and 10 minutes, the second was to come under 4 hours, and the third was to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which meant finishing in under 3 hours and 50 minutes.
Now it’s great to have goals but, in reality they are meaningless unless you’ve done the planning, prepared well and put in the work to achieve them. In this case it meant following a 12 week training program, running over 600 kms and completing a variety of sessions including running hills, tempo runs (marathon pace) , intervals of speed running and long runs.
It’s often said that finishing strong is the key to any race however you can’t finish strong unless you start strong and you can’t start strong unless you’ve prepared.
Another key element is race day preparation. I was up at 5.00am and had my usual marathon breakfast of oatmeal, banana and two cups of coffee. I prepared my four bottles of a mix of water and CarboPro, a pure complex carbohydrate which I take with me on the run. I also carry electrolyte tablets. This would ensure that my nutrition intake would be 250 calories an hour. Another important lesson: never try anything new on race day. I was ready.
At 6.30 am I left the hotel and joined other runners on the way to the start. I followed my usual warm up with a 20 min run and 4 by 100m strides.
John Stanton, the Founder of the Running Room was the race announcer and after O’Canada he started the countdown: 5...4...3...2...1 and we were off. I had spotted the 3 hour and 45 minute “Pace Bunny” and decided to run just behind him. Pace Bunnies are individuals who run the marathon at a steady pace and, if you can stick with them, they will bring you in on that time.
Things went well for the first half of the race, I followed my hydration / nutrition / electrolyte regime every 30 minutes and stayed slightly at the back of the pack behind the bunny. My pace was just over 5 minutes per kilometre and the cool condition stopped me from overheating.
However, the truth of any marathon is that it only really starts in the second half of the race. At km 25 I felt a knot in my right calf. I could only hope that it didn’t turn into all-out cramp. The bunny was moving away from me and my quads were tightening up. A friend of mine, Ray Zahab, said that marathons and ultra-marathons are 90% mental and 10% in your head. It was time to dig deep.
Before the race I had checked my emails and had a message from Zainab, the first Afghan women to have run a marathon. She had recently had a baby girl and named her Cedar, after a kind of tree that grows in Turkey, Canada and in the Himalaya. In Persian it means evergreen or eternal.
Zainab had inspired me to go to Afghanistan, in 2016, where I ran the 2nd Marathon of Afghanistan, in support of the women and girls running for freedom and equality. Now Zainab and Cedar inspired me to push through the pain. I used the mantra “Zainab and Cedar, Zainab and Cedar” kilometre after kilometer and before I knew it I was at the 35km marker. I had taken 3 hours 4 minutes and 32 seconds, leaving 45 minutes to run 7.2 km. I had a chance.
The kms ticked by and with 1 km to go my legs were pretty much done. I looked at my watch and it was 3 hours 39 minutes and then it hit me, I could walk in and still come in under my 3 hours 50 minutes target. I was flooded with relief, but kept on running.
As I approached the finish line I could see the countdown clock at 3 hours 46 mins. I then looked to my right and saw my wife, Sue in the crowd, behind the barrier. I ran over, gave her a kiss and sprinted across the finish line: 3 hours 46 mins and 23 secs, made it by 3 minutes and 37 seconds. I was exhausted, but happy.
Staggering along the finishing chute, to get my medal, my body and the mind started to shut down. Sue met me at the exit to the chute and gave me a big hug. Job done. Boston here I come.
Whether you want to achieve a personal or business goal remember the words of Robert H. Schuller “Spectacular achievements must always be preceded by unspectacular preparation”.
About the Author
Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and his final book in the Marathon Trilogy, THE SECRET MARATHON-Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan through sport, was released on October 30th 2018. He speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential” and has written for, or been covered by CNN, BBC, CBC, The Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.
In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. In 2016 he ran the Marathon of Afghanistan in support of Afghan women and girls running for equality. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com and see what he can do for you in the long run.