In late June I asked my colleague Aliza “Hypothetically, how quickly could someone train for a marathon?” We were wrapping up the final details of providing some of the on-course nutrition for the 47th Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) and I apparently was not thinking clearly. The hypothetical piece of my question was quickly forgotten and colleague Aliza became Coach Aliza sketching out a training plan within moments.
At one time in my life I was an NCAA Division I alpine ski racer. Ski racing is a sport of brief, vigorous exertion. Collegiate skiers consider three miles to be a long run – something my assistant coach/colleague Michael has pointed out is the shortest distance he considers to be a run at all. But at least I was fit. For years I kept up my fitness hiking the woods to tap the trees and maintain the maple sap lines, but my job has transitioned to more time tapping computer keys and maintaining equipment — rendering my fitness a thing of the past.
Up to this moment, my career of runs over 10 miles could be counted on one finger and runs over five miles on one hand. In the previous two years I had gone for perhaps four runs of any distance at all. This is all to say, I had no business thinking I could run a marathon.
I learned a few things during my meandering experience (to-dos and not-to-dos) and, as Baz Luhrmann says, I will dispense this advice now:
1) Fly home the day before to say goodbye to your dog.
I know, that was emotional whiplash – it was for me too. While there is never a good time to give your best friend a last hug, try to negotiate a different time with her than the day before your first marathon. No part of it helps — stress, sitting still on a plane and dehydrating yourself by crying are all poor ways to prepare. Having said that, don’t miss the last hug for anything in the world.
2) Drive 3,000 miles in the two weeks before your race.
We attend and support lots of events with UnTapped – MCM was the third in two weeks. Being on your feet all day while at an expo is tiring, but that’s not training. My legs had gone through long days of standing still on concrete paired with long days of sitting still in a truck.
3) Give up.
Towards the end of my third run of the training plan I said to Aliza “This is totally overwhelming.” And I felt those words with every ounce of my soul. I wanted to cry. I was huffing and puffing my way through a four-mile run/walk. I hadn’t been able to jog two miles without pausing to walk and that training plan seemed like it was awfully short before the entry for “RACE WEEK!!!” I couldn’t conceive of running those four miles five more times… and then running two more miles… and then another quarter mile. It would have been easy to hang up my shoes at any of the low points I felt – I’m glad I didn’t.
1) Get a training plan.
There are countless available online. I saw an eight week training plan (I would not recommend trying that) and a plan that said you needed a base mileage of 50 miles a week before you can think about beginning training (you don’t) and everything in between. Find a plan that reasonably fits your goals and time available for training.
2) Get a coach.
I’m sure it is possible to do on your own (I have friends who have done it this way), but with my limited knowledge of running it was immensely helpful to have someone who knew where I was starting from and how I was feeling on a day-to-day basis organize my training. Aliza was also crucial to getting me in the right gear (and rolling her eyes when I would pick something on my own).
3) Get others invested in your success.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by some of the most supportive people I have ever met. Aliza and Michael turned a hypothetical thought into a full-fledged training plan at the drop of a hat. For the first several weeks someone went on every run with me. Aliza was there to slow me down if I was pushing too hard, pull me out of the dumps when I was feeling low (running in the rain is fun if you dance, I’m told) and push me when I didn’t want to run. And I would return home to “Go, Dougie Go!” Don’t get me wrong I did this run for me, but the thought of having to tell the team I didn’t follow the training plan did motivate some of my runs.
Over the last few years I kept saying I wanted to get in shape. I don’t know why I never started, but it goes without saying that this is the first step. I tiptoed into my “hypothetical” question hoping that it would be seen for what it was – me trying to start by getting someone to hold me accountable for starting.
5) Trust your plan and your training, but be ready to adapt.
This point I will say was not my strong suit. I was certainly not a model athlete in training (one easy 1.5 hour day I decided to go for a hike that wrecked my quads for a week), and I was quick to complain when I felt like I wasn’t being pushed. Fortunately, my coaches were able to adapt the plan around my non-compliances.
6) Dial in your nutrition during training.
With my background at UnTapped, nutrition while running wasn’t a struggle, but I hadn’t realized that food the night before and morning of were just as important. The long run day when I had a yogurt parfait for breakfast was unpleasant. I settled on oatmeal and fruit with a Maple Waffle for pre-run breakfast and a variety of UnTappeds and Mapleaid on the run. During MCM I ate 7 Salted Cocoa, 2 Maple and 1 Coffee UnTapped and drank 1.5 liters of Lemon Tea Mapleaid. It was good to have that all sorted during my long runs.
The 47th running of the Marine Corps Marathon was October 30, 2022.
My weekend was a roller coaster of emotion. Long road trips can bring on some malaise and that combined with the sudden trip home were tough ways to begin. Add in the stress of a 20,000 person event with multiple locations where we have to be setup, but I was away and couldn’t help. Race morning started early with moving vehicles and supplies to get our booth at the finish line ready and then three miles of walking to the metro and from the metro to the start line. Once we were finally at the start (Aliza ran with me to “encourage” – i.e. send photos of the port-o-potty I had to visit at mile 15 to the rest of the team. Oh, that leads me to a DO #7: make sure you’ve really gone to the bathroom before starting) we were treated to skydivers, an MV-22 Osprey flyover and a howitzer blast to start the race.
MCM is a moving race – Marines and volunteers line the course; the start line has a view of Arlington Cemetery; the course wraps through beautiful parts of Virginia and DC and takes you next to the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, around the Washington Monument and to the Capitol Building; and there is a mile-long section lined with memories of fallen Marines. Having nothing else to compare it to, I certainly recommend this as a great marathon to run.
In 124 days I was able to go from strong couch potato to a marathon finisher. I certainly wasn’t the fastest on course and I was well off my stretch goal time, but I had enough kick in my step at the end to run up the finish hill to the Marine Corps War Memorial and high-five some recently commissioned First Lieutenants.
UnTapped co-founder Doug Brown is best known around the office for his versatility and work ethic, as he is involved at some level with every aspect of the business. Doug’s family is best known for their skiing, but family members are also showing that their skiing backgrounds can also assist them to accomplish lofty goals.