As I turned the final corner I could feel myself breaking up… breaking up in tears that is. It was an amazing feeling. I had dreamt of this moment for a while now.
There was still about 500 metres to run and I now had a tunnel of spectators cheering me on from both sides. This is it, I thought. The moment I had been waiting for.
My legs were screaming in agony and my mind was slightly dazed but extremely focused on the goal that was now in sight. All I wanted to do was walk but I couldn’t walk now… not now… not after 42km of pain and agony and with only 500 metres to go.
I continued with one foot after the other using the crowd around me to spur me on but I couldn’t really enjoy the moment… I was just in too much pain and intensely focused on crossing that finishing line as fast as I could.
100 metres away now, the Sydney Opera House was glittering in the sun, congratulating me on a fine accomplishment. Apparently Sylvia was there, right at the finish line cheering me on… but I didn’t see her or hear her… I was too focused on finishing the run and enjoying a big drink of water.
I did it!
Who would have thought?
Just over a month ago I had no idea I’d be living this moment… celebrating the fact that I’ve now completed a marathon!
It was amazing… it was inspiring… and it was totally brutal.
Watch My Video
0:01 – My thoughts the night before the race. Talking through why I’m doing it and my preparation.
4:15 – I show you my breakfast before the marathon
5:34 – The run!
7:55 – A few hours after the run. How I’m feeling and my experience running the marathon.
The Accomplishment of a Goal
It’s an amazing feeling when you accomplish a goal.
2 days ago I completed my first ever (and probably last ever) marathon. 6 weeks ago when I decided to sign up I set myself the goal of finishing a marathon. I also set myself the goal of trying to do so in 4hrs and 30minutes. Amazingly, I completed the run in 4hrs and 34minutes!
I am just absolutely stoked with this time considering how little training I did.
It has definitely given me a great sense of accomplishment, self-belief and confidence in myself.
Now, whenever I face a long and hard physical or mental challenge, I can call upon my experience running a marathon as evidence I can push through and be a success. I like to call this my ‘experience bucket’… the more experience I get in different areas of life the more memories I can call upon to help me get through the challenge in any current situation.
Why I Decided to Run a Marathon
Initially, I committed myself to a 10-week challenge to work towards getting under 58 minutes in the World’s largest fast run – the City to Surf. get under 58 minutes. I spent about 6 weeks training for the 14km run, consisting mostly of runs between 3km and 8km and a few cycles and swims. I then found out I wasn’t going to be able to do this Fun Run because I was heading overseas to Washington DC for business.
My brother then took me to lunch and suggested that instead we run a marathon together. Initially, I laughed it off… but then I decided that it would be a good experiment for me to see whether I could actually stretch myself that much and accomplish the goal in such a short period of time with little training.
Also, running a marathon has always been on my bucket list and I figured if I’m ever going to do it now is as good a time as ever!
How Much Training Did I Do?
After registering for the run 6 weeks ago, I spent 2 of those weeks in Washington DC in which I did absolutely no training. After returning, I had 3 weeks before the run in which I had 9 training sessions.
Below a breakdown of my specific marathon training.
3 Weeks Out:
- 8km Run
- 1.5km Swim
- 20km Cycle
- 16km Run
2 Weeks Out:
- 2km Swim
- 20km Cycle
- 12km Run
1 Week Out:
- 8km Run
- 1km Swim
Just to point out, I did have a base level of fitness due to my earlier training for the 14km Fun Run a couple of months prior. But yes, before to the marathon the furthest I had ever run was 16km and this was just 3 weeks prior during training.
Dealing with Nay Sayers
When I would mention to people that I was about to run a marathon the first thing they would ask was “have you been training?” I let them know what I had done and most people would politely tell me that I’m screwed 🙂 Quite a few people suggested that I do a half-marathon instead of a marathon. This was probably a smart idea, but it completely didn’t align with my goal and running a half-marathon is not something I have on my bucket list… but the marathon is was.
These comments actually spurred me on. I took this more of a challenge. It excited me to think that there was potential I could do this regardless of what others said.
In fact, I had a very strong belief I could run a marathon with little training because I’ve heard of so many crazy stories of people running marathons from all walks of life… from those with physical disabilities to those wearing full suits of armour to those that were over 90 years of age.
Seriously, it can’t be that hard, right?
My Race Day Plan
I had been reading quite a bit about running a marathon and the strategies involved and I had been speaking with a lot of people about what to expect. Everyone seemed to have differing opinions…
For example, a friend told me “it’s best to keep running the whole way to prevent lactic acid build-up, it doesn’t matter how slow you go” while others suggested “walk through every drinks station, your legs need the rest and it will preserve your energy”
I had to make my own call and I came up with the following strategy, considering my goal was to run it in 4hrs and 30mins.
- Hydrate like crazy from 4 days out. I was drinking about 3L per day.
- Cut out all caffeine from 4 days out.
- Carb-load from 4 days out. I had lots of cereal, sandwiches, pasta.
- Get at least 8 hours sleep each night for 4 nights prior.
- Eat big, carb-loaded breakfast.
Run somewhere in the middle of the 4hrs 15minute pace runner and the 4hrs 30minute pace runner.
- 5km Water
- 10km Water
- 15km Water + Half GU Bar
- 20km Electrolyte Drink
- 25km Water + GU Bar
- 30km Electrolyte Drink
- 35km Water + GU Bar
- 40km Water
My Marathon Experience
So I wake up and it’s raining! Not heavy… just a light sprinkle which was enough to get me a little more nervous and frustrated but at the same time pleased that it would be a cooler day.
I started off right at the back of my start group. I dislike waiting in massive packs prior to these large runs as there’s no room to stretch and it takes time to get up to a normal race pace with everyone walking/shuffling at the start. Instead, I was about 60metres away doing my stretching, having my final sips of water and I waited until just before the next start group was about to get going when I crossed the start line.
Initially, I felt fantastic! Because I started way behind everyone else in my start group the one big disadvantage was that my pace runners were way ahead of me. So first I passed the 5hr 30 minute pacer and realised my pacers were way ahead of me. This probably meant I went out slightly too fast as I was playing a bit of catchup. I caught up with the 4hrs 15 minute pacer around the 10km mark.
At this stage I was feeling pretty good and was super-happy to have ticked off the 1st quarter of the run.
11km Mark – First Toilet Break
Due to all of my super-hydrating I was busting to go to the toilet. At the 11km mark I was a couple of minutes ahead of the 4hrs 15 minute pacer and went to the toilet. It was seriously like the Austin Powers wiz:
The funny thing was, as soon as I came out I got a tap on the shoulder and it was my mate, John! He was the only other person I knew running the marathon, so it was crazy this happened. I looked ahead and saw we were about 100m behind the 4hrs 15minute pacer… so I was still looking good.
21km – Half-Way!
For the last 10km I had been running side-by-side with John which was awesome. He gave me the nod that we were about to cross the 21km mark and I congratulated him… we were on track to completing our first ever marathon.
Things were starting to get really tough!
John had slipped behind and I could see him in agony. He mentioned that his knees were killing him which was not a good sign.
I had saved a GU gel to have at the 25km mark which I had, but I had planned to replace that one in my pocket with a new one at the drinks station. Unfortunately, all the GU gels were gone! This was not looking good… I then feared that I would have no more GU gels (ie, food and energy source) for the rest of the race… another 17km!)… this played on my mind a little.
My legs were screaming at me to walk, just walk, oh please just walk a little bit. This is when it got really mentally challenging. I set myself the goal of getting to 30km before walking as I knew I would be back into the main part of the city at this time and I would have extra support from my family. Somehow, I continued on running.
34km – “the Wall”
So many people had been telling me about “the wall”.
I had no idea what to expect. I knew it was going to be tough but before the run I couldn’t quite comprehend what it could be like… in fact, I was quite excited about hitting this wall and experiencing what everyone was talking about.
Then, it hit me.
At 34km, again, my legs were screaming at me, this time they were stubborn and they just stopped running. The walking began. Immediately, I felt really weird. I felt like I couldn’t turn my head from side-to-side. My legs were extremely exhausted but it was like momentum was just keeping me walking on. My head felt like it was spinning a little bit. I was starting to get dazed and my beliefs starting working against me… “maybe I should stop”, “I’m not sure I can go on”, “will this ever end?”
We were coming up to a drinks station. I was praying for GU gels… I NEEDED energy.. my body was dying for it, literally. Unfortunately, again all the GU gels were gone! My worst fears were realised. I had no food or energy source for the last 9km and I knew I wouldn’t have anything for the next 8km.
A Start of Happiness reader, Andrew, wished me luck a few days prior and he said to me “when you get to mile 21, just remember- hurt now, brag forever.” I was playing these words over and over again in my head and it was pulling me through… thanks, Andrew!
500 metres to go
With 500 metres to go, I turned the final corner and started heading towards the Sydney Opera House. It was amazing… I became overwhelmed with emotion knowing that this was the moment I had been waiting for. I had pictured this very moment and here it was in reality.
The crazy thing is, I couldn’t really enjoy my final run to the finish line as I was just so focused on finishing. There were spectators left and right of me forming a tunnel but I barely noticed them. My legs were about to drop off and I was dying for food. All I wanted was to cross that finish line and head to the nearest buffet.
And then it happened… I crossed the finish line!
My goal was 4 hrs 30 minutes and I crossed the finish line in 4 hrs and 34 minutes. That just completely blew my mind away. I was SUPER happy with this!
My Marathon Mistakes
I had read about and heard from others to NEVER try something new on race day. This includes new foods and new clothing. You just never know how your stomach is going to put up with something new while running or how your skin will react to new clothing with lots of rubbing.
I didn’t want to break these rules… but unfortunately I did.
- I tried GU gels for the first time at the 15km mark of the marathon.
GU gels are carb-loaded fuel you can consume to give you energy and keep you going. Realising I had never taken one before, I decided to only have half a gel at the 15km mark. My stomach reacted fine so I had another at the 25km mark.
I heard of other people wanting to vomit after trying some of these so it’s definitely something to get used to prior to a marathon.
- I didn’t stock up on GU gels
I didn’t have any food or energy source for the last 17km of the race. All I had was half a GU gel at 15km and a full GU gel at 25km. I would have (and desperately needed) more around the 30km – 35km mark but they had run out of them on the course. My body started to go into rapid decline from the 34km mark and I desperately needed fuel.
If I was to do it again I’d definitely be stocking up on my own GU gels.
- I wore new shorts and socks for the first time during the race.
I had worn my singlet once before so I knew that was ok… but my new shorts were quite tight and I was hoping this wouldn’t give me pain around my stomach area. Luckily it didn’t.
Don’t ask me why I didn’t try my shorts or socks before the race… it’s just not something I thought about!
- I didn’t wear sunscreen.
Even though the weather was perfect for a marathon, being cool and overcast for most of it, I still managed to get sunburnt. Because I was wearing a singlet my shoulders were exposed and it left me red red red and I burn quite easily. At the same time, I really dislike wearing sunscreen when I do exercise because I find that mixing sweat and sunscreen is a really bad combination… particularly if it gets in your eyes.
What I Learned From This Whole Experience
This was a pretty crazy experience but definitely one I’m proud of.
It’s proven to me that I can stretch my mental and physical limits beyond anything they’ve experienced before. This is an experience and memory I will certainly take with me into future challenges.
It’s reminded me to be wary of naysayers and continue to go with my gut-feeling and back myself.
It’s proven to me that the simple combination of belief and action can lead to great results.
It also reminded me of how awesome my family is. They were there to support me 100% of the way and this helped me dramatically on the day… it made the whole experience so much more enjoyable! Even when I was in pain.
Over to You
So there you have it. That’s how you run a marathon with little training.
I’d love to hear if you have run a marathon and if you had similar experiences to me? Did you do much training? Do you have any tips to share for others? Or are you about to run a marathon and you haven’t done your training? I’d love to hear your results 🙂
If you know someone that might find this article useful, please share it with them!
Thanks – pleased to find this. I ran a marathon a year ago and did the training by the book – but this year, I just haven’t managed the training. I’ve gone up to a half marathon distance – may try 15 miles this week, but I won’t be able to manage the 18 and 20 mile runs because I need to taper, (marathon in 4 weeks). Anyway, your post has made me feel that I should just go for it and do what I can! 🙂 I’ve written a plan for the next four weeks that looks reasonably ok, sure I can push through the 26.2 miles!
As I sit here, contemplating on my first marathon tomorrow (Big Sur International Marathon), I googled “first marathon without training” and your story came up. I started training very strong, but then got injured (PF) 12 weeks into it so I had to stop training. So now the marathon like you said, will be more mental, than physical. I have a strategy that my physical therapist advised me on and I will take that. In the end…I will be a 50 year old mom crossing that finish line and rocking it! Will give you an “bradupdate” on my experience and THANK you for your story. Now I know I can do it.
Did you do your run? I am a 44 year old mom and have only run a 1/2 marathon distance up to date. Our marathon is on Sunday, less than 3 days away.
How’d you go Joanne?
I have a Marathon on 17th April. Your story is great… I’ve done some training… I can run 6 to 9 miles okay… I have done 2 half marathons but I’ve not run further and now I’m just freaking out.
I can’t back out as I’ve collected sponsorship money and of course… I want to say I’ve done it and get the medal but at the moment…With knee pain and the lack of training…. I just hope I can make it 🙂 At the 10 mile mark I seem to completely lose energy so hoping the high 5 drink and gels will get me through. Looking to load up on carbs and water like yourself 4 days before.
I did my first half marathon in February in 2 hours and 43 minutes which is okay… but I had to stop and stretch out between the last 3 miles. I tried to do another half marathon just as a sunday run and couldn’t get myself to keep running so I think adrenaline and support from the crowds definitely keeps you going!
I’ve read that my best strategy is probably going to be walking through each water station to try and keep going and I’m pleased to see there are toilets on the course!
I just keep telling myself try my best, and there’s no shame in walking some of it, but of course run most of it and 4-5 hours later that finish line will be there!
You’re going to absolutely love it 🙂
Definitely one of the best experiences of my life… emotional, physical, mental, had it all 🙂
Just keep going! Every single step you make is a step closer to the finish line. Good luck!
I loved reading this!! I completed my first half marathon on zero training.. I was on maternity leave from work, and after 3 kids my body had gone from relatively fit to being out of breath just walking up the stairs..I thought training would 1) help me lose weight and 2) give me some encouragement to get off the sofa!!
I ran a couple 2 milers and gave up… training could wait summer is too hot who runs in that heat? Not me! I would totally start training properly in autumn.. 8 weeks before the run right? Wrong. I walked a couple 5 milers and ran a 4 miler a couple weeks before and then the day arrived. I had a charity place and had collected sponsor money I couldn’t back out.. so race day arrives and I’m stood at that start line just praying I could walk it and not look like a total failure. I ran the first 4 miles before I started walking then ran for maybe 10minutes at a time before walking again for 20.. at mile 10 I felt like I was actually going to die. But then the crowds got bigger the cheering got louder and the finish line was suddenly right there.. I finished in 3hrs6minutes not the best time but I finished!
So then in my post race bubble of ‘I actually freaking did it’ I signed up for the next year’s half. I trained a little bit better but my longest training run was still only 6 miles but I ran the whole thing and finished in 2hrs 36 so a whole half an hour off the previous years time.
I’m now training again.. for my first marathon! The London Marathon! I have 7 weeks to go and my longest training run has been 8 miles. I’m praying my half marathon 6 months ago means my fitness levels will carry me over that finish line.. hoping to get to 13 mile training runs before the taper begins.. your post has given me hope!!!
This is awesome. Glad you got value from my experience!
Good luck with the London marathon!!
Brendan thank u for your inspirational story! I have a marathon in two weeks I have done little to no training so am dreading it in some ways but excited for the challenge! Have done a few 21k runs but not much training in the last few week!! I’m hoping most of it will be mental I love the quote about bragging about it forever and having temporary pain, it’s so true you really have to concentrate on the long term rather than the short term pain! Thanks for your story it’s giving me inspiration!!!
Nicely done Brendan.
I ran the Steamtown Marathon (Scranton, PA) in October 2014 with 0 (I mean 0) training, finished at 4:49:28. No injuries at all.
I believe some strategies can work for everyone. But you have to find the strategy that works for you. I now know how to run the next one (again without training) and maybe finish in 4:15:00.
It was one of the the best experiences of my life. Particularly the last 10k.
Thanks for sharing your storey. Cheers…
This is very True. It’s funny that you didn’t train for Steamtown as this was the first and only marathon that I actually trained for. I finished at 3:28. I’m getting ready for a no training style marathon and will be glad to finish in 4:30!
Beat of luck on your next run!
A friend of mine has talked me into running my first marathon in less than 2 weeks, with verrrry little training. I’ve run a 21k before and am both excited and terrified at the same time. I wish you were here to tell me it will be OK. I’ve read so many articles advising that you train properly and I’m really beginning to doubt myself. Make no mistake I’m no athlete but I’m fitter that most of my peers. on the one hand I know I can do it but on the other I’m scared I might fail. I just want to cross the finish line and have NO time goals. What about injuries?, I am planning to take it really easy. What do you think? oh yes I must tell you this friend of mine has run several comrades marathons and is willing to stick with me the whole way and not run for time either. Isn’t that noble, and the race is close to home so no far traveling.
Way to go Brendan! Loved the detailed breakdown of your process and your “gameday” activites. I did one “no training marathon” a couple years back – it was a ridiculous endeavor, but I agree that it’s really a great exercise for pushing one’s mental limits – even more than physical. No training irn-man next?
Aloha Brendan!! Congrats in finishing the marathon!!! I just finished a half marathon 3weeks ago and I’m not sure how it happened but somehow I got myself signed up for a marathon next Sunday =/ only goal I have set for myself is to finish …. running the whole thing without walking…. Trust me when I say…. I’m getting nervous =) Mahalo for sharing your story….
I’m so glad I found this post. I signed up for a marathon early this year and the race is November 15th. Over the summer I basically stopped training, and only ran a few times a week at most. I got to the point where I decided running it would be dumb. I had already paid, but I decided to sacrifice it. Then, two weeks ago I decide to go on a trail run and my idiot brain talks me into running this marathon next week. I’ve got about 11 days to train from now until then. Im athletic, but not marathon type.
Reading your post has given me fresh encouragement. I know I can do this. Heres to surviving! (On the plus side we’re celebrating thanksgiving two weeks early that day once I finish, so food will be plentiful!)
I know you can do it! Good luck Jaclyn! I’d be really keen to know how you go 🙂
Thanks Brendan! I finished well! Definitely thought my legs were going to fall of last night, but had a good night’s sleep and I feel almost 100% today!
Congratulations Brendan! I’ve never run a marathon, and likely never will, but I love taking on stretch goals so I can completely relate to that feeling of elation that comes with accomplishment. I could really feel your enthusiasm while reading your account of your experience. Thanks so much for sharing your story.
Congratulations! I am glad that you were able to do it especially with out all of the training. You are rightfully proud of your accomplishment! : D. We can do what many might think is impossible if we continue to push ourselves!
Thanks, Seb! 🙂
Congrats on running the marathon!! Woohoo. That’s no easy feat. (I know — because I’ve run 3…ha)
Finishing such a race takes a lot of focus..so kudos to you. You had me laughing as I was reading your post because the very first marathon I ran, I didn’t train for whatsoever. I actually signed up the night before. Needless to say — it was ugly.
I’ve learned from those 3 marathons — that any goal takes consistent action and focus to reach.
Thanks for the reminder.
Congrats on running 3! That’s a fine effort… I don’t know if I’ll run another one but I’ll never say never. My main concern is damaging my knees from long distance running on concrete.
Running a marathon after signing up the day before… that is EPIC! 🙂
It’s good to see that you’re learning new things from each run. Thanks for sharing!