why a marathon is so much more than running 42km

why a marathon is so much more than running 42km

Learning how to slow life down for it to actually become enjoyable

On October 16 2016 I ran a marathon for the first time. I could spent this post on providing you with tips on how to train, eat and prepare mentally for such a day, but I'ld rather not. The internet is filled with practical advice in this direction. I would rather contemplate about the similarities of preparing for a marathon and life in general. What life lessons do you encounter when prepping for the most gruesome run of your life?

the age of absurdity

Before I dive in, let me first tell you this: I've got no doubts that anything that takes effort over a suspended period of time will provide you with a similar path of learnings. Running a marathon is just one way of challenging yourself to go beyond the daily comforts of life in our pretty absurd luxurious western world. "But Bas, I do have serious struggles in my life so why would you call my world absurdly luxurious?" Simply put: because it is. It is our relatively primitive brain that isn't able to cope with our highly dynamic surroundings, making it hard to feel like we are living a happy fulfilling live nowadays. God, how I enjoyed reading (the rather cynical) "The age of absurdity" by Robert Foley. Nowadays, the access to physical luxury (we don’t have worry about food and goods have become cheap and instantly accessible) is complemented with an unlimited supply of mental luxury (which I see as an unbound access to global communications and information). This easy access has given rise to a strong feeling of entitlement as heavily emphasized by both Foley as well as Simon Sinek in his recent viral-gone plea. Simon Sinek especially focusses on the millennial generation that is made numb by the access to all sorts of instant gratification (both physical, think of Amazon delivering a product the same afternoon, and mental, ...Netflix).

Everything you want you can have instantaneously. - Simon Sinek


Simon states that there is no instant gratification app for a twofold of things important to millennials: job satisfaction and strength of relationships. They are slow, meandering, uncomfortable, messy processes through which millennials ought to learn the concept of patience Simon proceeds. My argument is that there is a third method to learn about the virtue of patience that is slow, meandering, uncomfortable and messy: training for a marathon.

Personally, I recognize Simon’s description of the impatience to want to make a difference, with all best intentions. But what I had to learn by training for a marathon was that this impatience wasn’t just focused at my job satisfaction only, I was impatient in all important aspects of my life. And it didn’t just take training for a marathon to relieve myself from the high-speed train I learned my thoughts rode. Read more on how I stopped this high-speed thought train in my article on warriorship.

the goal vs. the striving to get there

The marathon training showed me that I carried a general tendency to focus on goals. While I’m not saying that goal setting isn’t important, it is crucially important to not be influenced by the goal after having set it. Actively distancing yourself from the goal after it’s set is key in losing impatience. In my case for example I signed up for a weekly running class in the Olympic stadium, Amsterdam, that would prep me for my marathon. It was about eight months before the actual race. This first training I remember the trainer, world famous 'wrong-way' German Silva, say that “vital to running a marathon is learning to run slow”. It felt counterintuitive. Before the marathon trainings (I ran two halve marathons and multiple shorter races before), I would normally be out of breath continuously during a training run. After the run I would be exhausted and considered this could only mean I had done a good job that brought me closer to the next race (the goal). I was wrong.

Incorporating German’s advice into my runs gradually taught me that running could be a fun thing to do. The art of running is actually enjoying it, being able to talk to your running mate and to joyfully suck in your environment, whether it be perfect weather or snowing at -5 degrees. Moreover, this way of training provides a lot more space for a body to recover faster from trainings and thus is a heck of a lot more efficient. Setting a goal, loosening grip on it and enjoying working towards it has been a great lesson for me. Which not only resulted in a great run on October 16th last year (I ran the Amsterdam marathon in 3:48!), but has given me much broader lessons that are applicable in all important life elements. Focus on the striving instead of the goal.

reflections for the trip east

I’m pumped for my cycling trip. But I should avoid cycling 200km on the first day obviously. This will require patience. And I will have to master the art of enjoying the path instead of the destination. Truly, I don’t even really have a goal. But shhhhhh, having a goal makes a better story.

ok, some practical tips anyway

Just a small list of things that were important to me in preparation:

  • Sign up for a running class that specifically trains for a marathon. It actually gets fun to go about this slow uncomfortable process together.
  • Take a test of condition before you start training so you know your baseline condition. Ideally the test provides you with an overview of your heartrate zones.
  • Buy a sportswatch that accurately tracks you heart rate so you know in which zone your heart is beating. The watch serves to avoid starting your training too eagerly: remember we spoke about something called patience.
  • Train three times a week at least, one slow long distance run, one interval training and the group training which was focused around technique & intervals.
  • Although not scientifically backed, stretching has done a lot of good for me. For some reason I’ve folded myself up in my apartment with this lady numerous times.
  • Take a course on how to properly eat before you dive into runs longer than 1,5 hours. Knowledge on proper after-run food is important as well. Learn how your stomach reacts to sport gels. I remember having a really nasty painful thin crap straight after I tried my first caffeine gel, it was somewhere in the middle of a public beach.
  • Buy some good shoes. Rest of clothing is not too important. Don’t wear cotton though.
  • While running the marathon, run and breath. Nothing more, nothing less. Keep your energy with you by only focussing on these two things. No distractions from audiences, no disturbances from other runners, just you, your longs and your legs. Stupidly I failed this objective during my marathon by starting an elaborate conversation with a police officer that rode his bike on the side of the road (I think we discussed the weather and his kids), by posing for the photographers, by high-fiving tons of kids, by air drumming while passing samba bands, by encouraging a joggler I passed underway and whining about the pains everywhere to friends and family cheering on the side of the road near the finish. Oh well, I’m sure these were more important than crossing that finish line.

marathon I think I understand Benjamin's thinking: "Pffffffff, what a goal-oriented noob.."

Related Article