6 min read  ●  Feb 10, 2024

Running a marathon in 6 months

I've decided to run a marathon. Here is my running background, plan and goals, and a recap of milestones and struggles after the first month of training.

Hello, friends! It has been a long time since I last shared any of my writing, and this is the first time I am sharing anything related to sports. The primary reason for this is that sports and I crossed paths in my childhood, completely lost contact in my early teens, and have kept a casual on-and-off relationship since college. However, I have recently challenged myself to run a marathon, and will be documenting the journey here – including my training, progress and thoughts; but also any resources that prove useful, mistakes I make and lessons I learn along the way.

My running background

Let’s rewind a bit and talk about my running background, or more accurately, the lack of one. Cardio and I? Not the best of friends. I’ve been scared of getting my heart rate up since I can remember, and running felt especially dreadful. So, my running history? Short. The only attempts I’ve made at it were during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and even then it didn’t stick.

The maximum distance I did was 5km, but most of these were under 4km and were a mix of running/walking intervals that still felt hard.

I did get 3rd place on a 2.5km high school race once, but that was because there were only four of us and one of the girls quit mid-race. Even now, my dad bursts into laughter at the memory of me attempting to train for running as a kid, and my uncle just recently reminded me that I even used to dislike walking longer distances.

We can all agree this is not a promising start.

The decision to run a marathon

During 2023, with some strategic changes in my approach to exercise, I finally developed a cosier relationship with sports. This was already a big win for my health and it made me feel more confident in my ability to do hard things, but I was very aware that my cardiovascular resistance was far from ideal. So, I decided to challenge myself both physically and mentally by tackling my long time “nemesis” – running.

There were still some weeks left on the workout programme I was doing then, which I wanted to finish first. Also, I was soon leaving for a long trip to Vietnam (soon on travel.rafaelaferro.com) during which I knew I would be cutting back on physical activity, so I planned a test run to check the status of my running performance before going (both to assess my starting point and have something to compare against after following a few weeks of the running programme). I wasn’t set on a distance, but around 5km sounded right, since it was my max distance and my first goal would be building up to 10km.

To my surprise, I slowly completed the 5k and was still feeling ok – which was new – so I decided to push it a bit longer (all additional steps from this point forward meant a new distance PR 😄). At 8km my legs were starting to drag and the left hip flexor was sending smoke signals but no issues otherwise, so I kept going. I didn’t complete a full marathon – I wish! – but I did run my first 10km, quite slowly but it wasn’t as unpleasant as I would’ve predicted.

View over the city from a park
Running is hard, but no complains about the views

The plan and goals

So, back from Vietnam, I finished my previous workout plan and marathon training: officially kicked off.

For a number of reasons, some more reasonable than others, I decided to try running a marathon within 6 months of training – 24 weeks, to be precise, including 2 taper weeks:

Smiling to the camera, showing my hat
My good friend Ana told me to run with a hat, and it made running much more pleasant in all kinds of weather.

A couple of people have told me this is perfectly doable, more have told me that I’m being a tad ambitious considering I’ve never had the habit of running before. One thing that is very clear to me is that I have two primary goals: 1) completing a marathon, 2) not getting injured.

Everything else, including the time frame, is flexible and I’ll continuously adjust the plan according to my progress and how my body is reacting (also, life happens!). I’m paying attention to any signs of energy deficiency and overtraining, and I’m also doing resistance and mobility training focused on preserving strength, supporting running performance *and* reducing the risk of injuries.

In case you’re wondering, my secondary goals don’t include a speed goal. I’ll be happy to just cross the finish line.

1 month down, 5 to go

Just wrapped the initial five weeks of the running programme, and it’s time for a little recap.

Clocking in at an average of 21km per week, I hit a personal best with a max distance of 12km. Most of my runs are low-intensity ones, and I’m not ashamed to embrace the tortoise pace, as my Strava friends can confirm. I ran my first 5k under 30 minutes, but it was on a route with a significant downward slope (still a big improvement from my previous runs on that path). While I don’t have a speed goal for the marathon, it would be nice to improve my pace so longer distance runs don’t take as much time.

Seated by the river, with the sneakers off, trying to get the blood flowing back to my feet.
Waiting for blood to flow back to my feet, at the end of a run.

For the dramatic part – the pain and tears, if you will. My leg muscles have been tired and stiffer, which is normal considering the workload spike – my calves are particularly annoyed with me. I’ve felt some discomfort here and there but nothing that screams injury – just my body adapting to new and repetitive movement. I’ve also noticed some improvement in my cardiovascular resistance.

My biggest struggle has been something I never saw coming–numb feet. In around 75% of the runs, my feet go completely numb, to the point where I can’t feel how they’re are landing on the floor or if I’m stepping on anything (not even pointy rocks). This uncomfortable numbness goes away if I stop for some seconds, but usually comes back once I re-start the run. I had high hopes this would go away with time, but it appears to be getting worse.

I tested a few things to try finding the problem, or at least a pattern:

Since I couldn’t find any obvious problem/fix, I’m seeking expert opinion from a physiotherapist (a friend of mine who’s a personal trainer suggested this might be caused by the compression of a nerve). Wish me luck 🤞