Motivators for marathon runners

Marathon runners endure bloody feet and blisters to finish the 42.2 kilometres

In order to ensure your body can handle a marathon
Image by: Jeff Peters
In order to ensure your body can handle a marathon

Popular Queen’s professor Jonathan Rose has over 1,400 Twitter followers. Most of them probably don’t know he’s an avid marathon runner.

“I’m not an athlete, but I’ve run three marathons and six half-marathons,” Rose said.

“People think you get tired from exercise, but you don’t. You get energized,” he said. “Running is one of the few times I have no extraneous interruptions.”

Albeit a stress-reliever in some ways, a marathon is an extreme physical challenge.

“Nothing in my life compares to last 12 kilometres of a marathon. It’s the most intense mixture of pain, exhilaration, exhaustion and willpower that I’ve ever experienced,” Rose said. “Your body is saying stop … but the mental preparation is maybe more important than physical preparation.”

Rose survives marathons by breaking the race into stages.

“I imagine the next stage as the end goal. If I’m at 30 K, I’ll just say I have five more to do,” he said. “I pick off people and say, ‘that guy or that girl is not going to beat me.’”

Rose said marathons are democratic because anyone can run.

“You don’t need a sports team and equipment,” he said. “Age is not a barrier. I can run faster than guys my age, but people who are 80 can run faster than me.”

On Oct. 16 at the Toronto Waterfront marathon, 100-year-old Fauja Singh became the oldest person to complete a marathon with a time of eight hours, 25 minutes and 17 seconds.

The winner’s time was two hours, nine minutes and 50 seconds.

Rose also competed in Toronto and said he started training six months prior to the race.

“I do a combination of speed work, medium-paced running and long slow runs,” he said, adding that he did several 30 km runs leading up to the race and exercised for an average of an hour and a half each day.

“I do core strength training … and I also do aerobics and skip regularly.”

His best running time is three hours and 42 minutes in the Ottawa Marathon in May.

“Can you think of another venue where thousands of people are cheering you on?” he said. “You just feel your brain being flooded with endorphins. It’s a real rush.”

But exhilaration aside, preparing for a marathon presents its fair share of physical risks.

Injury is an evitable part of running, Rose said.

“I’ve had lower back pain and Achilles tendons problems,” he said.

Rose wasn’t on as strict a diet regiment during training.

“A cool benefit of running is that I can eat whatever I want. I can have six meals, and I do,” he said.

A long run can burn 3,000 calories, when the average adult male caloric intake is 2,500 per day.

“You can eat twice as much and not gain weight,” Rose said.

He doesn’t have any plans on slowing down.

“One day I’d like to do an ultramarathon, which is 50 kilometres,” he said.

The average marathon is 42.2 kilometres.

Melody Torcolacci, a professor in Health Studies and Kinesiology, said marathon runners often experience something called “hitting the wall.”

She coached the track team at Queen’s for 23 years.

“That’s when you’ve run out of energy source. All that’s going to happen is you slow down, and you’re not feeling it,” she said. “You can’t just take in water. You have to also get sugar back into the system.”

Predictable injuries in marathons include shin splints, bloody feet and blisters, she said.

“Sometimes people have diarrhea on the way and keep running through.”

Marathon runners can experience a temporary loss of height, and can cross the finish line two centimetres shorter than when they started the race. It’s caused by the impact of their feet hitting their ground for an extended period of time.

Despite months of training, marathon competitors can still run into unexpected issues on the course, Torcolacci said.

“The body can be perfectly in tune and ready to run, but then something happens,” Torcolacci said. “With preparation you’re less likely to have issues, but even with best prepared athlete things happen.”

The competitive nature of marathon running can have potentially dangerous affects.

“Athletes who are highly driven aren’t going to listen to their body if they’re close to the finish line,” she said. “The person has to read their body to see what’s happening, but they’re used to running through pain and having their body screaming.

“Experienced runners can have a better idea of good pain versus bad pain,” she said.

Although there are risks involved, Torcolacci said marathons aren’t high-risk events.

“[Deaths] have happened before, and it’s almost always because of electrolyte imbalances,” she said. “It’s a combination of heat, not enough water … the perfect storm of these factors coming together.”

Ted Lee, ArtSci ’12, has been running marathons for three years and said his initial interest in the sport alarmed those around him, he said.

“My friends thought I was crazy when I told them I wanted to do marathons and started going on long runs,” he said.

But after competing in his first marathon, Lee knew it was the sport for him.

“When I ran the Ottawa marathon in first year, that converted me,” he said. “I fell in love with it. It’s like a drug.”

Without running regularly, Lee said he would feel more upset and stressed.

“Running becomes part of your lifestyle, and when you don’t run you get cranky,” he said. “It became a way to just get away from the stress of schoolwork and extracurriculars and chill out.”

All it took was a simple internet search for Lee to learn how to train for a marathon.

“I literally just punched into Google ‘how to run a marathon’ and found training plans online,” he said, adding that he found 12 to 18 week training regimens.

“I picked a shorter plan that seemed manageable. I would recommend probably doing an hour a day, and doing longer runs on a weekend,” he said. “It depends if you want to just finish [the marathon] or run it well. Your first one you should be running just to compete in it.”

It’s important to do other forms of exercise besides running when training for a marathon, Lee said.

“It’s ideal to do running and some sort of side thing, because running is based on the entire body, not just your legs,” Lee said. “Two to three times a week it’s good to do something that’s not running focused, like cycling or swimming.”

In order to avoid injury, it’s essential to stick to a running plan, Lee said.

“When I first started training, I was stupid about it … I was naïve and just wanted to do long distances, and did a 30 K right away. I was exhausted and couldn’t walk the next day,” he said. “You have to break everything down into smaller steps.”

Lee said getting proper running shoes is essential, and he goes through a pair of running shoes each month. Unlike many runners, Lee said he’s never collapsed.

“Whenever you have something that’s physically exerting and thousands of people do it at once, you will get someone who has some sort of condition,” he said. “Sure [injuries] gets picked up on by the media, you should just train properly versus letting fear stop you.”

The day before a marathon, Lee does a “carbo-load.”

“My family has a tradition. We eat big pasta dinners the night before a marathon,” he said, adding that he’s vegetarian — an uncommon dietary restriction among marathon runners.

“It’s never been a problem for me because you can find other sources of protein,” he said.

Lee’s best marathon time is three hours and 29 minutes. He attributed much of his success to Gatorade stations positioned on courses, where he frequently takes water breaks.

Because many marathons take place close to exams, it’s hard to balance training with a student lifestyle. Preparing for a marathon requires a promise of commitment and dedication from interested participants, Lee said.

“Your social life declines and I don’t drink for at least a month before,” he said. “I’d usually sleep maybe five hours.”

But Lee said he won’t stop.

“I don’t like to sit still and events like marathons attract people who are pushed to do crazy things,” he said. “It’s cool to say I did that.”



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