How NOT To Prepare For A Marathon Abroad

I’m off to China.
To run a marathon.
Across the Great Wall of China.
Named one of the toughest marathons in the World.
And I haven’t prepared for it.

Threshold runs, carb loading, training regimes, tempo runs, sleep, research, nutrition plans. Nope.  I haven’t done any of it.

On 5th March 2016, my friend in Australia asked me to join him in the Conquer The Wall Marathon.  I had 10 weeks to prepare.

10 days before, I hadn’t even booked my flight or arranged my Chinese visa, let alone follow a marathon training plan.

I’ve run one marathon before in 2014 called the London Underround, a self-organised run around 42 of London’s Tube stations.  It was more of a fun day out with friends so it doesn’t feel like it really counts.

I haven’t been running much recently as since accepting the invitation to row across the Atlantic, I swapped running for rowing. So with only 10 weeks notice to prepare, it was going to be a lot of training for my body to adapt to.

People think I’m mad. They’re probably right.

But there is a plan.  The plan is to not have a plan. 
With such little time, I was never going to be physically at the top of my game for this event.  With the female race record being 6.5 hours and the last event’s female winning with a time of 7.5 hours, it is going to be a seriously tough event!  I’m going to wing it.

What’s the reason for me not having a plan?  To make me stronger and more adaptable.

I can train, learn, research and plan all I want before stepping onto the ocean rowing boat for my 3,000 mile adventure, but ultimately Mother Nature will always have her way.

I’m in pretty good shape already as spend 1-3 hours training per day, however as I sit on the plane about to land in China and the enormity of this marathon is just hitting me.

I predict the marathon will take 9-12 hours.  To put this into perspective, this is the equivalent to just one day on the ocean. I will be rowing for 12 hours per day, in 2-hour shifts.  This event is just 2% of the 50-60 days I will endure at sea.  The heat, sun and elements, the physical battle, discomfort from clothes, blisters, hunger and dehydration from the marathon are all things that will happen every day on the boat. So what better place to learn than in China on the Great Wall?
And this is why I do not have a plan. To learn to become more resilient.

I’m usually scrupulous with my planning, packing, research, nutrition and training.  I make my own energy bars, calculate the amount of protein, carbs, fat and calories in each portion and pack 200 calorie portions into individual zip-top food bags, then alternate savoury with sweet every 2-3 hours.  My sleep patterns and training sessions are perfectly planned, whilst kit is packed, repacked, refined, analysed then modified. I wear exactly the same thing at every event because I know it works. It’s all very precise and I love it. But not this time.

On the way to the airport, I collected a cheap white tech t-shirt and a new hat to run in.  Total cost? £15 for both.  I usually spend that on a pair of socks alone.  If it works, great. If it doesn’t, then no bother.  It isn’t about learning from my mistakes as I know what to wear, it’s about being uncomfortable and learning to deal with it.

I also collected my passport and Chinese visa on the way through London to Heathrow airport.  You can’t beat a bit of cortisol to get the adventure started.

My welcome email about the event? Course map? Water stops?  How to get from the airport to the hotel? No, I haven’t looked at any of those.  The only thing I know is the temperature when I get there and that’s about the only thing I have planned for, hence the white t-shirt and hat.

In brief, the last few months have been some of the toughest months of my entire life.  They have forced me to live outside of my usual and fairly strict routine.  It hasn’t been very nice. But what it has taught me is that even when things aren’t going to plan with regards to training, food, sleep and living circumstances, and even happiness, I can still perform. It may not be as good, but I still make it happen.

Am I learning to become more adaptable?  Dare I say it…… more patient?

Let’s see.

Ps- I don’t have a picture for this post so decided on one of me shaving my ankle in the sink – obvs

If you are interested in seeing how I got on in the marathon, please check out this post)