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FIRE: A marathon event

Unless you win the lottery, the journey to financial independence is likely to take a while. Hopefully the retiring early part of the FIRE acronym also has a long shelf life. The saying of "it's a marathon, not a sprint" certainly belongs to both.

Which coincidentally (not😂) leads me to the topic of this week's post, marathons. In this case, the running variety. But bear with me for just a moment longer, so I can at least try to make a connection to FIRE.

The first connection is that I'm writing this post on a Friday morning, a day normally considered part of the work week, and typically a time to do whatever it is that our employer wants us to do. Now, in early retirement, if I want to write about marathons on a Friday morning, there's no boss to tell me I can't. Granted, it will probably get read less than a post about money, but remember, I'm retired, my blog isn't a job, and if a post gets read less, how much does that really matter? I love this freedom that comes with FIRE.

Another connection is planning. The chances of achieving financial independence and/or a successful early retirement are vastly improved by having a good plan and by executing it well. The same goes for running a marathon - simply rocking up to the start line after a few jogs around the park is likely to lead to a painful experience, whereas having and executing a well thought out training plan will greatly increase the chance of a good result, probably still a little painful, but definitely better.

And the last connection is that I now have the luxury of completing my training runs when I choose, rather than fitting in early morning or evening runs before or after work.

Okay, that completes my attempt to make a connection between this marathon post and FIRE. From now on, it's about the running and my hopes and plans for Lucerne Marathon next weekend.

Normally, I keep this stuff secret. My experience running marathons is that they are seriously uncomfortable and miserable affairs. After all, 42.2kms or 26.2 miles is a fair distance, particularly when you're trying to go at a reasonable pace. I've found that if I stop when it hurts, the hurt goes away, so I always feel a big temptation to stop, which really isn't the idea. So it's tempting to keep this stuff secret in case it doesn't go right, so my fail can be in secret too.

But this time, I'm trying an alternative approach. By being open about my upcoming run, maybe it will make me more accountable. When I want to stop because it hurts, perhaps I'll think that will be embarassing because I'll have to admit it to more people than just myself? I'm not wholly convinced about this, but it's a theory that I'm about to test.

Another reason for this post is to force me to make a plan. By going through the marathon thought process, I should come out with an idea of what I want to do in the run. I've stood on the start line in the past without a plan, and it didn't go well - the last 17kms / 10 miles were spent running between one set of lampposts and walking between the next. I'm pretty sure there were some tears too!

Training - legs, lungs, heart

Simply put, have I trained to put myself in a position to perform?

I have a 16 week marathon training programme, of which I've done the last 10 weeks. While not completing the full training might not sound ideal, the truth is that I was already doing a good amount of running, just not following a specific marathon programme. I therefore don't feel that those first 6 weeks are an issue.

And for the last 10 weeks, I've not missed a session, plus I've hit the target pace in each session that mattered. That's good news. There will always be some days where the training feels good, and others where it's a struggle, but on balance there have been many more good feeling days. More good news is that the most feared sessions didn't seem as bad as I imagined.

Before running a marathon, I like to look back and note down the longer runs that I've done. It's a reminder that I've done the endurance work needed to be able to run my marathon well.

Recent longer runs

Mind - confidence, focus, suffering, coping

There are two sides to endurance events, the physical side and the mental side. Both need to work to achieve a good performance.

Hope my new race day shoes are worth a few seconds!

Historically, the mental side has let me down. There have been times when I've given in to the discomfort and misery of the moment and slowed to a walk. Once done, I'm disappointed in myself because I realise that I could have kept going and battled through it. I know it's possible because there are other occasions where I've done just that.

So the mental side is something I need to work on. With just over a week until the event, I'm as physically fit and trained as I'll be, whether it's enough is irrelevant because there's no time left to fix it. But there is time to work on the mind, so that's a target for the coming week.

Confidence is key. An athlete friend once told me that she holds a virtual confidence box in her mind, where she stores things to be pulled out if needed. I can do the same. I said earlier that I've hit all the pace targets in my training. I've listed a solid number of long runs over the last 3 and 6 months. I've run well before, I have my personal best times to prove it. These things can all be stored in my confidence box, ready to be pulled out and remind me that I can do it.

Although my running form isn't great, I know that when I focus on it, stand tall, swing my arms, think about landing on my forefoot, and suck my stomach in, I run a little faster and feel a little better. The challenge is to remember to do this as I get more fatigued as the kilometres pass.

Someone once said that I must enjoy marathons. The truth is that I find them to be painful and miserable experiences. That is until I've crossed the finish line and look back and think "wasn't that great!" The reality is that the suffering and pain is only for a short time, it's temporary, and something that can be pushed through. I know that's true because I've done it before, for example, Dubai and Boston marathons in 2018. So, having done it before, there's no reason why I can't do it again.

These solutions make sense as I sit at the dining table typing this. The difficulty is that deep into the marathon, when I'm suffering and feeling miserable, they're harder to remember. My task in the next week is to find ways to remember and implement them so that negative thoughts or temporary discomfort don't shut down my run. A start might be to simply write these things on my arm as a reminder, but then how will I remember to look at my arm?😂

Race Day - the plan

At my first marathon, my most important target was to finish and to run the whole way. Things seemed more straightforward back then.

Now I've done a few more marathons, some things are simpler and some are more complicated. Relatively simple is what I'll wear, what I'dd do for hydration and fueling. I've figured these things out from previous events. What's more complicated is what pace/finishing time to aim for.

The route isn't pancake flat, afterall it is in Switzerland, but it's not crazy hilly either. I think a sensible time to target is 3h15m, which requires a pace of around 4m36s/km (7m24s/mile). Having not run a marathon for 3½ years, and only one other event in that time, it feels like a challenging but hopefully realistic target. If I'm sensible, that's what I'll have in mind as I cross the start line, looking for consistent 4m36s kilometres (7m24s/miles).

The difficulty is whether I'm that sensible. To contemplate anything faster after such a long lay off makes little sense. But during my training, there was a little voice reminding me that I have gone quicker in the past, and it encouraged me to train quicker too. So, part of me says, why not go with the training pace, set off quicker, try to hold on, and see what happens? It would be a high risk strategy, with the potential for the wheels to completely fall off, but there's always a chance that it works.

What to do? My brain says target 3h15m (still neither easy nor a given), but my heart says wing it, go out faster and see how it turns out. Lucerne Marathon is on 31 October, so I guess by the end of that day, we'll know the answer to what I decided and how it turned out.


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