Going Sub3

Last year I set out to run a marathon in less than 3 hours and failed. This year I will reset my goal but also make a fun project out of it.

Last year — also by the end of the summer, I challenged myself to finish the 2018 Barcelona Marathon under three hours.

Long story short: I failed miserably.

The excuses reasons why range from poor training, unfortunate injuries… A sufficiently resourceful mind can convince itself of whatever it wants. Truth is I didn’t work hard enough, I didn’t want it enough. Afterward, I bounced around denial, anger, guilt, and finally told myself that was the last marathon I’d ever run, that I had enough.

Well, apparently, I changed my mind.

The reasons why lay beyond these lines, but this time around I will turn the challenge into a (pseudo public) project. Not because I need the external accountability (which I am sure it will also help), but because I want it to be continuously measured, attentively managed and flawlessly executed.

To echo the wise man:

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

The Starting Point

I wanted to first address this “background check” because it is vital in order to give the project context and help assess “how difficult” getting there would actually be.

My relation with running started early. I was part of the track team at my school when I was fourteen and stayed there for a couple of years, but nothing serious. Then forgot about it altogether1 for a few years. Suddenly, for reasons unknown, in 2011 I started joining some friends for weekend trail runs.

I kept hitting the trails, but it wasn’t after almost an entire year, by the end of 2012, that I run my first race, ever: a 10k. The next week, my second: a half marathon.

After that, I walked into a love-hate relationship with running and races that has remained up to this very day. I could either painstakingly train for the months leading to a race or just shut myself down, drop the shoes for half a year — as it happened after the 2018 Barcelona Marathon2.

For the record, I have never followed a training program or stuck to a strict diet; instead, I have always had an intermittent, unstructured approach to running. On the other hand, it is also true that I have been gifted with fairly “privileged set” of genetics — that has always helped me stay away from injury and recover fast, and a reasonably high threshold to endure physical pain.

Throughout these years I have run dozens of 10k and half marathons; and six marathons — the first one in 2013, but for those of you who prefer the data, here are my PRs as of 2018:

  • 10k — 00:40:57
  • Half marathon — 01:28:26
  • Marathon — 03:18:20

Here is where I stand: six months to skim more than eighteen marathon minutes on top of a non-supervised, but fairly active and healthy life.

Challenge accepted!

Why I Failed In 2018

The short answer is because I still hadn’t read this book.

To quote Steven Pressfield on the exact reason I failed:

How many pages have I produced? I don’t care. Are they any good? I don’t even think about it. All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got. All that counts is that, for this day, for this session, I have overcome Resistance.

Resistance won over my will.

The long answer is also closely related to the underlying causes of my binary, intermittent approach to running itself — and most many other things in life for that matter.

I wouldn’t say I have a hard time focusing on a single project. On the contrary, I tend to focus “too much” — if such a thing exists. What I found difficult — and this is a lifelong recurring theme of mine, is to strike a healthy balance between different activities. Most projects aren’t usually dropped because of lack of interest, but rather because they create a huge imbalance in other areas of my life and I can’t sustain them over the long term3.

Back to running, I basically failed because I lacked the consistency and didn’t put in the hard work it takes; I kept a passive mindset. I have never “sweat” to achieve my marks neither I had the discipline to train hard. I just checked the bare minimum required and let faith decide the rest. And yet finishing a marathon is not an easy endeavor, all my PRs have come fairly easy, without deliberate training or a huge sacrifice on my end.

But going sub3 is a whole other story and doesn’t come naturally to anybody. Not even the most privileged genetics or the best self-talk will get you there without a decent, structured amount of dedicated training.

The 2019 Challenge

Easy 😰, run a marathon under the three-hour mark in 2019.

Am I certain that this year I’m going to make it? Nope. But at least I know that I will be consistent, put the necessary effort and measure and act upon what works and what doesn’t. Otherwise, this whole project would be a wasted effort.

One more time, from Steven:

The pro concentrates on technique. The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods.

And finally, why do it in the first place?

First of all, because the challenge will help me become more consistent with my practice, and regardless I make it or not, I’ll end up in a pretty decent place anyway. Nothing bad comes out from being physically active.

But I don’t want this to be just a simple series of posts — the topic is way too “me-centric” and I don’t think it has a broader appeal or interest. I just want this project to help me analyze in depth my training log, and understand how the different inputs affect my overall performance.

The idea behind starting this project goes back to the very idea of why I started this very site in the first place. Back then I was afraid to forget about the things I learned. My life consists in a series of self-imposed experiments — ranging from walking everywhere for a month, eating strict paleo for a year or squatting 100kg following the 5x5, that I’m logging nowhere but on a handful of notebooks.

This time though, I want to be strategic with my efforts and measure the training in a way I didn’t before. Everything will be publicly available at my Strava profile and maybe I share some updates in the future as follow up posts under the tag sub3 that you can check here.

  1. Not that I quit exercising, despite never being a professional athlete, I’ve always maintained a fairly active lifestyle. During this gap, from fourteen to eighteen, I trained regularly with the sailing national team. We didn’t run much, but it kept me quite busy.
  2. To illustrate this particular case, after the 2018 Barcelona Marathon in March, I didn’t run again a single km until July. I stop training altogether, overate during months and almost gained 10kg, from 59.6kg to 68.4kg. This was a couple of weeks ago, the turning point when I realized that I had to do something with my life.
  3. Rereading this paragraph I sound like an indecisive maniacal bouncing around from project to project as if there was no tomorrow. Well, fortunately that’s not the case, believe me, I am fine :) but I needed the example to explain this idea and maybe I took the analogy too far, anyway, you got the point.
First published on August 20, 2018