Running a Marathon the Hard Way

I hurt everywhere. I can barely walk and it requires both my arms to lift my leg off of the couch. That being said, I have a huge smile on my face. Yesterday, I completed my first marathon.

Six months ago, I was scanning my bucket list and decided that despite never having run more than three miles at a time in my life, I was going to train for the real deal, 26.2 miles.

Sam and I Before The Marathon

Sam and I Before The Marathon

I called up my friend, Sam Niccolls, (a writer turned consumer advocate) and asked him to run a marathon with me. Neither of us were in terrible shape physically but we certainly weren’t runners. The next day he agreed and I added the caveat that the marathon wouldn’t be in the United States, it would be in Argentina. He smiled, it was time to start training.

We trained four days a week for four months straight. At the same time, Sam designed and oversaw the construction of his first home and set record numbers for the business he owns. I moved out of the United States, visited 8 countries, checked off about a dozen bucket list items and launched my first published book. Even though we are both extremely busy people, we refused to make our full schedules an excuse not to run. We used an online run tracker website called RunKeeper to keep track of each others runs. Depending on where I was in the world, my evening runs would come either before or after when Sam went to sleep in Seattle.

Training Statistics:

In my four months of training I:

  • Ran a total of 408 miles
  • Went on 68 runs
  • Burned 58,711 calories
  • Trained in Seattle, Newport Beach, Belize City, Rio De Janeiro and Buenos Aires

A couple of weeks before the event, Sam called me up and asked if his friend Luke could join us for the race. I asked if he had trained and Sam said no. “Ummm, thats probably going to be an issue Sam”, I said confused. He replied, “You don’t understand, you need to meet this guy”.

Luke works in the Special Forces for the United States Military. He became a Green Beret at age 22. He wanted to run the race on his off time between tours in the Middle East. In other words, he wanted to spend his vacation running a marathon. I’ll add Luke to my list of reasons I never want to go up against the United States Military in anything.

Back in Argentina, I had made plans with my Spanish professor, Malena, and her boyfriend, Nacho, (yes seriously) to road trip up to Rosario. It was three hours away and I was excited to see more of the countryside. The mini-road trip ended up being fantastic. We exchanged American and Argentina driving games and sipped on mate as we made our way out of the city. Malena and Nacho ended up being two of the kindest and most entertaining people I have met in Argentina. They were both extremely bright and outgoing and each speak multiple languages. (Malena speaks at least five)

Malena and Nacho

Malena and Nacho

We made it to Rosario without issue and grabbed lunch. In preparation for the marathon, I ate half the longest pizza I have ever seen. They dropped me off at my hotel and I went into an instant food coma.

That night, I felt great but didn’t sleep. I had made the mistake of looking at the map of the run.

Sam and Luke also didn’t sleep. Despite that, we all got out of bed ready and eager to start running.

It was a cold 38 degrees (F) outside but I felt fantastic. All of the runners huddled together as the clock ticketed down.

Cinco, Cuatro, Tres, Dos, Uno!

recorrido-2011

As I started running, the energy of the hundreds of other runners was almost tangible. We didn’t need to be speaking the same language to communicate. We were all excited to be running. We were running through the streets of Rosario, Argentina and hundreds of other people were cheering us on. At various points through the race I would pass modern sky scrapers, shanty villages, an escaped pony and a few examples of public indecency. :-) This was no Boston.

I passed the bulk of the crowd and settled in at a quick pace. The kilometers passed quickly as I got into my flow. I hit the half marathon mark and looked down at my watch. I had run 13.1 miles in 1 hour 28 minutes. (A pace of 6 minutes 40 seconds per mile). Holy effing crap, that is a lot faster than my normal speed. Impressed with myself, I threw my hands up in the air. An Argentine who was also running looked at me strangely and mumbled something about celebrating at the half marathon mark. Sure enough, as I passed the next corner and I saw signs denoting the half marathon. I laughed, half marathons are 21.1 kilometers not 21.

IMG_0007

Not surprisingly, as I ran more my pace got slower. Right around the 17 mile mark (28 kilometers), I started to hit my first real mental and physical walls. I set checkpoints for myself and was very strict about not letting up on my pace until I hit them. The biggest of these was 30 kilometers (18 miles). After hitting the 30 kilometer mark, I started to unintentionally slow down. My body was aching and the energy goo I had been drinking stopped making an impact. I was officially at the part of the race where the human body (well at least my body) started to hit its physical limits. Mental persistence can get you extremely far but physical limits never lose their impact.

At the 22.3 mile (36 kilometer) mark I hit a wall much harder than I had ever hit during training. I thought to myself, “Come on! Its only four more miles”. Unfortunately, my quick pace in the first half of the marathon was coming back to haunt me. Through a series of sprints and quick paced walking I got myself to the 23.5 mile (38 kilometer) mark but I was hurting more than I had ever hurt on a run before. The signals my body were giving me were crystal clear and loud, “what the hell is wrong with you, stop running!”. It wasn’t a sharp pain or even an ache, it was one of those core sensations you get when the lower parts of your brain start to take over. Like burning yourself or falling into a cold lake, the primal parts of your brain take over.

Right around this point, a random Argentine came by and gave me a huge spank on the ass. I couldn’t tell what he was saying but his message was clear, “keep going!” I sprinted for another quarter mile (I was now at 40 kilometers of a 42 kilometer race). I saw Luke, and he pushed me on as well. It was right around then when we passed someone who had fainted from exhaustion and was now being taken care of my medical personal. Marathons are extremely difficult, there is no way of getting around that.

It ended up taking me a little over an hour to make it from kilometer 32 to the finish line at kilometer 42 but on June 26th at 1:05 pm I completed a marathon in Rosario, Argentina.

Throughout my training, I had projected myself to finish right around the 5 hour mark. Instead, I finished in 4 hours, 5 minutes and 50 seconds. That blows my mind as that is quite the respectable time. I look back on the race and know that I put my all into it. I left absolutely nothing behind. I could not possibly have run that race any harder.

IMG_0016

Miraculously, I found my friend Sam at the finish line. He had finished just a minute before me. We received our medals and got our pictures taken. That had been a hell of a bucket list item. I later talked to Sam and he said that he ran into that same unexpected wall at 36 kilometers.

Together, Luke, Sam and I hobbled back to our hotel. We didn’t talk much as we were all in a lot of pain. It wasn’t simply our legs that hurt, it was our entire bodies. Nothing was moving like it normally did.

I look back on this bucket list item with an incredible amount of pride. On that day, along with my friends, I pushed myself to my absolute limit. To my amazement, this limit turned out to be a lot more than merely 26.2 miles, it was the farthest physical and mental journey that I have ever taken.

23 comments… add one

  • Choooch Jun 28, 2011

    Great job… You’re a true inspiration.

    • Danny Dover Jun 29, 2011

      I appreciate it :-) Hope all is well.

      • Douglas Wilson Feb 9, 2012

        Hi Danny – odd request but I am wondering how you booked for this marathon. I am Australian and am looking to run a certified marathon in South America this year and Rosario is looking to be the most fitting one.

        I can not for the life of me figure out how to register. I have tried sending the info@ email on the website with no response.

        Did you register before heading down there or did you register when in Rosario? Thanks!

  • Joe Dover Jun 28, 2011

    Danny, Wow! What an incredible accomplishment. I am so proud of you, but equally as importiant, I am proud of your willingness to share the experience with your friends. Doing a marathon alone just wouldn’t be as fulfilling. Recuperate well and be proud of this wonderful accomplishment. Keep working your bucket list and keep writing! Love ya!

  • Tim Jun 28, 2011

    Awesome post man, Pheidippides would be proud. =D

  • Spencer Padway Jun 29, 2011

    I really enjoyed the post. I just got into running myself, but only for rugby not a marathon. These pictures are small on my phone, but it looks like Argentina affected your hair style. I have been working on my own bucket list, but been having trouble qualifying things. It’s difficult to discern from a life goal or a bucket list item, including choosing items that I have control over accomplishing. Any criteria advice?

    • Danny Dover Jun 29, 2011

      I found it worked well to just create a list without criteria and then casually edit it over the course of about 3 months (review it once a month or so). After that process and once you have something you are proud of, share it with your friends and family to give you some pressure to start working on it.

      What type of items are you worried about not being able to control? In some cases those are the most fun, in other cases they can be momentum killers.

      And yes, my hair is a bit longer than normal :-) I kinda like the look and will likely be keeping it for a bit.

  • CeCe Jun 29, 2011

    Wow…congratulations! That is a great time considering you had never ran more than 3 miles prior to training! I have a friend that does marathons without training. He actually gets below 4 hours too. He is my hero, but his body hates him for an entire week afterwards.

    • Danny Dover Jun 29, 2011

      I literally feel his pain :-p

      I have been reading your blog and am loving what you are doing :-) Yosemite looked amazing. Keep up the good work!

  • Martin Jun 29, 2011

    Danny,

    Thats awesome man, well done. I get a lot of new posts pop up on my RSS, I don’t bother with a lot of them unless they really catch my eye but I drop everything to read yours such is the amount of inspiration/entertainment. Keep it up man – hats off to you.

    PS thanks for the advice in my last e-mail!

    Martin

    • Danny Dover Jun 29, 2011

      Thanks Martin, I appreciate it. More posts and bucket list items to come :-)

      Also FYI, there seems to be a DNS issue with your domain. (try clicking your name above your comment.)

  • Jonathan Goodman Jun 30, 2011

    Inspirational! Makes me want to go out and run.

  • Miranda Jun 30, 2011

    Wow – Such a great feat such a short time. Congrats very inspiring!

  • Nathan Didier Jun 30, 2011

    Wow Danny! I… have yet to run more than 1 mile at a time in my life. I’m not sure that running a marathon is an idea I’d like to entertain=)

    6 months of dedicated training brought you one step closer to completing your list. Good job Danny, yet again, you have inspired me!

  • Andrew Jul 6, 2011

    Hey Danny,

    I’m really thinking about training for a marathon myself but I can barely run 2 miles and I feel like at that point I’m pushing my body to physical and mental capacity. What was your exercise routine for the months you were training / what type of foods were you eating? I’d really love to hear more about the whole experience if you don’t mind sending me an email to talk about it.

    Thanks,
    Andrew

    • Danny Dover Jul 6, 2011

      Hi Andrew,

      I highly recommend the whole experience. I started not being able to run more than 3 miles. The high level trick is simple. Just keep adding small amounts of distance per week and then giving yourself to recover. Specifically, I ran this routine: http://www.halhigdon.com/marathon/MaraNovice1.html (although at the time he didn’t have an iPhone app). For food, I kept strict to the paleo diet and then for the last month added in some carbs because I felt I was hitting an energy wall.

      Looking back it was about as hard as I expected but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. E-mail me if you would like to talk more specifics.

      Good luck!

  • Michelle Jul 7, 2011

    Yay!!! I just got back from New Jersey and Philly and saw how you did!! Congrats Danny! I’m so proud of you, and your time….wow! You are truly impressive. I can’t wait to see you again. My mom is stalking you too now btw…that’s how I saw your blog on my fb..so funny.
    Take care.

  • Dan O'Connor Feb 29, 2012

    I know this comment is incredibly late and after the event, but well done. Running “a” marathon was on my original bucket list; that’s until I found myself muttering “I’ll train harder the next time…” minutes after finishing. Running my 8th next month.

    If you ever find yourself in the UK in autumn and are still in a running frame of mind, I highly recommend the Abingdon Marathon (October). It’s quick, well marshalled and finishes in a stadium – so you can give it the whole dip-at-the-line, milk-the-crowd’s-applause thing. And if you’re ever in Japan, the Tsukuba Marathon (November) is similarly well managed. Did both last year and will do both again this year.

    Great SEO book, by the way. The best I’ve read.

  • Mandy Rubin Oct 30, 2013

    Danny congratulations – 2 years late! I just read your guest post on the Everywhereist and thought I’d check out your blog…and then the word marathon caught my eye! I just completed my first one in May 2013 in Colorado – what a great experience! Makes you feel like, and know in some ways, just how much you are capable of! I can’t wait to run my next one! Have you signed up for more since this one?? Cheers!

  • Sven Jul 25, 2014

    Hey Danny. Respect for running the Marathon. Watching through your bucket, or life-list, i figured out that the “Marathon” is the one and only thing on the list which catched my eye among all the others. Maybe, because it is the one and only thing on the list which you cant buy with money?

    • Danny Dover Jul 28, 2014

      > Maybe, because it is the one and only thing on the list which you cant buy with money?

      Earning the money to afford the items on the list was one of the most challenging aspects of the list. I started out without money and had to earn money as a first step to completing many of the items on my list. That is part of the battle that takes place behind the list.

      • Sven Jul 28, 2014

        Thats exactly the point. Maybe it deserved the place on top of your list, right beside the Marathon:)! You didnt get the job because you had money to buy it, you got the job because you worked long time for and on it. You cant buy a job – and you cant buy training hard for months and succeeding on a marathon. Same as you cant buy love and other things like that. On all these bucketlists around and also in mine, im looking more on things like those you actually cant buy. And by the way thanks for the term lifelist, ill use it now too instead of bucketlist :)

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