Hacking my first marathon – Six lessons about doing things differently

“But you are a runner” – I was taken off guard the first time someone said that to me.

It had been a slow evolution, rather than a rapid transformation. Starting as the most convenient and flexible way to lose weight. That changed in December last year I set myself 3 key goals for the 2017. One of these was to run a marathon. Not because I could, but rather because I shouldn’t be able to, at least according to conventional wisdom, a unconventional approach was needed.

I had to follow a contrarian model, running less than “required”, putting on weight instead of losing it and then fasting in the build up instead of carbo loading. I did what worked for me, what made sense to me, not what was text book right.

Lesson 1 – Almost anyone can become a runner – Through the compound effect

I wrote about this more extensively here, but in short I was an obese corporate desk jockey with scoliosis and shin splints and managed to become a runner. To give you some perspective, my previous longest road race was a 5km almost two decades earlier. By focusing on doing the right things consistently, I was able to consistently making marginal gains. The compound effect is a powerful force.

Lesson 2 – A training programme designed for me was needed

In December I started a transitioning programme to minimalist shoes. By late January I was back up to about 10km.

It was then time to design or find a training programme that would work for me. I read extensively, some were suggesting running up to 5 times a week and complementing this with cross training. That would have been better, but I just couldn’t do it physically, I would have injured myself.

An average plan that I could follow, was better than a perfect one that I couldn’t.

So I came up with an average plan, that I could follow. I read about the proponents of “train less, run faster”, which is closest to what I did, but even that would have pushed me into the red zone.

In the end I did 3 runs a week. The first was a hard 5km to keep my speed up. The second was an 8-10km where I focused on variation in running and technique, so parts of it may be a fartlek, other parts were focusing on stride, others on impact. The third run was a long run, starting at 10km and never increasing more than 10% or 1km per week. I had to listen to my body, which didn’t mean I always agreed with it, but still I listened. Sometimes a niggle wouldn’t go away until I ran. In fact it felt like I always had one injury that would move around.

The aim of a training programme should be to give the belief and ability to complete the marathon. The rest can be individually variable.

I told myself that bad runs or ones I didn’t feel like doing counted double. The next one was better, usually much better.

I knew that recovery was sooooo important, as is consistency. Knowing I couldn’t do a typical plan, I instead chose to extend my training plan, adding a couple of months. I also put in a break week from the long run every 4th week (sometimes injury or schedule imposed). I realised that joints need to be used, a lot of old injuries disappeared over time.

Lesson 3 – Diet, nutrition and calorie surplus was key as the runs got longer

I am often surprised how many people worry about energy bars, bananas and protein shakes for a relatively short run that could easily be covered by their regular diet and (ahem…fat) reserves. For me, if I was doing anything less than 10km or 1hr, I didn’t worry about it.

In fact I  used to run on fasting days without any issues, but once I started breaking the 1hr barrier, I went into calorie surplus. Food was very important for energy and recovery. Those long runs would have been horrible but for the protein shakes and recovery bars. I used the Tribe marathon packs as a base for this and then topped up where needed.

The conventional wisdom is to carbo load in the build up to the race. I chose to fast 2 of the 5 days, I figured carrying 2-3kgs less around would be worth it.

Lesson 4 – The build up wasn’t smooth, I knew it wouldn’t be

A couple of marathon running mates told me that it wouldn’t be a smooth build-up. I started to get nervous the week before, suddenly scouring the web for any training programme that looked anything close to mine. I found none. Eventually I just decided that if needed I could just drop my ambitious sub-4hr target.

The week before I got an e-mail saying no earphones were allowed, they were distracting. I had always run with headphones and thought, “Great now I have to focus on my pounding feet.” Or the scenery?

A few days before, every injury I had ever had started to reappear. It was just nerves (I hoped).

Lesson 5 -Dress for comfort and performance 

I dressed for comfort, making sure nothing was new on race day. New things chaff.

I used all my typical “long run” gear, I also stocked up on Tribe Bars, a small tub of Vaseline (in case it rained or something, chaff early in a race would have been a killer) and some ibuprofen. I kept this in a rather unsexy runners belt.

Lesson 6 – Enjoy the race and supporters make a difference

Smiling at every opportunity. I was determined to enjoy all of it.


I have/had no idea if this would be my only marathon, I was determined to enjoy every minute of it (I managed to enjoy most of it).

I told myself to smile. It helps with rhythm which is important. Too slow is tiring. I learnt this from my training runs. I actually went out too fast, it was comfortable though, I was not pushing myself. So, I just banked the time for later.

In the end after months of training, and many lessons learnt, I achieved my goal of running a marathon. 

My official time was a little quicker that this, I padded each side to make sure I didn’t run 99.9% of a marathon.


After the race, my body was somewhat confused in what it wanted.

After a period of self discovery in his early 30s exploring topics from Financial Planning to Meditation, Dave asked himself why he only now discovered some of the key critical ideas that lead to a happier, more purposeful, less stressful life. In short more successful.Why wasn’t this taught earlier? He had given away his time in his 20s cheaply. He is determined help others fast track their way to success through coaching, blogging and courses in the academy.He reads extensively and is coached by the best, this is coupled with life experience and degrees in Financial Economics, as well as being a Chartered Accountant.See what he is doing now - http://smarturl.it/DC-Now

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