A guide to running a meaningful marathon – Middle East Monitor

On Sunday, 23 April, I completed the Madrid International Marathon. It was my 14th overall full marathon. It was not an easy feat.

This time around, my run was dedicated to raising awareness of independent Palestinian media and encouraging readers to support important platforms, such as The Palestine Chronicle and The Electronic Intifada.

When I ran my first full marathon in 2008, I merely wanted to complete a single run and only prove something to myself. I had no plans to keep on running. But I did.

A few months before my first race, I underwent back surgery, a complicated procedure that was meant to prevent a worst-case scenario, losing partial feeling in my right leg and, ultimately, being unable to walk properly, if at all.

But even after the surgery, I was told that “life will never be the same again” and that “I will always have back problems.” I was also advised not to carry heavy weights and to walk at intervals, while resting between each interval for a few minutes.

At the time, I was only 35. I lived in London, where walking was essential to moving about in the city. The physical pain of recovering from surgery and the mental pain of accepting that “life will never be the same again” was too much to bear.

I needed an escape, and I did the worst possible thing at the time. With no preparation, proper running clothes or shoes, I went for a run. Though it only lasted about 15 minutes, I could barely move out of bed for nearly three days. My US-based doctor told me over the phone that they may have to operate once again.

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They did not. I eventually recovered and kept on running, this time without being impulsive. I wanted to do it right, so I began reading about running, particularly running a marathon.

As I dug deeper into the specifics of the sport, I realised that long-distance running is not only about physical strength but also patience, wisdom and incremental training. I also learned that, unlike sprint running and other sports, age is not a major factor in long-distance running. I read stories about men and women in their 70s and 80s who regularly run marathons.

I registered for the Vancouver Marathon in the spring of 2008, and successfully completed it. It was the most strenuous physical effort I have ever endured in my life. Yet, by the time I crossed the finish line, I had decided to run a second marathon later that year.

I have been running ever since. After a particularly gruelling marathon in Singapore – unaware that humidity could be such a great obstacle – I decided to diversify my training. I learned, at least for my age group, that long-distance running should not be delinked from overall health or fitness. This allowed me to carry on running throughout the years.

That said, I also made many mistakes. Below is a short summary of my do’s and don’ts, which helped me run a marathon, and keep on running:

1. Run with a cause and for a cause 

While consistent physical training should be enough to allow anyone to run a marathon, running such a distance as 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometres) requires more than physical stamina. Mental focus and determination are a must. Find your cause, be it personal or collective. Associate your run with overcoming a seemingly impossible mental or emotional hurdle. This will keep you strong and, when you reach the finish line, you will indeed feel that you are, in a way, reborn.

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Personally, as a Palestinian refugee, running has been my coping mechanism. Aside from funds I have raised throughout the years for various humanitarian causes, mostly linked to Palestine, I see my running as a form of mental resistance. It allows me to remain positive, focussed and stubbornly fight for justice for my people.

2. Be patient, calculating, but also consistent 

Do not run despite your injuries, but do not use your weaknesses as an excuse to stay still. Keep moving. One step at a time, one mile at a time. Incrementally, increase your distance and duration, every week and with every run. Build your running log over time. Stretch. Do yoga. Rest. Do it again.

3. Set a goal 

Everyone runs for a different reason, and sometimes the goal is simply to remain fit. But having no goal can make it difficult to continue running over time. Set a goal, whether running 5 kilometres or a full marathon. The physical goal can be tracked through time and distance. The mental goal is something entirely personal. Always keep these goals in front of you. It will keep you physically and mentally strong.

4. Diversify your training 

Fitness cannot be achieved through a single sport or a way of life. To be sustainable, fitness requires a comprehensive approach that combines the physical with the mental. For example, to run, you must learn how to go for long walks and hikes, and you must also build your overall fitness and stamina. This will allow you to complete more than a single race, whether a full marathon or any other type of running. It will help you carry on for much longer.

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5. Take breaks 

Give yourself a chance to recover through practical active recovery, or complete rest, depending on the length of your race and the condition of your body. Running with injuries can only exacerbate those injuries, denying you the chance to resume training within a proper time frame.

6. Use running to do something good in the world 

Running does not have to be a solitary endeavour. It can also be a communal activity, involving friends, neighbours and the community. Digital media, though it “connected” us in some ways, it separated us in others. Running with others, and for others, helps us rebuild our communities in ways social media, for example, cannot. Moreover, in the age of rising obesity rates, encouraging children to run can have a significant impact on their lives as they grow older. Indeed, running can save lives.

And, if you decide to run a marathon someday, you will only then understand these words by the legendary Czech long-distance runner Emil Zátopek: “If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.”

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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