Up until high school, I liked sports. I really did. I was actually looking forward to physical education at school, played soccer with other kids in my spare time - I genuinely enjoyed it. Later, the aforementioned largely positive attitude slowly but surely turned into the exact opposite, I began to hate sports. I'm not entirely sure why but I guess a major part of it had to do with team sports and the aggressive attitude of some class mates in respect to wanting to win, as if an individual match or game was ultimately important in the grande scheme of things. My motivation for sports in general vanished throughout the years. Of course, a second big factor surely was my ever-growing interest in the digital world, which occupied most of my spare time.
So, my personal sports activity effectively came to a halt at the age of 10 and dropped to zero expect for mandatory PE, which hardly counts. Almost 20 years later, it all changed - I have become a runner. Why? Frankly, I can't say at all. Well, definitely not for obvious reasons - becoming fit and healthy - that much I know. Looking back to April 2007, the first month of serious running, I can't really tell. It's absurd, but that sort of reminds me of Forest, who at some point simply started to run. He didn't know why he did it, where he was heading, for how long he'd be running...
I started off slow. The first run was over after around 500 meters, out of energy. I already sensed that 20 years of zero physical training beyond walking from point A to point B and (being a geek at my core) operating the keyboard would take its toll but that was an eye-opener. I didn't lose interest though and have since worked on reducing my 20-year deficit, with good results thus far. I managed to gradually reach set goals, expand my range and speed. To date, I participated in two half-marathon races (Linz, 2007/2008) and one 10k race (Munich, 2008) so far, with around 2,000 kilometers burned. Certainly, that's nothing in comparison to other, more experienced runners, but it's a start. In fact, the most recent mileage delta should paint a whole different picture, more along the lines of an active runner taking his hobby seriously. A new phase of training for a special challenge to come.
Earlier this year, I intended to compete in a half-marathon again (to improve my PB of 1:57:35), that used to be my distance of choice to conquer. For that, I strictly followed a 6-week training plan and competed in a 10k test race (Munich Marathon 2008) with a good result of 47:21, meaning I can now maintain a pace of 4:44min/km over 10 kilometers. As mentioned, my intention was to race in a half-marathon. I never came to compete though, a trip to Los Angeles (mentioned in a previous posting) thwarted my plans...
Knowing that I wouldn't be able to do the the half, I started searching for viable alternatives. Maybe do a half later that year or early next year, I thought. One realization I had though is that the delta of the half-marathon training was immense - at least subjectively, based on experience. It worked wonders in respect to pace, 4:45min/km is officially not impossible to sustain for longer periods of time anymore. Progress across multiple dimensions. Now, what to do with new potential? What to do?
You certainly don't want improvements from hard workouts to fade through winter, until the next opportunity to put the new abilities to work in spring or summer - possibly months later. No way! Part of me enjoys going for the extreme every now and then, thinking and acting outside the box. In respect to running, that surely has to translate to taking on the undisputed king of the distance, the infamous 42.195km. Not in spring or summer 2009, that clearly had to happen within the next months to reap the benefits of previous training sessions. Problem was, there's no marathon in sight in this part of the world, meaning it almost certainly had to be a race in a milder climate. Last but not least, I wanted the race have some relevance in the marathon world to make things even more exciting. Putting it all together, there was only one admittedly extreme answer that matched the profile: Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon 2009!
I hesitated and dismissed the idea of doing Dubai several times until I finally registered and applied for guaranteed entry. Actually, I had registered before I even committed myself to following the lead. Clearly, life is way too short to not seize every single and sufficiently sane opportunity in sight. It's official: I'll actually run alongside Haile Gebrselassie, the current marathon world record holder with a time of 02:03:59 and, from what I've seen, an admirable personality as a whole. Alright, not literally "alongside", I can't say I'll run near Mr. G. either because he'll be almost two hours ahead. Fact is though that I'll compete in the very same race, nobody can dispute that :) With a mere 800 participants (based on last year's stats), you could almost consider this to be personal training. It might even be an historic race should Haile actually manage to break his own world record and hit the jackpot of 1 million USD, I'll do my best to interfere though ;)
Building on my 6-week half-marathon preparation, I kicked off marathon training on 2008-11-10, based on Herbert Steffny's 10-week plan for 03:44:59, slightly modified to make up for the fact that the Dubai marathon takes place on a Friday rather than the usual Sunday (apparently, weekend falls on Friday and Saturday in the United Arab Emirates). The last thing you want to do is going for a long run (thinking 3+ hours) on a work day, simply doesn't work (for me at least). 11 days and 5-6 training sessions remain until race day. To avoid surprises (jet lag, climate, food, ...) and have some more time to enjoy Dubai's amenities, I will leave early, around a week before the actual event. Last Saturday, I completed my final major long run, 32k in around 3 hours. Based on that experience and my training as a whole, I feel confident that I'll actually be able to pull this off on January 16th. If people talk about marathon debuts, they say: "Finishing the marathon has to be the only goal". They're so right, that's rational and sane thinking. Some part of me, however, intends to finish the 42.2k in less than 4 hours. Hey, I didn't prepare for 4 months to not set a secondary goal, right?
Dozens of factors will influence the outcome on Friday the 16th in the unofficial United Arab Emirates capitol. One thing I'm certain of, however, is that - no matter what - Haile and I, really just two geeks of different kind, will indeed rock Dubai!