Last Tuesday (21st of July) I ran a marathon. And a half. On a stadium. 158 and 1/4 laps in total. In one day. And it went very well.
People tend to have fears and misconceptions about new things or things they have not tried before. This is perhaps the biggest obstacle for the Average Joe to get anywhere in life – he hates everything new and loves to live the same old from day to day. So it happens that if you tell anyone that you ran a marathon in stadium, the first reactions you would get are all in the form of “In Stadium? Are you crazy? You would get headspins. Isn’t it the most boring thing ever?”, etc.
However, the fact is, that running a marathon in a stadium is WAY cooler and better than you’d ever think:
1. It’s different. Life is to try out different things.
2. It’s gentle on your knees. With my current weight, I would not have even thought about running 1,5 marathons in a day on asphalt – that would be literally begging for injury.
3. Service stations are every 400 meters. You drink and eat when you want, not when you could.
4. At any time you have close to perfect information about competitors’ positions and state. This enables you to make right decisions competitionwise and know when to push and when to hold.
5. Last, but definitely not least: Since the total numbers of competitors in a stadium-marathon is capped (for the obvious reasons), it gives a good but not great hobby-runner (me) a chance to be on a podium.
My half marathon started at 10am in the morning with my marathon scheduled for 11pm at night. The evening before the start, going through the half-marathon contestants (there were 8 in total) and their results on the marathon100.com website, I realised that I’ll win the event, the only question would be how much could I preserve myself for the marathon. The night-marathon had several good runners in the startlist and taken everything into consideration I calculated that (assuming I don’t get too spended on the morning half-marathon) at the best case scenario I would be competing for the places 3-5 (there were around 15 sign-ups).
Therefore I decided to win the half and take it easy on the full, to preserve my legs for the 3-day bike-hike I was to go to a couple of days later.
Half-marathon went as planned. I started with quick pace to lap everyone and then continue comfortably. Soon I reached the marathoners (there was a marathon held simoultaneously) who had started 100m in front of us and got to Erkki Etverk who I knew to be a good runner with marathon times regularly between 3:10-3:20. I decided to stay with his tempo.
Erkki told me he was to run a sub 3:30 marathon and that suited me perfectly – corresponding 1:45 half-marathon should be enough for a win and yet easy enough to preserve myself for the marathon. So we ran (and chatted) together for the whole of my race and I would just fasten a bit for the final lap. I finished with 1:43:24, easily the slowest half-marathon I’ve ran in the last 8 years or so. But what’s important – I had won and I felt fresh enough to be confident towards the night-marathon.
Erkki, by the way, ran to the end with steady pace and won the full marathon with 3:27:31.
Eleven hours later as I arrived at the stadium I was not that confident any more. It was late and my legs felt a bit tired, so I reconfirmed myself that I would take it slowly. But then, as the contestants were introduced one-by-one, I noticed that the guy I was expecting to win the race had not shown up. This meant that I would be in contention to the places 2-4, meaning a good likelyhood of getting to the podium.
And so it happened that just there and then, a few minutes before the start, I decided to run for the podium. I figured that if I did there could be two scenarios happening:
1) I would try to push, but then “hit a wall” at some point of the race, not finish in the podium and my bike trip a few days later would be much more difficult for my aching legs
2) I would try to push, not “hit a wall”, finish on the podium and my bike trip a few days later would be much more difficult for my aching legs.
That was fine. I was willing to take the risk. As the gun went off, I started running on 4th place, soon improved to 3rd and then, some 8km in to 2nd. After that it was just about counting the laps I was in front of the 3rd and 4th guy and hoping I would not hit the wall.
I did have some hard times at times, but some 20-25 laps before the finish when I was leading the 3rd guy by 6 laps (and losing to the leader for about the same amount) I was sure I would finish 2nd. When there was around 15 laps left, I slowed down a bit – there was no reason to hurry, for there’s no difference if I finish with 3:40 or 3:45. At the end I finished with 3:43:24, curiously exactly 2 hours (2:00:00) more than the half-marathon in the morning. I lost around 12 minutes to the winner Tanel Leisaly and beat the 3rd place Raul Köster for about the same amount of time.
I finished around 3am and when I got back home at around 6 there was still too much adrenaline in my blood to be able to fall asleep. So I just looked at the splits and figured that I really got the maximum out of the races – with Ist and 2nd place cups on my table there is absolutely no reason not to be satisfied. Also, right there and then I decided to participate next year, too. No matter how many eye-rolls do I get when I tell people I’d run a marathon on a stadium.