Lessons From an Unconventional Marathon

*8 minute read.*

[Click here to listen to the podcast of this post.]

If you’ve been following this blog over the last few months you’ll know that I’ve been training for my first ever marathon and working toward my ultimate goal; qualifying for the New York Marathon. Last Sunday I ran the Gold Coast marathon.

How did I go? Read on!

Last Sunday morning at 7:20am I took a giant leap into the unknown and attempted my first ever marathon.

Me, one of 6000 people to start the Gold Coast Marathon

Me, one of 6000 people to start the Gold Coast Marathon

The marathon itself was the culmination of 12 weeks of intense training that began with me ‘taking a moonshot‘ to finish in 2 hours and 45 minutes!

The idea behind a ‘moonshot’ is that in order to do something radically better we need to apply a radically different way of thinking to its pursuit.

So, instead of following a conventional marathon training program I chose to adopt a radically different crossfit endurance program from Tim Ferriss’ ‘Four Hour Body‘.

Unlike traditional marathon training programs, the cross fit endurance approach aims to develop core strength as well as strength in key muscle areas required to endure a marathon. The training program was split between gruelling gym sessions, interval training and sprint repeats and the occasional (as in, very occasional!) long run.

The program also suggested adopting a paleo diet which I took up for the 12 week training period.

While I had my hesitations particularly with the lack of long distance running preparation, I chose to put my trust in the process and look at the whole thing as a giant experiment. Either I would succeed or fail gloriously!

So, what happened?

I failed gloriously!

For the first 20kms I was sailing. My body felt great, my cardio was working perfectly and my mind was focused. I didn’t go out too fast and I was taking fluid and electrolytes regularly.

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The 22 km mark was the line between the known and the unknown for me. I had never run beyond 22km before and I just didn’t know how my body would react. However, I had faith that my unconventional training program had prepared me for this unknown situation.

At the 22km mark I took a deep breath and said to myself “alright Tim Ferriss, let’s see what you’ve got!”

I continued to power along, focussed and strong until about the 30km mark where my left calf muscle started to cramp. I didn’t panic, I just flexed it out a bit as I continued to run and it seemed to go away. Then the other calf muscle did the same thing. So I flexed it out as well and ran through it. But gradually it became apparent that my legs weren’t having a good time. One by one, each muscle in my left and right leg started to cramp up. I did my best to flex the muscles as I ran but this started to upset my rhythm and pace. The pain also became quite unbearable and as I ran on I remember repeating to myself “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger“.

By the 35km mark I had hit the wall. While the pain and sensations of the cramping in both legs was bad, cramping was something I’d experienced before, so it wasn’t completely foreign. However the tipping point was when, as I continued to limp along, my big toe on my left foot started to curl underneath itself, under my foot. This was such a weird sensation! I could control the cramps by flexing my muscle but this toe curling thing was completely out of my control. It felt like my body was going into the early stages of shock. My left foot became completely uncoordinated and I started to trip over because my big toe was landing on the ground before my foot. It felt wrong and I suddenly felt very scared and not in a healthy way.

I had to stop.

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This was heartbreaking at first but I was pleasantly surprised to see how my psychology reacted to this situation. I started to say to myself:

“There’s nothing you can do about this. Your body’s reaction is out of your control. You’re still awesome. You took a risk, and it didn’t work out. But you had the courage to take a risk. Good on you. Now, just relax, be present and enjoy the experience.”

I walked for 5kms allowing my toe to undo it’s curling thing and for the cramps to stop. Occasionally I tried to run again but my legs would start cramping again and my big toe would start to curl. I eventually managed to get moving for the last two kilometres and put in a pretty valiant jog to the finish line. And I ended up finishing in 3 hours and 38 minutes, which by most standards is a pretty respectable first marathon time!

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So, what have I learnt from this whole experience? The truth is that this week I’ve gone through a post-marathon come down and energetically I’m feeling a bit flat. But so far from the experience, these are the messages that stand out for me:

The unconventional path provides the greater learning

If I had followed a conventional training method with more long distance running and not challenged myself as much I’m confident I could have run the full distance. But would I have learnt as much? Would I have challenged myself as much or tested the limits of my endurance and strength? I believe there is always greater long-term reward from short-term “failure”.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to anything

The training program promoted by Tim Ferriss in the Four Hour Body was designed by Brian Mackenzie for Tim’s body. I’ve really learnt through this process how unique and individual we all are and how a training approach that works for one person might not work for another. If I followed this program again I would personalise it far more for my needs.

Listening to my body

I have to admit that my body didn’t enjoy the Paleo diet. To be honest, there wasn’t one point during the twelve weeks of training that my stomach felt “right”. From this experience, I’ve learnt to trust the intuition of my body more. When my big toe did it’s weird curling thing at the 35km mark, I knew it was my body shouting out to me to say “Hey! What’s going on? We’ve never run this far and we don’t like it! Time to shut down.” Next time, I will listen to my body more during training and adapt responsively.

Finding the joy

I love running! I love long distance running! Unfortunately, this unconventional training program didn’t have a lot of long distance running! And while, there were moments that I really enjoyed the strength training, my joy is in the freedom of the running and I missed that feeling during the training.

Making sure our goals serve us

There was a point at about the 10 week mark of the training program where I hit a wall. The paleo diet wasn’t working for me, I had no energy and I’d injured my back. During the last two weeks of training I realised that I’d become a servant to my goals and the freedom that I’d been pursuing through running had turned into entrapment. It’s important for me to learn how to maintain the balance between pursuing a goal without it becoming a prison sentence. Next time, I would allow myself more freedom and flexibility along the way.

That was my first marathon though. It was a massive “unknown”. Now its a “known”. Next time I will do it completely differently with the wisdom I’ve gained from this experience.

The day after the marathon

The day after the marathon


Thank you to everyone who has followed and supported the journey over the past twelve weeks. And a big congratulations to Be Awesome’s very own Brodie Drysdale  and each one of the 6000 participants who had their own unique journey to conquer the beast that is the marathon! You don’t realise how much your courage and determination inspires others.

Now, I promise to shift the topic of conversation away from running for a while!

Til next week, Be Awesome!


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7 thoughts on “Lessons From an Unconventional Marathon

  1. Very well done – am inspired – hope you enjoyed the tingle at the sayet surrounded by so many motivated people and personal satusfaction at the end.

    My first Marathon was 3hrs 33mins but I was 21! Most recent 5hrs 30mins …at 49! Ok not training enough was difference…nothing to do with age or blisters !
    Anyway time to get DD yo go the dustancd nexy year me thinks!

      1. Thanks Jonathan! 3 hr 33 is good! It was a great feeling lining up to start with the other 5,999 participants. I think I’m hooked! Best of luck with your next marathon. Christian

  2. Nice work Christian! Your curly toes let you down but your mind stayed strong which is the hardest part. What’s the next experiment?

    1. Thanks Caitlin. My eye is on next year’s New York marathon but for now I’m going to take up taekwondo- it’s something I wanted to do as a kid but never had the chance 🙂

  3. I could say lots. Instead, I’ll simply congratulate your effort and accomplishment. I clearly hear (and sense) your commitment, conviction and tenacity – each of which contributed to an awesome outcome. Bowing in respect here.

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