Hurray! I just finished my first half marathon last Sunday. It was a wow feeling really! It’s been more than one year now I included running into my life. I never thought I could run more than 10 km. In fact, I never thought about running a marathon. It was just a try to keep my body in good shape. However, when today I look back to my start I see a lot of things has changed. My mentality towards endurance running has changed, running for me is not just a typical cardio exercise now it’s much more than that.
As I get more interested in running, a lot of questions were jumping in my mind. So one fine day I decided to quench my curiosity. And here I am today to share all my experience and research about marathon running.
So, the first fundamental question, Why do we even run so much? A full marathon means 42 km. I mean we are not going to change the world or get any big rewards by running that much. Even then, we are ready to tolerate the pain while running for so long. But why?
Different people may have their own versions of their answer. I can tell you first about myself. Marathon was never in my mind when I started running. I used to run just to keep my body fit. In fact, I participated in my first 10 km event just out of fun. But after finishing that 10 km, something happened to me. I never thought there could be an event where people would pay for just running and they would laugh, enjoy, run together. Whatever you think either the rush of feel-good hormone dopamine after the run or the togetherness of so many people. I start liking it even more.
What I am realizing now is for running a marathon you really need a strong reason. Because there will be a moment while running when your mind will tell you to give up but only if you have reason to finish the run, you can do it. It could be anything like wanting to see yourself at best state of your health, for raising money for a charity or any personal reason.
Moreover, long distance running is pretty natural for humans. We have inherited this from our ancestors. If you go back 3-4 million years back of human civilization, our ancestors were not used to run long distances. But approximately 2.5 million years back our ancesters called homo erectus were first to run long distances. And there is a reason behind that.
Home Erectus was probably the first species to start eating animal meat. However, due to unavailability of any sharp weapons, it was difficult for them to kill animals. So they used to chase animals. Now animals are always better at sprint than humans but when it comes to marathons humans surpass animals most of the time. That was their strategy to chase animals until it got exhausted and then killed it.
But why does a marathon is exactly 42 km or 26.2 miles?
There is a story behind this also. Marathon is actually the name of a place in Greece. The famous battle of marathon took place there in 490 BC. Persians attacked Greece with a huge army. However, Greek armies defeated Persians and to deliver the good news to the king of Athens they sent a young boy named Pheidippides and Ordered him to go to the capital Athens. He ran 26 miles to Athens, without stopping and arrived to exclaim ‘ We have Won’ before dying of exhaustion.
In memory of Pheidippides’s spirit marathon run had been fixed to 40 km in 1896 Athens Olympic. Later in 1908 London Olympic, it was adjusted to 42 km.
After knowing the origin of the marathon I wanted to know the scientific part of it. So what is the science of running a marathon? What happens to our body during a marathon? And how we can make the marathon a better experience?
You basically need three things to run a marathon. Fuel, oxygen, and water. Of course, you need the energy to run a marathon and ATP as you know it is the currency of energy in our body. This ATP broke down in our body to give us energy. But how does these ATP form in our body?
There are two processes via which ATP’s can form. One is inefficient glycolysis (2 ATP’s per glucose) and other is Krebs cycle and electron transport (38 ATP’s per glucose) which is a much more efficient process. When you run very fast our body uses glycolysis to generate ATP but when we run little slow (in marathons) our uses efficient Krebs cycle.
Our muscles prefer glucose to burn as fuel over fat or protein. Glucose is stored in our body as glycogen (which holds almost 30000 glucose molecule). So before running marathon make sure you full your tank of glycogen. Sometimes that’s not enough, if possible you can eat some foods while running so that you don’t run out of glucose.
But what will happen if you run out of glucose while running?
In that case, your body will then use fatty acids. Problem is breaking down fatty acids form ketones, which trigger a process that drops the pH and causes dehydration faster. This tires you very fast.
We all need oxygen to live but while running it’s become even more important. Oxygen helps to break down glucose to water and carbon dioxide. Thus oxygen helps to produce our energy currency ATP. When you cannot breathe properly during a run which means your body is not able to burn glucose properly, which produces lactic acid.
When the amount of lactic acid in your cells increases it hinders the usual functions of the cell which eventually leads to fatigue and muscle soreness. Now training increases the amount of oxygen your body can take and cells ability to use that. That’s why training is a very important part if you want to run a marathon someday.
Then there is water, another important thing especially for runners. One of the most important things of water is to keep you cool. While running your body’s temperature rises 2-3 degree above normal. Fortunately, we have many sweat glands in our body which generates a lot of sweat, Using our body’s heat this sweat evaporate and thus it keeps us cool.
Now with water, we also lose salts as sweat from the body. When our cells become deficient of sodium, potassium, calcium ions, our nerves and muscles won’t be able to pass electrical signals. Which is one of the reasons for severe pain during long distance running. Thus it’s really important to keep the balance of salts or electrolytes in our body while running.
Running a marathon is not a child’s play but at the same time, our bodies are made for long distance runs. We just need to train it a little bit. That’s all.
So, what do I think about running now?
Like any other sports long distance running is also unique and exciting. It’s great for your health. But for me, the most unique thing is, unlike other sports, here you are not competing with other players. It’s a competition with yourself to beat your limits, your pain and to become a better you.
If you observe carefully running a marathon and living life has many similarities. Like a marathon, life also gives you hard times sometimes, like a marathon you need to adjust the pace of your life according to your own self not by looking at others. Just like a marathon, however pain and difficulties you face in life but if you keep moving, you will eventually cross the finish line and then a sense of satisfaction will remind you of that inspiring journey. See, a marathon can teach you a lot about living a good life.
Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite authors and I would urge you read one of his masterpiece ‘ What I Talk about when I Talk About Running‘ if you still thinking these marathon runners are crazy people.
Finishing this marathon article with one of Murakami’s quote-
“Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you are going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life.”
Happy new year. I wish every one of you have a great year ahead. Keep smiling. With Love- Joy
Let me know in the comment section what you think about running marathons.