The Picnic Method – How To Run a Marathon When You Don’t Feel Like It

How can one go so unprepared into something they’ve been planning for months?

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When this is how your leg feels just a couple of days before a marathon, it’s time to reconsider your planned finishing time.

For years now, I’ve been dreaming of running a full marathon. 42,2 km under my feet, and under my belt. And as per usual, I talked the enginerd into it. And another Finn. I’ve tried before, but always had to cancel before even starting the race due to injuries (I’m prone to over-training. I’m that kind of an idiot.)

In the end of January, we ran the dreaded 42,2 km.

Since we like to lure people into crazy with us, we had a fellow Finn to share the misery with us. This is what the Finn, Ano said when I asked him if I could use photos of him in our blog:

“Go for it, I have zero sense of privacy.”

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We can do this! But first, bathroom! Photo courtesy of our cheerleading team.

So, how did we do it? First of all, it took a lot of training (I mean, duh..). I have ran for years, having more or less active training periods, alongside all kinds of sports like gym, swimming, yoga and binge drinking. My interests have always been very seasonal, and my fitness level has been changing between slim fit (you know what I mean) and not in the mood for running a 10k over the past years. Last summer and fall I got into running again, and decided now would be the time. And since we’re already in Taipei, it was only natural to do it here. Because this is the place where the crazy happens.

So, how did we get Ano, our fellow Finn, into this? In his own words:

“I got drunk and my friend asked me and I said yes.”

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We have never been this fucking ready!

So, we trained. We didn’t follow any program, we just pretty much ran when it felt good. And we did yoga. And we went to the gym. At some point near Christmas I started getting oh so familiar pain in my hip and right thigh and had to significantly decrease the amount of training. Ano hadn’t been running in years but proved to be just incredible, getting himself into an amazing running shape within just a couple of months. To be fair, he wasn’t in a bad shape to begin with. The enginerd ran with me and occasionally without. In the end, what really helped was a ton of intervals and running a couple of longer runs, as for me the longest one being a 30k two weeks before the big day.

But, as things never go very smoothly when you’re about to put your physical and mental fitness and stamina under the most extreme test, the pain in my right hip and thigh started getting worse and worse before the run. Aerobically, I was in an excellent shape, but suffering from strain injuries, which forced me to stop training right when it would’ve been crucial to still give your body the final boost. One day before the run, on a Saturday, I was still stretching and keeping a cold pack on my leg and doubting if I could run. Or if I should. But as I am a stubborn idiot, I decided the last minute to give it a try.

So, we got up at 3 AM on a chilly Sunday, put our running gear on and headed to the Presidential Office in Taipei. The run would start at 6 AM, but we were ready and well rested. Sort of. Before the race began, I had to go to the bathroom, and at 5:40 headed to the lines leading to a row of smelly plastic containers. However, what I thought would be a quick last minute bathroom run, turned out to be a horrible, nerve wrecking wait, and in the end I got into toilet at 05:59 AM.

We beautifully missed the start. Because I was in the bathroom.

So, about 5 minutes after the 3000 ish other racers, we crossed the start line and headed to the physically most challenging and crazy thing we’ve ever done. While Ano took off and disappeared into the darkness of the well lit streets of Taipei, the engineer and I started slowly but surprisingly surely running towards the mass that had NOT missed the start and were good half a kilometer ahead of us. As it later turned out, we were not the only ones, but others had also been confused and/or when and where the race would start.

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Smile for the camera! Photo courtesy of that studio mentioned in the right corner.

But you know what? It didn’t matter. We had our time goals, estimated finishing times, all that, but as it earlier looked like I wouldn’t even be able to run, it felt better than anything ever to just run in a very slow pace and realize that you have a body which even at not its best, still carries you step by step, kilometer after kilometer, towards the finish line, while chatting with your buddy and enjoying the atmosphere. So, what is the picnic method and how did we use it to finish the race?

A couple of days before, we had a huge problem in our hands: could I run?

Knowing that there was no way to finish as fast as I had wished to and prepared for, we invented the picnic method: we’d stop at every food and water station to take a short walk and enjoy the beverages. We would make it a nice Sunday run with a ton of food.

We would do this at every station, tired or not. We would also run at a slow pace, instead of running at the planned 10 km per hour. And we would be allowed to walk.

So, we followed these simple rules, and as a result, up until the 30k mark, we were able to chat, enjoy the scenery, the atmosphere and even the dry biscuits, bananas and sports drink served at the stations. After the 30k mark, we decided to walk and run in intervals. And who would’ve guessed, we were still chatting, it didn’t even feel too bad, and somewhere around the 35k mark, we knew we’d cross the finish line.

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Photo courtesy of our cheerleading team.

To be honest, there were moments of doubt. I didn’t allow myself to think we’d make it until after 30k, and when my back muscles (what the actual fuck..?) started cramping and I wasn’t sure if it was a cramp or a heart attack, I was seriously reconsidering my life choices. But we did it. We finished the race.

Ano, on the other hand, was running at a much faster pace, and we only saw him two times while passing each other. He told me later:

“First 10 km were light, the next 10 not so much, and I’m pretty sure at the 22k mark I swore out loud. The next 10k were pretty painful, but after changing the technique it got better and the last 5k I just pushed through with pure rage.” That’s our boy 🙂

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Race rage at its best.

He finished a good 20 minutes before us. Not jealous or anything, but…

To sum it up: Although it was not very smart to run while injured and I’d never recommend it to anyone, and although we ended up walking towards the end, in the end we still crossed the finish line, hand in hand, in tears and knowing we could not have done this without each other.

As promised, here’s a photo of my right foot after the race:

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Runner’s foot: bruises and blisters. You’re welcome!

PS: Our thoughts are with the victims and families of the Hualien earthquake February 6 and we are looking for ways to help. We are also grateful for so many people sending us messages to make sure we are okay. Thank you ❤