The Sailor's Guide to Marathon Training: Day 1 in Bermuda

ARC Europe 2011 at the Dinghy Club in St. Georges.

Back in Bermuda. To be honest, I didn't want to leave home, and had a remarkably relaxing 33 hours in Lancaster from Saturday night until early this morning. But when we landed, I was reminded of why I like it here so much. The colors on Bermuda don't make sense. On a sunny day, with the pastel paint on the houses around St. Georges and the electric blue water around the shallow reefs and pink beaches, it really looks imaginary. Alice in Wonderland type stuff. Inspiring.

But today's about running, and marks the first post of many that will chronicle my training efforts as I prepare for my 5th marathon in Helsingborg, Sweden on September 13. The goal is 3:30:00, a full 12 minutes better than last year's PR at the Wineglass Marathon in the Finger Lakes region of NY (which itself was 12 minutes faster than Baltimore, the year before that). I have this theory based on Einstein's relativity, that the older you get, the easier it is to run long distances, because the time you're out there is a smaller percentage of the total amount of time you've spent on Earth. So year after year these marathons just keep getting easier!

That's only half of it though, and while that mental game is a good one to play, the reality is that you simply can't 'fake' a marathon. 5k? Easy. Even a half, if you're more or less active. You'll finish (eventually). But not a marathon. You've got to put the miles in. So what follows henceforth and into the future will be my own personal guide on how I train for running marathon's, while keeping the lifestyle of a semi-professional sailor and event manager that keeps me on the road and out of any sort of routine. My only disclaimer is that this is based entirely on whimsy - no science, no research, just what works for me. Follow along if you like and train with me.

So what gives me the authority to write about marathon training? Nothing. Other than the fact that I know how to live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. I've done it. When I was 18 and a senior in high school, I weighed 255 pounds, my peak (or low, depending on your perspective). I wasn't 'sloppy fat', as I like to say - I played football in middle school (center) and golf in high school, captaining my team in 11th and 12th grade with a 4 USGA handicap. I held the HS squat record in the weight room at 455 pounds. I've waterskied since I was five, and have snow skied since I was 11. So I was active. But I was huge, and had high blood pressure in 8th grade. No good.

Running Marstrand, Sweden, after a five-day North Sea crossing on Arcturus in 2012.

Long story short. I asked my mom one day while we were tossing the football around in the driveway (she was that kind of mom) if she'd help me get healthy (ironically she died of brain cancer in 2012, almost exactly two years ago, and was by far the healthiest person in our extended family, mentally and physically). She put me on the Atkins diet initially, whereby I shed a quick 30 pounds and realized what was possible, and since then it's been a long evolution to my own present method of maintaining a healthy lifestyle both mentally and physically. In short, I eat anything so long as it comes from the earth and is sustainably produced. Lots of grass-fed meat; an average 4 eggs per day, from my friend Dane who has his own chickens; lots of raw milk; cheese; yogurt (plain); and veggies, salad, potatoes, fish, rice, oats, etc. Not an ounce of refined sugar (I haven't had ice cream or even a single cookie in probably 7 years), and very few wheat products or anything that comes out of a box. I love strong coffee and red wine, and I drink almost exclusively German beer (it's mostly brewed according to the Purity Law of 15-something that prohibits anything beyond water, malt, hops and yeast to go into the beer. My favorite is Kostrizter). I rarely have more than 2 drinks a night but have them probably 3-4 times per week. Today I weigh 168, can run a mile in 5:15 and have blood test numbers that are off the charts in all the right categories. Importantly, I know these things about myself.

So you can write me off as an amateur, or you can listen. My method works, but it's hard (all good things are). This is the first time I've actually documented my marathon training, or written anything really about the lifestyle I lead regarding health and fitness.

Day 1: St. Georges, Bermuda

It wasn't on purpose, but today marked my first official marathon training day. While I've been active all winter (7 days hiking and skiing in Telluride, about 4 days per week at the gym, and over 2,000 blue water miles sailed since January), I'm only now transitioning back into the running thing full-time since tapering off after last October's marathon PR. I'll still spend one day a week in the weight room, working on Olympic-style lifts like snatch and clean (and of course spend a bunch of time with my kettle bell), but henceforth until September the focus is on running.

I set out today to run all three parts of the loops we'd gotten used to in Bermuda over the past few years having come here yearly this time for the ARC Europe rally (I saw 'we' meaning Mia and I. Helsingborg will be her 6th marathon). I started out following the main street just in town, passing Somer's Grocery on my left and arching up the hill towards the Dinghy & Sports Club. There are some impressive yachts in the harbor: the giant red Swan Red Sky is in port, as are a few massive super yachts, including the big ketch Adele and a host of others at Bermuda Yacht Services on Ordnance Island. And then there's the smaller cruising boats in the anchorage. This place is a haven for the 'real' sailor - it's at least 600 miles from anywhere, and at any given time in the spring and fall 'moving' season, you've got an impressive list of boats and sailors hanging around.

Adele at the dock. Image courtesy

I ran past Town Cut and continued north along the coast, shadowing a MacGregor 65 that was looking for an anchorage in the lee of the island as the wind was honking from the WNW. I looped back to the west and around the old golf cart path on what used to be the St. Georges Club (where my grandfather got a round in back in the day) but what is now a field of overgrown weeds. At this point I got lost for a little while and ended up looping back on myself, but eventually found my way out the other side and onto the Bermuda Rail Trail that follows the northern coastline on very nice spongy, green ground. Disappointingly this trail ends rather abruptly at the oil depot, so I retraced my steps and descended back onto the main road back in towards St. Georges.

I couldn't run past Ft. George Hill without having one little scamper up to Bermuda Radio. Normally I'll spend an entire morning there running hills, but today was just a taste of what's to come, and an opportunity to stretch my tired legs (I spent an hour at the Y in Lancaster yesterday practicing my snatch technique). I dropped back into town and up Turkey Hill to the small apartment where Mia and I will stay for the next ten days (she's flying up from St. Thomas as I write this). 

St. Georges in three parts: East End, the Rail Trail, and Ft. George Hill in 63 minutes.

Stats: 63 minutes run. 6.9 miles covered. 9.1 min/mile pace.

Not a bad start for an easy run. Note that I do not run with headphones (okay sometimes), but I NEVER run with a watch or timing device. I note the time when I walk out the door, and note the time when I come back. The only exception is when I'm doing intervals, which is rare. I run based on how I feel - slow and sluggish today, for a slow and sluggish pace. When the mood strikes me, I run fast.

See? I told you. Not much science. But come September, the miles will be there, the speed will be there (I hope), and mentally I'll be another few months older, so it'll all feel that much shorter :)

The ongoing theme here, and why I'm posting this to my sailing blog, is that you'll find that running is our - mine and Mia's - way of exploring the places we travel to. And nowadays, our travel is about sailing, whether or our own boat, on other people's boats, or for the events we run with the World Cruising Club. There's no other practical way of exercising when we're away so much, and it doesn't get much simpler than throwing on a pair of shoes and shorts and hitting the pavement or the trails. (And by the way, I've been a 'natural' style runner for over two years now. I wear New Balance Minimus sneakers with just a 10mm drop - and have a pair of leather Five Finger's for trail running - and have attributed my cured back and knees to the transition into that style).

Oh and one more thing: I started meditating six days ago, thanks to my friend Clint Wells' inspiration. I'm six days in, and up to 11 minutes per session now. That experience will be an ongoing theme in this running blog, and it's already paying dividends in my mental fitness.