Not Twenty Six Laps: One Lap, Twenty Six Times

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Flatline Marathon 3.jpg

As many of you know I recently undertook an interesting training challenge. Here in London it is difficult to get in a lot of hill training because, frankly, the city is fairly flat. This poses interesting challenges for the Londoner training to run in the mountains. The EnergyLabs solution to this problem is Swains Lane or, as we call it, Swains Lane of Pain. We don't quite do the entire hill as the cyclists do, but instead run the top 800 meters. This makes each lap very close to a full mile. The standard challenge is the Flat Line race that EnergyLabs sponsors These are ten laps of this hill. As I am training to run a mountain marathon in June, I decided that ten laps wasn't enough of a challenge. So the Saturday morning before the London Marathon I headed up to Swains Lane and set off to run a full marathon. Twenty-six laps, plus a could of hundred meters of flat at the very end.

I've been asked a lot of questions about this, mostly 'why?,' 'are you mental?,' or 'how did you do that?' The best I can do in the way of answers is that I did it because it needed to be done; and I probably am mental, but more to the point the way I did this was entirely mental. People make the mistake of thinking this was a physical challenge, but in truth it was much more of a mental one. My approach was simple in concept, but hard to execute. All it involves is not running twenty-six laps, but runnng one lap, twenty-six times. The rules are simple: on the way down the hill you can think all you want about how many laps you have done, how many are left, etc. But on the way up there is always only the one lap you are doing right now. The magic of this approach is that if you think about how many you have done your body will feel more fatigued; and if you think about how many you have left your mind will begin to despair. You can very quickly go from feeling fine to feeling crushed. As long as you focus on just running the one uphill you are running right now, however, all is fine.

I did break the race down a bit as well. I decided up front that the timing would be on training run rules, not race rules. That means if I stopped for a break I stopped my watch, and restarted when I started running again. Using these rules I ran the first thirteen laps straight through. Then I took a bit of a break as it was warmer than planned and I needed to go buy some water. Then I ran seven more laps, and took a short breather. Finally I ran the last six straight through. I had flirted with the idea of taking a short break after lap twenty-three, but decided that giving myself permission to take the break, and then not taking the break, provided a mental lift due to showing strength more potent than the physical lift I would have gotten from actually taking a break. The most surprising part of this whole endeavour was how well this mental technique worked. The combination of the second half of every mile being the uphill part (Flat Line always starts going downhill first), and the mental technique requiring every uphill being the uphill meant that the miles simply flew by. I never had that experience one so often has in road marathons of feeling like a mile is dragging on. Nor did I have the experience of hitting extreme fatigue or muscle soreness, although this may be as much due to the slower pace as to anything else. This exercise examplifies what I mean when I speak of being half bear/half machine. Half of the exercise was the strength to just keep running and running, the other half was the mental control to keep my brain out of the way and let the machine drive. 

Early this morning a bear slipped from his den and headed towards the London Underground. Observers, if there were any, might have noticed a distinct sense of purpose in the bear's stride. This was a bear on a mission. A #secretmission. The bear was next spotted boarding a bus outside of Archway tube and heading towards the top of some large hills. As the morning wore on reports started to circulate amongst the city's bicycle community. Those who had turned out for their usual Saturday morning reps of Swains Lane, aka Swains Lane of Pain, aka the Steepest Hill in London, were starting to report that throughout their rides, however long they were, they kept spotting a bear determinedly running up and down Swains Lane. The bear was briefly joined by @thestevenlayton but most of the time was on his own. Those who enquired were told that the bear was running a marathon. Composed of 26 laps up and down Swains Lane. Surely the bear was mad. Surely the bear would falter. Mad he may be, but falter he did not. When asked afterwards why he had done it the bear simply replied "it needed to be done." The bear expressed hopes that those running the London Marathon tomorrow will draw strength, inspiration, and courage from this simple act of running up and down a hill until the running was done. The bear also expressed a desire that today's deeds be considered as living up to @robinnyc 's exhortation to #DoEpicShit #secretmission #HalfBearHalfMachine #WhileYouWereSleeping #rundemcrew #energylab #Flatline #Flatline26 #FlatlineMarathon #Bears #Mile21

A photo posted by Daniel Maskit (@rundembear) on

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This page contains a single entry by Daniel Maskit published on May 26, 2015 10:55 PM.

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