How I Did the Unimaginable and Finally Ran a Marathon (with ‘Easy’ Training)

By René Coppens

For a large part of my 53-year-old life, I’ve been tempted to run a marathon. A first attempt, about 30 years ago, was abandoned due to a knee injury. I had given it several weeks to heal, and by time it did, I had fallen behind my training schedule too much and lost my motivation.

Even though I have a slim body, I don’t find myself a natural runner at all and was always happy to get back home after doing my usual 7K lap around the nearby park. One, main, reason for never starting to train for a marathon again, since that first attempt, was that I saw the long training distances — 20, 25, 30K —  as too much of a challenge for me, if not to say impossible. 

Instead, I’ve often done the quarter marathon each year in my home town of Rotterdam, which is known for its atmosphere, enthusiastic supporters and bands along the entire 42.195-metre route of the marathon. So my idea was always to get “all of the fun for only a quarter of the effort” and thought that was a good deal. 

But while collecting my race number from the quarter-distance desk each year, I always looked with one eye to the desk where they issued the race numbers for the full distance. So in a way, a little voice in my mind always reminded me of the fact that the quarter distance might be fun and easy but is not the real thing.

In October 2021, after a year and a half without any races at all, due to the pandemic, I ran another quarter marathon. The weather conditions were perfect: sunny, low temperatures and hardly any wind. Walking home, this little voice reminded me, as usual, that it was fun but not the real thing, and I asked myself if I would ever do the unimaginable and try a full marathon. This had been the day for it, as such conditions are not likely to often repeat themselves.

Chance Encounter, and Marathons Made ‘Easy’

A few weeks later, I coincidentally met someone I had lost contact with. He told me that he had just run the full distance. After congratulating him, I told him about my quarter distance and that I was, unfortunately, not made for the full distance. He explained that he participated in a 100-day training program called “sport resting”. It means you do four training sessions a week — two long distances, one interval group-training and one 6K, easy run, and none of the training exceed 14K.

I started reading about this method and figured that approximately three months of training, with distances that never exceed 14K, sounded like something achievable — even for me. If I would indeed be able to run the full distance with that relatively easy program, it would be great. If not, then at least I had tried. 

And so the idea to go for it was born, and a few days later I signed up to the Rotterdam Marathon 2022, in April. And I joined a running club, This Is Running, which uses the sport resting method.

On the Marathon Starting Line, and Apprehensive 

So there I was at the start of a full marathon, totally motivated after completing a 100-day training program, which turned out to be great fun and with others who had never done this before. Throughout the training, I honestly remained a bit sceptical of whether this was going to be sufficient to finish all those 42 and long Ks, but for sure the will and mindset were there, totally focussed and ready for the challenge. 

The main surprise would be to see how my body would endure this, given that my training came nowhere near 42K on a single run. But that unknown aspect actually made my first attempt even more of a fun challenge. I had set myself two goals: finish it without walking and without causing permanent injuries to my body.

At 10:30am, the traditional starter pistol marked the beginning of my run, after the other tradition — singing: You’ll Never Walk Alone, with a famous national singer — had just finished and gave us all goosebumps. 

I was waved at by my supporters — my partner, family and friends — and during the first few kilometres I thought to myself: Wow — this is fantastic; I’m actually, and finally, going for the full distance! All that cheering crowd along the track, the vibe in the city (close to a million people come and watch the marathon) and, above all, the weather conditions! As if by a miracle, the weather was again near perfect.

When the Marathon Going Starts to Get Tough 

I met my supporters at the 18 and 23K marks, to refill my drink supplies. From the beginning, my mum seemed a bit worried — as mums often are — that I would drop dead somewhere on those 42Ks, and asked me quickly when I passed how I felt. I started feeling tiredness in my legs around the 23K point but didn’t want to feed her worries, so I just said I felt great. 

We cross our iconic cable bridge twice, and on the way back, while running downwards, nearing the 27k point, I felt a sudden slight pain in my right knee. For a moment, I thought my knee would give up and I would be flat on the road; but as soon as the road was horizontal again, it luckily disappeared. I wondered if the tiredness came early, as I was always told that “the man with the hammer” — as we say here — would meet you around the 30K point. Not being burdened by a previous experience, though, I simply continued.

As I passed that infamous 30K point, my legs felt extremely tired and I said to myself that I wasn’t going to make it around the park (which is approximately a 9K big loop) without walking. But then my supporters were looking out for me around the 31K point, and I didn’t want to disappoint them, if they saw me walking and struggling. So I kept on running as best as I could. 

And a cousin, who is 12 years younger than me, was looking out for me around the 32K point, and I surely didn’t want to stop running in front of him either. The next 6Ks were a quieter part, without that many spectators. My legs sent strong signals that a bit of a walk would be really, really nice, but I remembered my trainer saying that despite our preparations, it was going to be hard, and difficult and tough, for any runner, and that one has to set their mind to continue till the end. 

Grit and Emotion 

At that moment I also reversed my thinking, from “Gosh, 30, 31, 32… what a bloody end” to “only 10, 9, 8… to go”. I started counting down, realising that the remaining distance was less than one single training lap. My final supporters were around the 36K point; and at 40K, you turn back into the city, for the final part, where there’s a huge crowd cheering on anyone that passes and shouting their name (which is printed on the race number). The crowd, together with the first thought that you’re almost there and may actually make it till the end, gives you the wings for the final part.

At 41K I passed the equally iconic Cube Houses of Rotterdam, and that gives you an outlook on the final corner of the track. After that, you run the final few hundred metres, with the finish in sight, which is on a wide road right in the city centre and in front of the city hall. People were cheering loudly as you passed them. 

My partner, parents (mum crying) and close friends were cheering me near the finish while I was swallowing a tear or two. What a fantastic feeling, those last few hundred metres were. I felt so proud of myself that I did the unthinkable for so many years, and achieved both of my goals. Even though there are greater achievements in life, for me, personally, at that moment, it felt I had accomplished the biggest physical challenge of my life so far. And gosh, it felt good.

A Marathon Effort, Achieved 

Crossing the finish line, at 4:39, and receiving our mayor’s handshake (he welcomes each runner), my legs clearly thought it was now their turn to decide what would happen next. And so as a penguin, I walked past the medal desk, then the first aid tent, where I was offered a free leg massage (thanks to the penguin walk) and then to my family and supporters, where more tears were shed.

I did it.

After all these years. 

Past the Finish Line: The writer, celebrating running his first marathon in Rotterdam in April.

The day after was hard. Getting up from the sofa (or toilet) was impossible without creativity. Day two was much better; and on day three, I was pretty much back to normal.

Would I do it again? Maybe; maybe not. 

As with many things in our lives, the first time you do or achieve something is the most special. Now I know I can do it. Let’s see. But this personally rewarding experience is for sure a reason to think about a new physical challenge, especially now that I’ve experienced this training and perseverance can make magical things happen.

René is an information and communications consultant and, when not running, also skippers sailing excursions around the world.

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