The Richard Kind Marathon Training Method
Say the Nike slogan to yourself in your head.
Just Do It.
Whose voice did you hear? LeBron James? Serena Williams? Colin Kaepernick? Megan Rapinoe? I’m betting it was some amorphous, indistinct timbre of a highly accomplished athlete with the gravitas of Morgan Freeman on his best days.
I used to hear it that way too. Now I hear Richard Kind. Yes, this Richard Kind. Nasally, nebbishy and exactly like every Hebrew school teacher I ever had growing up in Nassau County in the 90s and early aughts.
The change happened for me back in January, when my wife and I decided to start training for our first marathon. Not a capital-R Race as we’ve known them, all put on ice by the pandemic. It was more of an open invitation by one of the organizers of our local running group, the Jersey City Runners, who said he planned on doing the distance in April and asked anyone who wanted to join in.
Throughout our training I kept thinking about Nike’s ubiquitous slogan: Just Do It. The more I kept repeating it to myself as a means of motivation, the more it started to morph from something profound to something casual. Almost like going from
Just Do It. Do it Now. Do it. Do it.
Just Do It! C’mon! It’s not a big deal! Just do it! Anyone can do it!
The old voice in my head began to feel like a gatekeeper, like someone talking to someone who already had six-pack abs and several sub-3-hour marathons under their belt. That didn’t feel like running to me, or at least the version of it I’d come to know since completing Couch to 5K in the fall of 2015. This voice is meant to get people to feel like they could run through a brick wall. But forget the brick wall, I just wanted to run.
That’s when the Richard Kind in my head started to resonate with me. He didn’t need me to know I could run through a brick wall, he just wanted to make sure I knew I could run. That anyone who wanted to run could run. That there is nothing more egalitarian in fitness and cardiovascular health than putting one leg in front of the other at a pace that was a little more brisk than a walk, and all you needed was a little motivation to get started.
I ran my first 5k in 2015, my first 10k and 15k in 2017, and my first half marathon in 2018. After each distance accomplishment, I thought “Well, that’s enough. No need to keep going past this nice, comfortable range.” But in every instance some time passed—with some windows considerably shorter than others— and I just kept running longer distances, and suddenly the next checkpoint was in sight. I didn’t realize Richard Kind was in my head every time until recently, but he was there, nudging me along to every next mile like a great uncle at a Bar Mitzvah convincing me to try whitefish salad, because it’s good, I’ll like it. I kept running and I kept running and I kept running. I also love whitefish salad.
When the pandemic shut the U.S. down in March 2020, I was in half marathon shape. I had a real, live race on the calendar that was supposed to happen just days after the infamous night of the cancelled Jazz/Thunder game. Like all of our other engagements, it went from physical to virtual, so I completed the 13.1 on the streets of Jersey City, just before the streets of Jersey City were cleared out for the next few months.
Due to a combination of viral spread concerns, quarantine-driven lethargy, and the summer heat, I didn’t run much after that half. My mood ebbed and flowed throughout the first six months of the pandemic, but after a week off the grid in mid-September, which included some casual but invigorating runs with my wife and our friends, I felt refreshed and ready to re-commit to running. I didn’t know it, but Richard Kind was back in my head.
So last fall my wife and I set a goal. We trained for, and successfully completed, a sub-2-hour half marathon. That was in early December. Aside from the gratification of setting, working towards, and completing a goal, routinely running with the Jersey City Runners gave us some much-needed in-person community and safe socialization at the onset of a winter that would be mostly bereft of both. When the marathon plans started to materialize a month later, we didn’t necessarily commit to the race at first, but to the training. We wanted to keep seeing our running community, and if that meant we’d end up running 26.2 miles, then that would just be a nice physical byproduct for the main, mental benefit of spending real, precious face-to-face time with other human beings.
When we did our 15-mile training run — the first time I’d ever done a distance beyond the half’s 13.1—that’s when we were in in. Past the point of no return. The marathon transitioned from abstract concept to inevitable reality, which I think actually gave me more juice as we upped the long runs to 16 miles, 18 miles, and finally, 20. Some training runs were tougher than others, but everything was going well. Our primary goal was to finish, but I also had aims on finishing under five hours, which is the benchmark for getting your name in the New York Times for the New York City Marathon. My body felt good and upping the distance felt exactly as challenging, but not more challenging, than it should have, and at the pace we were completing our long runs, a sub-five-hour marathon felt like an inevitability — as long as we were able to finish. I felt prepared.
Still, there’s nothing that really prepares you for your first marathon. Every mental trick you think will work on your brain gets crushed under the weight of twenty-six point two miles. A running buddy recommended the 10–10–10 method: Divide the race into the first 10 miles, the next 10 miles, and then all you have left is a 10k. Seemed reasonable enough.
We were also running 3.5 “laps” through Liberty State Park, and I also thought to just divide it that way. It was just 3.5 laps. Forget that the laps were 7.5 miles long. Three-and-a-half? Psshh. That’s nothing, right?
My wife went with a simple philosophy that worked for her: It was just another Sunday long run. We were in the same park we always run in, at the same time we always run, with the same people we always run with. There wasn’t much pomp or fanfare around this “race,” so just treat it as another Sunday long run.
None of that worked for me. I couldn’t shake it out of my head that this was a MARATHON. I was running 26.2 MILES. As much as my mind wanted to divide and conquer the race, the race formed a unified front and it attacked me from start to finish. Now, the first half was mostly fine. There was a large contingent of Jersey City Runners in tow, many of whom weren’t running the full distance but were there to keep company. There was a driving, but not torrential rain for most of it, which obviously wasn’t desirable but wasn’t too detrimental. Mental hurdles presented themselves and I cleared them.
At the halfway point I thought, “Hey, just one half marathon left. I’ve done plenty of those.” But my body had a way of quickly reminding me, “Yeah, but you’ve never done a half marathon immediately after doing a half marathon, idiot.” (I ran into a similar conversation at Mile 20, where my wife encouraged me by reminding me I’d done a 10K distance countless times before. I replied with positivity, just trying to speak that sort of mindset into existence, but underneath it thought: “Yeah, but I’ve never done a 10K immediately after running 20 miles.”)
The darkest moment of self-doubt came at mile 16, when I took my first walking break at a water station. I was staring at a daunting 10 miles, and if I was already taking a walking break now, how could I possibly finish what remained? But as much as that walking break hurt my psyche at first, that’s how quickly it wound up helping me. I finished the water and picked my run back up, and while I knew there’d be more walking breaks in my near future, I got a secondish wind, felt momentarily refreshed, and refocused on my goal.
The rain subsided, but so did my running friends who weren’t running the full race. And those last 10 miles were punishingly difficult. But there was one mental trick that sort of worked. Whenever I completed a mile — let’s say Mile 18—I wouldn’t think “I have 8 miles left.” I’d think, “I have 7 and change left.” That maneuver didn’t fell the race, but it helped me find a crack in its defenses.
We were also met by my parents and my wife’s parents and aunt at Mile 21, which was an all-too-welcome sight. My father-in-law also joined in and kept me company for the last few miles. It was good to get out of my own head.
4 hours, 46 minutes and 14 seconds after I started the race, I finished it. My wife, my parents, their dogs, her parents, her aunt, and plenty of my running buddies were there to greet me at the finish line, which wasn’t an actual line but really just the spot I happened to be in when my Garmin Forerunner 235 read 26.2. One read on the situation is that these were unusually intimate circumstances under which to run your first marathon. A more incisive read on the situation is that these were especially intimate circumstances under which to run your first marathon. For as much as we lost by not running a Big Ol Race™, we still had our family and our running community. I don’t typically need more than that.
A little over a year ago I ran a half marathon that, in my memory, signifies the onset of the pandemic. Yesterday I ran my first marathon, 12 days after my second shot of the Pfizer COVID vaccine, so two days before my body enjoys its maximum protection. It’s not a hard and fast marker of the end of the pandemic by any stretch, but it still represents a bookend in terms of how I’m personally going to live my life. This pandemic started with me running a half marathon at my average pace. It crested with me running a half marathon in a previously unthinkable 1:57:57. It’s subsiding with me running my first marathon. This is not a period of our lives that anyone is going to remember fondly, myself included. But I will take away running as my ultimate coping mechanism, and remember that it will always be there for me if I need it.
And if I ever forget, I’ll know where to find clips of Richard Kind on YouTube.