A three-hour marathon with three months’ prep: what could go wrong?

‘This is stupid,’ wrote an Irish Times commenter about my plan

As buds return to trees and the skies fill with bees, I am back.

“Daniel Stewart is writing a regular column about his attempt to run a sub-three-hour marathon with three months’ training”

“This is stupid; don’t do it; it is a bad example to others; you’ll get injured; the beauty of a sub 3 is in the long struggle to get there.”

This comment is from four years ago, under my last running series to embolden The Irish Times' holy pages. Once the many semi-colons are overlooked, an equitable statement can be found: upon that attempt, I did cram too much training in three months, which eventually inflamed my hip flexor. I did manage to select a marathon course which included a mountain in it for my three-hour attempt; but similarly . . . wouldn't it have been boring if I hadn't?


Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't. This year, we are going to find out: cramming three months of training for a three-hour marathon attempt is in the past, and to paraphrase my commenting friend, I've decided my "long struggle to a sub 3" is near its conclusion: on May 1st, 2022, I will once again attempt to complete 26.2 miles in three hours or less, at The Mash Direct Belfast City Marathon.

It will be my second crack at my hometown race – my first was in 2016, my marathon cherry popped, in three hours and 49 minutes. They say your first time is never the best . . . I am banking on that being true, and scrub a mere 49 minutes off my finishing time.

Join me for the journey

In the six years that have passed since that last endeavour, I’ve jumped from 21 years old to 27; moved from Belfast, to London, to Kent; managed to convince a gorgeous girlfriend and a tiny dog to live with me; and maybe – just maybe – become a little less dumb, and a little more wise. Honouring our aforementioned commenter once again, “the beauty of life is the long struggle to get somewhere better”: I have no doubt in years to come, rereading this series will be cringeworthy, regretful and loathsome, just as I’ve found reading my previous 2018 series to be.

However, the very imperfections make it so special. I can’t guarantee what I will write in my future editions for this new biweekly series; I can’t guarantee I will hit my three-hour target; however, what I can promise, is that I will continue to make mistakes and let you know about them.

Outside is free

Having this little project keeps me going, motivates me to set my alarm earlier, overcome the intermittent tedium of stretching and strengthening routines, and listen to my body more as it groans, to learn how to fix it. Lacking self-esteem and sometimes a reason to be here, this self-made hurdle is my Trojan-horse to love myself, be proud of myself, and remind myself that the biggest commenting critic of my life will always be that tinny little voice in my head.

As the sun burns brighter and the days grow longer, I hope tales around my haphazard calamities inspire you to enjoy early morning birdsong, moon-kissed starlight, and everything else in between. The C-word is sinking deeper into our history, but let us not forget what the locked-down moments of recent times taught us: this is our planet, our plan is to preserve its beauty, so it continues to be the platform for us to live our lives and thrive to the full.

So get out there – walk, run, swim, whatever. I’ll see you on the road somewhere soon. Join me in two weeks for my next feature to see how I’m getting on, in my attempt to run a three-hour marathon, in Belfast, in May.