U&R Superstars: Sara Lando rocks the Loch Ness Marathon – Part 1

Sara in training

Up & Running SuperstarsPhotographer Sara Lando has a come a helluva long way since she rocked our very first 5K Course back in 2011. In September she scored the last badge in the Up & Running set after kicking butt in the Loch Ness Marathon. In this first installment of a two-parter, she spills the beans on her sixteen weeks of training…

1. For our readers who are new to your story, can you give us a brief running history?

I’m an Up&Running child.

I met coach Julia in 2011 for a work thing and I ended up signing up for the very first 5k class shortly after. Those first 8 weeks were hard, amazing, intoxicating and filled with awesomeness. Running my first 5k was exhilarating: not only I was doing something I’d never thought I would be able to do, but I was loving doing it.

I’m not sure I would have kept running if I didn’t sign up for the 10k class. At that point, I guess it had more to do with spending time with my virtual running buddies on the forum rather than with running itself. Around that time my husband started joining me on my runs and we trained together ever since. I ended up running a few 10k and then diving into half marathon training (the aforementioned husband signed us up for the Red Rock Canyon half marathon, so I thought I might as well train for it).

Then, on September 29th 2013 I ran my first full marathon. I still get a little bit giggly when I think about it.

2. Prior to Loch Ness, what was your running career highlight?

The longest I had run before starting marathon training was still my Red Rock Canyon half marathon. Because of series of injuries, I ended up training for another half marathon a couple of times and then I never managed to run the actual race, which made me more than a little nervous: what if my half was a fluke? What if I just wasn’t meant to run long distances?

But then again, I didn’t need to run half marathons to start my marathon training: I only need to be able to run a decent 10k, so that’s what I did. I had to start from rock bottom, with 1 minute walks and 30 seconds runs and it was extremely frustrating, but also motivating. It was a faster and easier process, this time around. And I already knew I could run a 5k, and then a 10k. And then I ended up running a couple of half marathons in training and they weren’t even organized races: just me and my husband with a fanny pack and a couple of gels.
That was probably the moment it all came together. I was running 20+ km on a saturday morning and it wasn’t a big deal. I wasn’t doing it for a medal or because I had trained specifically for it (in a way): it was just something my body was able to do.

3. Can you talk us through how the marathon moved from “pffft, yeah right” to “bring it on” in your imagination? Can you remember when the idea took hold and when you decided it was time to sign up?

In a way the marathon is Mount Everest for every new runner: it’s scary and not everyone gets to do it and it’s just such a ridiculous thing to do.

I jokingly told, “Yeah, it might be cool to run a marathon some day” here and there, but the tone was the same I’d use to say “It must be nice to be the Queen of England”… I don’t actually want to ride a horse carriage waving at people, nor I’m particularly interested in funny hats.

Then at some point in February, when I was slowly going back to run after my injury, a fellow Up & Runner asked me on the forum if I had signed up for the 2013 Loch Ness marathon, yet, since she was thinking of running the 10K.

I knew I was capable of doing it, with the right training and I was in the perfect place. I was turning 35, I didn’t have kids, I was self employed, I had access to an amazing coach and the most dedicated international cheersquad; if not then, when?

In the spur of the moment I thought “Oh, what the hell” and I signed up. Then I panicked a little bit in front of my computer (what have I done?). Then the panic became excitement.

A mental switch went off: I realized I actually did want to cross that finish line, I really did. From that moment on everything became very real and it’s probably the reason I kept going out for my runs in the dark, in the rain or when I was tired and I would have gladly stayed home with a cup of tea and a book.

Sara with Coach Julia, 2011
Sara with Coach Julia, 2011

4. How did you decide on Loch Ness as your first marathon?

I’m a bit of the Goldilocks of running: I like races that are big enough to be actual events, but not so big that I’m overwhelmed by the crowd. I like to run surrounded by nature, but I like to be close enough to a proper bathroom when I’m done. We both like to use races as an excuse to visit new places and Scotland has been on my bucket list for a long time… Loch Ness seemed just the perfect little first marathon for us. Plus, it just sounded cool and I loved the puzzled look on people’s faces when I proudly declared what marathon I had elected as my first one. When I knew Shauna was going to be there and a bunch of fellow Up & Runners, I realized I couldn’t have picked a better race.

5. Was it difficult juggling the marathon training with your crazyass workload as a professional photographer/artiste extraordinaire?

To be fair, I think it’s easier for me than it could be for someone with a regular job and kids, since I can move my schedule around running, and Julia’s method isn’t as demanding as other training plans: it consists in 4 workouts per week, taking between 1 1/2 hours and 2 hours per workout. It’s totally doable.

I must admit I was expecting marathon training to be way harder, because I read several blogs about running and usually people training for marathons seem to have to put everything on hold and they are constantly exhausted and that didn’t happen to me at all.

Of course I had to rearrange some stuff around and prioritize, and there was the occasional killer run, but I don’t see that as a sacrifice: it’s taking time out of stuff I don’t care too much about and put it into something that is important for me. Also, having a tight schedule kept me way more focused.

6. Julia’s marathon method is different to many programmes, particularly in that it does not feature crazyass long runs. Did anyone question your sanity in regards your training plan?

Oh boy. Did anyone NOT give me crap about super long runs 😀 Almost every runner I met told me I was crazy, that I would hurt myself, that I would never be able to complete a marathon, that I would hit a huge wall at the 30th km.

Only two people (both sub 3h marathoners) thought about it and told me, “Well, it makes sense”.

The thing is, though, the traditional method of running a 5k consists in running a little longer each day until you run a 5k. That didn’t work for me. Julia proved over and over that she knew what she was doing and that if I just followed instruction I’d be able to complete the distance and enjoy doing it. And I never got injured while running (snowboarding and stairs, on the other hand, are my natural enemies).

7. Were there any mental challenges during the training? Any particular high or low points?

It’s a funny thing, because both in the 10k Course and during half marathon training you end up almost covering the distance in training. The longest run I did before my marathon was a 26k and it takes a big leap of faith to start a marathon without at least some butterflies in your stomach. It felt like 5k training all over again, where your head is the worst enemy.

I also got bronchitis right before going to Inverness and at some point I had to make the conscious decision to suck it up and run it anyway. This ended up being a blessing in disguise, because when I toed the starting line I wasn’t as worried as I think I would have been otherwise: I knew I was most probably going to have a tough day and I had to re-adjust my goals, but at the same time I felt grateful because I could run it. And I ended up actually running a good race and finishing with a big smile.

There is one specific training run I ended up calling the Kobayashi Maru (Star Trek reference) because I’m pretty sure the aim of that run is to crush your spirit and make you realize that even though you cannot do it the way you were told to exactly, you still complete it. I’m not telling which one it is, ’cause I don’t want to spoil the fun, but you’ll recognize it when you’ll be lying on the ground, crying (I did).

On the other hand, I ended up loving some of the most intense training runs: it’s something completely unexpected, because I’m definitely not the kind of runner who enjoys suffering, but somehow pushing my limits and totally killing it gave me an incredible boost of confidence. I might have high fived myself once, which I totally admit is a completely lame thing to do (but I totally deserved an high five and there was no one in sight).

Ale & Sara
Ale & Sara

8. You trained for this race alongside your awesome husband Ale. How did he get involved with your running?

He accompanied me a couple of times when I started running, when I would have to go run at night in places where I wouldn’t feel safe. I hated having him around because I would be bright red, sweaty, on the verge of dying and he would be amiably chatting away, punctuating his stories with the occasional “are you allright, peanut?”.

Then, during the 10k class, he started realizing it was taking him some effort to keep up with me and that running together would require some training on his part too. It wasn’t long since he found out he actually loved running and I realized this when he started going out by himself when I couldn’t. For the both of us, running is a great stress-relief valve and at the same time it’s been a great way to strengthen our relationship: it is something we do together, but at the same time it had taught us that each one has to run his/her own run and that we can be supportive of each other, but in the end we still have to put in the work ourselves, as separate entities. But he’s still my biggest supporter and his enthusiasm has guided me through several bad runs.

9. What’s it like on a training run together? Are words exchanged or do you run along in silence?

Usually Ale talks and I nod. He’s faster than I am, so most of the time when we’re running together he’s doing his slow pace and I’m putting some good effort into it.

Lately, since I’m more fit, we usually spend the warmup discussing work related stuff (yup, we are married, we run together and we work together too…) and then when the training gets more intense we just chat during the recovery times.

On longer runs I really like the feeling of running next to him in silence, like we’re a pack of two, completely absorbed in my thoughts. Every now and then we might spot something interesting and exchange a couple of words and then go back to just running.

10. Did you make any changes to your way of eating in order to fuel the increased training? Did the training have a positive effect on your food choices?

I didn’t make huge changes from my half marathon training, which is roughly when I realized that proper food makes me an happier runner. You only need to run 18km on fried food and cake once to see why that’s a bad idea… I ate bigger portions when I had long runs planned, but during marathon training I realized that I didn’t need to double the food to double the distance, and Julia’s workout are intense, but not that crazy. I tried to keep it as simple as possible, choosing simple fresh ingredients over stuff that comes out of a box and I made sure I had bananas available at all times. For some reason, after a long run, a banana is the yummiest thing on the planet to me and if I can’t have it, I’m a bit sad.

I think it is some sort of spiral: when I eat well, I run better and running better makes me crave for healthier food.

Tune in next week for Part 2… RACE DAY!

  1. Philippa
    Awesome! Can't wait for Part 2! I think I know which training run you're referring to with the the Kobayashi Maru....broken isn't the word ;)
  2. Pingback: U&R Superstars: Sara Lando rocks the Loch Ness Marathon – Part 2 | Up & Running