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How To Run 26.2 Miles on the Open Sea

Chris running a marathon in Tracey Arm, Alaska

Hi everyone… I had a bit of an adventure last week. My parents and little sister came to visit in Seattle, and we took a 7-night cruise to Alaska.

A few years ago the ship we were on caught on fire during a Caribbean cruise, but nothing exciting like that happened on our trip. There wasn’t a whole lot to do at sea other than watch the glaciers go by (which was indeed pretty cool), so we had to create our own excitement.

I decided to run a full marathon (26.2 miles, or 42.2 kilometers) on the jogging track during our day of scenic cruising through Tracey Arm, Alaska.

I headed out about 6:00 a.m. with my Dad and did the first six miles slowly, then the second six miles a bit quicker after a cup of coffee and a banana. For about six miles in the middle, I went to the fitness room to run on the treadmill for some variety, but other than that and another quick stop to eat some orange slices, I ran the whole marathon around the track, which turned out to be more challenging than I expected.

Results

My final time was well beyond four hours, which is a pretty slow marathon time. The average time for men is 4:12, but that estimate includes a lot of casual joggers. In my previous two marathons, I ran 3:35 and 3:32, which puts me in the top 20-25% of male competitors. My long-term goal is to run 3:10 or less, which will be in the top 10% and allow me to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

For this one, however, I was not concerned about the time at all, and I deliberately ran slowly in the beginning. I wanted to be careful to prevent injury while on the family trip, and there were also a few unique challenges not usually featured in more conventional races—strong winds, lots of non-running passengers standing around the track (!) all morning, and the fact that I had eaten a lot of desserts in the couple days before the race.

A lot of non-runners do not realize how long a marathon is, and they are easily impressed when they find out it takes almost everyone at least three hours to finish. Throughout the morning, other passengers would come and go up to the jogging track and express surprise at seeing me still there.

The Fourth-Hour Battle

This was my third marathon, and each time I have forgotten what an epic battle it can be. I can usually run 12-14 miles (about two hours) with no problems, and then I start to struggle a bit in the third hour, which is usually as far as I train for. It’s that fourth and final hour—however long it ends up being—that is very difficult for me to train for.

In this case, I completely ran out of energy around mile 19 and ended up walking much of the final 7 miles. I wasn’t totally happy about that, but at the same time, it was still a complete marathon in a totally unique location. My family said that I “won” the race, which is easy to do when you are the sole competitor.

The next couple of days I was pretty sore, and I opted out of walking around the towns we stopped in. But by the time we made it back to Seattle a couple of days later, I was well enough to run four miles at a decent pace. I didn’t feel like doing another 22.2 right away, but I was happy with the accomplishment.

Thanks a lot to my support team (pictured below), who graciously got up early and helped me count down the 262 laps required to complete the marathon.

Mile 18

Support Crew Finish Line Pastry

Post-marathon Snack

From top left- Mile 18; Half of the Support Team; Worn-out at the Finish; a Post-Marathon Snack (click to enlarge).

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What’s Next

I have a big trip planned in two weeks’ time, but until then, I’ll be working and writing in Seattle. My upcoming manifesto, A Brief Guide to World Domination, will be released next week.

The manifesto is a completely free PDF report, and you can get your own copy on Tuesday morning, June 24th. I’ll be looking for some help in spreading the word about the launch, so expect an update about how you can do that before the end of the week.

In the meantime, please sign up for email updates or the RSS feed if you haven’t done so already. You’ll get all of my updates, from crazy marathon stories to world domination tips, direct to your Inbox or RSS reader.

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20 Comments

  • Blaine Moore says:

    Nice work. I’ve read a few stories of folks running marathons on the cruise ships, but I think that I’ll keep to shorter runs and stick to land for the long runs!

  • Chris says:

    @ Blaine –

    Thanks, man. I agree that sticking to land is a better idea, most of the time. I just wanted to try this out and see if I could do it.

  • Cheryl says:

    Grats on finishing your race. Sounds like an interesting spin on the usual cruise experience! I do think that you should be allowed to cut some time off your run due to having to run around moving obstacles (read: people..LOL). I’m glad someone was there to take pictures. Alaska looked beautiful in the background, as did your cheering squad, of course 🙂 Thanks for sharing, and inspiring.

  • Kelli says:

    Way to go Chris! What a cool experience, and props to your awesome wife for cheering you on.

  • Kimberlee says:

    I’ve always been interested in an Alaska cruise – as a world traveler, what was your opinion? Enough variety to stay busy? I hear that is it a more active cruise than, say, a Caribbean cruise. Alaska is one of my top destinations in the future, so much beauty!

  • Benny Lewis says:

    I’m starting out running and am having trouble maintaining 30mins-1hr, so I finally have at least a slight appreciation at how much work an actual marathon might be… I’m not sure if I could ever do it without a huge shift in motivation and plenty of effort, so hats off to you!! Well done!! 🙂

  • Marshall says:

    Unconventional. You’re an inspiration. Now my mind is racing trying to think of something I can do that’s as unique as this.

  • Chris says:

    @Kelli @Cheryl @Marshall –

    Thanks for the kind words!

    @Kimberlee –

    Well, I like cruises once in a while not for the activities that are provided, but for the chance to chill out and think. I enjoyed the scenery of the AK trip (it was truly awesome) more than any formal part of the cruise. I would not really call any cruise adventurous (except for Antarctica, perhaps), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

    @Benny –

    Good luck with that. It is usually hardest of all to get comfortable with regular running of about 30-40 minutes a few times a week. Once that obstacle is out of the way, the rest is a more manageable challenge.

  • This is the first time I’ve heard of someone running a marathon on a cruise. I wonder if anyone has done it on a long international flight. 🙂

  • Chris says:

    @Mark –

    That is a great idea! Now I just need a treadmill…

  • Nathan says:

    Hey Chris, awesome run! I’d love to take a cruise (still haven’t figured out where to go) and do a marathon, but to do both at the same time is quite an accomplishment. I’m also going for that BQ time, but I think I am a bit further behind than you are. You are right, 26.2 is a LONG way.

  • Trevor Mauch says:

    Wow! Nice work!

    When most people think about a marathon they think “I could never do that during a vacation… it would take up all of my time!” But… when you really think about it… it’s only 4 hours out of your day (not including the aching the day after ;-)… which would probably be spent laying down by the pool anyway.

    Hey… great blog… I just found it and love what you’re doing. Also, you’re a fellow Pacific Northwest guy (I’m in Portland)!

    Chat soon,

    – Trevor

  • Rod Homor says:

    That is an inspiring story. A bit nuts, but inspiring…. 😛

  • That’s as good a way to go through Tracy Arm as any; rather than standing at the rail for hours just run around the ship and catch the sites on both sides! I hope you enjoyed Alaska.

  • Suz says:

    You know, Chris – I REALLY wished I liked running. I played sports from age 5 through intramurals in college, but have struggled without any sort of committed, organized team to be a part of – WAKA Kickball just wasn’t cutting it for me. Add any sort of distraction – most likely some sort of ball – and I might be able to keep my mind off of what I’d actually be doing. Many of my friends have completed several marathons over the past few years, and I keep telling myself that eventually it’ll motivate me.. not yet.. but I’m keeping an open mind about it.

    In any case, I’m from Boston & went to Boston College. Why am I telling you this? Watching the Boston Marathon for the past 10 years has been amazing. Other than the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston & Opening Day at Fenway, the Marathon is easily one of my favorite Boston-based events. Best of luck to you in accomplishing this!

    Regards,
    Suz (a.k.a. Lil’ Boozie)
    “3 Troopin’ Travelers”

  • Paul says:

    Great Post. I plan in doing this tomorrow on a Celebrity Soltice Cruise. My friend Scott logged the first known 100 mile ultra run on the Queen Mary a couple years ago. It took him around 30 hours. The captain was notified by security of this guy running around the track all night log but never questioned him. Later when the captain found out what he was doing he awarded him with a signed certificate and said the feat was entered into the ships logbook.

  • Alison says:

    Great job Chris! But that’s really crazy. The extra cold and strong winds in the morning will surely put me down to bed or just enjoy my coffee, but you spent it well. You deserve an applause! *clap clap*

  • Shelly says:

    I found this post through a google search I was doing. Long story short, I will be tapering before a November marathon when I am on my cruise this October, so this gave me some things to think about. Maybe I’ll put up some signs on the running track that say “Walk, Run, or Stay Off Track” to prevent having to maneuver around people like you experienced.

  • Tanya says:

    I’ve always been interested in an Alaska cruise – as a global vacationer, what became your opinion? sufficient variety to live busy? I listen this is it a more energetic cruise than, say, a Caribbean cruise. Alaska is one in every of my pinnacle destinations within the destiny, a lot beauty!

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