Training for a Marathon and a Black Belt Test

Chris ran his 5th Marine Corps Marathon last year with his son, Sean.
From prior posts, you have probably noticed that Be Ryong Martial Arts curriculum and testing requires a tremendous amount of strength, stamina, and mental toughness. Let’s say you are an ambitious student and have earned your First Dan (degree) in your chosen martial art, mine happens to be Hapkido. Preparing for the Second Dan exam is no less demanding and in many ways can be more so. All that said, perhaps you are also training to run a marathon during your Second Dan training cycle. Some may say, “That is crazy!” It is hard to argue against a sound, logical argument like that, but I am going to attempt to. I trained for my Second Dan exam on December 22, 2018 and I ran the Marine Corps Marathon on October 28, 2018.

So, where do we begin?

Why would you have marathon training in the middle of your black belt training? Well, sometimes the best laid plans don’t work out. I had planned to test in June of last year, but circumstances did not allow for that, so…Here there I was, looking at December and I had registered to run the marathon back in March. You can see the dilemma? The marathon was supposed to be a post-testing event, but life goes on. I decided I could do both, but I would have to moderate a bit in both training cycles to avoid getting injured.

Develop a Plan

What did I do? I came up with a plan and I wrote it down (digitally) and I followed it. Mostly, it involved running and going to class consistently. Back in June, I began the running portion of the marathon training plan. Pretty easy at first, three to four days of running totaling about 16 miles per week. You can imagine that the mileage will build, and it does. Peak mileage is over 40 miles in a week with a long run of 20 miles thrown in. A peak week example is 6 miles on Tuesday, Speed work totaling 8 miles on Wednesday, 4 miles each on Thursday and Saturday, followed by a 20 mile run on Sunday. But wait, there’s more, I am also training for my black belt exam, so I have Hapkido classes on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Seems overwhelming right? It is. That is too much to handle with a full time job, family obligations, etc.

Be Flexible

Sometimes adjustments have to be made. This all has to do with what your primary focus is at the time. In June, for instance, I knew the test was six months out, so choosing to skip a class in order to build up my running base mileage made more sense. Marathons don’t so much test your fitness as they do your preparation for the struggle. You may be able to run 26.2 miles in a single run, but if you don’t prepare your body for the impact forces, you will pay, in pain, for some time after your race and you may injure yourself in the process. If you build up your mileage so that you are running 20, 30, 40, or even 50 miles over the course of a week and make that progression slowly, you will be able to run the race and still function in the days that follow it.

I modified my running plan as training progressed through and got closer to the marathon, and the black belt test, to allow for “rest” days from running, which meant I had averaged 3 days running and 3 days of Hapkido every week since June. It was challenging to say the least. Some mornings, I did not want to get up, especially the Sunday mornings of the very long runs in the summer which requires a 5:00 am alarm to get out before it is too hot to move. When the marathon is in just under two weeks away, I am in what the marathon world calls “taper”. Just means I am running less mileage to let my legs rest in the two weeks leading up to the race.

Endurance and Strength Training

As for Hapkido, in August, I began building my upper body endurance and strength by doing daily push-ups and sit-ups. How many? I set a “baseline” number by doing a single set of push-ups with good form until I felt that one more push-up would equal a face-plant. That number was 50. So, week 1, I did 50 push-ups a day and 50 sit-ups a day. Each subsequent week, I have added 10 of each to the total. The last week prior to the test is 200 of each. After the marathon, I added the weighted vest to the push-ups until the week of the black belt test. Did this prepare me for the test? I look at it as a weekly payment toward being successful on test day, but seriously, I was confident that the test would still destroy me. It did.

What else do I do? I work hard at class and try to give every minute my best effort. I take time to improve my techniques. I practiced as often as I could the techniques, falls, rolls, kicks, etc. I even had some concrete blocks to try to toughen up the hands, wrists, and forearms for the power breaks at the end of the exam. It worked, by the way, as I smashed through two concrete blocks to finish the exam.

What About Yusul?

What about yusul (ground fighting)? Well, we practice when we can in class and at the regular belt tests. Going through 5, or 6, rounds with a fresh opponent each round is not something I think you prepare for, other than mentally. It is challenging, to say the least, but as long as you don’t ever give up, it is going to be ok in the end. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Mental Training is Important As Well

The important thing to remember is that both a marathon and a black belt exam are tests of endurance. Not just physical, but also mental endurance. The marathon will test you in ways you never imagined. You are competing against no one but yourself. Mother Nature may throw you some curve balls: rain, humidity, heat, and so forth, but you are really trying to beat that little voice in your head that says, “Stop, it’s ok if you don’t finish.” The black belt test, no matter how well prepared you think you are, will always be tougher than you think you can handle. Here again, it is not just a physical test, but a mental test. It tests your will to persevere, to struggle, to fight to achieve a goal that you have set for yourself. In both cases, you must commit to giving your all, mentally and physically, to gain the title you are trying to achieve, whether it be “Marathon Finisher”, or “Second Dan black belt”.

Whichever goal you pursue, the iconic runner, Steve Prefontaine, may have said it best, “To give less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” Enjoy your training and we will see you at Be Ryong Martial Arts!

by Chris, 2nd degree black belt, Hapkido