It's A Marathon: Not A Sprint

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For most of the Martha’s Vineyard Marathon, Nolan Kim ran like a man possessed. His goal was to beat the 3:00 hour mark, which would guarantee him a spot in the Boston Marathon, and for most of the race, he seemed well on his way to do just that. Nolan started off at a 6:45 pace and sustained it for over 20 miles.

But around Mile 21, a lingering groin injury resurfaced and his body had no energy left in its reserves to pull from. For the first 20 miles, he was fueled by adrenaline. But that adrenaline eventually ran out and Nolan only had a single granola bar to turn to. He was essentially running on empty.

“At that point, I knew I wasn’t going to get the time I wanted so I figured if I’m not going to get the time, I might as well not stop,” said Nolan. “Not walk — I’ll at least finish still running. So through all the pain and everything — for the last 5 miles it felt like I was just slowly, slowly jogging until the end. And when I got to the end, I fell on the floor. I was completely destroyed.”

His seven months of training — running through the icy, bitter New England winter — was certainly impressive, but it was not enough. Nolan finished with a time of 3:16:20.8 (7:30 pace), which was good for second place in his age group, but just about 10 minutes off the qualification time.

And though he was hobbled, Nolan didn’t leave the island feeling dejected.

“I knew halfway through the marathon that I wanted to do it again,” said Nolan. “Just that feeling of competition and being in the zone with other competitors — it was a crazy experience.”

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Nolan grew up playing soccer and while he still loves the game, he’s found a new passion in running.

“I turned to running because it’s something extremely raw. It’s all on metrics and it’s the most tangible source of measuring improvement that I think there is,” said Nolan. “There’s a very linear relationship in running between how much work you put in and how much improvement you’re going to see.”

Nolan knew that he couldn’t stick to the same routine and hope for a different result. It wasn’t a lack of training that failed him. Nolan logged hundreds of miles and plenty of hours of pickup soccer in his preparation. Fueling, or lack thereof, caused the collapse and that had to change.

“At first I thought the injury was just an unfortunate incident, but the more I researched and the more I thought about it, it was clearly due to not having a fueling plan,” said Nolan. “My body completely ran out of energy, completely ran out of carbs, protein and fat. I was just completely stripped away of everything.”

As he prepared for the Beantown Marathon — his second opportunity to qualify for the Boston marathon — Nolan developed a new diet plan.  

He normally starts his day with a cup of coffee, toast with Pumpkin Seed Butter and some fruit. His go-to lunch is quinoa with roasted vegetables and tofu. And for dinner, he often has salad, rice, and either chicken or fish. Outside of his meals, Nolan snacks on Seed Bars throughout the day and after a run to maintain his energy.

But for the weeks leading up to the marathon, Nolan really started to carbo-load. He ate plenty of pasta, rice and potatoes but made sure to include veggies as well — especially beets.

Nolan was confident on race day and if this were a movie, he’d have crossed the finish line in record time. But reality set in from the start and despite his new diet regimen, Nolan didn’t beat the 3:00 hour mark. His legs felt oddly weak; his hamstrings became severely strained. But like his first marathon, Nolan wouldn’t relent to the pain.

“I gave all I could until the very end,” said Nolan. “I had substantially more fuel in comparison to my first race, but I just wasn’t at my best that day.”

Nolan didn’t come away from the race with a Boston Marathon bid, but he did run two marathons in a span of four months and finished with more than a respectable time in both of them. And though he fell just short, Nolan is determined to keep on competing.

“I'm almost certain that I'll continue to venture in endurance sports in the near future, whether it be more marathons, triathlons, etc,” said Nolan. “It's been a long, rigorous journey and although it didn't end in the way I would've hoped, it's been a true test of perseverance and has revealed many teachings that'll carry on with me.”

Nolan Kim is a senior at Boston University studying biomedical engineering. Nolan plans to run more marathons going forward and hopes to compete in triathlons as well.

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