Life lessons from a Serial marathon runner

Well, only two marathons actually, but surely that counts as a mini serial? And after successfully amazing myself and others by completing two, then there must be a chance that more will follow. I had my bubble burst a few months ago. Someone told me that running a marathon is no longer the rarity of gruelling achievement that it once was. It used to be exclusive, filed away as the property of certain “types”.

Type 1. Extreme fitness enthusiasts (and likely nutters).

Type 2. The greying and folically challenged, desperately attempting to cling to receding youth (and hairline) by warding off a mid life crisis. Or,

Type 3. Attention seeking ex celebrity media whores / perverts, often in humorous wooly or shiny outfits.

Yet now, my friend told me in a throwaway manner, EVERYONE is doing it. Great. So my seemingly special achievement of last year is suddenly not so special. He did also tell me though, that very few people run a second. Which got me thinking….

And so it was that last weekend I went and did it again. Ok, so I was toying with the idea for a while. I felt that I’d “left some in the tank” last year, and wanted to see if I could put that right, beat my time, do things a bit differently, but still with the ultimate goal of just getting round. And this time I did it quietly. No Facebook training update posts, no givealittle fund raising requests, no palaver. Just me and a pair of running shoes (and a top and shorts obviously, it’s not that kind of marathon). Of course I still did the training for it, and probably more of it this time around, given that I have more time on my hands. I also probably enjoyed the training more than last time. The long runs did not end so regularly in virtual collapse, puffing puseness or wobbly legs, but perhaps the joy of breaking furthest distance records was lost. Although beating best times – given I’ve now flipped over into a new and advanced age “category” – was a big and positive motivator.

So the training done, the support crew down from lots to far fewer (one, but she’s the most important one!), I headed off on the early morning boat full of runners to the start line, in the dark. And this time in the rain. I even got there on time, and was able to limber up properly and to extricate that that needed to be extracted pre race. And yet the moment I started to run something felt amiss. Not physically. There was no repeat of last years 1km “twinge” due to lack of warm up. But far more importantly, mentally. I just didn’t really feel up for it. Maybe it was the rain. Maybe it was lack of decent sleep. Maybe the small breakfast was not small enough. Maybe the pasta supper was too spicy. Maybe I had a cold. All these things sped through my mind instead of the one foot in front of the other mantra I had practiced. My mindset wasn’t helped when the promised supporter whose house I ran past at 6.30 at the 3k marker didn’t bother to get up. 5k in and I was easily overtaken by a fully clad Stormtrooper. Again, the mind went off piste.

The good news was that despite my inner turmoil I was actually blasting through the kms pretty effectively, and well ahead of the previous years pace. It’s just that it was all happening under sufferance rather than exuberance. Just before half way I did some maths on the run (geddit?) and worked out that I was on target to smash my time by over 45 minutes, maybe even an hour! Wow! If, of course, I could keep this up. And almost the next second, I felt some very unwelcome puseness and a mini leg wobble. And suddenly it became hard.

Half way was not meant to be painful. I had swooped through a mere half marathon many times in training. What was going on? Setting out for the second half for the first time I asked myself if I’d been an idiot for doing it again. There was no shame in running a half marathon. The battle in my head was raging – “keep going” shouted the angel – “I always told you you’re a twat” said the horned one – and the limbs just staggered on, occasionally making unusual twinges and noises and movements. At 25km the breakfast question was answered. And I lost 5 minutes (seemed like 20), and probably 5 lbs in the horror that is a race day portaloo. Portion control will be properly administered in future as I’m not going through that again.

The strange this about a marathon is that it’s full of highs and lows. Despite the pain, the indescribable high that occurred when I “retook” the stormtrooper at about 28km lifted me into another world. And yet there is no way to describe the final 10km other than prolonged and continuous anguish. At 37km my spirits were briefly raised by running past the amassed family and kids runners assembled at their 5km start point. Much encouragement, fist pumping and high fives helped relight my sagging spirit, only to put it headlong into a nose dive again when 30 seconds later I heard the gun and realised they were all about to sprint past my dazed and confused torso as I half heartedly attempted to swat them away like flies. The last 3km saw me break my vow to run the whole way, and set about a walk then run then walk then run mantra. But I got there. And to my surprise I got there and still managed to shave over 15 minutes off my previous time. But just missed my target, which probably means I’ll have to do it all again.

So what, I hear. Where are these life lessons? Well for me all lessons are simpler when they come in 3’s, and for me in this case, they are this.

1. Even with the best preparation in the world things can go wrong on the day. The lesson is not to fret and curse, but get your head down and adapt on the hoof. If you nail and execute a perfect plan then good on you, but always be ready to make up a plan B.

2. Don’t beat yourself up. Others are always willing to do that. But their views don’t matter. Yours does.

3. A win is a win. The next challenge or target will always be there, and there will always be at least one just out of reach. But the important one is the one you achieve, whatever it is. Get in into your head that you nailed it.

If I may add a fourth it would be this. Never, ever use a portaloo where sweat, fluids and protein snacks meet.

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