I think a lot of people use running as their thinking time, the space, the head time, their opportunity to force themselves to process. That’s not my purpose for running, but when I run long distances, even with others, after a while, my chat stops and I draw my thoughts inward. Not that I could tell you what I’m thinking mind you.
So it’s not surprising that when I write about running on this blog I reveal a bit more about me and what’s ticking at that particular moment.
My marathon gave me a lot of thinking time (again, of what I can barely remember). But I have also had lots of thinking & processing to do after it. You see, not all races go to plan, & in a marathon, such a long race, there is far more scope for things to go awry.
I’ll start my review of my Bournemouth marathon by extolling the divine beauty of the route. It was on the whole flat, many miles of it along the beach front, decked with colourful beach huts – and sand dusting the walkway. We ran around two piers! Even the parts of the route that were away from the coast were through desirable suburbs and the most wonderful shady trees. There were quite a few switchbacks which at the beginning were fun, catching sight of faster friends who were in a different start group, but as the race went on, it became ever harder to know you had to go somewhere else before you came back!
And the weather was stunning: blue skies and so hot women were in bikinis. In Ocotber. The golden sand glowed, the sea twinkled. Sights in Poole harbour of groups windsurfing and sailing caused total envy. It was a wonderful sight and running route. The best it could probably have been in my book, you know I loves me a seaside run. ( except rather long!) And was it the weather, or the novelty (this being the first marathon in Bournemouth), or the local interest in running that brought the crowds out to support? The whole route just about had people cheering us on, thank you local residents and visitors alike. You were ace.
I felt the luckiest runner in the race to have supporters travel to Bournemouth to cheer me on. It makes me emotional just thinking about it & I tell you they were a godsend. My sons & the eldest son’s girlfriend travelled from Manchester & we had a fun time in the town the day before. We had the most amazing Italian meal the night before in La Strada. What an atmosphere – as soon as we entered the door we knew we were in for a real treat with Italian tunes (a bit of Dino too), restaurant heaving, waiting staff non stop but providing just the right amount of attention. And fab food.
My running friends travelled across from their weekend in Weymouth to cheer me on with the biggest surprise – a banner made especially for me!!! These are the memories that I will hold onto.
But as I said there’s been lots of thinking after the race itself. Yes I finished & got my medal & tee-shirt, but how hard it is coping with disappointment for not running the race you trained for? (And you know you’re slow when you get to the end and all of the small tee-shirts have gone 🙁 ). This is the first time it’s happened to me, on such a scale and it’s given me a new level of understanding to everyone who goes through this.
So I have tried to rationalise, understand and find something to be proud of. Having a few “counselling” sessions with a friend has really helped me put it in a different perspective. A few sleeps later & truly the memories that are strongest are those I’ve just described- the visuals & the support. But I share what’s next because 1. I try to present a true picture of being a late-starting runner that tries to improve (but was never a natural runner!) and 2. because anyone reading this who has a similar experience will feel less alone!
So first of all, remember that completing the training is an achievement in itself. Extending your ability to to run from the 13.1 miles up to 22 in my case as my longest run, is mega. It’s grueling. You have to dig deep to find inner strength to keep going, you have to find coping mechanisms just to maintain forward momentum. Breaking your run into manageable chunks as your next “milestone” worked well for me in training. I had also been watching “Dexter” during the summer & I was in awe of Dexter’s sister, Debs & her ability to swear with such fluency & alacrity. I think there was quite a lot of that going on in my head during the trickiest bits. And I’d laugh about it afterwards. Then counting up to 100. Then again, up to 100. and again, and again and again. Anything to keep going, whatever works for you. So I got up to 22 miles with no walking & was averaging just over 10 minute miles. I was running over 40 miles a week towards the end & whilst I know there could have been better quality training (eg adding intervals) I could have done, I was confident that I could add on another 4 on the day. That’s all that mattered.
I rested up the week before with early nights, plenty of hydration & higher carbs than usual. So I got to the weekend before the race ready. But there are always going to be things that are completely out of your control. Even if you do everything else right.
Call it bad luck. But remember you can’t allow for everything. Random stuff happens. For me it came thus:
- My hotel room on Friday and Saturday was potentially the worst in the hotel for noise, not only from the non-stop busy main road it overlooked but on the other side it was located next to the confluence of internal staircases used frequently and all night by hotel guests. That was Friday and 3 hours sleep. The hotel was full though. No chance for a swap. On Saturday the earplugs I had bought could not cope with the the banging party with disco in the function room in the mezzanine next door. (I could not believe it!) The manager himself told me he was there till 2:45. I was awake for all of it. I was hanging before I even started. My resolve before I even got to the start was as fragile as my physical being. (Next time I shall be very choosy about accommodation. Learn from my experience)
- Injury: my knee went at mile 6. Intermittently, a mile here, two miles there. Up slopes, down slopes it would switch on & off make me wince & run funny. Eventually I got it strapped at mile 18 and that helped a lot. But by then I had already spent too much time run-walking. (This is my first running injury, I could not have predicted or planned for this).
- The weather was super for October. There were women in bikinis along the route. Our race started at 10 am, even the best runners would be running across the midday heat. Those of us who took longer were in it for longer. I’m not good in the heat, as I have mentioned before, but in comparison with the above two factors, this was just something to cope with. I did get a tan though (!!!! it was that hot!!) & was glad that I carried my own hydration & an extra energy gel. (That’s all you can do to prepare)
So how do you cope with the disappointment in yourself? After the event you feel that your marathon effort wasn’t worthy of being described as ‘ running’ a marathon ? That’s what I really wanted to be able to say, but I have to be content that despite all my bad luck I can say I’ve ‘finished ‘ a marathon. I could have pulled out, but I didn’t. And I am so proud of the other things that surround my experience:
- What was important about the marathon to me wasn’t the race, I didn’t run it because I’ve always wanted to. The five months training gave me focus and a powerful medicine to heal myself through a period of personal difficulty. I knew that training for a marathon would be a process, a journey & that the long runs would bring more than just physical benefits – it’s the endorphins, innit?! And I knew that after the marathon I would be in a different place as it was a way to mark time.
- I’ve made a fabulous new friend as a result of training – someone I’ll continue running with (sadly we ran in different marathons). He did really well so that’s something else I am proud of!
- The wealth of love and support shown by so many wonderful people in my life – I get wobbly and have been known to well up when I see how far friends and family are backing me in this endurance challenge.
And this is symbolic for me. When I think about it, this marathon had to be really hard, really horrible because it marks the end of a really tough time in my life. I will make it so. It is time to get on with life after the marathon.
Will I enter another? Well, I feel strangely resigned to the fact that there is unfinished business: I trained to run a marathon. I haven’t achieved that yet. I know I can. So it’s not ruled out. Just not yet though!
So if you have got to the end of reading this, coping with over exclamation marks included, thank you! And thank you to everyone who has also supported me through this blog, & even emailed me directly. I do feel so incredibly lucky to have so many kind supportive caring people in my world. Here’s to you!