Monday, 21 December 2015

I am a Marathon Runner

I did it! I ran the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon. I am a marathon runner. Actually as the course measured a bit long (26.62- it being a traily sort of race) I'm an ultra-runner!

The last few days before the race passed in a kind of haze of disbelief. It didn't seem real that I would be running a marathon yet it was all I could think about. It didn't hit home until Saturday morning when my fella and I went for a bimble along the seafront- approaching the remains of Clarence Pier we saw the 26 mile marker on a lamp post. I concentrated on how happy I was feeling at that moment and tried to store it for the next day.

Sunday morning. Ate breakfast, got to race HQ, not long before there wasn't any breakfast left in me. Really nervous and fidgety and scared and cold.

 My fella was awesome- so patient and calm. I'd have been ok if I'd been by myself but just having him around to say reassuring things really did help. It's so easy to talk yourself into a negative frame of mind, and it's very hard preparing to do something you have never done before.
Once I started running I felt fine. None of the nasty niggles I've been feeling recently and no nerves. The plan in as much as I had one, was to aim for 8:50-9 minute miles- just take it easy and not get carried away with excitement at the start. If I could stick to that pace then I'd get the sub4 hour marathon time I wanted. Plans have to be flexible though, and mile 3 was the first indication that a sub 4 might not happen... It wasn't much further before the mud really got going at which point I thought might as well enjoy the run and forget all about time. By the time I was approaching the turn around point at Hayling Island I knew the return 13 miles was going to be hard and that sub 4 was out of the question.  There were many, many miles of mud. Thank goodness for my Innov8 shoes!
Post-marathon- the Innov8s held their own through all the mud. My legs needed a lot of scrubbing!
One of the less muddy bits. Hayling Island somewhere.
It was a strange race in some ways. The general atmosphere at start and finish was relaxed, no competitive edginess at all. During the race I never really got chatting with anyone, never got into that trading of places with a few people that usually happens. And nearing the end there was no pulling each other along with expletives, encouragement or inarticulate howls. It was a somewhat solitary experience: mostly running alone, focussed on the task in hand. At the same time there was an odd sense of companionship knowing that we were all sharing the same experience- that of journeying through our own private hells, fighting our battles silently and simply willing the legs to keep turning over. Recognising the pain in the faces around me didn't make it any easier for me but it was a kind of bond with these unknown runners.
Whilst you can follow a training plan to get you fit and strong enough to run a marathon, there is nothing you can do to be completely prepared for the mental and emotional journey of running your first marathon. I knew the last 10k would be hard- plenty of experienced and awesome running friends told me it would be beyond tough but the experience of the miles as they begin to hurt you is unique and private. I wasn't prepared for being left so raw and vulnerable in those last 4 miles or so. Running through aches, niggles, even pain is one thing in training or even in a half marathon, but running when it feels like you've been ripped open to expose your very heart and soul is something I could never have imagined or prepared for.
It's hard to explain but it's something like when you're running beyond a certain amount of time you become the running- the act of running becomes all that you are mind, body and soul, it fills the whole world. I wasn't full of pain and despair, I never thought I couldn't finish, I never thought about stopping to rest but I felt exposed and vulnerable like an injured animal. I whimpered like one at times too. It was a very strange feeling, almost frightening, being reduced to nothing but the thought of putting one foot in front of another over and over and over.
I don't know if that is being broken. Perhaps it is but perhaps not, because as I made that journey I was also being remade. It wasn't about me beating the distance or the weather or the terrain, it was about learning to accept it all. Learning that if you completely give yourself up to the experience there is no battle any more. There is no winning- simply you move, you run. You are.
Steve, you saw me start the race as one person, and you held someone reborn at the end. You knew that would happen but allowed me to make the journey myself. Thank you with all my heart.

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