Ouch! I guess I’ve officially done a marathon now.
As expected, running a marathon, with no marathon training, meant a very painful final hour. It’s a familiar story: I was feeling great up to the 30km mark, and then my pace started slowing and the pain started growing. As everyone knows, this is the point where the race begins. Through sheer determination, I managed to maintain my pace, but with 5km to go, the race broke me… and devoured me. Pain, seized up limbs, a running pace slower than a walk, a walking pace slower than a crawl. The final 5km of a marathon is littered with broken bodies, and mine was one of them. I eventually shuffled across the line with a 10 min positive split (1:44/1:54) and a tremendous feeling of relief. What a daft idea!
It’s an almost out of body experience to watch yourself hobbling along at the side of the road whilst others happily jog past. Some are chatting, some are fiercely determined, but all are moving faster and more freely than you. They ignore you like a ghost, as if just by catching your eye they might become afflicted and reduced to hobbling along beside you. Their pace is no more than a slow training jog, but it is well beyond what your body can deliver. You hold no malice, in fact the opposite is true – their success brings a warm glow, knowing that their hard work has earned them their dreams. You know you’re going to make it to the finish – run, walk or crawl – and you know that the sooner you get there, the sooner the pain will end. But right now, this is all you’ve got, so this will have to do.
It’s less like hitting a wall, and more like running into a steady deepening pool of acidic quicksand. I’d been popping gels every 5km so my energy levels were great, but my body wasn’t conditioned to the work. My heart rate dropped as my legs did less and less of what I asked of them. My muscles were exhausted and there was no immediate solution. It was too late to make things right. The solution needed to happen in the previous 3 months: training and conditioning my feet, legs and hips – building them up to endure 3 hours of pavement pounding.
I’d entered this race at the 11th hour, without any training, to experience how my body would cope with being pushed beyond what I’d trained for. I knew I could run a marathon, having done one at the end of Ironman NZ. But I’d trained for that and ran a very steady, even race. Lately I’d been getting excited about ultra-distance trail races, 50km+. But with no experience of running beyond my limits, I knew I needed to taste the pain and see if I revelled in it and embraced it, or hated it and feared it.
I didn’t like it. I dealt with it. Twice I cracked and broke down to an unscheduled walk. But then I regathered myself and pushed on to the finish. It hurt. It sucked. But it also gave me confidence, and pride. I didn’t quit. I never thought I wouldn’t make it. I just kept thinking that it was a really stupid thing to do!
So now my finger has eased back off the ultra-running trigger. I want to train for a distance before racing it. I will run a 30km before entering a 50km. I will run a 50km before entering a 70km. I will slowly increase the distance and see if the enjoyment increases. And one day I will tackle a road marathon with training behind me, and have a crack at a good time.
But for now, with my fitness at the lowest level it’s been for over a year, it’s time for me to get this year-old high hamstring tendinopathy sorted out. That means a couple of months off biking and running, and lots of rehab exercises. Hopefully this will see me back running and riding without pain later in the year.