All things considered, I could be feeling a lot worse right now. When I stand up, I hobble a few steps before my legs remember how to walk, but that’s it. Once I’m moving, I can keep moving, and I’ve even managed to jog across the road. I won’t be going for a run today, but I might go for a wee jaunt tomorrow.
When I first mentioned that I might be considering running a marathon, someone in work recommended me a book called The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. This book combined a minimal training schedule with some mental exercises designed to build confidence and equip you with the facilities to overcome doubt, to keep going when your brain has sweat right out of your body. Simple things like visualising yourself crossing the finish line, a repeated mantra telling yourself that you can do it, stuff like that. I thought it was cheesy as hell, (kinda like this ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_kYAjwXFQk), but I decided I’d give it a go. The first time I ran 15km, I felt like I was going to die, and it was only the mantra in my head that kept me going. When I ran my first half-marathon, I spoke to myself constantly to tell me how awesome I was; at that point, it was the furthest I had ever run, and I felt 10 feet tall when I finished – the voice in my head had kept me strong.
For the first 25km of the marathon yesterday, I was more than fine, I was exultant. I was cruising, I was strong and I was certain that I could keep going for the rest of the day. Around the 28th kilometer, I felt a gurgle in my stomach. Over the next 5 minutes, this gurgle grew and I started wondering if I were going to shit myself or just vomit. My self-confidence – a constant presence in my head – suddenly disappeared. I was gutted. I had come so far, but if my stomach was in revolt, there was nothing I could do; I might have to consider stopping. It was at this point that all of the mental exercises proved their worth, although not in the way that I had expected.
I looked inside myself, but instead of a quiet, calm “I am strong, I am light, I am fast”, I found a more aggressive, animalistic voice. I looked up the hill and said “I am going to eat you, hill. You think I’m tired? You think you can beat me? I think I am going to eat you.” I lifted my feet and ran on. Once I had made the decision that I was going to keep going, my stomach settled. I found a reservoir of resolve within, and I told myself that even if I had to walk for some portions before the end of the course, I would run up every hill, just to show gravity who was boss.
The last 6 miles were gruelling because the sun came out, and there was no shade. Along the route, the supporters were getting listless as the main body of the marathon had already passed, and they were sitting in the heat. I found myself walking for the first hundred metres of each mile. Coming into the city centre, into the last mile, I wanted to take a break and walk for a few minutes, but behind me, I heard a brass band play the opening bars of the Rocky theme. I ran on. When I crossed the line, the clock read 5:00:32. When I first crossed it, the clock read 00:03:01. I had been running for 5 hours.
For me, running the marathon was an intensely personal experience. I don’t often do “hard” things – if there’s a chance of failing, I’ll just not sign up. The marathon is the first time I’ve ever really tested my strength of character. I was surprised to pass.