Two years ago I crossed the finish line of my first marathon and the first thing I said to my mum, who was filming at the time, was “don’t ever let me do that again!” I read a quote the other day – “you have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming.” No truer words have been spoken. Fast-forward to the start of this year when all that remained were memories of the post race elation and I was ready to give it another crack.
The 12 weeks in the lead up to race day consisted of hundreds of kilometres of running as well as swimming twice a week. Runs in excess of 28km became normal for a Sunday morning and my iPhone even started doing that weird thing where it works out your life schedule and would tell me every Sunday morning “9 minutes to St Kilda Rd” which is where I would set off for my long runs with the Melbourne Marathon training group. It was in the middle of these runs that would have me questioning myself every week as to why I choose to do this as a hobby. Then a High School Musical song would come on my playlist and I would become preoccupied imagining myself singing a duet with Zac Efron and all negative thoughts would be forgotten.
Toeing the start line, I couldn’t help but get shivers being surrounded by over 7,000 people that shared the same ultimate goal as me; to enter the MCG in a few hours having run 42.195km. Everyone there had their own story, had overcome their own battles and we were all about to face a pain like no other. My goal was to run the race in 4 hours and 5 minutes, keeping an even 5.48/km pace, something I had easily achieved in all of my long training runs to date.
For the first two hours I was laughing.
For the first two hours I was laughing. Kilometres were passing without me realising to the point that I had to keep telling myself to slow down. Little thoughts were even sneaking into my head that maybe a sub 4 hour run would be possible as I tried to keep the big red flag of the 4 hour pacer in sight, albeit at a distance. I was singing along to songs in my head, high-fiving every kid and giving thumbs up to people holding signs. I was executing my highly sophisticated nutrition plan of squashed vegemite sandwiches and orange snakes every 45 minutes along with alternating between water and electrolytes while running through the aid stations every 3km. Who said this marathon business was tough!?
Somewhere just before 20km, my knees and hips started to ache. They were grinding and it was most uncomfortable. I read somewhere once about a lady who was getting chemotherapy to treat her cancer and how she would imagine the chemo as gold running through her veins in order to not feel the pain. While I was running I tried to imagine something like this, but then I couldn’t work out whether to imagine my aching bones as steel, strong and tough, or soft, light feathers, or cotton wool, or should I just use the gold thing too? Eventually the whole point of the metaphor was lost and my knees and hips were getting worse, but at least it passed some time.
Come 27km, shit hit the fan.
It was about 25km when there was a real physical shift in me. It was the dreaded, boring Beach Rd stretch of the course and there was no shade in what were becoming very warm conditions with no cloud cover. The pain in both my knees and both my hips was becoming unbearable along with a blister on my right foot I later found to be the size of two 20c pieces. I was becoming dehydrated despite the huge amount of water and electrolytes I was taking in and I was unable to stomach any of the food I had despite there being still 17km left to run. I tried so, so hard to push those negative thoughts out of my head because I knew the longer I could stay positive, or even neutral about the situation, the easier it would be. Come 27km, shit hit the fan.
I had slowed to a shuffle and people were streaming past me. I was in agony physically and hurting mentally as I watched the ‘average pace’ on my watch tick up and up past 6 minute kilometres. The big kick in the guts was when the 4.10/km pace group all ran past me. At that exact point, my feels were at what I thought was rock bottom and I was ready to pull the pin. Why was I choosing to put myself through this pain? Why had I PAID $150 to be in this state of despair? I honestly wished in that moment that I would just collapse from heat exhaustion (like so many people I had passed on the side of the road) so the ambulance could take me back and I wouldn’t have to justify to myself to everyone who knew that I was doing this why I didn’t finish.
As the very real possibility of pulling out filled my brain, I decided to send Coach Amy in Perth the old classic… “u up?”. Within seconds I was graced with the sound of her and my run buddy (and fellow TriChick) Olivia’s voices as I launched into a chorus of expletives “my knees are f***ed, my hips are f***ed, my foot is f***ed” etc. Now what I love about Amy is she’s straight to the point with no bullshit. “Ok firstly, stop saying everything is f***ed and get out of that negative mindset”. I felt much like my dog does when he knows he’s done something wrong. She gave me a game plan; run a kilometre, walk a bit, repeat. At this stage it was about just getting to the finish line. There was still 13km to go.
With the new game plan and the knowledge that my beautiful friend Rene was waiting to cheer me on at the 31km drink station, I made it up the dreaded Fitzroy St hill, with a little bit more positivity. But as I rounded the corner onto St Kilda Road, leaving my friend, all of the demons returned. I started crying while I was running… crying because I wouldn’t reach my time goal, because I didn’t know how I was going to run another 10km, because I wanted to be positive but I was failing and because everything hurt so, so much. It seems absolutely ridiculous (and slightly dramatic) now, but in that moment I made the extremely mature decision to literally stop in the middle of the road (people having to dodge pass me) double over and sob. In what could potentially be love story of the year, a nice boy stopped, patted me on the back and told me he’d walk with me. I was so embarrassed at my behaviour that after about five steps I gave him a nod and shuffled onwards… and no I did not get his bib number but he was wearing a pink shirt. #findpinkshirtboy2018.
No I am not going to bore you with 10 more kilometres of my sulky, negative attitude towards something I paid to do. But that is only because at 33km my stars aligned and pink shirt boy came and swooped me into his arms and carried me to the finish. No, not really. But I did have a saviour of another kind in Emily who came whizzing past me, declaring we would finish it together. From that point on, we ran side by side for 9km, stopping to walk only at drink stations, all the way into the MCG. When I was at my lowest point on St Kilda Rd, I had convinced myself that my body physically could not go on, justifying my stopping with the fact that it was actually impossible to run at that point- which it actually was. My brain could not send the signals to my legs to run. But all it took was a tiny spark of hope; a pat on the back, a few words of encouragement and everything started working again. The power of our minds and positivity is truly amazing and there is absolutely no doubt that something like a marathon is just as much about mental toughness as it is physical – if not more.
I definitely won’t always remember the pain and emotions I felt out on the course that day. I probably won’t even always remember crossing the finish line because by the time that happened all I was thinking about was sitting down. But I will always, always remember the feeling that I felt as I made my way under the MCG and the volunteer put that medal around my neck. I could have so easily have given up that day. I could have blamed the heat and dehydration, I could have explained to everyone that I have knee and hip problems with some fancy physio language, I could be sitting here writing about how sometimes things just don’t go your way and you have to pull the pin. But I’m not, and even though that clock read 4 hours and 27 minutes as I crossed the line, I finished when I could have easily given up and I’ve realised that is a bigger achievement than any PB I could have gotten.
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