It’s disappointing. And the day after it stings more than my blisters and my aching muscles. I could have filled a salt lake with my sweat and tears. But it’s ok.
The hardest part? How to deal with the congratulatory messages. ‘Yeah, thanks. But I didn’t really finish it’. And the medal. I didn’t want to take that either. And the unofficial finishing time that’s up on the website because my running pals insisted on running me over the finishing line and it recorded my chip? Well that’s just fraudulent – it’s ok, I’ve emailed them.
I’ve had a long time to analyze what went wrong. Six hours on my feet in 30 degrees for starters. But I still haven’t really reached any definitive answers. Was my training to blame? My programme was 3 run’s a week, which some would argue is not enough. Sometimes I only ran twice – choosing to do Pilates or yoga and then running out of time. I did my long runs almost to plan. I reached 30k as my longest run 3 weeks before M-Day. It was grueling, but I ran it with only walking the last 2 or 3 km’s. Did I test out my race day strategy? Not really, but it wasn’t wildly unobtainable. Thirty minutes of running with 3 minute walk intervals. Hmmm. Ok, I never tried it in training, What about the heat? It must have been hovering around 30 degrees on the day. But I am acclimatized to this heat; I have run parts of this course in similar temperatures. Was my nutrition to blame? No, absolutely not. And I can’t blame bad carb loading either – I never hit the wall as I never gave myself a chance to even get to the foot of it.
So what went so desperately, horribly, pitifully wrong?
The morning started off well enough. I went to the toilet (sorry if you are not a runner, if you are you will know how significant this is). It was a beautiful, clear and sunny day. I was prepared with my sports drinks and banana. I warmed up. I went to the toilet again. I chattered and laughed nervously with my brother and Snowy and Rachel, my running pals. We must have numbered just under 100 people in total for the marathon, which started at 8am. As I looked around me everyone looked uber athletic. And fast. I’m in tears. No particular reason of course. Why is this running shit so emotional? It’s exhausting! I try to take my mind off it and gather up the positive voices in my head – they are all there. Karen, Julie, Soraya, my BFF’s, Michele, Cheryl, my girls – so many people who believe in me. And all those amazing ladies in the TFTR clubhouse, some of them running their own marathons that day and all of them with their own goals to achieve. I take in my surroundings on Mandraki harbour, beautiful Italian buildings, and local people bobbing under the ropes to get to church. But the calm waters don’t reflect the turmoil inside of me.
This is the 3rd ‘Roads to Rhodes’ marathon. An out and back, out and back loop, which we run twice. The route is stunning, coastline all the way and passing through the centre of town, at Mandraki harbour, after each 10 km ‘out and back’. As it stands in the marathon season it doesn’t attract a huge crowd, but it should. It’s impeccably organized, almost guaranteed good weather (ok, this time it was a bit too hot) and a relatively easy course with only a couple of short hills with doable gradients. You can see the course here in this video from drone footage.
Back to the moment. A few minutes after 8 and we are off. And I mean off, like greyhounds. I positioned myself at the back and after the first 300 metres the main body of runners are well ahead. There are two ladies at the back of them, but in front of me by about 300 metres. I decide to keep them in my sights. It’s tough going. My plan starting at my own pace and maintaining regardless of the rest of them gets trashed as I desperately push on to keep behind them, I don’t want to be alone. A glance at my watch 2 km’s in tells me that I am doing 7-minute kilometres. This is not good. I don’t do 7-minute km’s in long runs EVER. I prefer to keep my pace between 7.45 and 8.20 per kilometre because I can just about sustain this over a long duration. Providing I build up to it over the first 3 km’s. At the 3km mark we are at the first incline. I decide to walk it, to reserve some energy. By the time I am at the brow I still haven’t got control of my breathing and I stupidly push on into a run. The gap between my two ladies and me has widened. I am at the back. I am last. I am alone. I can’t breathe.
This part of the course is my nemesis. It’s flat and the sea is so close I can almost touch it. But it stretches ahead forever and then I have to turn back and run it again the other way. I can feel my positive forces ebbing out of me and running down to spend the rest of the day on the beach. The other runners are passing me coming the other way and there are plenty of thumbs up, fist pumps and words of encouragement. I smile and wave my banana at them, mustering up a jog. By the first 5km water station, zillions of eager scouts hold out water bottles for me. I’m walking again. ‘Don’t worry’, one says, ‘there’s only another 37 km’s to go’. I wish I was wearing one of the TFTR ‘Walking is part of my race plan’ T-shirts. I try a run again. My breathing is all wrong. I can’t find my stride. I’m so frustrated.
AND I AM SO FUCKING ALONE.
I push on, but my run/walk intervals have become pitiful walk/run intervals. The only benefit to this is that my running bits are real spurts. An unsustainable running pace, but they give me a reasonable average pace. Enough to keep me on track for a sub 3-hour half marathon time which I need to continue the second part of the marathon. But not fast enough to catch anyone up. I’m through the first 10k and I’m running through the harbour again where the only semblance of a crowd is. The volunteers give me a huge cheer and lots of encouragement (bless them). There are women among them of my age and I can read their minds and feel their positive thoughts. There you go, I say to myself. That’s a quarter done!
I push on. Once I am away from the crowds the plods take hold again. And I hate myself at this point. Not because I’m not running or that my effort is pitiful, but because I don’t seem to care enough. Why have I let it all go so horribly wrong? Why has my inner strength forsaken me? Why can’t I push myself to run like I know I can?
AND WHY AM I SO FUCKING ALONE AT MY SELF PITY PARTY?
I feel like a fraud. I have no place in this event. I’m not even looking at the view any more. I pass my brother – I mean he’s on his way back to the half way mark. I can’t help myself. ‘This is horrible’ I blurt. ‘Just run and walk, you’re ok’ he reassures me. ‘And your making good time’ he calls back to me. Good time for walking anyway.
And on I push. I am almost at the halfway point when the first 2 runners are at my back and then past me. As they finish in three hours I think about how I would give anything to finish at this point, but I can’t, can I? How can I let everyone down? How can I let myself down anymore than I have already? I haven’t seen anyone I know along the route yet and then I hear my name. I look back to see one of my mates, Tracy. And all I can manage is a miserable shake of the head and a grimace. She looks worried. OK, I say to myself. You just have to get through the next 10 km’s and then you are almost there.
The 5k event has started just behind me and for 10 minutes I am caught up with people – runners! It feels so good to have some company. Maybe not good exactly, but better. And then they are gone as they reach the turn around point and I have to continue. Up the hill. I feel a run coming on as I reach the downhill and I trot down it. I seem to pick up my positive forces from the beach where I left them and they travel with me for a while as I run more on this part than I have in the whole marathon. I thank the volunteers profusely as I pass; this is the last time I will take their water. Despite the soaring temperatures and zero shade they smile and clap. I am so grateful. I pass one of my ladies as she is on the return stretch of the road. I wonder what happened to the other? She smiles and waves ‘we will not give up!’ she calls to me. Yep. I put my head down and push to the turning point and grit my teeth as I face the long straight stretch back to the 30km point. My resolve gives out again at 27 kilometres, the bottom of the hill. I walk up it with a weary volunteer riding behind me at my heels.
Crap this is hard.
As I come down the other side of the hill the road stretches ahead. Empty. Except for two visions of beauty steaming towards me. I don’t think I have ever been so grateful in all my life to see my daughters! I can’t believe they are running towards me shouting ‘come on Mum, you can do it!’ They take my hands and pull me along.
And suddenly I am not alone anymore.
I can’t believe I’m three quarters of the way through. We get to the Harbour again and those darling volunteers give me another super boost cheer. Ok, I’m going to finish, I resolve. We push on, Poppy by my side to do the last 10 km’s. I walk past the podium where the awards are being given for the marathon, 5k and 10k winners. I think I clapped, but I may have just thought about it. My youngest daughter decides to come on the last 10k with me. My Mum see’s me for the first time and waves her ‘Go Mum Go’ banner at me. At this point I can walk, but my running resolve has literally done a runner and I accept that I will not finish within the six hour cut off point. It’s disappointing but not surprising.
We walk on with our heads down. I glance at my watch. I have 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete the last 10 kilometres before the marathon is officially over. On a good day with fresh legs I could achieve this, but it’s not going to happen after 30 kilometres with a blister on my right foot and thighs of lead. But I’m not giving up. Yet.
We push on. I pass the lady-not-giving-up as she is on the home stretch. She has 3 kilometres to go and she has half an hour to get to the finishing line. She is power walking by this point and I know she will make it. I’m pleased for her. I wish I had been able to run with her. The last hill looms ahead of me like Everest. There’s an ambulance at the top. I’m quite pleased about that.
And then we are down the other side. And here I am full of regret. As I ran training runs on this route I imprinted this hill on my brain telling myself the second time I ran up it I would be on the home stretch, just 5 short kilometres to go! But there are no short kilometres at the end of a marathon.
As we get to the 38-kilometre marker the steward tells me that if I want to continue I have to go on the path, the time has finished and they are opening the road. I’m 5 hours and fifty minutes into a marathon with a six hour cut off point. I have 4 kilometres to go. I take stock of the situation. I’m dehydrated, sunburnt and in pain. None of this actually affects my judgment though.
Ok, take me to the finish line please. I’m done.
We cadge a lift with the man in a van who is collecting the timing equipment. As we set off in the car a wave of nausea washes over me and I hide my face in my hands. Are you ok? I nod and swallow it down. Poor man, I bet he wishes he’d let the first aiders take me!
Are you wondering how I felt at this point? Did I feel bad at throwing in the towel with just 4 kms to go? The honest answer is No. Had I run the race and pushed myself, as I know I can, then I would have put on my warrior face and to hell with the cut off time. I would have hobbled the last 4000 metres and felt proud of a 6-hour time. But I had walked so much, given up so early that I saw no point or benefit in prolonging the agony. In truth, I had mentally thrown in the towel a long time before this point.
You might say that reaching 38 kms is in itself a great achievement. And it is. But it wasn’t the way I wanted to achieve it and it certainly isn’t the way I know I am capable of achieving it. Running is only about competing with yourself, setting your own goals and meeting them. For me I fell well short of that.
BUT IT’S OK!! I haven’t given up. I have learnt painful but valuable lessons and I will take what I’ve learnt and apply it to my next attempt. I will choose a marathon with a bigger crowd, possibly one that doesn’t have a cut off time and definitely one in a cooler climate! I will stick to MY pace, no matter what. And i will get my head in the game from my first footfall.
And you know what? Marathon’s are not just about the day itself. The marathon really starts when you sign up. When you commit yourself to 20 weeks or so of training. When you discipline yourself to stop guzzling wine and eating your way through the cheese mountain. When you give up your weekends for long training runs. When you suck up the aches and strains and push through. And that’s just half of it. The other half is mental strength, resolve and focus. Because if your head is not in the game, your heart and legs won’t be either. And then you have to hope it all comes together on the big day. That just one day from the 120 days lottery bag that is your training will be a great day, your day. And if it isn’t, that’s ok.
Sunday 17th April wasn’t my day, but my day will come.
Autumn marathon anybody?