Why couldn’t Pheidippides have stopped at mile 15?

runners legs

I returned from my last long run clutching two Sainsburys bags full of ice and granola bars, shaking. I was tired, bored and weary. My entire body hurt. I’d run 28km– my furthest yet – but it hit me that in two months time I have to do all of that, with nine more whole miles on the end.

Then, following advice I’d read in Runner’s World, I attempted an ice bath. I filled the bath with cold water, chucked the bags of ice in it, and got in. My husband handed me a mug of green tea as I sat, waist-deep in the freezing water, shivering: “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Ice bath….it’s supposed to help” I replied, between howls of pain.

“That’s just mental”

After the five longest minutes of my life, I got out, and wept. The last three miles were awful. I now know what people mean when they talk about hitting the wall. I spent the last half hour of the run plagued by self-doubt, thinking there’s no way I can do this. Every step was a desperate internal battle.

When I got my marathon place, I knew it’d take over my life in the months leading up to it. But I hadn’t really thought about what that meant. My weekends are no longer spent seeing friends or spending time with my husband. Instead, they’re measured in distances. 22, 24, 26 kilometres.

When colleagues ask me on Monday morning what I did at the weekend, there’s only one answer: running. From waking up on Saturday morning, the entire day revolves around it. Breakfast: running fuel. Let it go down. Plot route on Mappedometer. Pound the pavements for hours. Stretch. Shower. Eat. Sleep. Rinse and repeat.

We went out on Saturday night after one of my big runs recently. I had nothing to talk about apart from running. All I wanted to do was eat and go home. I have become a running bore.

I’ve started obsessively reading running blogs, studying my time and distance data, and find myself Googling recovery methods, interval training and nutrition strategies when I’m lying in bed. Other people have started to associate me with running (something I still find a little odd, given I don’t really consider myself a runner). They ask me how it’s going, what time I’m aiming for. I smile and say it’s going ok. I don’t tell them about the toenail that’s looking iffy or the chronic bra strap chafing that no amount of Vaseline seems to solve.

Having now run almost 18 miles – which took me three and a half hours – I truly appreciate what a bloody long way a marathon is. That’s the kind of distance one would not normally balk at taking two or more trains to cover. I only recently learned the marathon distance was supposed to be 25 miles, but the additional 1.2 were added at the 1908 Olympics so the route would pass the King. I’d never had any particularly strong feelings on the monarchy, but the thought of this one act of subservience that’s condemned hundreds of thousands of runners to an additional ten minutes of agony is enough to turn me into a hardened republican.

Someone asked me if I’ll do another marathon after this. Clearly, they haven’t run a marathon themselves. If they did, they’d know the tedium of spending most of your free time either running, recovering from running, or thinking about running.

I replied that it was highly unlikely.

“That’s a shame. You’re on 18 miles with over two months to go. That’s brilliant.”

And finally, for the first time since Saturday, I smiled. Yeah, I guess it is.

Photo credit: Dave Morris (flickr)

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