I ran my first and only marathon (so far), with my husband in Dublin in 2008. Shortly after that, my mini human-producing years began and pursuit of “the big one” went on hold. Seven years and two babies later, I’m ready to do it all over again.
If you have never run 26 miles for “pleasure” and are wondering what it’s all about, here is an ordinary girl’s guide to running a very long way!
In all my 25 years of running, I have concluded that, whilst some people say so, there are very few people who can’t run. Instead, there are people that do and people that don’t, much like any other activity. Of the people that DO, I have found that they become very fond of it. Not everyone will proclaim to loving it, but they will most likely make it a part of their lives long-term.
This is the process that seems to apply to most new runners and categorically applied to ME:
- “I can’t run” to “Actually, I can, just not very far and with a bit of walking in between”, to...
- “I just did my first 5K, that’s far enough for me”, to…
- “I just did my first 10K, that’s far enough for me”, to…
- “I just did my first half marathon, that’s DEFINITELY far enough for me!”
At this point in the process, the seasoned happy runner will sit in a zone I will tenderly call “denial”. They will sign up for a couple more half’s. They will go back and try and do some 10Ks a bit faster. But, eventually, they will face up to the fact that something significant is missing.
They will tell themselves marathon running is not healthy (just before they meet a chirpy 70 year-old who just ran one), they will convince themselves they haven’t got time to train (just as they realise they are running 4 hours a week already). They will claim it’s just not something they fancy (and that is usually the moment they apply themselves and sign up for a marathon - And so, I did!).
The minute you are committed to a marathon, you are also committed to a solid long-term exercise regime. This is exceptionally motivating. Excuses such as “Oh, skipping this session won’t hurt” are much less likely to happen. Entering a running event, whatever the distance, has this effect. There aren’t many types of exercises where you can set such clearly defined and achievable goals and it gets healthily addictive.
Training schedules and plans vary, but for the longer distances, the pivotal ingredient is the weekly “long one”. Every week, the long one gets longer of course. Half way through our training, my husband and I planned in a half marathon, which is a great way to “feel” a race and get a sense of how the crowds and race day adrenalin can affect your time. I remember though, the feeling at the end of 13 miles worth of half marathon; the meaning of the word “half” never felt so poignant – so, I’ve got to do what I just did… twice!
Training after that then gets interesting. We jumped from 13 miles to 16. After that, adding on extra little loops weekly until we got to 22 miles.
We did this twice. On the second (and last) go, just 2 weeks before the race, for the first time ever, I surrendered a mile early and hobbled the remaining distance home with a feeling of utter disappointment and dread in my bones. For the first time since my training began, I started to doubt that I could finish.
I thought it was a bad omen and definitely bad mind games. As it turned out, it was quite the opposite.
The race itself ends up being such a small part of the overall experience. For me, it was well worth every second of training. The 26 miles passed for me, in the following sequence:
Miles 1-3: Euphoria. Crowds! Klaxons! Company! Mile markers that seem to flash by. They flash by usually because you are excitedly running too fast feeling misguidedly smug as you overtake people.
Miles 4-10: Mild Panic as the markers start to feel much less frequent. Your crowd support has died down and things are getting a bit lonely (other than those you overtook earlier who are now passing you).
Miles 10 – 15: Quiet Confidence. The psychology of passing the halfway mark gives you a massive boost. You’ve hit the peak, it’s just a countdown now, isn’t it?
Mile 16 - 22: Mild Panic. There’s still so far to go.
Mile 22: Possible Despair. This is where some people will hit the wall, the point where your body has used up all its stored glycogen. It can mean extreme fatigue when you least want it.
I actually never hit the wall in the race itself. In fact, I hit a natural high around this point and can quite honestly say, the final 4 miles are the most pleasurable of the race.
Miles 23 – 26: Euphoria, particularly the final mile and 385 yards. It was a sense of achievement that has only ever been surpassed by the birth of my babies – a process not dissimilar to marathon running as it happens.
The 24 hours that followed my marathon were a peculiar juxtaposition of extreme bodily discomfort and extreme bodily pride. In the months that followed though, I actually barely did any running, which I think was rebellion against so many months of having no choice.
But run again, I did. And marathon again, I will. If you are wondering if you could do it, then my answer is emphatic - if the girl next door (me!) can, so can you.