It’s the old joke: your body and mind scream right after a race “never. again.” But as soon as you’ve cooled down and somehow get some food into you, your thoughts turn to “well, maybe”, and before you’ve gone to bed you’re looking at the calendar for your next one. So feel free to doubt me when I say: my next marathon, which is Stirling’s first (21st May), will be my last.
OK, maybe it won’t. Not until I get faster, or stronger, or mentally snappier, or. No. It will be my last. I am bowing out of marathons, having satisfied myself.
I have not had a fantastic career. I’m an also-ran. Always back of the pack at school, I stopped doing sport as soon as I could. I started running a whole year after my doctor prescribed exercise to help fight my depression, about 7 years ago (I’ve lost track). I made my way through the Couch to 5K program. After I accomplished that goal, I let it slip to the extent where I had to redo the second half and founded I what I really needed was a goal. I wondered whether “someday” I would do a marathon.
So I signed up and completed a half marathon in 2015. I decided that before my 30th I should just get ahead and do a marathon, giving me three years. I signed up to Edinburgh Marathon 2016, and got round it alright, but at mile 22 I was taking a walking break with a marshal for one of the most inspiring conversations I’ve had.
I learned that he was a 5k specialist, and loved trying to get his time down; the training involved lots of speed work but also lots of easy miles – much like marathoning training. He said he found “all of you so inspiring.” After all, it takes a lot to run a marathon.
There’s the long runs (up to three hours), and it’s not just the running that takes time – but the eating properly beforehand, and refuelling afterwards. It’s planning and adjusting routes as mileages increase. It’s adjusting your schedule to fit in all your workouts, complicated for me by my need to commute by bike. That takes mental energy, too. In marathon training, you work on accumulated fatigue; so you’re running or cycling on tired legs. This can have a draining effect on your body. You start feeling niggles in your body and wonder whether you’re injured – I call it marachondria (maratho hypochondria). And running so much can tip it from enjoyment into a chore, especially if you do the same routes all the time – which is why I started doing Parkrun!
This for me turns running from something which helped heal my depression into something which hinders me. Throughout Couch 2 5K I hated the shin splints, feeling out of breath, not being able to get up the hills and the self-consciousness about my running gait. Yet I kept going for two reasons: the achievement of reaching a time or distance, and the impact it had on the rest of my life. Over time running began to energise me, I was able to sleep slightly better at night, and I had energy to get on and do the rest of the things that needed doing. I also had an increased motivation to eat healthier.
I have found I am not dedicated enough to stop my marathon training interfere with basic life stuff, while the physical and mental energy required saps me, often leaving me unable to get things done. This includes writing; I’ve very much let this blog slip!
Mile 22 marshal was inspiring because he showed me you don’t need to do a marathon to get the benefits from running.
However, shortly before meeting this marshal I had decided I would do another marathon, but would learn from my mistakes and do it better. That’s what Stirling is about. When I realised a few weeks ago that marathoning was not the best distance for me, I was able to readjust my goal from a specific time to just enjoying it. This actually should help me with pacing in the first 16 miles – because in order to enjoy the last 10, I will need to slow down enough in the first 16 miles (so in that sense I am expecting a better time than last year’s)!
Mile 22 Marshal also inspired me for his dedication to reducing times in that shorter distance. Because it takes as much work as a marathon does. I would love to run a sub 2 hour half; a time that is for most people normal, but for me requires a huge leap of 18 minutes. And a sub 25 minute 5K – achievable, as in this marathon cycle I’ve knocked 2 minutes off my 5k time. Doing a marathon was about pushing my limits, to see how far I could go – now I want to push myself at how fast I can go.
The shorter distances are great because they don’t take as much time. I joked recently that I wouldn’t be able to attend something in a couple of months because I’ll be training for my next half (Dundee – 16th July). Someone quipped that surely you don’t need to train for a half if you’ve ran a full! But I will! Me breaking 2 hours for the half will be as miraculous as Kipchoge nearly breaking 2 for a full.
It will take my training into a new direction, and I’m really looking forward to it. It will require a different type of dedication and I’ll be able to easily vary the workouts without much planning. And best of all, it won’t take over my life, so you will get the best of me!