Even when you have gone as far as you can, and everything hurts, and you are staring at the specter of self-doubt, you can find a bit more strength deep inside you, if you look closely enough. ~Hal Higdon
A real achievement comes from completing something that is challenging. There are many times in my life I've felt achieved, but none so much as today. For a while, a little part of me felt that perhaps I shouldn't feel this way because I wasn't far off the back of the pack (that's a slight understatement) and it took me 3 hours and 41 minutes to complete the race. But I put all that I had into it. I pushed and pushed to keep going. And when I reached 15 miles and started to doubt that I could even complete the full 20 miles, I looked deep and found there was more. 20 miles is the furthest I've ever run; but I can say that with pride because I ran it.
"In running, it doesn't matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack, or last. You can say, 'I have finished.' There is a lot of satisfaction in that."The first 6 miles of the race absolutely flew by. I was running with Paula and we were keeping a steady 10 minute mile pace. The day was absolutely beautiful and the scenery was rather lovely too. About 99% of the race is run on cycle tracks alongside the river, which means that not only is it a rather pleasant route, but it's really pretty flat as well. I could feel my muscles pulling a little even as it felt easy, yet this is something I've become accustomed to over the past few weeks - it seems long gone are the days when running was a pain free activity! - Still I persevered and was surprised to see the 6 mile mark. However, this carefree attitude was not to last and at about the 7 mile mark the back of my knee started pulling tight and began to really let me know it was there. Still, ignoring it as best I could, I pushed on. At around about the 8 mile mark I realised that Paula's 3 paces in front of me were extending to about 8. It was time...
~ Fred Lebow, New York City Marathon co-founder
'Paula, run on ahead, I'm not keeping your pace anymore.' I suggested to her.
'No, you are' she reassured with a big 'it's all good, you're doing great' grin on her face.
'Really though, I'm fine and I know it would be nice to run together but I'm not keeping up with you, I need to run at my own pace.' I persisted.
'This pace is fine though.' she assured once more, looking sincerely in my direction so I knew she was being honest.
'Yes... but this pace is your pace, not mine.' I revealed, dropping my pace to one I felt more comfortable at.
'Oh.' She replied, stretching 3 paces ahead again 'but I...' she began but I knew I had her; one more prompt with a slightly firmer teacher tone was all it would take:
'Really... Go On. I'll be fine. I'll finish it, I just need to take it at a slower pace.'
As she slowly - actually quite comically slowly - pulled away from me she gave me a final little wave and I plugged myself back into my headphones. Right. Here we go!
At mile 9, I saw Dom coming back in the opposite direction (about his mile 15?!!) - 'Wooooooh! Dom... Go Dom!' I squealed; who was closely followed by Pete - 'Go Pete... Great running!' I shouted and we shared a high five! About 40 minutes later, I saw Sara, who also received the mighty high of five. Oh, and I also saw some upside down tress... no kidding... really; the figment of my imagination was the pixies, leaping amongst them... but everyone (except Paula) saw the trees!
Reaching mile 12, my knee was in agony causing me to constantly reassess my options. Promising myself I would run to at least mile 14 I kept on.
At mile 14, the cheeriest Marshalls in the world kept me running to mile 15. All they needed were some pom poms and they'd have been the real deal; if that was you... thank you, you kept me smiling until mile 16. Ah! Mile 16: Need the toilet. There are no toilets. Mile 16.3: Still need the toilet. Getting painful. Mile 16.5: bush. tree. toilet. Say no more, but I popped out the trees feeling much lighter and used the new burst of energy to see me into mile 17.
Mile 17 was perhaps the hardest. Suddenly the beautiful cycle paths were just empty, long stretches of miles ahead of me. 'I am soooooo bored.' I thought, 'Why am I even doing this? There's no one around, I could even be the last person.' I snuck a look backwards. Phew, I wasn't... there were still at least 3 people behind me! 'Maybe I'll just run to the next water point.' I told myself as two of the people behind me passed me by.
An elderly woman asked the man as he passed me how far we'd gone. He informed her we'd run 17 miles, 'How far in total? she questioned.
'20 miles' he replied.
'Wow' she should have responded, but she didn't... instead she yelled 'Oh, well you've miles to go yet then!' What???!!!! Thanks Lady... just what I needed to hear! My felt my heart starting to sink; but then... cheery marshalls again! Woop! I could have nearly cried (I hasten to add I didn't!!) at the personal round of applause one of them gave me as I passed by. 'Well done!' he cheered 'You're doing brilliantly.'
'Just a little jog to the end now' one of the others promised.
Of course... a little jog to the end; no problems and as the 18 mile sign appeared on the horizon, I realised that I may have been shuffling along at 12 minute miles, but I had run 18 miles, I only had 2 to go, and most importantly I was going to complete this.
As I neared the 18.5 mile mark, Dom appeared to my left giving me an encouraging wave and grin. I gave him what I thought was a little grin back again, but was quite aware that the muscles in my face by this point seemed to have joined the ones in my legs in the tiredness stakes. not to worry, only a mile and a half left. And turning the corner, there was Pete. Yay! He dropped in alongside me and we ran along together. Chatting about his race experience, took my mind off the pain of my muscles and the exhaustion I was feeling. He talked me through the last mile, kept me going as I passed Dom, Sara and Paula- who, quite hilariously tried to jog alongside for a split second, before she realised she couldn't move! - and onto the track. Setting me my final challenge of overtaking the people in front of me, I set off on my final lap. From somewhere - and don't ask me where, I haven't a clue - I managed to find a little speed. Gaining now on the people in front, I realised I really could over take them. The guy behind me was also gaining speed and I realised I could beat all of them... I wouldn't be last!!!!! On the last hundred metres I opened up to reveal something akin to the Pheobe run in Friends; veritably skipping my way through the finish line. But hey, it worked! I had run 20 miles and was rewarded by a minute young toddler ceremoniously attempting to place the medal over my head, a T-shirt and a Mars Bar. What more could one want?... The glass of water that Dom had gone to fetch me!
So was it tough? Yes
Would I do it again? Well, I'm going to have to add 6 on... but technically, no!
Am I glad I did it? Yes.
It's hard to explain what running a race like this is like. I really didn't enjoy all of it and it took all the mental strength I had, at times, to keep running especially when everything hurt so much. Certainly, speaking to my Other Half about it, he can't comprehend at all why I would even do it, particularly when it's not something I excel at or, truth be told, am even particularly good at. If you've done it yourself, you'll know why and if not the only explanation I can offer is this: The sense of achievement that comes from the pain, the physical difficulty and the mental challenge. If running 20 miles was easy, everyone would do it. It's not, it's bloody hard work. And I may have finished at the back of the pack but I was at the back of a pack of people running 20 miles; there were a whole heap of people who never even turned up at the start line and never will - I finished ahead of them!
You're running on guts. On fumes. Your muscles twitch. You throw up. You're delirious. But you keep running because there's no way out of this hell you're in, because there's no way you're not crossing the finish line. It's a misery that non-runners don't understand. ~Martine Costello
I completed 20 miles for the first time. It was a challenge. I overcame it.
"You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement." ~ Steve Prefontaine
Distance: 20 miles
Feeling: Exhausted but certainly achieved.
Weather: beautiful! - sunny skies with a nice chill in the air.