Sunday, June 22, 2014

Thoughts on my first marathon

5 weeks ago today I ran a marathon. If you have met me in the proceeding weeks you will probably know this as I will have, most likely, tried to tell you about. It already seems like eons ago but I wanted to get some of my thoughts down before it became too distant a memory.

Picking up my race number at the Marathon Expo
All of the emotions. All of them.
I had heard from friends who had completed marathons that they were emotional experiences. That the physical and psychological effort that it takes to finish moves you and makes you feel things you wouldn’t normally feel from running or jogging.

That said I did not believe those people until I found myself uncontrollably crying at the 40km mark. It was at this point, exactly 4 hours in, that I realised that I was not only going to finish the thing, but I was going to run the whole thing too. And the fact that ‘Titanium’ by David Guetta/Sia came on just at that particular moment, when I was wet, cold, tired, and yet resolved, was the icing on the cake. The tears came and while the pouring rain might have disguised the tears somewhat, I’m sure the ‘Claire Danes cryface’ that I was pulling was a dead giveaway to any of the spectators who saw me at this point.

2.1km later I was crying again as I crossed the finish line. I remember very clearly crossing the line, putting my hands over my head as an acknowledgement that I’d completed the thing, a sign of accomplishment, triumph which was swiftly followed by me covering my hands over my face in a halfhearted attempt to cover up the tears once again. I know that this definitely happened as I have since seen the video of me crossing the finish line. The tears continued for several minutes while I a) received my medal, b) received a rose (given to all female finishers) c) got water and d) was wrapped in a space blanket. A massive ‘Tak’ (the Danish for thank you) to all of the very patient and understanding marathon helpers who did not seem to judge my sobbing self as I passed through each of these stations babbling in English.

It wasn’t that bad
Despite my accounts of my tears, the experience - on the whole - wasn’t that bad. In the final weeks and days of my preparation I had begun to be filled with an overpowering dread. Three weeks out I was terrified. Full on terrified. While I had been training solidly since January (the marathon was in May) my last month of training was far from ideal in that it involved me a)relocating back to Ireland b) starting a new job and c) getting a nasty cold partly as a result of a and b. I put in my last (and longest) training run 3 weeks out from race day and after that point I confined myself to resting up and trying to eat well. That didn’t stop the feelings of dread washing over my every few days. As it got closer and closer to race day I resigned myself to the fact that I probably wouldn’t run as fast a time as I’d aimed for months previously, and even that I might have to walk towards the end if it all got too much. By race day I just wanted to finish the thing, in whatever time I could, and it whatever shape I could.

View of the start line

But on race day as I set off and the kilometres ticked by it… wasn’t too bad. In fact, parts of the race I really enjoyed. I set off at a nice pace which I managed to hold fairly steadily for the first 30 or so kilometres. Even when, at this point, the rain began to bucket down and it went from being a chilly Danish day to being a cold, wet and windy Danish day I trucked on buoyed up by Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love’ and a bit of ‘Don’t Rain on my Parade’ (which could not have come on at a better time). ‘The wall’, the point of sheer pain and agony that marathon runners talk about in hushed tones, a point usually experienced 20+miles (or 32+kilometres) into the race, never materialised for me. By luck or by design I never had to face it.

Delighted with myself
Keeping Going
I have a number of ideas as to what helped me avoid ‘the wall’, but it was probably a combination of good nutrition, hydration, tunes and support that got me through.

All laid out ready to go. Complete with energy gels and
 the all-important 'An Mhi' wrist band

Nutrition and hydration had been planned days in advance. I knew exactly how often the hydration stations were, I knew roughly when I’d need to take my energy gels, I knew exactly what I was going to eat for breakfast that morning. I couldn’t speak highly enough for how well the race was organised except for one aspect of the hydration stations. At every second hydration stations runners were offered orange or banana segments in addition to water and sports drinks. However, the offering of banana segments led to an almost cartoon like scenario where for 100 yards after the station there were banana peels discarded all along the course, a recipe for falls! I managed to maintain upright at these points by slowing to a walk, some of my fellow athletes were braver (sillier) and ran through and I saw more than one person stumble.

Music also played a key role in the race. My sister had helped me to put together a playlist which combined current pop tunes, 90s dance music and more than a couple of broadway numbers – basically all of my favourite things. Every single song was a gem and I regularly found myself singing along, miming and even doing ‘jazz hands’ as different songs came on.

I could not have completed the marathon without the incredible support of friends and family. Sarah and Johannes, my friends who live in Copenhagen hosted me, made signs, helped me carboload and raced around Copenhagen on the underground to pop up along the course at least five different points. Seeing an Irish flag and hearing my name being cheered put an extra spring in my step every single time.
I also had lots of lovely people send me texts, emails etc and wish me good luck but a special shout out needs to go to Kim Behrman, whose remote training advice, practice tips (from everything to energy gels to race gear) as well as inspirational messages were exactly what I needed, especially in the lowest ebbs of my training. I asked her many silly questions and she answered each and every one of them.

Johannes - one half of my amazing cheer squad
Another one?

It was absolutely amazing running through the streets of Copenhagen, getting to explore and see a whole new city by running through every one of its neighbourhoods. The route took in the cobbled lanes of the old town, I ran through residential areas and dockland industrial zones. That said, the idea of running on home turf appeals to me so I’ve signed up to run the Dublin marathon in October. This time the streets, landmarks and accents of the crowds will be familiar. I feel incredibly lucky that I’m healthy enough to run 26.2 miles so why not do it again, eh? 

Post-race. Cold, wet but happy.

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