In one month’s time runners across the world will be checking their mail for that infamous red sleeved magazine to see if getting up at 5 in the morning to enter the London Marathon Ballot was worth it.
Last year I had the shock of my life. I had an acceptance first time round. The London Marathon ballot results are released the same week as my birthday, and I considered this the best birthday present of the year. Looking back however a curse rather than a blessing.
A CURSE? I hear you cry incredulously? People fund raise thousands to get a charity place, they sell kidneys to get a spot!!!! Its one of the greatest MARATHONS ON EARTH!
Yes, it is amazing, I’ve never known crowds like it. I took carbs with me needlessly, the crowd fed me all the way round, literally. Jelly babies, jaffa cakes, haribo, flapjacks. It was like running down the confectionery aisle at Tescos.
It was my first marathon. I put my name into the ballot after watching it on TV and getting a burst of bravado. After all I had done several halves by this point. A marathon couldn’t be that much harder right?
I have to say I did notice a few differences between the half distances and the marathon. For example on a half marathon I have definitely never:
permanently scarred my legs
lost a toenail
got home, took my trainers off then,not been able to put anything on my feet for a week.
burst into tears at the finish line
nearly passed out afterwards due to hypoglycaemia
I’m not sure why I burst into tears at the marathon finish line, it might have been because I looked down and suddenly realised my legs were bleeding. It might have been the relief that I finished (because for a while there I wasn’t sure) It also could have been simply because I was so OUT of it that I didn’t notice when super hot rugby player Leigh Halfpenny passed me a water bottle. I was told by another runner later and was gutted. I would have definitely squeezed Leigh into my fuel belt!
I think I have already mentioned that I am cursed with always running my races in warm weather. It really didn’t help that the UK had one of the worst winters in 50 years. This had really scuppered my training as for a full 3 weeks (when I was supposed to be at my peak) the paths were so bad that it was impossible to run.
I had run 22 miles in training…….once. And all my runs had been in cold temperatures.
Okay rubbish excuses aside the truth is I wasn’t ready. Physically and mentally. As the race drew nearer I began to dread it more and more. The rigour of the training for the distance was making me feel burnt out, and I was no longer enjoying running in the same way. Each long run was harder and harder to motivate myself. I had decided to fundraise for a charity anyway and I was appearing in the local newspaper. Friends and family were sponsoring me and I could feel the pressure mounting. This wasn’t like a normal race. I couldn’t just run. I had to perform as well.
At the start line I did exactly what as a runner, you should never do. I stood and compared myself to runners around me. The race had me beaten before I had even begun.
Looking back I needed another year. A year to gain mental toughness, and to gain physical strength. When I entered the ballot I had no idea what it required, it is not just a longer half. The marathon is an ordeal, its a test. Although I finished, I did not pass.
Because of nerves I went out far too fast, faster than I would in a half, and paid the price.
At mile 9 (a distance I can do with no problem normally) I got a cramp and had to have cold packs strapped to my legs to continue, these burst and the abrasiveness of the crystals inside caused golf ball size welts over the inside and outside of my legs.
At miles 14-16 I walked.
Then something happened. I saw two guys dressed in enormous rhino suits ahead of me. I thought, there’s no way I finish behind those. So I ran to just ahead of them. Then I spotted a guy dressed as a giant Starbucks mug………….. I worked my way forward picking off runners in ridiculous fancy dress outfits. And that’s how I finished. So if one of those was you, thank you. You kept me going!
But it hurt, and when it came time to stop I remember thinking ‘there’s no way I ever want to do that again’
Burn Out – Worse Than Any Injury
That race hit me hard. I didn’t train for a month afterwards. Its been three years since I’ve gone that long without putting my trainers on. It wasn’t because my legs hurt. I was back in the gym doing core work by the following week. It was my head.
The sheer pain, nearly collapsing on the way home, feeling like a failure despite finishing, it had made me scared to get back out onto the road.
And when I finally did swallow and do up my laces I did my times were awful. It was the worst bad running patch I have ever been through.
The London Marathon had been worse for my running than any injury.
So what am I saying? This isn’t a rant about the race. I’m sure had I been ready it would have been the magical experience that all the other runners talk about. However I wasn’t.
The lesson here is it is better to DNS then to push yourself for something you are not ready for. I love my halves, but the marathon is a different beast.
Did I enter the ballot again this year? Of course I did. I’m not going to be beaten by this distance, this race. This year either way I’m running another marathon because I know I’m prepared for it. I know it’s going to hurt like hell……again, but I’m an infinitely stronger runner than I was 12 months ago. Last year I should have deferred, and to be honest, on the run up I was so scared that if I hadn’t been fund-raising for charity, probably I would have.