Wow. Marathons hurt.
I did it though. Five hours and twenty-one minutes exactly. I’m a bit frustrated at that, to be honest, as my target time was five hours. When I hit mile twenty I was still in good shape – tired and hurting, but still moving well. My watch showed three hours and fifty minutes and I was ecstatic. I had six miles to go. Six miles in an hour is a pretty easy run when I’m fresh, and I figured the extra ten minutes would give me enough leeway to get to the line per plan.
Then I hit the Wall.
You’ve probably heard of the Wall – a long distance runner’s worst nightmare. Basically, the human body isn’t actually able to run twenty-six miles in one go under any normal circumstance. You need more fuel to achieve that distance than you’re capable of storing in your body. At some point, the tank’s going to empty. That moment, which I promise comes from nowhere and hits you like a train in seconds, is the Wall. All the carb-loading in the week before a really long run, the endless pasta, is about trying to delay that moment for as long as you possibly can. Even then, you have to eat and drink on the move, and time it right so that the needle hovers above empty without hitting it.
Turns out, that bit is a skill I’m yet to master..
All the strength went from my legs, which changed from feeling sore but strong to just being empty. It was like somebody had just flushed the strength out. My co-ordination vanished, and I started weaving like a drunkard. The worst thing is, my head emptied too. I couldn’t concentrate on anything (when I got to the finish,Tom started talking about how the course changed on the way back from what we took on the way out, and I have no idea what he’s talking about). To compound everything, those last few miles were almost all running into the sun, with little shade, and the temperature was hitting thirty degrees.
I can’t put it down to willpower that I kept moving, because there was nothing at all in my head except a faraway knowledge that I was in very serious trouble, but I did. Maybe, after twenty miles, going forward was just force of habit. Whatever the reason, it made the difference between finishing, and not. I’d already passed others who had hit the Wall sooner than me, sitting on the pavement being fed and watered as they stared blankly at their feet. That could as easily have been me.
In the last couple of miles, I came back to myself. I assume that, though I mistimed when I was eating on the move, the fact that I had scoffed a couple of bananas and a biscuit meant that some energy hit my muscles, late but welcome. By the time I was on the homestretch, I was feeling much stronger. That hazy period throwing myself at the wall added another twenty-one minutes to where I wanted to be, but by that point I was glad to finish at all.
Everybody in the team did the distance – in fact I was the last to cross the line – and I’m really proud to have run with them. Our champion remains Chris, who hit the finish at four hours and a handful of seconds. I reckon Steph, running on a badly injured knee and in enormous pain for two thirds of the run, is probably the hero of the day though. Don’t think I could have done what she just did.
The best bit of the run for me? Crossing the sea bridge, a city bypass which loops out over the Arabian Sea for five kilometres, running parallel to the shore. I looked up while I was on the bridge, and a hazy golden sun was cresting the skyscrapers and the slums before dancing on the water between land and bridge. It was extraordinarily beautiful, and I welled up. A tiny, perfect moment. I didn’t photograph it of course, but that’s even better, because that moment was mine and posting it online would cheapen it somehow.
When I realised I was having a cliched ‘marathon moment’ in which the beauty of the world presented it to me, I burst out laughing, and was still giggling at the silliness of it all when I left the bridge three kilometres later.
I slept most of the afternoon, after hardly sleeping last night. My feet are a complete wreck. There are places where I can’t tell where the toes stop and the blisters start. Earlier, I was staggering around like I’d just downed a bottle of neat vodka. Finding ways to get about is like learning to walk all over again, but if I concentrate I can now just about walk without making it look like the most difficult thing on earth. Hopefully that will remain the case when I wake up tomorrow.
Then it will be time to go home. I think I’m still a bit shell-shocked about this weekend – I haven’t yet been able to process it all, or how I really feel about it. I do know that, for all the pain I’m in, I’ve loved doing this – training for and running a marathon.
I strongly suspect I’m hooked.