For background, I may have had the crappiest two week taper in the history of marathon running. A cold, throat infection, cricked neck, swollen foot...all combined to devour my confidence, make me paranoid and believe in chess as my true calling. However, I was still at the start line on a fine Sunday morning, with my Newfeel trainers, vasline and garmin all in place, finally realising it was all in the mind and I was ready to go.
At 8:30 we set off. As per the million pieces of advice I had been given, I didn't set off too fast and in any case, the first two kilometres were uphill. The sun was also already quite strong after a few gloomy days. Eventually we turned around to begin descending and I started to speed up. Then my breathing got a bit laboured so I held myself back and settled into a pace that would see me finish in about 3:45. I was happy with this pace and started to knock off the kilomtres without too much trouble. It helped that Murcia is a beautiful city to run through.
And that was it for a while. I ran along, acknowledging the people supporting us and thinking it was going to be a piece of cake. However, at around 17k, things started to go wrong. My abductor muscles started to feel really tight and I started to lose a bit of power in my stride. By 20k, I knew I was in trouble. The pain in my legs wasn't acute, but I couldn't push them forward and my pace started to dramatically drop. I went from 5:30 per km to around 7 minutes per km over the next 3-4k.
At around 30k I suddenly felt I couldn´t run any further. My chest was tight and my legs were hopelessly weak. So I tried to walk for a bit and found that more difficult than running. I was becoming a real mental mess as well, with my body pretty much demanding that I stop, telling me with certainty that I would die if I didn´t, while my ego wouldn't let me contemplate giving up. In the end, I just kept going, one foot in front of the other, robot style. There are no words to describe how tough this was, and I guess only those who´ve been there will know how this feels. But...there´s also something about the marathon that is special in this respect. You are not alone, there are others trying to get to the end as well, and this solidarity can be a real source of strength if you can tap into it.
Eventually, the kilometres whittled down and I passed the 41k mark. Then I turned a corner and there was the finishing line, about 800 metres ahead. The support here was huge and I started to milk it for all it was worth and started to enjoy the moment. I even got a bit more pace in my legs and crossed the line in 4:23.
To bring a usual cliche into this, my marathon was a real mental battle. It was simply about keeping going when my body didn´t want to and, although it wasn´t pleasant at the time, I´m really glad I went through it. The sense of achievement at the end made everything ok (and still does - I´m on a real buzz this morning).
Things I did right:
- I picked the right shoes - I´m a firm believer in this. I run in a pair of Newfeel trainers designed for walking. I chose them because they are minimalist and comfortable and above all, €5. You do not need to spend a fortune on expensive trainers, in my opinion, but would be better placed building up your foot strength over time. These trainers were perfect for me and can be for anyone else.
- Diet - I ate a paleo diet for the three months leading up to the race. Apart from my legs giving up, I felt fine within myself during the race, and I was injury free for all my training.
- Time-based training - doing time-based training instead of distance training delivered everything it said it would. The only thing I may need to improve in this is doing a longer base-building period next time in order to increase my general pace.
Things I did wrong:
- I have never dedicated myself to building up my leg and core strength. I´ve no doubt this was a major part of the problem yesterday. If I am to continue to improve this now has to become a priority.
- Dealing with stress - I let my mind get the better of me in the build-up. I have to deal with the stress better next time.