Run a marathon… check!May 11, 2009 2:02 pm running
Yesterday, on my second serious attempt (previously I injured myself 4 weeks before the race) I finally ran a marathon in Geneva, Switzerland.
Since getting injured in 2007, I’ve taken up running fairly seriously, joined a club, and this time round I was fairly conscientious about my training, getting in most of my long runs, speed work & pace runs as planned. I thought I was prepared, but I don’t think anything can prepare you for actually running 42.195 kilometers at race pace. Athletes will tell you that the marathon is one of the hardest events out there because it’s not just a long-distance race, it’s also a race where you have to run fast all the time. But until you’ve done it, it’s hard to appreciate what they mean.
This year, the club chose the Geneva marathon as a club outing, and around 40 club members signed up for either the marathon or the half-marathon on the banks of Lac Leman, and I couldn’t resist signing up for the marathon.
I wasn’t in perfect health, since I’ve been feeling some twinges in my right hip & hamstring for the past couple of weeks, but during taper before the race I’ve been taking it very easy, and I felt pretty good the day before. With the club we met up on Saturday 9th after lunch, and drove to Geneva to get our race numbers, and then to the hotel in Annemasse for a “special marathon runner’s” dinner (which had a little too much lardons, vinaigrette & buttery sauce to be called a true marathon runner meal), last minute preparations for the big day, and a good night’s rest.
Up early, light breakfast, back into Geneva for the race. Arrived at 7am, lots of marathon runners around, and the excitement levels are starting to climb. After the usual formalities (vaseline under armpits and between thighs, taped nipples, visit to toilet) we made our way to the starting line for the 8am start.
Nice pace from the start – a little fast, even, but by the 3rd kilometer I’d settled into my race pace, at around 4’40 per kilometer (aiming for 3h20 with a couple of minutes margin). Walked across every water station to get two or three good mouthfuls of water and banana without upsetting my tummy. Around kilometer 7, I started to feel a little twinge in the hamstring and piriformis/pyramidal muscle, and I felt like I might be in for a long day. It didn’t start affecting me for a while, but by kilometer 16, I was starting to feel muscles seize up in my hip in reaction to the pain.
First half completed on schedule, 1h38’55, and I was feeling pretty good. Not long afterwards, every step was getting painful. Around kilometer 26, I decided (or was my body deciding for me?) to ease off on the pace a little and I started running kilometers at 4’50 to 5′.
They talk about the wall, but you don’t know what they mean until you hit it. Around kilometer 32, I found out. At first, I welcomed the feeling of heavy legs – it drowned out the pain from my hip, and here was a familiar sensation I thought I could manage. But as the kilometers wore on, and my pace dropped, I was having a harder and harder time putting one foot in front of the other. Starting again after walking across a water stop at kilometers 33 and 38 was hard – it was pure will that got me going again. My pace was slipping – from 5′ to 5’30 – one kilometer I ran in 6′. It looked like I was barely going to finish in 3’30, if I made it to the end at all.
Then a club-mate who was on a slower pace caught up to me, tapped me on the shoulder, and said “Hang on to me, we’ll finish together” (“accroche toi, on termine ensemble”). A life-saver. Manna from heaven. I picked up speed to match him – if only for 100m. After that, I said to myself, I’ll try to keep this up for another kilometer. When we passed the marker for 40k, I said I’d make it to 41 with him, and let him off for the last straight. And when we got to the final straight, I summoned up everything I had left to go for the last 1200m.
In the end, I covered those last 3200m in an average of 4’35 per kilometer – which just went to teach me that those 5km when I was feeling sorry for myself were more mental blockage than anything else, and I was able to overcome my body screaming out at me to stop.
The record will show that I ran 3h26’33 for my first marathon, but that doesn’t come close to telling the story.
Afterwards, I got a massage, drank a lot of water, ate some banana, and, feeling emptied & drained, a wave of emotion overcame me when I realised what I’d done.
Congratulations to the other first-time marathon runners who ran with me yesterday, and thank you Paco, I’ll never forget that you got me to the end of my first marathon.
Update: The marathon organisers had a video camera recording everyone’s arrival during the race. I discovered this afterwards, otherwise I might have been slightly more restrained after crossing the line.