Hitting the wall

Pheidippides drew the best straw, he’ll be the one bringing the good news. He’s nervous because of the honour and he’s still tired from the battle. “The Persians outnumbered us, but we were smarter”, he thinks when running to Athens. Without stopping he arrives, shouts: “We’ve won!” and pegs out. It’s the year 490 before Christ.

Two-and-a-half thousand years after this hero we think it’s a good idea to run a marathon. Never before we’ve trained for a goal. To prepare for such a distance we’re using a training schedule from the internet. Charissa has bad luck and gets hurt just before the marathon. Then she catches a bad cold. Not to risk to aggravate the injury and lacking the last part of the training she chooses not to start. She changes to a half marathon.

While training I don’t observe progress. I don’t like running the same trail over and over again, so it’s hard to compare trainings. There are more factors that are unique per training: weather, soil, health, etc. It all influences how a training is perceived. Measuring heart rate and speed clearly shows I’m progressing:

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It’s my first marathon and thus hard to come up with a strategy. I know how my body reacts to long distances, but 42 kilometers in competition I’ve never done. I intent to run at a constant heart rate slightly higher than the one during my endurance runs. Fitness wise it will be all right, as long as my muscles will cooperate. What’s more interesting is that it’s the first warm day of the year. My body is better fit for coldness than for heat.

I take my place at the start between the 3:15 and 3:30 pacers. The starting shot is fired and I start following the 3:15 pacers. After a few kilometers I look at my watch: they are running too fast. Thoughts of doubt start to pop up. Keep following the pacers as I’m running effortless? Maybe I’ll overrun myself at this pace, I’m not planning on walking in the end! Choices…

Photo: Corné Hannink

I’m going to run my own race. That’s the decision. I slow down a bit. I’m not fully convinced, as things were going easy. I think of sprinting the last kilometer.

From kilometer 20 on my speed slowly decreases. My feet ache a bit. I’ve used this combination of socks and shoes a lot, but today I get blisters wearing them. Moment of reflection.

I pass the 30 kilometer mark. Things are still fine. It is becoming more and more warm, but the trail is varied with a lot of shade and enough cups/sponges with fresh water. I carry my own drinks, but I’m happy with the water. I mostly use it for cooling down.

At kilometer 36 I hit the wall. Energy drained, muscles protesting. 6 kilometers to go. A distance I normally wouldn’t consider as a training. Time to switch strategy. Running a good time becomes don’t walk. Didn’t I think about sprinting the last kilometer a few hours ago?

In 3 kilometers my parents will be waiting along the trail. A quarter of an hour, maybe a few seconds longer. I slow down to 5’15” per kilometer and I’m happy with it. In the meantime I overtake runners of the half marathon. They are in a much worse condition, there’s still hope left.

I can still smile when I see my parents. Half of the 6 kilometers is gone. Tight muscles, hot weather, blisters, keep running for another 15 minutes and it will be over. I can even run a bit faster now. What happens between the ears plays a much bigger role than I thought.


Photo: Tilburgse Amateur Fotografen Vereniging

Charissa just finished the half marathon. In the last turn before the finish she spots me and runs along the last stretch. The encouragement that I need. The finish is right after this turn. I made it!


Photo: Corné Hannink

Postscript

At the internet you’ll find schemes that guide you to run a marathon in 5 or 6 months. They will help getting you ready for running a marathon, but you won’t run a record time. Comfortable and easy it will never be.

Running is simple, just put one foot in front of the other. During training more and more sides of running submerge. How will my body react to a lot of running? What forms of training should you do and how to organize those? What can I eat and drink during running without problems? How much shall I eat to get enough calories? Personal choices, researching my own body.

One hundred twenty years ago the marathon was added as Olympic distance. The first winner runs under three hours. I was not that fast, but I’m still very content. Probably I won’t be able to match my results in the future: 39th overall and 15th in my category. The advantage of participating in an unknown marathon. Contrary to Pheidippides I’m only left with aching muscles after my adventure.

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