Catching up with myself (Part II)

How do you cope with marathon ennui?


"Ah! Le marathon! Je despair..."

One of the recurring themes that comes up when people talk about marathons is the special, almost transcendent challenge it presents to the individual. To quote Emil Zapotek “If you want to win something, run 100 metres. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”

However, what I have felt during my last couple of marathons is that the running has become ever so slightly workmanlike. The euphoria and sense of accomplishment that accompanied the best moments in Florida or London has been replaced by a resigned determination to get round and a confidence (or complacence?) that I can now get round in or around the 5h 15min mark – calmly within myself.

They aren’t easy as such – I’d be getting faster if that were the case – but now I have a strategy to cope with getting through them and by sticking to it I have been safe, injury-free and a little bit bored. The rush of emotion and exhilaration has been lacking.

Part of it is the relentlessness of preparing for run after run. Having run six marathons in the last 10 weeks (and nine this year), I’m quite grateful for a break as much to rest my brain and not have to spend another weekend schlepping round the country (though I’m aware this is worse for Zoe, who doesn’t even get a medal at the end of it – just a tired, grumpy man that smells like “a thousand dead men’s sweat”).

Which isn’t to say that the last three haven’t had their unique points…

Edinburgh was hot. Opening-of-Sexy-Beast hot. “Scotland might surprise you”, runs the current Scottish tourist board slogan. And it did – the land had been transformed into a baking desert of remorseless sun.

Weather for running is a bit like porridge for small children in fairy tales. Too cold and wet and your spirits drop, your body temperature gets low when you start to slow down and your running gear gets heavy with rain. Too hot and you sweat more, increasing the risk of dehydration, risk sunburn or sunstroke and are victim to getting increasingly withered by a remorseless heat just as you are getting increasingly tired the further you run.

Edinburgh was very definitely ‘too hot’. People were collapsing at the side of the road from the halfway mark. I saw one man with an oxygen mask clamped to his face, deliriously shouting “Get me an ambulance! I won’t tell my Mum!” while a St John’s Ambulance volunteer tried to calm him. It was so hot that my initial hopes of going sub-5 hours turned into just getting round without losing my upper layer of skin. Which I did, in 5 hours 10 minutes. Probably, considering the circumstances, my best run.

The Wales Marathon was another surprisingly hot one. The route started and finished in Tenby, taking in a long loop via Pembroke and through the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. It was very up-and-down and a bit sparsely supported outside the towns. But it was friendly and I was able to do a fast first half then slow down to deal with the more rugged second half without too much trouble. Even had time to chat to a few of the other runners, who were from a very varied set of backgrounds. A gentle-ish time of 5h 19min reflected the generally relaxed nature of the run.

Cheltenham, however, was an omnishambles of a marathon on my part, which can be summed up with these points.

  • There was no mass start. You started by yourself at any time between 7am-11am, so I turned up at 9.30, dropped my bag off and they gave me a map (!) and said “Right, off you go.” And I did. By myself.
  • There were no spectators. Just me and the occasional other runner/walker to grunt at. The organisers did their best at the water/refreshment stations to buck up your spirits, but this was a run for those who were good at setting their own pace and sticking to it. I am not one of those people.
  • The Cotswolds: Surprisingly hilly.
  • The preceding days of rain had left it rather muddy – making it very slow going and rather slippy underfoot.
  • This meant that it took me 7 hours and 14 minutes to complete it…
  • And I fell over three times.
  • But actually, that time looks more impressive when you consider I got lost and ended up taking a two-mile detour – meaning I actually did 28 miles.
  • Finally, while pausing to check if an injured runner was OK, I electrocuted myself on an electric fence.

So that’s why I’m tired. But if I take a step back to look at the bigger picture, then I know that this IS what I need to do to finish the Twelveathon. The always excellent Coach Jenny’s advice is to consider the whole 12 marathons as your goal – “In order to finish the last event, you have to race wisely in the first few”. So running within myself is exactly what I need to be doing to make it to the end. And then I might try and cut loose.

And, looking at the even bigger picture, I’ve now raised over £8,600 for UNICEF and Scene & Heard thanks to phenomenally generous people. And that’s definitely worth a bit of “boredom”.

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