London Marathon taper time. An infamous part of training where marathon paranoia usually rears its ugly head, whilst you’re trying to wind down for the big event. I’ve been here before. Only, unlike last year, 2018 will have a happy ending. I will see and cross and look back at that finish line.
Re-reading my opening paragraph, I went to delete that last sentence. The voice inside my head, afraid of what might become an over-claim. But that’s ridiculous. Because I am positive. I’m confident. I believe in my body. Everyone always talks about dreaming, believing and succeeding. And now it’s my turn to do just that. To banish, block and barricade the negative thoughts that attempt to rain on my commitment to 26.2.
Let’s rewind. For me, 2017 started with aggression. After having to defer my London Marathon 2016 due to an operation, I was ready. With determination and a strict lifestyle, I made the decision that I was no longer free to indulge in my favourite foods. Not even a drop of alcohol was allowed to pass my lips. A healthy attitude (or so I thought) to go alongside my marathon training plan. I did not miss a run. Come rain or snow or sun, or all three in the space of ten minutes (sorry global warming), I was out there. With each long run, my confidence grew. My long run pace was averaging at 8min 27sec miles, meaning that a goal of 3hr 40min was in reach.
The physical training was seemingly in place. But looking back, I should have dedicated time to head space. Because if it involved the completion of 26.2 miles, you can guarantee I’d dedicated at least six different Google searches to it. A day. My mind was at capacity. If I read something new or came across a running thread with advice, it triggered something else to worry about. It occupied every percent of my concentration. My work was suffering. Lunch breaks? Pre-booked to researching something marathon-related. Conversations with anyone would end up circulating the topic of running. God-forbid actually finding someone else taking part. I’d be in my element asking questions, sharing tips and swapping running stories. How did people around me put up with my constant obsessing? All I could think about was that Sunday. Wishing it to be here already, longing for it to be over.
Looking back on it, I can barely remember the night before or the morning of. A mixture of nerves, apprehension, excitement and total fear had equated in a mental blur. I reached the red start area and had to say a very tearful goodbye to my boyfriend. And then, I was alone. I dropped off my bag and went in search of somewhere to empty my bladder. The next forty minutes seemed to last forever, but finally – layers were ditched and my watch beeped as it was put into action. I was on the move.
I knew I’d see a lot of familiar faces around the course but had warned my personal cheerleaders that the most they’d get from me would be a wave – I didn’t want to stop. I knew how much harder it’d be to press on if I gave my legs a teaser of a rest. I’d given my all to training. This course was mine.
Normally at 13 miles into a long run, though I can feel each stride, I’ve still got gas in the tank. For some reason, on race day it felt hard. Harder than it should at the halfway point. I knew that a big group of my nearest and dearest were around the corner. They’ll keep me going. Even though all I wanted to do was stop. Not wanting to worry anyone by going against the ‘no-resting’ rule I’d put in place for myself, I carried on – and waved my arms as I passed them. Trying not to let on how hard I was fighting.
Something wasn’t right. I tucked into another gel. Ahead of schedule, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of fatigue. I’d passed everyone that I was expecting to see. Surely, I could take a little moment just to assess what was going on? My legs felt like the equivalent to unset jelly. I made my way to the side, not wanting to be an obstacle for other runners. I’m not quite sure how I looked, but I’m guessing it was a similar colour to the jacket of the approaching marshal in high-vis. I took some water. But as he got closer, I watched him radio into the walkie-talkie attached to his jacket, “I’ve got a runner coming off at mile 14!”. Words I never wanted to hear. Words that couldn’t be further from the truth in my mind. I frantically waved my hands and shook my head. “No, no I’m not coming off – just stopping for a rest…”. But as he got closer, I panicked. He’s not taking my dream away from me. So, I somehow managed to put one foot in front of the other and carry on. Which, sadly, was my last memory of the race.
With no recollection, I collapsed at mile 16. I woke in a St John’s Ambulance tent. My body covered in ice. Only when I had reached a certain temperature was I whizzed to hospital and kept overnight with Rhabdomyolysis; a breakdown of muscles, which cause proteins to leak into the bloodstream and go for your kidneys. Often a result of extreme exercise.
I can’t begin to explain how it feels to put your all into training, to not cross the finish line. It would have been easy to give up there and then. But for me, London and I have unfinished business. I owe victory to myself. I will cross that finish line, armed with a secret weapon: The invaluable experience of 2017.
What has maranoia taught me? Find out in my next post.