Around 18km into a 25km run, I turned to my husband and said, “I can’t do this”. Sensing how low I felt, he didn’t chip in with a cheerful, “You’ve got this, let’s go”. Instead he said, “Let’s walk for a bit.” Exhausted, I responded, “I’m not enjoying this. I’ve lost so much confidence in myself. I’m such a fool. Like really – how did I ever think I’d be able to run a marathon, an ultra trail marathon at that. This feeling isn’t worth it.” We picked up the pace after about a kilometre and sluggishly made our way home. Upon finishing, I didn’t get that usual high, I just felt defeated. A few days later I read this article and these words really struck a chord, “marathon training can be messy, chaotic, and sometimes seem absolutely foolish. Especially for us non-professional, non-elite athlete mortals.” I paused, took a deep breath and felt this sudden relief. It’s not me. I wasn’t weak. Training for a marathon IS hard. I had to stay focused and keep going.
Unfortunately, given the uncertain circumstances around the pandemic, the race organisers felt it best to postpone the race by a few weeks with the option to defer to next year. This announcement came just 3 weeks shy of Race Day. Oh, what to do?
Why I Chose To Defer
After all the hard work, the early mornings and sacrifices, I was disappointed to get the announcement. But truthfully speaking, I had long suspected this would happen. Like many parts of the world, the year hadn’t started well with the pandemic continuing to rear its ugly head. South Africa (where the race was to be held) was placed in a higher level of lockdown with most borders closed. Meanwhile on our side of the border, we were experiencing higher rates of infections and fatalities. I considered the option of doing the race at the end of March but I honestly didn’t think the situation would be that much better. Also, even if the race did proceed in South Africa, I still had the added hassle of travelling across the border, self-isolating upon my return whilst leaving my dad to take care of my school-going kids, potentially exposing him to the virus. I felt stuck in a corner and deferring seemed to be the only reasonable option. So sadly I don’t have a medal to show for all my efforts but I walk away with several lessons.
What Did I Learn Training For A Marathon?
Your Body Takes A Beating. Aside from a calf niggle early on, I completed marathon training without any major injuries or complaints. That’s not to say that my body doesn’t feel battered. Over the last 4 months I’ve gotten used to the dull aches and pains that come with intense training. My big toenails are black and I’ve had several bad chafing incidents on my back, most coming on my long and sweaty runs, either caused by my sports bra or hydration pack or perhaps a combination of the two. I’ve had several blisters and way too many incidents of diarrhoea either mid- or post runs. Let’s not forget I’ve been training in the height of summer which has meant sore sun-burn when I didn’t reach all areas with my sunscreen and just generally “parched” feeling skin and hair. I’ve also had muscle soreness after some of my speed or hill workouts which has felt particularly painful when I’ve had to wear heels to work. But perhaps the most prevalent feeling has been that of fatigue, both physical and mental.
You Spend A Lot Of Time On The Road. Training for a marathon takes time. I’m used to long runs over the weekend. But two every weekend? Not to mention 3 or 4 days during the week of 8 – 12km runs. Also let’s agree – when you’re a slower runner, those runs just take a whole lot longer! And the more time you’re out running, the less time you have for other things. I kept on top of the kids’ school work and my own work and I still had dinner with my dad every Sunday. But I found I was more reluctant to do other things that required any level of energy – stretching and strength work as well as reading and doing other house projects I have.
Staying Consistent Is Hard. A pattern emerged as I was training. I’d be solid one week only to collapse the following one. I found it really hard to maintain a 5-day running routine and sometimes just struggled to keep up. Sometimes it wasn’t even that I was particularly tired, I just needed a mental break from planning my life around my runs. But skipping runs didn’t leave me feeling rejuvenated. Instead, I felt guilty. And so the cycle continued…
You Question Yourself A Lot. You know what was really hard to take? All the bad runs. I figured that as I was running more, I’d be getting better, stronger and faster each week. But some weeks, I felt as if I was regressing. My runs would feel really poor. A couple of months in, I realised I needed to improve some basics like my hydration, nutrition and sleeping time, but even with this, some runs were just rubbish. I can run about 25km without having to walk but on some days I found myself walking after 11/12km from fatigue… or maybe it was just frustration? Running in adverse weather conditions like scorching sun or pelting rain is bad enough but when my body wasn’t cooperating either, I just found myself questioning why I was putting myself through this. What was the point? Was a medal, banana and IG photo worth all this?
You Learn To Appreciate The Good Days. Knowing how bad things could get made me stop taking the good days for granted. I celebrated all the successes. They came in different forms – hitting the set paces in my interval training, feeling comfortable on a long run, getting up on time for a run, successfully running in the rain or hitting my highest monthly mileage like I did in December. Other times, the joys didn’t come from the actual runs but from the experience, for example, spotting new artwork in town, having an insightful discussion with my husband or ironing out some issues in my head on those mid-week 12K solo runs.
You Can Do Hard Things. Training for my marathon was hard. I had several bad runs. I missed many workouts. I struggled to get up some mornings. I ate more chocolate than I should have. I had moments of self-doubt and days when I felt it wasn’t worth it. We could close the chapter there. But that wouldn’t be telling the whole story, would it? When all is said and done, I ran 550km, I showed up on many days when staying in bed would have been easier, I ran 20km plus on several consecutive weekends, I ran 42km one weekend, I ran 70km one week, I ran on muddy trails, I ran on concrete, I ran on very hot days, I ran in thunderstorms, I ran on humid evenings. My training was far from perfect, but it showed me I can do hard things.
So, was it worth it? All the exhausting days, the chafed back and blistered toes? Yes… I’m stronger. I’m tougher. I’m wiser. I know what to expect going into training next time. And I’ll be ready for it! Thank you to Coach Marcel from Fitness From Africa – we didn’t get the medal we came for but I’d like to thank you for an amazing training schedule, your guidance, your patience and your support on my journey to Addo. To my husband Ditiro – wow! We’ve had quite the adventure – one day I’ll have to tell them about the day I kicked you off my long run! LOL! But today, I just want to thank you for patiently running with me on all my long runs. Cheerfully sticking to a 7 – 8 min/km pace when you usually run a 4 – 5 pace, listening to all my complaints and making all attempts to get the perfect shots for my blog…You’ve been incredible.
Have you ever trained for a marathon? What was your experience like? What did you learn and what mistakes did you make?
I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.