There’s more than one way to measure a marathon. Of course the distance is always the same, but the experience, the lessons learned, the number of dark thoughts crushed as the miles go by but the end is still far away is different for each marathon.
I loved my first marathon in Paris because it was my first and I had no time expectation. I was elated to get a sub 4 hour time, something most people told me wasn’t going to be achievable for a first marathon. However, I ran it alone and was alone in a foreign country. My husband didn’t get his passport back from the Home Office on time (after 8 months but that’s a longer story than a marathon) so he couldn’t run it with me. Also, my official finishing time glitched and was wrong on the results website for hours before it was corrected. I found myself at the Eurostar station in Paris, sitting on the floor as all seats were taken and sobbing like somebody had died. All the emotions of running a first marathon, having the wrong time up & not having someone there with me were just too much. And my body hurt.
My second marathon was Paris again, this time with my husband. I was excited. It turned out to be an awfully hot day though, after training through the winter I struggled a lot in the heat and hated the race from 10km onwards. I got a 20 second PB but hated it.
This would have been my last marathon if I hadn’t already signed up for a third marathon in Milton Keynes a month later.
For that one I wasn’t ready. My legs were not recovered enough to do that distance so soon. And Milton Keynes is boring. I tried to enjoy it, run slower, even walk up a hill (incline really) but I didn’t enjoy it and when I finished in 4:10 I was sure I was done with marathons.
Fast forward 3 years and I’ve done more CrossFit than I’ve done running. I’m loving it but the latest Open (worldwide competition) crushed me. Not all workouts went terribly but some did, and in general I ended up finishing the Open feeling like the shittiest Crossfitter ever.
In the spur of the moment I signed up for next spring’s Tallinn Marathon. I wanted to focus on running again so that if others notice that I’m a shit Crossfitter, I can just say that I’m actually a runner.
And Brexit happened and all of a sudden it became a possibility that we won’t be living in Europe much longer so I felt like I HAD to bite the bullet, train during the summer (The Worst) for an autumn marathon. My hope is to get a Good For Age time for London and then hopefully run that too while I still live in London. Tallinn Marathon and London Marathon were always on my mind as two races I wanted to run but I had kept delaying doing something about it. Well, London delayed itself – for the past 6 years I’ve tried to get a ballot place but those are impossible to get. (I’m late to apply for 2018 now and next year they might decrease the GFA times but what the heck and there’s a chance they won’t)
So – back to Tallinn marathon. I started increasing my weekly mileage from January this year to have it consistently at 40km before starting a 16-week training programme where the first week’s long run is 21km already.
I chose Run Less, Run Faster plan because it calls for just 3 runs a week and anything more than that would be hard to fit into my schedule (and accommodate my still everlasting Crossfit habit and my new swimming habit).
My long run target paces came from the 3:45 plan. Sometimes I hit them, mostly I didn’t, but I came close. My tempo and interval runs’ speeds came from the 3:40 plan and those I hit more often.
Long story short, 16 weeks of thinking / talking / dreaming / obsessing about the marathon, I finally ran it.
Plan A was to go for sub 3:40, start with 5:20 min/km pace and halfway start picking up the speed.
Plan B was to go for sub 3:45, start with 5:24 min/km pace and halfway start picking up the speed.
Plan C was to just see what happens on the day.
And the overarching plan was Enjoyment Over Time – meaning not pushing myself to breaking point.
In the end something of a mix of plan B and C happened. I tried hard to hold myself back from the galloping crowd for the first half and ran it with 5:24 average. When it was time to start picking up the speed, the speed did not happen. Instead it slipped to 5:26 by 30km. I didn’t panic, I had had relatively few dark thoughts during the race so far, so I considered it a success and just bloody wanted to finish it no matter what time. If you’ve ever run a marathon you know what I’m talking about. I smiled at every photographer, I kept my cadence high, I only thought about walking once and then quickly laughed at myself for being silly – nothing was hurting, I was just a bit tired but I was running a marathon so that was just part of the deal.
The weather that threatened to be 22°C with sun and 90% humidity but it stayed cloudy the whole time. I kept telling myself most of the way “this is your day”, “this IS your day”, “you’re doing so well”.
During the last 5km I managed to speed up a bit and get my average pace back down to 5:24. The last km was uphill which seemed like a cruel joke and the finish corridor was a cobbled stone street, but my Estonian bestie had spotted me and that put a smile on my face and I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 3:46:59.
That one second means I will forever say that my marathon PB is 3:46!
I got my medal, wrapped my soaking wet arms around my friend, inhaled the glorious bottle of Fanta she’d brought for me and all was well in the world. I didn’t even rush to check my official time. I got changed, we had coffee and a good chat. I really didn’t care about my time in precise seconds.
I thought before the race that what if I don’t get a 3:45, will I feel like a shit runner too in addition to feeling like a shit Crossfitter? Will I feel too heavy (my brain actually uses the word ‘fat’) to be a proper runner?
What happened is this – I don’t! My brain is totally not sabotaging itself right now and telling it rubbish like I’m too fat or too slow.
Compared to my last marathons, have 5 extra Crossfit muscle-kilos to lug around (something that I never regret), I am in my 40-s instead of my 30-s, but – I ran a pretty even race when it comes to speed; nothing hurt and not once during the race did I regret my choice to do this distance again.
A marathon is a bloody long way. You only truly grasp it when running it. And you realise that finishing the damn thing is already a huge achievement.
I spent the rest of the day yesterday flying back to London (delayed flights, boo) so my knees were a bit sore by the time I got home after midnight. This morning they felt a lot better but it took my ankles about 10 minutes to start working. After walking my kids to school my legs feel good.
I don’t know if I would have achieved a faster time if I had run a bit faster in the first half. I don’t know if I would have totally crashed in the second half if I had done that. I don’t know if I should have run even slower in the first half to actually be able to pick up more speed in the end.
I guess I’ll just have to run another marathon to find out what works for me ;P