Fairly often, after someone has run a marathon, they either say in passing, or in a race report, that it was “the hardest thing they’ve ever done.” As much as I think it’s important to carefully consider your decision before signing up to a marathon (it’s not something to be entered into lightly blah blah blah…), I also want people to know that if I can do it, anyone can.
Really, that is the truth. No one is more surprised than myself that I ran a marathon. I’m sure anyone that was with me or heard about my experience at the Copenhagen half would also agree. Pretty much anyone I went to school, college or uni with wouldn’t have seen it coming. But even still, it wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And here’s why:
I’ve been spinning. And spinning is the devil’s workout. It’s hard, it hurts and more often than not, it’s boring as hell. (Admittedly, I’ve recently been to a couple of Bangs‘ classes at Boom Cycle, which are, by all accounts, the antidote to the usual spinning crappyness.) But if you can survive the torture of spin on a regular basis, you’ll be okay.
I’ve been to track. At track you have to run really fast and try not to cry. Or be sick. And then you have to do it at least seven more times. You’ll feel like an Olympian when you’re flying round the corner into the straight, but again it’s hard and it hurts. But when you’re running your long, slow marathon pace it really will feel like the easiest thing in the world.
I had a lot of long run practice. Although a couple of the distances were altered slightly, I don’t think I missed a single one of my long runs during marathon training. And once you’ve conquered 18 miles on a Thursday night after work when the only thing keeping you going is thinking of as many words as possible beginning with A, then B, then C… Or had a mini tantrum at the entrance to Hyde Park 17 miles into your 20 miler because you had more than enough half an hour ago… Or broken down in tears in the hail in Greenwich Park and sulked off onto a bus… Or had to talk yourself out of a panic attack on a busy, sunny Saturday afternoon along the Embankment… then the glory of the day itself will be easy.
I’ve been heartbroken. This may seem a bit melodramatic, but during the marathon when I was having a tough time during the 30-something kilometre section, I thought back to December last year when I was lying on the sofa bed in my old flat crying harder than I ever have before. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to feed and dress myself that day, let alone do anything else. That day was exactly 16 weeks out from race day. For the next six weeks I hauled myself to work and out for runs whilst I was numb and sad. I rattled around my empty flat on my own. I searched for somewhere else to live when it was the last thing I wanted to do. But I got through it. And I did think back to that time when I was in so much pain, and the pain I was in whilst running paled into insignificance in comparison. If anything, it helped. I was actually having fun in comparison.
So the point of this post wasn’t to moan, or for pity. It was to say that we are all much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. We are adaptable. We’re capable of not only coping, but doing well under pressure. We all go through a lot in our professional, personal and fitness lives, and sometimes it’s good to reflect on this.
Take time to appreciate how toughness (big or small) has made you tougher. You are stronger than you think.