I began running nearly nine years ago with the sole intention of completing a marathon. Never shying away from a challenge, my target soon became the elusive 3 hour mark. The most recent attempt was an assault on Rotterdam.
After an extended period of consistent training, I had been refining it for the preceding months and racing well. However, in the weeks leading up to the race day, my legs hurt more than previously. I was unable to sleep the night before and, on the day, I felt sick when I woke up, wasn’t hungry and had to force a bowl of cereal in. Approaching the start line, my legs went to jelly; the only positive thought I could find was the fact I was as prepared as I had ever been and this time, I had experience on my side.
I knew exactly what I had to do. I just had to deliver.
At the start, I was caught up with slower runners and didn’t see the first or second km markers, so when I went through 3km in 14mins (more than 90secs off target), I thought “Don’t panic”. Fortunately, I didn’t and quickly found my target pace (4mins 09secs per km) and maintained it.
That was until 20km. I hadn’t even reached halfway when my quads started talking to me, politely telling me they didn’t want to go the distance. I tried to blank the negative thoughts, but monitored the situation. By 30km, they were shouting at me, willing me to give up. I ignored their call; giving up wasn’t an option, so I nursed them as much as possible giving them an extra 10secs every km as well as a splash of cold water.
At 32km, my calf seized as a result of subconsciously changing my stride to accommodate my quads, so I stopped momentarily to pour a cup of cold water on them and continued; the pain subsided. I started doing the maths on the run – I had close to 45 minutes to complete the final 10km, which feels like a walk in the park when fresh but, clearly, I wasn’t – I needed to average 4:30 per km.
This meant 4:15 for 5km followed by 4:45 for the final 5km, however I was on 4:30 by 36km – it was going to be touch and go. I crossed the 40km line (4:37 for the km) with less than 10 minutes to go. Then I remembered a marathon is longer than 42km, about 1 minute longer, so I had to pick up the pace – I had no choice. The 41st km took more than 5mins so I knew I was in trouble. I felt unable to pick up the pace and my quads were now screaming at me. With 1km to go, it was down to 4 mins, but I had no strength left. With 500m to go, I first caught sight of the finish line. It was now or maybe never again. I tried to kick and I felt like I was increasing the pace – in fact I felt like I was sprinting, despite my stride length being barely that of a brisk walk.
Eventually, I crossed the line. I glanced at my watch over the line and it was close. Very close. I thought I had probably done it. I didn’t actually stop my watch until 3 hrs 11 secs, so could not be sure. I needed to find out, but the only internet cafes I found in Amsterdam had a peculiar herbal smell. This was arguably the worst bit of all – the not knowing, but fortunately I received a message the next day with confirmation. Two hours fifty nine minutes and fifty eight seconds. One whole second to spare – I have rarely been known to make life easy for myself.