Monday, April 2, 2012

Marathon day from Claire's point of view

I felt a bit nervous on Sunday morning. I'd felt nervous the day before but for a different reason- realising I didn't have any running gear with me and that running the marathon might not be a possibility gave me a funny feeling in my stomach. But Sunday morning, new shoes firmly tied on my feet with timing chip attached, I had the pre-race jitters. I hadn't really had that feeling since primary school days of old, driving in the bus to inter-school athletic carnivals, scoffing Allen's snake upon Allen's snake. Sunday morning I side-stepped the sweeties for a good hearty muesli and coffee (hoping my insides wouldn't regret the caffeine later). I caught the bus out to the starting point with Marcus, a lovely Irishman staying in our B&B with Colleen. Marcus calmed me a bit with his assurances of “It'll be grand” and similarly-casual approach to training and pre-race prep.

It really was the most gorgeous day, all blue skies and sun. the starting point was a modest little stretch of road with a beautiful big lake to our left, and some little rocky hills on our right (perfect for the guys to clamber up and relieve themselves on, leaving the Portaloos for the ladies). Thankfully there were no horrible group warm-ups or pep talks at the start line, although a fair share of silly garbage bag-like warming devices and intimidating stretching routines were on show. Runners were primed to go into battle against Low Energy, some of them sporting an almost magazine-like line-up of gels and power bars around their bodies. Still, some people looked pretty casual, human- none more so than a gentleman walking around in his thick spectacles, Levi's and a t-shirt atop his running shoes; I expected these to be stripped off, revealing a Superman-like athletic suit underneath but no, there he was a mile in (and at the finish line!) in the very same gear. I chatted with an enthusiastic man from Oxford running his ninth marathon who kept up the light-heartedness I needed in order to not feel compelled to do 46 nervous wees before the start whistle. About five minutes before the marathon began, the world champion of the ultra marathon came absolutely gunning past us- the dude was aiming to beat his own world record in running the 39.3 mile ultra in less than four hours.

Once we were off, I just kept a steady, comfortable pace up, and soaked in the sun and rolling hills, knowing that at some point I might not be able to enjoy the scenery quite so much. I got talking to Siobhan, who was running her second marathon, having decided last year at age 45 to take up running. This marathon was part of her training for an Ironman (Ironwoman?) challenge later in the year. We spent quite a bit of the race together, and she gave me lots of encouraging words and stories along the way. She was also rocking some amazing hot pink compression stocking on her toned calves. I met a man from Toowoomba, also running his second marathon, his first being the Gold Coast one last year just before turning 50.

Around the 12th mile I gave one of those sexy energy gels a crack. It was tastier and less goopier than previous ones I'd tried (cola flavoured!), and I did feel like it gave me a boost, although this was accompanied by a bit of a funny feeling in the tum-tum. There was a lovely long hill that swept down towards the lake outside Leenane. Past lots of lobster and crab pots we came into the town and over the 13th mile mat, which recorded our half-way time. Siobhan gave a big cry of "We're on the way home, now!" and I felt buoyed. Soon after this point came a gentle but present upwards climb for about a mile, and along here I met Tim from near Galway. He too was a first-timer, and we spent the best part of the next 12 or so miles together, chatting away and occasionally running with knees up or feet-to-bum to prevent too much stiffening up. In our training the furthest either of us had run was 18 miles, and as we passed this marker, Tim said "Well, it's all unknown territory from here!" and we dorkily gave each other a high five (but with our knuckles- what DO you call that? High fist doesn't sound right...). It was so nice meeting someone who felt like a similar person to me, and be able to get through what might have been the tough bits without really feeling the distance. Ah, the power of distraction and good conversation!

Somewhere near the start of what they call 'The Hell of the West' we met another first-time marathoner, a Mum of four, and the three of us conquered that hill with really not too much drama. A lot of people had to walk it, but to be honest, I think I was expecting somewhat more of an extreme incline. Not to pretend at all that by this point (around 22.5 miles) my legs hadn't gone into robot mode in which my joints were those of an 80-something year old, but there wasn't ever a point where I thought my body would turn it's back on me and give up. I thought a lot about Mum and Dad, the runners who spawned me, and Mum's advice to try not to look too pained when running- I think it's true that keeping up a sense of positivity can help things not feel too hard- more muscles to frown than to smile and all that.

Around the top of the hill, the hotel came into view that signalled the finish line. I think I picked up the pace in the last mile, and a few hundred yards from the finish line, there was beautiful Tac. I'd been thinking about how excited I'd be to see him at the finish line, and it was a figurative energy gel, the image of him with his big ol' camera in hand, yelling and towering above the little Irish folk. Tim said to me "Right Claire, when we get to this white sign, we're just going to drop the hammer, alright?" I'd come to learn a few bits of jargon over the past four hours in the company of runners, so I knew he meant "Go really fast to the finish line". And we did! It was like finishing a run back home with Mum and somehow finding that last bit of energy to use the legs of my father to overtake the little Energiser battery woman on the last sprint up Clapton Road.

Claire at the finish
I was pretty buggered. But kept walking. Walking and smiling. Walking and smiling and finding Tac for a big hug and a banana and some yellow roses! I felt really really happy. I had been worried that a sense of happiness and achievement would only come at that point, that finish line, but I truly was pretty elated the whole way along that run. It was four hours (and 22 minutes) of some of the most spectacular scenery I've ever been amongst, and it made me reflect on some of the other beautiful runs I've been lucky enough to do during my time overseas. The beautiful vineyards and forested hills in the south of France, icy pine trees and glistening roads in Zurich, dusty roads on an island oasis just out of noisy Phnom Penh, sunny weekend London runs along the Thames or through wild Wimbledon Common. Running around the world has been a way of learning a place, meeting people, and having a small sense of routine and groundedness in myself when things are ever-changing. It hurts a bit sometimes but I don't think I'll stop any time soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment