Friday, May 23, 2008

Twenty Miles of Hope, Six Miles of Truth

Okay, so maybe the title is a little facetious, but last week I completed my first ever marathon, and I can tell you it is the absolute truth. The marathon distance is just over 26 miles / 42 kilometres, based on some Greco-Persian war two and a half thousand years ago. In layman's terms: a bloody long way (think of the town you live in and where you could get to in 42 kilometres of road).

In what was more of a drunken dare gone terribly wrong, I found myself at the starting line amidst a good few thousand competitors in the Belfast City Marathon (unfortunately one of the more difficult ones due to a massive hill smack in the middle of the course) last Monday morning (on the May Day holiday). I'd actually done some proper training for it (three months, which is woefully inadequate for this sort of event), so there was a decent chance I'd survive and maybe even get through the race within the time limit. I wasn't interested in racing anyone really, I just wanted to make it to the end of an entire marathon, one of life's big achievements. As anyone who's done something like this before knows, competing against yourself is the purist form of competition.

Moving through the seventeen mile mark, I was unbelievably feeling good (experiencing what actual runners refer to as the "runners high"). Unfortunately I went hurtling into "the wall" at about the nineteen mile mark. It wasn't that the pain got particularly worse (though that was still definitely a factor), but it was more like someone showed up, handed me a fridge and said "mate could you just carry this to the finish line for me?".

The last three or four miles (still carrying my invisible fridge) were seriously hard work. My knees were badly hurt at this point, hips and ankles were killing me and my feet were floating around on a sea of blisters (when I took off my shoes after the race my feet took on a disturbing similarity to bubble wrap). I swore during those last thirty or forty minutes that I'd never do this again and would NEVER accept that "it wasn't that bad". The crowd lining the route were very generous with their encouragement, which helped a lot, plus the idea of raising more money for my charity (the Red Cross), indiscriminant sprays of my knees with painkiller and my utter refusal to stop moving (call it stubbornness, ticker, maybe that Australian "don't know when you're beat" attitude, or plain and simple stupidity) got me to the finish.

Phew, so I made it in the end! One of the volunteers handed me the finishers medal, which I just stared at for ages. I'll probably frame it one day... when I eventually take it off. That night was spent numbing my body from the inside out (via enormous quantities of Harp lager and Irish whiskey), which gave me a headache in the morning to take my mind off the leg pain.

It took me a couple of days before I could get up off the couch without a major ordeal, and about a week before I stopped limping. The good news is that I managed to raise about 400 pounds for charity, which was a big bonus. I even did a little light training today and am feeling good. In hindsight I guess it wasn't that bad...

That's how I'm seeing it