I’ve been conspicuously absent (or inconspicuously depending on how much you missed me) from the blogosphere this past year. Some of that is due to gaining a part time teaching contract and having my brain preoccupied with how to teach a subject of which I have no real knowledge (Physical Education – wot a laff!). Mostly, though, it is due to a special project I decided to undertake this year that somewhat consumed me not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.
The Mad Wannabe Marathon Woman Project
Since I was reaching a big UH-OH birthday this year, I decided the best way to celebrate it would be to take on a massive physical challenge. Because that’s more fun than a party, right?
Yeah, well, anyway…
Some time last year, I mused to a friend (my Spreadsheet Enforcer of earlier years) that I was thinking maybe of trying a marathon for my 50th birthday. And then I forgot about it. Until January this year when an email arrived in my inbox with the subject line: “Are you really sure???” (three question marks would seem to indicate that the Spreadsheet Enforcer certainly wasn’t) and a training spreadsheet attached.
A part of me was not sure. The rational part. Luckily (or unluckily depending on your view of marathons) most of me is completely irrational so I wrote back “Let’s do this!”
And thus began nine months of training.
There were good times – like gaining back the fitness I’d lost after the GMI (Great Moth Incident).
There were bad times – like the times I would run and cry at the same time as the Inner Critic stuck the boot in telling me I was not a real runner and I had no hope of running a marathon.
There were the highs – like shaving 10 minutes off my previous time for a hilly trail half-marathon I took on as one of my training runs.
There were the lows – like the foot injury that people took an unseemly delight in telling me they hoped wasn’t plantar fasciitis but that it probably was and in which case my running career was over. (It wasn’t and it was fixed with a new pair of shoes.)
Number One Training Moment
Through the wonders of Facebook, I was convinced by a couple of friends to attend a running retreat weekend they were organising on Magnetic Island. Gosh, a weekend in Queensland away from the freezing September weather in Victoria so I could run with Olympian marathon runner Steven Moneghetti? Tough. Tough, tough choice.
It changed my life. Literally. You can read about the impact here.
To add incentive to my completion of the marathon, I signed up as a member of the Run 4 Refugees Team, raising money for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. It was something I’d wanted to do last year but realised that if I could save it for a full marathon, I’d be likely to raise more money.
I’ve always found it more motivational to complete a challenge for someone other than myself.
Thinking an early drive to Melbourne with the whole family sounded like not much fun, we booked into a hotel apartment not too far from the start line the night before. It also had the advantage of being able to walk some of the course before the day to determine the best vantage points for the family to cheer on their mad wife and mother.
Marathon Day started early and alone. Seriously, it was less stressful to leave a husband and three boys in bed and get only myself to the start line than have them accompany me. Besides, there was something peaceful about hopping on that tram in the early dawn light with only other runners (and the occasional party-goer just heading home).
At the start line (after a successful last minute visit to the portaloo – only other long distance runners will understand the significance of this achievement), I heard the starter chat to Steve Moneghetti. It was somehow comforting to know he was there. ‘I must make sure I find him at the finish’, I thought.
I stood in the marathon runner crowd towards the back. It was a tactic to ensure I started slowly and didn’t get over-excited and run too hard at the beginning.
The start gun went and we were off. Which meant walking for those of us at the back. I think I got up a jog just after I crossed the start line. Just as well I wasn’t trying to qualify for the Commonwealth Games.
For the first kilometre, I was struggling not to cry. I know this would be normal for the last kilometre, but for me it was the start of the race that reduced me to tears. I was finally here.
I settled into a steady pace, telling myself regularly ‘Slow down. Don’t go too fast early.’ At the 3km point I passed the hotel where we were staying. I looked up at the windows of our apartment, half expecting to see some familiar faces and an encouraging wave. Half expecting because, really, it was only 7.20am. Sure enough, not a sign. Waaaay too early for my male household to be stirring. 🙄
They did make an appearance eventually. Conveniently at the 22km mark at a bit over halfway, just when I needed a bit of a boost. A wave and a cheer and I was off along the waterfront for the next down-and-back leg.
It was on this leg that I met a man attempting the same feat but in his case he was celebrating an UH-OH birthday ten years more than mine. This was an aspect I loved about the marathon – meeting new people, having a chat, mutual support.
The family appeared again around the 30km mark, another point at which a boost was appreciated. I called out, “Feeling pretty good!” and I was. Then. A couple of kilometres down the road, things changed.
My calves started cramping. I ran for a bit and then thought, maybe it would help if I stopped for a minute and stretched. So I did. Big mistake. As soon as I stopped, my whole thigh cramped badly. ‘Uh oh,’ I thought. ‘Nope, just gotta keep moving.’ I hobbled off and once I was moving the cramp in my thigh eased although my calves and feet were still cramping.
For the last 10km of the race, I ran with my calves and feet cramping on and off. I had an interesting running style when the calf cramp would set in but I kept moving, even running up the ‘hills’ they threw into the mix in the last 5 kilometres. I was in pain but still managed something of a grimacing smile for the photographers.
The finish line for the Melbourne Marathon is on the hallowed turf of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It would be almost impossible not to feel uplifted and excited entering the ground and running a lap of the oval to the finish line. And I did feel it. But I was also tired and I was hurting so my pace remained mostly steady. Until I hit the final straight to the finish line and then could not ignore the Need for Speed. I moved onto the grass and shot past the man running in front of me to fly over the finish line. I suspect I may have spoiled his expected finish line photo but a girl’s gotta do….
Remember how I thought, ‘Oh, Steve’s here! I must go find him after I finish to thank him for helping me complete my first marathon!’?
Yeah. I forgot.
I was so emotional about actually finishing my first marathon, all I really wanted was to collect my finisher’s medal and find my family which is exactly what I did. (Well, after a little incident on the staircase outside the MCG while I was on the phone to my husband to work out where they were. My legs cramped up and I was hanging onto the rail trying not to swear. People were wonderful. Someone gave me salt tablets, another gave me water, another offered himself for me to lean on while his friends spoke to my husband on my phone and then they helped me up the stairs and waited until my family found me. Runners are lovely people…)
And that was it. I’d done it. My nine-month-long Mad Wannabe Marathon Woman Project was completed.
And I was no longer a Wannabe.
I finished the marathon in 4:27:37. Since my main aim was to finish and then secondly to do it in under 5 hours, to have finished just under 4 1/2 hours was more than I could ever have dreamed.
I raised $2384 for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, by far so much more meaningful to me than the race result.
I met another Run 4 Refugees runner at a 10km a few weeks later (we were both wearing our shirts). I will always feel part of a special community.
I discovered Steve Moneghetti at a trail run recently and was finally able to say ‘Thank you’ for his part in my finishing the marathon.
I spent nine months saying, “This is my one and only marathon. I just want to do one and cross it off my bucket list.”
I’ve just signed up to do the Gold Coast Marathon next July.
Some people are hopeless….