A Marathon of the Mind

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I’m ashamed to say I’ve never run a marathon.

Everyone and their mothers seem to have ticked 26.2 off their bucket list.

Especially in the social media running community.

There was a time when hitting that kind of distance was for elites only. It was an Olympic event, impressive to the regular hobbyist jogger, seemingly impossible to muggles and, quite frankly, an inappropriate time to spend running if you’re not being paid for it.

Hell, up until the 1967 society told us women’s bodies weren’t designed cope with that kind of athletic stress and there were rules banning us from running them.

But the human body is resilient.

And in the 21st century, the boom of regular, run of the mill, marathoners is sky rocketing.




So, why?

Are we all so bored by our 9-5s that we need to exert ourselves for hours to thrive.

To get that caveman rush of adrenaline?

Deep down, are we just monkeys in Nikes? In need of that sweet, sticky rush of endorphins distance running brings to us.

It makes sense, why we’re still seeking that primal urge to run. It’s in our base DNA. At our peak and over distance, human beings can out-run nearly every animal on the planet. It’s what we’re born for. It’s what we do.

So, yeah, we’re apes. In need of a drug. Of that jolt back into nature.

And, for some reason, we’ve decided that toeing the start of mass participation events is the key to this. It doesn’t hold quite the same poetry as our ancestors dashing across the savannah but, it’ll scratch the itch.

That itch has been bugging me for years.

For the last six of those years I’ve half heartedly signed up for the London Marathon, which has satisfied the craving momentarily, only to be rejected in the ballot, for that itch to move further down my back, out of reach, but still persistent.

I’ve always wanted to have more of a “fuck it” attitude.

I envy spontaneity and, ashamedly, I’ve worked my way out of many opportunities because I’ve been too scared, lack confidence and, though it pains me to admit, have hands down been plain lazy.

Recent events have evoked change in me, though.

We’re all in the same boat,

We’ve all spent hours, lately, day-dreaming about the first thing we’ll do “when we’re out”. Lockdown is a virus induced prison and our release date is, yet, undetermined.

Maybe we’ll get put on bail if we’re all really good and do what we’re told…

I’m no longer scared of fear. I want to embrace uncertainty. I’ve realised my appreciation for what life was before. For freedom. For being unsure.

And, as they say, there’s no time like the present.

That was the motivation for Monday’s marathon.

I say marathon – I ran 26.2 miles. And I’d be a fraud for counting that as a true marathon. I couldn’t currently fathom the endurance of having to keep focussed on that distance all at once. To try and keep my mind and legs in a perfect painful tandem. One day I will conquer it. One day I will feel that sickly, dizzy finish line joy. Until then – multistage feats will have to satisfy.

That’s not to say those miles were easy. My state approved exercise token only covered me for 10 glorious, outdoor, spring miles before it started to feel like I was taking the mick.

The day began like this:

0700: Unceremoniously thrown awake by my alarm. I did not sleep enough for this.

Snooze

0709: Abrupt alarm once more. Scratching around in the depths of my being for enthusiasm.

Snooze

0718: Ok, ok, I get it.

Alarm off. Caffeine.

I shamefully scrabbled for excuses not to start for an hour – The treadmill will wake the neighbours (it might). My housemates might hear (they can’t). I should do some dynamic stretching first (I didn’t). I should eat a bagel (I did).

My reluctance to beginning the run wasn’t from lack of enthusiasm. It was because I had and long, arduous, 25 kilometres on the treadmill planned.

There’s a reason they call it the dreadmill.

Nothing about me looked forward to those starting miles.

The first run scheduled would be my longest indoor stretch. A dull, barely conscious 10k to start off the day.

My legs wouldn’t listen. My feet were barely lifting off the floor. And my head, well, quite frankly, my head was anywhere but the treadmill.

Mile one. Trudge.

Mile two. Trudge trudge.

Three, four, five, mile six was the hardest. Knowing I was staring down the barrel of another 20. Well, damn. Why on earth have I chosen to do this alone?

There’s a lot to be said for crowd support. I never realised how it has carried me through the numerous events I’ve raced. The pain is still there, the battle between your head and your legs, then your legs and head. But at least you get the contagion of cheers to keep you keen.

But not for me. Not today. Today was a battle between me and my tired, anxiety riddled brain. Today was about me proving to me whether or not I had the grit to do this alone. To set a goal and stick to it.

But the morning had definitely began with my brain beating my, lack of, brawn –

“Stop, keep going, stop in a mile, no – keep going”

And this was only kilometre ten. Jesus. I’d better buck up my ideas soon on this solo slog is going to defeat me.

Luckily for me, my past self had scheduled in regular pep talk pit stops – Bagel break #2. My race fuel of choice. A soft, bready delight. A carby ring of hope prior to the many hours of running ahead.

After this, stage 2, was an easy treadmill 5k. Good. Thirty minutes. I can do that. Tiger King and Corona memes were my distraction. The support signs and aid stations of this multistage Monday.

I also had something more to keep me going. Stage 3.

Stage 3 I was really looking forward to. The heat of the past few sticky spring weeks had petered into ideal racing weather. I’d take myself down to the canal to cool myself further. Running past the few other joggers and dog walkers who were cashing in their commute spurred me on.

“I’m running a marathon!” I wanted to cry. “Halfway there!”

But you don’t do that. Not in London. You make awkward eye contact with your passing peer, managing a nod at most, a grunt if you’re lucky.

My enthusiasm for being outdoors, finally off the hamster wheel of dread, was not contagious enough to perk up the grey-mooded city dwellers in the smile-stagnant streets around me. But what did I care? I was running a marathon.

It must have been the comparison to that mornings treadmill traipse but some of those ten miles were the most joyful I’ve had in a long time. I was proving to myself that I could overcome. My head would not defeat my legs and, vice versa, my legs would prove to me that they could keep going. Even if they didn’t want to, they were strong. And I was tenacious.

I rarely feel this.

This affirmation of my ability. Confirmation that I can. And my willingness to work for something I want.

I wont tell you about the final two five ks. They were pretty similar to the first. And, quite frankly, I’m bored of them just thinking back. They were filled with support-seeking calls to friends and out-of-breath Taylor Swift sing alongs.

But I will tell you this –

They made me more sure of myself than I ever thought I could be.

I can do what I find hard.

I can commit and I can triumph.

As I ticked off that final .2 miles my heart fluttered. Slamming the E-stop I stood for a bit. Silently. Then a little whimper.

“Well this is emotional”

“Now what?”

No finish line photo. No bag collection. Just my housemates and homemade banoffee pie.

I sat, sweaty on the sofa and demolished it in seconds.

If all marathons end like this sign me up.

My first 26.2. It’s not a grand story. Just a tale of a runner trying to better herself and conquer corona-induced anxiety.

Of finding something to do to pass another mundane Monday.

And, fuck it.

Yeah.

I ran a marathon.

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