Investing in my Health, Part 7

Marathons and other races

Running my actual first marathon was an experience. Let me tell you that.

42.2 km.

There are islands that are that whole distance. It’s just short of the circumference of Maui.

If you’re from Toronto, like me, that’s the distance from Toronto to between Pickering and Ajax if you go east or Brampton if you go west.

All I knew was I wanted to do it, and I knew it was gonna be hard but I was determined. At the same time, I chose to run a full marathon with Team in Training and fundraise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada in memory of my Mom. This was gonna be for her and for all the other little girls who were in danger of possibly losing their mothers to blood diseases.

I trained with the team, had an awesome mentor and coach, and trained on my own too. I was introduced to all sorts of tips and tricks for running a marathon, what long distance runners really do and how I was gonna do it.

I trained up to 25km and was so proud of myself. That was the farthest I’d ever run.

I remember the first time I ever hit “THE WALL”. The Wall is the point in a race where you feel like you can’t go on. It’s just like it sounds: there is a WALL in front of you and you can’t go on.

On a biological level, it’s mental and physical. You feel absolutely exhausted. Your liver and muscles run very low on glycogen, which are energy stores in your body. You also don’t have enough sugar in your body to maintain the level of endurance you need. Your brain even begins to shut down in order to preserve what you have left. This means you end up thinking negatively and well, kinda crazily… “I can’t do it!” You know you’re not done because you haven’t finished but you really don’t believe you can get there.

It’s a horrible horrible place!

The first time I hit the Wall, I was training by myself. I had set myself up for a 30k run, and was on km 26. I was doing so well, even trucking on while it started to rain. I felt like a champ, the rain pouring off of my hat, but I was running out of fuel. I knew I didn’t have much water left, which was scary and I had consumed my last gel several kilometres before. I felt like I was gonna be ok…

…and then I wasn’t.

It was like I ran right up to it. There was no more left in me. I was so mad at myself. I had to call my husband and ask him to pick me up. When I got in the car, all I could do was bawl my eyes out. I got home and cried on the couch and kept saying things about how I couldn’t do it, why did I sign up, how was I ever gonna finish a marathon if I couldn’t even finish 30k? Even my brother was there and tried to help.

That was my first experience with the wall.

Then my brother told me I was gonna do it. I was gonna cross that finish line. Even if it meant walking. I would finish.

And a few weeks later, I did. I hit the Wall that first marathon (and in the Leslie Spit of all places…some people love it, but for you non-Torontonians, this is where they take bombs to detonate them safely…not my idea of paradise)…so that was not a fun place for me), but, I had pushed it to 31k. This time, I didn’t stop. Even when medics who biked by would check on me. I walked over the wall. Just because I had to walk part of my race, it didn’t mean I didn’t finish. I finished my race with the help of a volunteer who was also a running coach. He got me running 5 minute intervals (i.e. run for 5 mins, walk for 1 min, run for 5 mins, walk for 1 min, and so on) while he filled up my fuel belt. I sprinted the last 500 meters and never saw him again.

I was happy to finish, I swear!

That was my first experience with an actual coach. I spent some time trying to find out who he was to thank him but no one knew who I was talking about!

2 things came from this first marathon experience:

1. I know what it’s like to hit the Wall. To be completely spent and lose all belief in myself. So, having gotten there, having let it take me down, and having learned to CLIMB OVER THE WALL, I know what it feels like to approach it, to know my limits, to know now how to push them. And I know what it takes to avoid the Wall even showing up. THAT is how I have the endurance I have.

2. That coach. I tell people this story sometimes, and even the organizers of that marathon have made me wonder if this guy even existed. Did my brain create him while it, too, was delirious?

In any case, I’ve wanted to be THAT GUY. The one who cheers people on, gets them what they need to finish.

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