As soon as the euphoria of completing the Milton Keynes marathon wore off, I turned my attention to the next challenge. It was without question it had to be another half marathon and that it had to be a scenic route in the countryside. The ‘Up Tow, Down Flow’ half marathon by Purple Patch seemed to be the perfect choice and at the perfect time, exactly 12 weeks from earning my marathon finishers’ medal.
I decided to follow a plan which I found in the Runners World magazine, going for a target time of 1:40 – 1:45, which seemed to be an achievable yet challenging target based on my newly set PB in this year’s Reading half.
I felt I was making good progress with the running plan, occasionally even overachieving the pace targets and building up from 3 to 4 running sessions a week, on top of my normal gym routine – without any gentle transition, I have to add, which, in retrospect, may have been a rather foolish thing to do. However, instead of feeling shattered after completing the marathon, I had never felt better. For at least 2 months.
Then, two months into my training routine, I started to feel weary and heavy-legged during my runs, and then one day, following a rigorous interval session, I ended up with a dull pain and stiffness in my left hip. I was hoping my hip would go back to normal if I cut back on intensity, avoid speed intervals and very long runs for a week or two – well, the stiffness only went away a couple of months later once I started doing glute strengthening exercises. Regular massage with my deep tissue massage ball also helped keep it at bay and moving rather than sitting seems to help ease the stiffness. To cut a long story short, due to my hip condition I was reluctant to train at the intensity I needed to during my final few weeks of preparation, and as a result, my hopes for a new PB slowly slipped away and I stood at the start line of the race in a less than satisfactory shape.
A lot of people in my position would have probably withdrawn from running the race completely, being solely focused on the time result. In my opinion, competing is much more than achieving a certain time. Jennifer Rhines, US Marathon Olympian said that
“Life (and running) is not all about time but about our experiences along the way”
What I really want this post to show is something that of one of my most-admired online fitness professionals, Marianne Kane of MyOMyTV has said:
‘It’s never about getting or being the best, it’s about making the best of what you’re thrown’
In that position, I made the conscious decision not to adopt such defeatist attitude. I knew I was not going to produce an amazing result; I knew this was not going to be my best performance. But I also knew that I wanted to enjoy a beautiful scenic run, discover some new running routes locally, and above all, share all this with my friend Bori for whom this race was going to be her debut half marathon. Apart from being able to push my limits further, for me there is nothing more inspiring than encouraging someone who has just started their running journey.
I have to admit, during the final weeks of the build up to the race, I let my heart sink into despair because of my hip issues. Then as I was reading some stories about famous and highly successful runners and what helped them stand out of the crowds and make their mark, I found that it was often their attitude towards competing and how they defined success, and not necessarily the results they produced. The bottom line is, the best athletes are mentally tough and are positive thinkers and process oriented with their journey in focus. Lizzie Hawker, double world-record holder and former world champion ultra-runner said that
‘Competing is about searching for your ‘edge’ and the search to find it teaches you more about yourself”
It was clear to me that this race was not only going to be a test to my physical endurance but also to my inner strength – my ability to pull myself together, to look at things from a more positive perspective and to rise above self-pity. So the key thing for me was finding a way to untie my self-worth from my performance.
Now, about the race…We started the race in 3 waves, with 5 minutes inbetween the waves, to make sure there was not going to be a huge congestion at the beginning. However, despite the organisers’ best intentions, the race had a rather awkward start as the crowd of runners were forced to come to an abrupt halt only after a few meters where the path narrowed down to a single file track by the river. Then this was repeated a few more times as we came across a couple of kissing gates and similarly narrow sections. This made it clear that this is not a race for those hoping for a new PB, but more for those kind of runners who have a greater appreciation for the lovely sights along the way. I heard other people joking when they looked at their sports watch and said they were ‘only’ 10 minutes off their target pace!
No matter how out of shape I felt, the one thing I had absolutely no doubt in my mind about was being able to finish the race in under two hours, stopping or giving up never occurred to me as an option. I think holding onto this conviction is ultimately what kept me going all along.
Luckily, most of the route had trees alongside which provided good cover from the rising heat, except for the final few km’s. As soon as I started to struggle, I adopted the attitude of a parasite – I latched myself onto a lady who appeared to be aiming for the same sub-two hour finish time as me. This helped me stay on target pace. I also started to shift my focus on the mechanics of my running and started a mantra in my head about the rhythmic positioning of my feet and elbows.
I also remembered some mantras I read recently in a Runners World article about ‘brain training’ for endurance athletes. Durong the final km’s, my mantra became
‘Just because I am feeling tired and bad, it does not mean I am going to fall apart’.
According to the experts in that article, fatigue in sport is highly subjective and research has shown that the mind can override the body:
‘Fatigue can be a product of perception rather than true physiological depletion.’
Just as I was about to abandon my target pace and give up, Bori, who was in the second wave and a first time half marathoner, suddenly appeared behind me marking her presence with her signature beep on her sports watch. At that point, we were just about 4km from the finish line. I knew that Bori’s appearance meant two things: that she was doing very well and I was doing very badly! My inner pride urged me to pick up pace again. At that point, I was cursing silently and wanting to cry but somehow I found the strength to pull away from Bori, put some distance between us. Somehow I even managed to find some energy in my deep reserves to put a huge smile on my face for the race photographer at the finish line. (The sure sign to tell I was going to come out of this alive was my concern about looking good LOL).
This is the spirit!
By writing this post my hope is that whatever hardship or obstacles you are facing whilst trying to reach your goals is that you will see these challenges as opportunities to press through and grow as a person.