Running 26.2 miles: a challenge like few others? Total insanity? A life-changing experience?
I am very proud to say I’ve recently finished my very first marathon: the LIVESTRONG Austin Marathon 2012.
I wouldn’t consider myself a “runner”. I’ve only started running regularly a couple of years ago. In fact, I recall not really liking running very much growing up –I blame Bogotá’s altitude.
I found running to be the kind of exercise that pushes the very limits of what you can do with your body. It’s also a rather healthy practice that help balancing the rest of the stuff that your life is composed of. It certainly keeps a healthy mind in a healthy body.
With running, also comes a certain culture that I was very organically introduced to as I started training with a clear purpose in mind: running 5 miles, 8 miles, 10 miles, a half-marathon…. and eventually a full marathon. The people you meet, the lingo you incorporate in your conversations, your routine before-and-after running, your eating habits… etc. Everything changes for the better when you become a runner…
…well, for the most part.
Training for a marathon can also lead to all sorts of injuries. For starters, running is just about *the* worst sport you can engage in when it comes to the least stable joints in your body: your knees. Contrary to no-impact exercises like swimming or cycling, running will essentially grind your knees away in time if you don’t incorporate good training practices whilst running.
Or… you could suffer from a partially-torn tendon in your groin. Like Me.
Whilst training in Bogotá during the holidays, i started noticing a pain in my right groin and near my right hip that only got worse by the day. Upon returning to Austin, I started going to physical therapy to try and ease the pain i was going through. I had 26 miles to run in a matter of weeks from that point before the 19th of February, when the marathon was taking place.
Going to therapy whilst still trying to train for a marathon = not a good combination. Without taking the necessary time without running to heal from a lesion like that, recovery never takes place.
I properly trained for a total of 2 months, out of which I hardly ran at all for 2 weeks prior to the race due to my injury. That is not at all enough time to train for a full marathon –but I was determined to run my first marathon on the year I turned 30 years old. So I did.
I was nervous about how this would all unfold. Up until that day, the longest I had ever ran had been 18 miles. I only remember being utterly exhausted and thinking “there’s no way I can run past this distance”.
I was not going to go down in history as running my first marathon more slowly than a lady who thinks she can see Russia from her home in Alaska.
The Austin Marathon is known for being hilly –and sure enough, some of those hill were *killer*, specially during mile 12 and mile 18.
I kept ahead of the 3:25 pacers all the way until mile 18 for a couple of reasons: it was one of the hilliest parts of the race and, mentally, I wasn’t 100% sure what would happen past 18 miles. I had never gone past that distance ever before.
I noticed I started to stop for water more, and slowing down my pace considerably. I also noticed how the 3:25 pacers passed me… followed by the 3:30 pacers… at mile 20 and the 3:35 pacers…at mile 22…
But it was at mile 23 when I hit the infamous “wall” runners talk about so much. I stopped to drink some water then and started walking as I drank the same way I did every time I needed to hydrate –only this time, once I finished my much needed cup of water and tried to start running again, my left leg (the one with no groin/hip-related injuries) completely locked up and wouldn’t move. I almost fell trying to get back into running form. I thought “shit –what if I can’t finish? WHAT IF I DON’T BEAT SARAH PALIN?”
At this point, the 3:40 pacers passed me. All I wanted at that point was to at least finish ahead the 3:45 pacers.
Eventually the leg regained mobility and I kept going as fast as I could –which wasn’t extremely fast at that point. I knew I couldn’t stop any more in order to prevent a situation like the one I had just experienced. I had 3 more miles to go and I had to do everything but walk throughout that distance… otherwise, I was most likely going to collapse again and possibly not finish. At all. At that point, I stopped worrying about beating Sarah Palin and started thinking that all costs, I needed to at least finish in a decent time.
And then, at mere 800 metres before the finish line, the 3:45 pacers passed me. Slowly. I ultimately finished right behind them, and managed to cross the line at 3:47:15 (official time).
Watch me cross the finish line (in visibly weird running form), here:
Said and done: As soon as I crossed the finish line, I started walking and my legs and arms all became stiff, producing types of pain I had never experienced before. I was vocally expressing the amount of pain I was in rather loudly –enough for the lady giving away the medals to look slightly concerned for me. I was glad I didn’t stop for those last 3.2 miles.
I did it. I managed to finish a full marathon. In less than 4 hours. WITH an injury –and before Sarah Palin!
All I can say after having reached this personal goal of mine is that you really are not the same person you were before you started that race. It may sound silly or painfully obvious, but what I mean is: you get to test your body and your mind to an extent that you ultimately end up learning a lot about them in a way you otherwise couldn’t have. You also feel an incredible sense of accomplishment that you only get by crossing that finish line full of people cheering you on.
I’m also not the same because as a result of running this marathon on the type of injury I had, I only made exponentially worse by subjecting it to such torture. To this day I continue to go to therapy twice a week in a process that it seems it’s going to take a long, long time.
Yet, all I can say is that it was worth it. All the training, all the physical therapy sessions done to date and those to come –even the oversized t-shirt I received as part of my packet.
One could say the “bug” has indeed bitten me.