As you may have seen from previous posts and repeated mentions on Facebook on Sunday I took to the streets of Barcelona to race the marathon for the second time. After a period of decent training I had been feeling confident about my prospect of achieving a new personal best, bettering my previous of 3:17 and was targetting 3:10 as a finishing time.
When I signed up to the race I suggested I was going to go for my first Sub 3 Hour Marathon so I was lucky enough to be put into the first corrall along with the super speedy runners and with the majority of the 16,000+ other runners behind me I knew I would be able to get a decent speed up quickly. My plan was to hang with the 3:15 pacers for the first half of the race then pick up the pace for 10 or so miles to get the time down then hang on for dear life to get as near as possible to the 3:10.
Honestly, it's really really great idea to have a plan.
Honestly, it's a really really shit idea to decide to ignore the plan after a mile.
After that first mile the adrenaline kicked in and I picked up the pace slowly leaving those 3:15 pacers and pushing through the gears. I noticed my breathing was heavy and I was concerned at this early stage that I was overexerting myself although I put it down to the overall excitement of going for a big PB. The temperature was relatively cool early on but I did my best to stay in the shade to try to keep the effects of the heat to a minimum.
See, now I would love to regale you with a long and exciting story about everything I saw and heard on my adventure but the next few hours went by in somewhat of a blur. What I can tell you is that I went through the mid-way point in a time of 1:31:24. To put that into context my Half Marathon PB prior to this race was over 1hr 33 mins so I'd just taken off around 2 minutes off my previous record and still had to do that distance again.
I remember laughing to myself at the time and muttering a combination of "idiot" and "fucking" when I realised this. I knew just how tough the next 13 miles was going to be so I decided that all I could do was hold that pace for as long as possible and when the pain came, which it inevitably would, I would need to dig really realy deep.
Frustratingly it didn't take long for the agony to commence. In fact, looking at split times for each 5k you can see from 25k that my times got slower quite rapidly as I had to grind hard to get the race finished. It wasn't a pleasent experience. I felt sick, I was struggling to get enough air into my lungs and I wanted to stop and walk. Boy did I want to stop! All I had to convince me to carry on was that if I walked it would take me longer to finish and then I'd have to wait longer for a post race beer.
Funny what motivates us at times.
After 36kms I had given up all hope of controlling anything above my neck. The energy levels required to stop myself dribbling was too much to cope with so I went with the option of letting it all hangout. Snot, phlegm, and if wasn't so dehydrated there would have been tears.
(The struggle is real)
The final 2kms to the finish line are all up hill and I swear the only thing that got me through that was the awesome crowd cheering us all on. They were fantastic. There was such a buzz and I tried to concentrate on that and the awesomeness that was Kelly Clarkson playing on my headphones to get me through and over the line.
I clung on to dear life for that final part of the race and crossed the line in 3:08:10. A PB of around 9 minutes and the 'proof' that my training techniques work. I almost collapsed post race but stumbled to meet my better half and our friends to go celebrate with a victory beer.
The problem was I felt odd, like something was missing. I 'achieved' what I wanted but I felt entirely unfulfilled. I put the thoughts to one side and cracked on with the day enjoying a few beers and some good food.
The next day though I felt worse. I felt empty and I still feel empty to be honest. Today I keep welling up. I'm a wreck. I'm left thinking 'what's the point'. I mean, 3:17 or 3:08 - what's the difference? If I get under 3hrs at some point what does that give me?
I've been thinking a lot about this since then and at the moment all I can come up with is that I'm seeking some kind of validation. I'm trying to prove to myself and everyone around me that I'm worthwhile and that I can do something useful. But chasing random numbers is never going to be enough is it? What happens when I hit 2:55? 2:40? 2:30?
I'm heading to the biggest race of my life this year and now I'm trying to understand why I'm doing it. When I finish will I feel satisfied? What If I win a race at some point in my life, would this make me happy?
I'm trying to be an 'authentic' person but I would feel completely unauthentic if I didn't admit that I don't understand what my motive is for racing events. I've actually loved the past few months of training. I've worked hard and seen some steady improvements. Perhaps the pressure of an event is too much for my mind to deal with and the best way forward is to quit racing and to just run for fitness.
I'm not sure yet. I'm still processing everything that has happened since (and I'm struggling with a nasty bug now as well) but I'm taking a few more days off before I get back to doing much of anything and in time I hope I'll understand more.
I guess that's the thing. You can set yourself targets/goals, achieve them, but then not feel much of anything. You expect fanfare and a warm fuzzy feeling to sweep through your body and to have a lovely glow for the rest of your life. But it doesn't happen and then you feel like shit.
Personally this tells me the most important thing is that you have to understand WHY you are doing it. It's great to have that goal, you should go for it but really dig in to WHY you want it. What do you think it's going to give you? How will that make you feel? What does it look like? What does it sound like? Visualise it. And if it gets you going then roll with the good times and be laser focussed to get you the result you deserve.