But that’s not all I learned! During my first 26.2––the first half of which went very smoothly, the second half of which was a wretched, painful hell of leg cramps––I discovered a lot about myself and my running, good and bad. Here’s just some of it.
––I focussed too much on my time. After so long training so hard, I was too keen to finish in under 4 hours. I should have just run the race and enjoyed it. It was my first marathon, and to complete it would be an achievement in itself. But … aiming for a 9 minute mile pace, for the first few miles I found myself hitting 8:40, sometimes 8:20. What I should have done was to pull back to 9:00, which is what my training had aimed at and how I’d visualised running the race. But adrenalin and excitement got the better of me. I was feeling good! But then at mile twelve, I started paying for that silly over-pacing when the muscle cramps began.
––I should have hydrated better. In truth I was very careful about this up until the morning of the race. I drank lots of water the days before, and all through the night (I kept waking in my B&B and taking a drink). I avoided alcohol for 2 weeks before the race. I ate well. But on the morning of the race, I probably didn’t drink quite enough. My stupid reason? I don’t want to have to stop to piss all the way along the course. Yeah, stupid stupid stupid. I didn’t want to lose time. And at the first few water stops I took a swig or two and then threw the bottles. I should have walked and had a proper drink, or carried the bottles with me until they were finished. I didn’t feel dehydrated. But when the cramps kicked in and didn’t go … well, they told their own story.
––My body is perfectly capable of running a marathon. I believed this before the race, and even though it was a struggle I still finished in 4:30. Now, post-race, I’m mostly pleased with how my body performed. If I’d been kinder to it (see above), it would have been a much more comfortable run. I had no blisters at all, no chafing, I felt aerobically fit and capable. It was just those damn cramps.
––I have a strong mental attitude. And believe me, this is the bit that surprised me the most! I love running, but I’ve always believed I don’t push myself enough. But those last 14 miles of the marathon were … quite horrible. I was in pain, struggling, but I was utterly determined to finish it. I’d trained so long and hard that to pull out (and there were two points when I truly thought I’d have to withdraw and appear on the results as a DNF), would have been a painful defeat. In the depths of the run, the idea of not finishing took on almost nightmarish proportions (I’d had a dream the night before that I didn’t reach the start line in time!) How would I live with myself? How would I face everyone? But it was facing myself that made me finish. There was no other option, and crossing that line was one of the best, best moments.
There’s more good than bad there. My finishing time wasn’t terrible at all for a first try, I don’t think, though the pain getting there was greater than it should have been.
And now, less than six weeks before my first trail marathon, that mental attitude is clicking in again. I took a week off after the marathon, and for the first couple of (very short) runs following that I had a pain in my knee. I felt shit. But of course there’d be pain after what I’d put myself through!
But that pain is reducing noticeably now, and I’m feeling much more confident. I’ve learned a lot that I’ll take to that second marathon with me, not least of which is that––for me, at least––it’s a run, not a race. I’ll set the pace at what I know my body can be comfortable with, not what the day’s enthusiasm tells me I should hit. I’ll hydrate well, and keep drinking well all through the race. I’ll be confident and realistic in my abilities.
And with all those lessons learned, I’ll bloody well enjoy it.