This morning I walked my 6 year old son to school—as I do every morning—and he kept up a running description / explanation / series of questions about all the beetles, flowers, birds, twigs and plants he saw as we walked—as he does every morning.
He picked up an early, unripe apple that had fallen prematurely, and asked to eat it, although he could see it was tiny, and not fully formed. This prompted a discussion about seasons, and readiness, and doing things at the right time. That small, bright green, hard apple had everything inside it to become a large, rosy, soft, juicy and sweet apple, good for eating—it just wasn’t there yet. Instead of clinging on to its branch and steadily growing for a few more months, a strong wind (or child with stick??) had knocked it down too soon, and now it will never come to ripeness and fulfil its fruity potential.
I think I may have fallen out of the marathon tree a little too early!
Just ten days to go until my first ever marathon, and I don’t feel ready. I’ve followed my training plan faithfully, doing all the pace runs, and interval training, hill reps and fartleks. I’ve attempted some cross training (okay—this is definitely my weak point, and it’s been pretty patchy, but I’ve yoga’d and stretched and glute-lifted as often as I could) and every mile of my long slow runs.
Oh, those Long Slow Runs. LONG, SLOW, not much run RUNS.
I have seen improvement. When I first went further than a 10k, it felt almost impossible. The first time I did ten miles I thought I’d never walk again. Building up to beyond half marathon distances was a gradual grind, and the day I first ran 17 miles I genuinely thought I must have somehow hacked my Strava, I just couldn’t believe I’d done it.
But from there on upwards became progressively difficult, and the 18, 20 and 21 mile runs seemed to drain every ounce of capacity from me. Even though I was doing everything else right (alright, I could have slept more, but surely literally everyone over the age of 21 falls into that category??), I just kept getting slammed on those LSRs.
And then, a week ago, light dawned. I was flicking through some bookmarked unread articles online, and noticed this: How to Avoid Hitting the Wall While Running, from Runner’s World. The description of sluggishness, heavy legs and exhaustion resonated with the last three or four miles of all of my recent 18-21 mile runs.
I mean, it’s the biggest cliché in running. Everyone knows about the wall. It’s the only aspect of marathon running I’d ever heard of before I was a runner.
Somehow I’d forgotten it was a thing.
Even though I had “Hydration & Nutrition Practice” dutifully logged next to every LSR on my training schedule, I’d never given it more than cursory consideration. I’d got into my head that nutrition was linked to being hungry during a run, which I’d never experienced, and so had just dismissed it. Hydration was obvious—as the runs get longer, especially in the summer, the need for at least a couple of water stops on a three or four hour run is essential, so I’d planned those in automatically.
But nutrition? Nah, that’s for ultras.
In fact, I have (just!) learned, after running for more than 75 minutes or so,
“You may need carbohydrates–a sports drink, a gel, Gummi Bears–that your body can then convert into glucose to fire your muscles.”
So with less than three weeks to go, I suddenly realised I needed to try and add in some kind of energy catalyst. Right, no problem—I can stick in an extra medium-length slow run, and what should I use for this magic nutrition thing? They say Gummi Bears, right? Well, I don’t eat Gummi Bears, so a boiled sweet should probably be a rough match…
I don’t cut corners on a trail, so why am I trying to cut corners here? Bonkers. The sherbert lemons I thought would sort me out did *absolutely nothing*. I ended my extra LSR just as fatigued as ever, and now on the brink of sliding into a panicky slump of frustration and negativity. (I know, right? Panicky slump sounds like the worst kind of anxious-making gloom.)
At this point I might have thrown in the towel. It’s easy to believe that maybe I’m just not up to it. That marathons are for a special breed of athletes, and I’ve been kidding myself.
Staying on track required three things:
- As always, my best friend / cheerleader / coach / kickass bootcamp sergeant-major husband, who pep-talked me back into a positive state of mind. (And threatened to run the race himself if I didn’t, and as he’s done zero training would take even longer than me to do it, whilst I would have wait around and watch!)
- Recognising all the valuable things I’ve already learned through this training about grit, determination, resilience and effort. Can’t not see it through now, even if I have to run for eight hours…
- My brilliant FB running group. They are such a fabulous band of encouragers—and of course, as soon as I asked for advice on nutrition, they shared their valuable wisdom and experience, and I had a plan.
So I (finally) did a bit of research and went for some low-end-of-the-budget but well reviewed citrus caffeine gels from Wiggle, and scrabbled about on my training schedule trying to think of a time when I could try them out without screwing up what is now supposed to be a taper fortnight.
I had 75-minute interval training on Saturday, and decided I would try a gel about half way round, just to see.
Wow. Gross. Lemon flavoured Calpol. Definitely needs water to go down without puking.
But… I think it helped. I had a good training session and still felt pretty powerful at the end. Hard to know how much was psychological, but I did a similar session yesterday for 60 minutes, no gel, and definitely felt more wrung out by it.
So we’ll see. There’s only one taper-length LSR to go (8 miles this Friday) to practice with gels again, and then it’s basically just gentle rest-runs until the race. Who knows if that’s enough time to ripen this little nut into a fabulous Pink Lady by 30th June?
I may end up with a lame time, and that’s a bit disappointing after the effort and investment I’ve made. But I’m learning what success looks like. It doesn’t necessarily mean an incredible athletic achievement on the day, but a great process through the training, and the resilience, hope and faith to respond well to setbacks and failure.
I’ve got an amazing team at my back, and now I’m just looking forward to running my race.
Running streak total today is 538 days, 2307 miles. #runeveryday