Leicester October 2015, Uneventful Marathon – NOT!

DSC_6497 The Leicester Marathon route is mostly flat and fast. Having completed a gruelling hilly Marathon the month before, I was expecting this one to be easier and more mundane. At the outset, things seemed to run fairly smoothly, us runners lining up at the start, the race beginning on time to cheers and waves. Other than it was a freezing cold morning, the weather was on our side – dry and bright.

This is why I enjoy running Marathons: every race is different and every time I put myself through one, I learn and experience something new. Running through Leicester’s Golden Mile, adorned with Diwali decorations, amazing, I noticed a runner with a photograph of a loved one on the back of her t-shirt, a much loved husband or partner who had died in middle age. I gained a sense of why she was running, in memory of her loved one. It was at this moment that I noticed quite a few runners around me with t-shirts that showed they were running for the memory of their loved ones also, people who had been traumatically taken from them. As a psychotherapist, I understood that in running with photos or names of their relatives on their backs, these runners were staying connected to the people that had died, whom they had loved. There is quite a lot of literature on bereavement that suggests that if a person can continue to feel a sense of connection with a lost loved one then they tend to cope better than people who try to push their dead relatives away. I pondered these thoughts as I ran behind these runners, tears in my eyes, emotionally moved by their grief and their coping strategies.

Soon, we had reached the stage of the race where Half Marathon runners went one way, and we Marathon runners went in another direction. I enjoyed this part of the race because I felt proud at this moment that I was placing myself in the crazy, tough nut, category. I was proud to have trained to this level, where I knew I could run non-stop for over 4 hours. I laughed when I began to get a small pain in my foot, telling myself that soon that pain would be insignificant compared to the overall body pain I would be experiencing. The miles cranked up as we ran through beautiful Leicestershire villages, and I felt excited by running along the roads I drive along to work, gaining a different perspective upon my surroundings. At mile 14 I watched a lady infront of me start to walk and my thoughts at that time were that she still has a long way to go, that this is going to be painful for her and that she has my full respect.  Every village that we ran through had spectators,  mums, dads, children who had come out of their homes to wave us on.  I felt a warm welcome from each and every Leicestershire village, and enjoyed running past chocolate box houses and ancient churches.

Every time I run a Marathon, the worst miles for me are between mile 18 and mile 23, because at this stage I am really tired and my legs start to hurt, no matter how much training I have done. I cannot see an end to the race, I only see the pain ahead. It was during this stage of the race that I discovered aspects to myself that I can truly appreciate. I told myself that I was going to keep the pressure on, that this was the middle stage of the race and that it would not defeat me. I found an inner drive, a desire to keep up my pace, telling myself that I wanted to complete the Marathon in around 4 hours. I also made sure to smile at the race marshals and to thank them profusely as I ran past them, because without them there would be no race. I was exhausted, in pain, feeling a little sick, yet I was good natured with the people around me and compassionate towards myself. This Marathon had revealed these aspects about myself, perhaps more starkly than other things I do.  These qualities I can take into my everyday life, and when I now remember this section of the race, I walk with my back a little straighter, my head held a little higher.

In the last two miles of the Marathon, I found myself running side by side with a male runner, similar age to myself. We started to talk. We laughed about how our legs now hurt running downhill, running uphill, running around corners, simply running. We spoke about the amazing support provided by the marshals, the energy drinks and gels that were handed out, how we were now only a couple of miles away from the finish. We spoke positively, despite being in significant pain, and this really helped to get those final two miles out of the way. At that stage it did not matter who would finish first, the fact is that we both knew we would complete the Leicester Marathon. My temporary running companion told me that I could run on ahead as he felt I had a sprint finish in me. I joked with him that my husband and brother were waiting for me on the finish line and so it would be good to have a faster pace then !  I do feel we shared an experience here together, this runner and I, and yet when I think back now I would not have a clue about what he looked like.  We shared conversation running side by side together, and so never looked at each others’ faces.  Funnily enough, in the last half mile or so I found myself becoming increasingly ecstatic at knowing the finish line was but a few breaths away, and I did find my pace picking up. One man shouted out, ‘You have run a Marathon this morning, what else are you going to do for the rest of the day ?’ I shouted back, ‘Sleep and watch Downton Abbey at 9pm’. The Leicester crowds were amazing and towards the end people were cheering us all on, because the last mile was all up a steep hill. I remember running past one male runner right near the end, who was shouting out and cursing, out of exhaustion and anger.  Anger I could recognise in him because I myself have experienced anger in previous Marathons that I have run.  Coming up to the finish line I saw my husband, we high fived as I ran past him, so delighted at my finish time of 4 hours and 3 minutes.  Over the line I saw my brother with a huge smile on his face.  Two years previously, he had been waiting for me in a similar place to finish the Leicester Half Marathon, along with my dad who had given me a massive hug, emotionally moved by what I had done, this tight hug coming from a man who rarely shared physical touch with others.  My dad is now dead, and so having my brother on the finish line meant a lot to me.

When I got home I opened up the booty bag that I had been given. I took out my medal and saw, to my distress, that by mistake I had been given a Half Marathon medal ! I had pictured getting the Full Marathon medal during the entire race, so you can imagine how upset I was. Strangely, however, getting the wrong medal did not detract from my sense of completion and satisfaction, having run over 26 miles, courageously in the way that I had wanted to run. I guess I learned from this that I don’t run for the medals. Afterall, nothing really lasts. Yes, I like hanging the medals up on my wall and I like looking at them, but actually for me the Marathon is a journey, an emotional as well as physical one. I did contact the race organisers and they sent through the Full Marathon medal so I now have two medals for that day’s running. I am already planning my next Marathon – bring it on !

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