"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Self-Transcendence Marathon - 23 August 2020
Having started this series of virtual races back in April and had lots of success at the short distances, I chanced my arm at half marathon off the back of some 10 mile training runs and then found myself looking at a full marathon on the horizon just three weeks later. You need to rest up for the full distance, so there was really only time for one "long run" to see if I could condition myself for the much longer run ahead. I pushed myself round a 15 miler in exactly 2 hours and felt pretty finished, but with 2 weeks rest to come I thought I could at least start the marathon at 8 minute pace and see what happened. I might get under 3.50 for the first time in years, or nip under 3.55.07 to qualify for our invitational event next year, or failing that at least beat the 3.57 I ran in March this year.
This was of course another virtual race so I picked a course that passed my front door every 4.3 miles or so, with access to a drinks/gels table in the garden or the house if needed. The route was mostly flat, on pavements and through parks on footpaths/cycleways. I had a 3 day window in which to complete my race - Saturday was out as I had to spend it breaking concrete and cementing in some new fence posts in the garden - tough work that I'm not used to! I would have had a rest day and then raced on the Monday if the weather hadn't changed my mind - fine on Sunday, stormy on Monday. I ended up planning to start around 8am Sunday morning when it was forecast to be mild and breezy with good cloud cover.
I laid out my drinks and gels - mostly bottled lucozade and gatorade plus a shedload of SIS gels including one of the max caffeine ones - and a bottle of kombucha and a can of coke-energy. Somehow I knew none of this carbo-madness would really make up for not properly adapting my body to anything over half marathon distance, but I was thrilled to be running "our marathon" again after such a long gap. I think I last ran it in 2005 and in the intervening years I've been one of the cycling crew leading the faster runners around the course at Rockland, making sure slower runners make way for the leaders. It's a shame that my eventual return to racing a marathon would come when everything had gone "virtual" - usually the music and poetry from the sidelines and the group energy of running with hundreds of others, mostly from the Sri Chinmoy Centres all around the world, is a huge lift. This race was going to have to be all about self-motivation, a solitary series of laps of my own neighbourhood.
I started just after 8am with a walk/jog warmup of a few minutes and then got myself to my start line right outside my front door. I set off with the intention of running 8 minute miles for around 15 miles, then seeing how well I could hang on after that. The first lap went OK, 7.50 per mile, but as I grabbed my lucozade and gels from the table ready for lap 2, I already knew the pace was going to be a challenge. I kept feeding on the gels from early on in the race hoping to keep up my carb reserves, and made sure I drank plenty too as the cloudy forecast had proved to be a little wide of the mark with warm sunshine starting to make an appearance. Lap 2 was more of the same and I grabbed a photo as I ran through the park at Forty Acres.
Coming into the third lap I was already tired and regretting the over-optimistic start. The 2 weeks of tapering hadn't recharged me as much as I expected and if anything I was in poorer shape than when I did my 15 mile training session. Was that down to a full day labouring the day before? I wasn't sure, but I was sure I was going to have to dig deep to finish in a reasonable time. The breeze slowed me down but cooled me down too and I managed to time my drinking so that I could stash a couple of drink bottles, still half full, at around the 1.5 and 3.5 mile marks on the course. That allowed me to run unencumbered by bottles for at least some of each lap.
Once up and over half way I instantly began to slow and the average pace on my watch began to climb. This was where I missed the energy of a real race, the chance to get into a rhythm running with a bunch and let things roll while trying not to think about how the body is feeling. There was no distraction, just me and the road. My legs were stiffening up and my stomach felt a bit fragile from taking stronger drinks than it was used to, as well as the frequent gels. By the time I came to the drinks table ready to start the penultimate lap I was walking/jogging, struggling to maintain a proper rhythm and watching the average pace climb up and up on my GPS. Kokila was heading out to run a lap and I asked her to mix some lucozade 50/50 with water to make it easier to drink. I took the kombucha and the caffeine gel, but I had hit a bit of a wall and there was no accelaration there when I looked for it. My body was hunting for energy and not finding any. I was taking on carbs, perhaps my body wan't breaking them down? Anyway, I was crawling as far as my pace was concerned but still, unbelievably, enjoying the experience of running a marathon like anything. I'd opted not to wear headphones and instead I had Sri Chinmoy's Marathon songs playing on a loop in my head - including two for which I could remember being present when he wrote them. They were Marathon I Run which he composed in the late 90s, when I was in Queens for the New York Marathon and a song about the joy and suffering of marathon running which had been composed at Rockland in the 2000s. I was also silently singing to myself older running songs like O Marathon Runner. They all had a running cadence as you'd expect and they kept my stride turning over and my mind and heart stayed strong even while my body was not in such great shape.
The walk breaks were only brief, just while I took on fuel, and for the most part I was running along pretty steadily albeit slowly. Kokila met me on her bike at around 22 miles with the 50/50 drink and took a couple of photos. I was wasted, but still cheerful and still running. I sped up slightly on the last lap and pushed myself towards the end but all my targets had evaporated and a last ditch attempt to come in under 4 hours, which at least would have felt respectable, ended with me one minute over. Final time 4:01:05.
Outwardly a failure as far as race time was concerned, but I had a great experience and felt really good on it afterwards. Very grateful to have run "our" marathon again after such a long time and to have finished it.
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