Ever felt defeated?
So utterly defeated that you feel like you are a child again – lost in Westfield with no familiar face in sight? Lost bushwalking at sunset and your phone dies? Missed your international flight at its 1AM?
It’s that feeling of fear, defeat and abject hopelessness. Your heart drops and your mind begins groaning under the weight Atlas once hoisted.
That is how I felt at the 30km mark with 15km to go to my first ever marathon. (Technically anything over 42.2km is termed an ‘ultra’ marathon but I feel a bit rich claiming the title).
I started training for a marathon six months out from the event. I was going to run the Great Ocean Road marathon. It was going to be 45km of stunning coastal scenery. Too bad you would have to battle an undulating, never-ending tarmac to get there.
I was never really a runner before starting training. The Bay Run was my limit. The views distracted me from the boredom of pounding the pavement. I, like many others, ran to compensate for the decadence over the weekends. It gave my conscience an excuse to rationalise the brownie I had at lunch. I would listen to music punctuated by my footstep metronome.
However when a friend posed the challenge of running a marathon, I couldn’t resist. It was the excitement of conquering a bucket list item that got me. The running was a mere technicality and the fact it was my first time was just exciting.
So here I was, on the morning of the marathon. I had never run over 30km before. I found that at every 10km interval something new and unexpected would happen to your body. I guess it was from pushing it to a place you had never pushed yourself before. At the 10km mark, my legs would feel like they were just warming up. At the 20km mark I would always feel right on pace. But something funny would always happen around the 25km mark. My hip sockets would creak as slow setting concrete poured into them, searing pain in the bridge of my feet would appear then miraculously dissolve.
As the marathon day got closer the fear got larger. This was my first time running over 30km, who knew what leak would spring?
So on the day, full of nerves and high on bravado I started my run.
The first 10km went by swimmingly, the 20km mark I felt strong. I started to near the dreaded 25km mark and could feel the fear set in. The fear of the pain, the fear of the failure and the fear of the unknown.
By the 30km mark the fear had become borderline manic.
The gels I consumed started to work against my stomach’s good judgement. I started to feel nauseous and sickened by its sickly taste. I couldn’t seem to wash the unnatural substance away. Every time I swallowed I felt it coated all of my tongue. The searing pain on the bottom of my foot returned. I felt like I was running on hot coals in some demonic baptism of fire. If that wasn’t bad enough then came the hills. Deceptively undulating hills that flirted with you. It batted its eyelids and got you powering around the skirt of the mountain. Only to emerge on the other side and faced with kilometres of the same tarmac to go.
It is at that point my mind began to break. With my back up against the crumbling walls, I employed a chevalier attitude. I yelled in the face of the lion’s roar. I wasn’t going to let it defeat me. Every brain cell was screaming and fighting the wake of the lions roar.
And then I broke.
Like the release of the Red Sea, a tower of defeat came crashing down all around me. I felt utterly hopeless, marooned on a desert island with only a can of tuna and no can opener. My metronome footsteps stopped shuffled rather than pounded as all the energy sapped from me. The long and winding road had no seeming end in sight.
I was too scared to stop. When I had dropped my waterbottle at the 38km mark and bent down to pick it up, my legs cramped with excruciating pain. It felt like they were being wrung out to dry.
I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Stuck at the bottom of a canyon with nothing but defeat towering over me.
It was only then, I saw a slither of light. It was the Rose City at the end of the siq.
It was of calm acceptance.
Acceptance of my fallibility. Acceptance of my frailty. Acceptance that I had reached my human limits. To revere and be humbled by the marathon and its absolute power. Like Pheidippides I succumbed to it.
And it was then I reached a runners nirvana. Silence. No more chattering in my head. Only the metronome of my footsteps beating an eternal rhythm.
Finally I started to see the finish line. And started to break into a sprint. I sprinted to the end, running past the high fiving kids, the commercial sign wavers and pram wielders there for the spectacle. My legs, numbed from the over four hours of running felt like they were sprinting on air.
Leaping over the finishing line like a gazelle over a briar just as the lion snaps at its heels, I realised I had made it. I had stared in the mouth of the marathon and got to the other end in one piece.
Never again would I underestimate the power of the marathon. It is something to be revered, respected and humbled by. To not do so would be at your peril – you may find yourself still in that canyon waiting for the Rose City that will never come.
I am a co-founder of Sydney In Motion and a Sydney-enamored local, committed to help you take the real pulse of Sydney while getting yours racing. Join on of our Sydney running tours, Sydney jogging tours, Sydney sightrunning tours (whatever phrase tickles your fancy really) and come enjoy our city.