The Wake Up Call (Part 2)
The first post of the new year started with the (mostly) balanced and levelheaded story of how I started training for this series of marathons; what sort of shape I was in at the beginning, the first few sessions with the running club in Drogheda before closing off with the low-down on the hill training which has left my knees feeling like they’ve been attacked with hammers. And that’s when things got downright stupid…
My home is at Drumin (Dunleer). The route, highlighted above in purple, is 5.2 km long or 3.23 miles. The length of a marathon is 26.22 miles (26 miles and 385 miles). So, to simulate a marathon-length run, one would need to complete 8.11 laps of the above block. The “thinking” behind actually doing this was firstly to have a base-time set in my mind as a foundation to improve upon and secondly to help to remove the fear that the entire undertaking might not be physically possible. After finishing up at work, I came home, changed into my running gear and started running at half six. It took me over five hours and was quite an interesting physical experience. At least partially because it was dark, because I was armed with nothing but an iPod, a reflective jacket and a bottle of Ballygowan’s finest, and also because I was wearing these runners at the time.
The first two laps of ‘the circuit’ were easy enough, but by the third I started to feel a niggling-ache in my heels, a kind of numbness that started to slowly spread from the soles of my feet upwards. I still do not consider myself to be very fit yet, but I do have a high pain tolerance, which has been useful. Overall, the first four laps passed relatively smoothly – a square half hour for each, for a total of 2 hours. Then I “hit the wall” in the fifth lap. In my head, that one lap seemed to take as long as the previous four put together. However, when I had finished it, I knew for certain that I would be able to be finish the whole 26.22 mile thing. One thing that I discovered about “hitting the wall” is that I would not simply be able to ‘will’ myself through it; neither will nor determination were part of the equation. When my body said I had to walk, I walked. Of course, there were however, exceptions to that rule…
When this pops up on your iPod, you don't walk, you RUN SUCKA!!!
I would describe the main sensation not as ‘pain’ or ‘gym-burn’ but as heaviness and as a bizarre sense of losing the feeling of having joints. In the last few laps, it became impossible to sustain a toe-to-heel running action for any amount of time as my calves simply could not take it. By the end, I had no sense of actually having knees or ankles, but felt as though I was trying to move two heavy, joint-less logs that had somehow become attached to my torso where my legs used to be. The stiffness was also bad enough that it prevented me from taking long strides, so I had to shuffle quite a bit as well. Having said that, (and maybe it was down to the hill training we had been doing at the club), I was pretty pleased with the performance on the hills; I was able to muster together a sprint up the hills on all eight laps.
In the latter stages, the only thing that made my body not want to walk was to constantly try to remind myself that walking would not actually do anything to ease the stiffness and would probably make it worse. Whenever I could get into a good stretch of running I could forget about the pain but if I slowed down to walk or even stopped, it would become sharper. This strategy worked for the most part but eventually I was cutting deals with myself to finish out the run (“Give me a run as far as that next telephone post and you can walk for the next 100 meters,” stuff like that).
In the end, I finished just after 11.30pm with a time of 5 hrs, 10 minutes & 20 seconds.
Mentally, it was a completely bizarre experience. Among other things, I saw three shooting stars and nearly tripped over a black cat bolting out of a driveway, which was either the universe messing with me or perhaps an exhaustion-induced hallucination.
Thankfully, my legs were completely back to normal in about three days. Since then, I’ve found a good physio, changed the running gear and started a proper, steady training-plan which should dovetail nicely with the Connemarathon in April. The trio of Ballyhoura, Limerick and Belfast at the start of May are obviously going to be much more problematic. At least now, however, I have something concrete to aim at and I know that they’re well within the boundaries of what I can physically take. As long as I can still move, I will finish them. Having said that, Paula Radcliffe’s record is probably still safe for now…