Post marathon – lessons & what next

The marathon is done, the holiday is over and I’m home. I feel very fortunate to have had some down time between the running and the returning to real life – sitting by the pool in Mexico and wandering the streets of Hong Kong gave me time to digest and ruminate on the adventure and the experience.

Lessons learnt along the way…

  • Running is 1% physical and 99% mental. I already knew this but had it clearly articulated again every day of the Dopey challenge. I adored the first 3 events – they were fun from getting out of bed to returning home again and I wouldn’t take back a minute of them. And I think partly that’s because I already knew I could do them – the distances were well within my comfort zone. The marathon? Not so much. I didn’t hate it but it was a struggle from the start. And all of that was mental. Physically, I was fine (besides leg niggles) but I was pushing back ‘You won’t be able to finish this’ thoughts all the way through. Luckily….
  • I’m stubborn. Once I start something, I’ll do whatever I have to to get it finished and nothing in life has shown me that more than this event. When my blister popped and sent pain shooting through my foot with every step, I muttered ‘It’s only a blister. Get over it. At least you have feet.’ then actually found myself grinning at my ability to say that to myself. I saw people flooding in to the medical stations to tend to various bits and pieces but wouldn’t let myself do that either. I was convinced that, if I stopped, I wouldn’t go again so the only option was to keep moving.
  • You’re so much stronger when you’re with your people. There were 2 prongs to this. I travelled to the US with my husband and 5 wonderful friends and was so grateful for their friendship and support. Running with Jill in the first 3 events was a big part of what made them so epic. And in the marathon, knowing the others were out there, and knowing my husband was at the finish line, kept me going as well as the thought of stories we’d share afterwards. Often it is that – nothing specific that anyone says or does, just knowing they’re there and they get it. I’ve said before that I might run ‘alone’ but always have my running friends in my head and that was definitely true of the marathon.

    The second prong of this is choosing an event where I was with my kind of runners for the whole time. I’ve run events before where I’ve been pretty much left in the dust on the start line and then spend the whole time on my own and it is no fun at all. I love running alone but not when I’m paying for it. Disney was amazing. I never had any moments on my own and was constantly surrounded by runners who were a range of shapes and sizes but all my speed and many of them running intervals. It was an eye opening and immensely positive experience for me.

  • The journey is the best part. This one surprised me a bit. I’ve always enjoyed running events – the hype, the start line frenzy, the little distractions along the way and the bling at the end. However what I’ve enjoyed most about this experience is the training. The consistency and predictable nature of my weekday runs. Having a training plan and being accountable to it and myself. Getting lost in my own head and the world around me on my long runs. Pushing myself outside my comfort zone with every long run I did but knowing, somehow, that I would be strong enough to do it. I think what upset me most about my injury was not getting to finish the training rather than the fear of not getting to do the event.

So, what next?

Before this, I swore I would never do another marathon. And, in the moments after finishing, I probably said the same thing. Now? I don’t know. It would have to be the right one, where the only pressure I felt was from myself and not the cut off times. But it’s not out of the question. I know I need a bit of a rest but I also know I need routine and miss my long runs. 2018 is not going to be the year for setting any more big goals – ticking off such a huge one in the first few days of the year sets you up well. However I suspect it will be a year of pushing myself anyway, because I can and because I enjoy it. And, ultimately, that’s what running should be about anyway.

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Disney World marathon (Dopey – part 4)

It’s taken me a few days to get to this post as post-marathon celebrations took over and the holiday got in the way of the blog writing. Apologies!

Marathon day started very similarly to the previous four although the nerves and excitement were clearly evident. We were up a bit earlier as we’d decided that, to give ourselves the best possible chance, we all wanted to be in the front of our respective corrals and that it was worth the extra 15 minutes of sleep we’d miss. I will admit to being thankful that it was the last time my alarm would go off at something starting with a 2. While the early starts hadn’t been as hard as I thought they might, it had meant us completely building our days around what time we were going to bed (6pm) and I was looking forward to getting back to a degree of holiday normality.

Regardless, we were up and in the car by 3.15am and, thanks to staying close by and Disney efficiency, were parked, unloaded and at the event village by 4am. We pretty much went straight through to the corral walkout and joined the crowds, stopping for a quick toilet stop on the way (with almost no queues). And so we all found ourselves very close to the front of our corrals. Our little crowd in Corral G set out our cardboard, sat down and got comfortable. The temperature was a relative balmy 6 degrees so our well planned blankets and space blankets were definitely enough to keep us warm and we were thankful for some time off our feet, especially as we still had 2 hours to go until we started.

You would think, after hearing the routine for 4 days in a row, that I would be a bit blasé about it all but the American national anthem (sung so beautifully) actually brought tears to my eyes. They would be the first of many. This was a big day, a really big day. I have dreamed about running at Disney pretty much since I took up running yet never ever thought I’d be able to run a marathon. And, standing there that morning, I still wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to. I just knew that I wanted to try and had done all I could to make it happen.

The fireworks went off for the elites then, wave by wave, the other corrals were let go and it was our turn. Our early start had been worth it – we’d made it into the first wave of our corral (just – the tape was behind us!) which gave us a few extra minutes space. And we were off.

Based on the experience of the previous days, I’d decided to stick to running 1 minute per kilometre with brisk walking for the rest, as long I stayed under the required pace. I was still quite unsure of how my leg would hold out and didn’t want to push it, only to find it couldn’t cope. And I do walk quite fast. So that’s what I did. The kilometres heading towards Magic Kingdom went pretty quickly and, before long, I was headed through the parking ticket booths. At this stage, I was running with Jill-ish – we were doing our own intervals which ended up being at pretty much the same pace so kept catching up with each other. So good to see a friendly face on the course, especially as I was finding those first kilometres challenging, knowing how long the road ahead was.

However, I was looking forward to running through Magic Kingdom (again) and that kept me going. I messaged my husband (very hard with frozen fingers) as I was coming into the transportation center to let him know I was nearly there as he was waiting there to see us. Running down Main Street USA was just as good the second time and I teared up…again! These are the moments that make this run just so special. When I came through the castle, I was searching for my husband and saw him at the bottom so took the time to stop to say hi and give him a kiss. It was exactly the boost I needed and put an extra spring in my step for the rest of the park.

Then we were back out on to the roads and on our way to Animal Kingdom. The roads felt loooong. There was an out and back section where I got my hopes up that I might see my friends and I stuck to the inside lane to give me the best opportunity to scan the crowds as I ran but had no luck. This, combined with the blisters that started somewhere around this time, brought my mood down and it just became about getting it done.

It seemed to take a very, very long time to reach Animal Kingdom and, while I was glad to have a break from the open roads, I wasn’t feeling the Disney magic and just kept pushing through. There were animals on the side of the road as we entered, including a llama and a goat and the distraction of different scenery including the Everest ride – my mood perked up a little and I reminded myself that this was supposed to be an experience to be enjoyed and not endured. The good old “you don’t have to do this, you get to do this” mantra entered my head and brought a smile – as much as my feet were hurting, I was lucky and didn’t want to be anywhere else.

Out of Animal Kingdom and back onto the roads, this time towards ESPN. Having read lots of blogs on the topic, it seemed to be an area people either loved or hated so I was trying to keep an open mind to see how I would feel. I know, heading towards it, frustration was the word that sprung to mind – as you run towards ESPN, you pass runners coming out and the 35km flag which stings when you’re still somewhere in the late 20s. Despite my now very painful blistered foot, I did actually enjoy ESPN. Running on some different surfaces with something different to see was a great change and I didn’t mind that it was going around in circles.

My mood dropped again when I realised, coming out of ESPN, that no one else was going in – I was closer to the back than I had thought. Again, it became a ‘getting it done’ exercise. The kilometres from ESPN to Hollywood Studios were my hardest – physically and mentally. I felt like the blister on my foot extended under all of my toes on the ball of my foot (a reality check after the event confirmed this) so it was pain with every step. And, mentally, I was now worried about having got this far and being caught by the balloon ladies and the sweepers. I powered on. The fact I still had crowds around me was a positive and I tried to draw on their energy as many of them clearly were still enjoying it although a few looked in the same pain I felt.

Eventually, Hollywood Studios appeared and my mood started to lift. The park was full of people who lined the route and cheered – couldn’t help but smile and teared up (again!) at their encouragement. Coming out of Hollywood Studios, I knew it wasn’t far to the last sweep point and, through the car park, it appeared – the last of the parade buses, waiting to take those who couldn’t keep up with the pace. The driver smiled at us and said ‘This is your last chance to get on the bus. No? Then you better keep going for the finish line – YOU GOT THIS!’ and, at that, my face broke and I cried the ugly tears that had been waiting just under the veneer. I was still fighting back the sobs as I powered along the boardwalk and another runner said to me ‘It’s ok – we all feel the same way’ which just made me cry more. For the first time, I actually believed I was going to finish this.

I pulled myself together, stood up taller and resolved to enjoy every moment remaining. We entered the now very familiar Epcot and this time it was full of people, all cheering and smiling and watching us. Nearly finished marathoners were also popping off the course in droves to buy turkey legs and celebratory drinks to carry them to the finish line. I felt my injured calf pull and was reminded that, until I crossed the finish line, this wasn’t done so I slowed it down to do all I could to get there.

I paused one last time at Spaceship Earth for a picture and took a moment just to stand and breath and take it in – I was here, at Disney, running a marathon. Seriously. So lucky to get to actually live a dream I’d had for so long. And then it was time to get it finished.

Rounding the corner, the finish line was there, as was my husband, and I crossed my fingers that my leg would hold out and I ran for the finish line. I don’t think any finish line has ever felt so painful and yet so sweet. I collected my marathon medal and then proudly presented myself to the challenge tent to get the next 2 before moving on to rejoin my friends.

I suspect this won’t be the only post I write about marathon running but it’s well and truly long enough and says all it needs to about the day. A magical day, yes, but harder in so many ways than I envisaged. You learn so much about yourself and what you’re capable of when you do hard things and I still aren’t sure how I pushed through some of those kilometres. But I did. I am a marathoner.

Disney 10km race recap (Dopey – part 2)

It felt a little like ‘Groundhog day’ this morning. Alarm went off at 2:50am, got up and showered, ate toast, took our group picture and loaded into the car to head to Disney. All very much the same as the day before. Except that we were a little bit more tired and a little bit wiser about what lay ahead.

Gary dropped us off so there was no waiting in the warmth of the car this time; instead we headed for the nearest heater and huddled as close as we could. While the temperature was a smidge better than yesterday, the slight wind added an unwelcome chill. We were slightly better prepared with our space blankets from the previous day (thanks Disney) on top of our cheap Walmart blankets (bought at the bargain price of $2.50 each).

At somewhere not long after 4.30am, we moved off towards the corrals, had a final toilet stop and then joined our respective crowds. The time went even quicker for us this morning as we made some friends – a great family from Kentucky completing their 4th Dopey challenge. Before we knew it, the time had ticked by and we were moving off to the start line. I was reluctant again to ditch the layers but it had to be done and then it was our turn to start.

The first part of the 10km course takes you out on to the roads for an out and back section which I was worried might be boring and long. I was wrong. There were enough distractions (in the form of screens, characters and a water station) to keep us amused as well as the people watching opportunities – so many fascinating costumes going past. Like yesterday, it was quite crowded and walkers spilled into all sections although, on the whole, people were very tolerant of each and the need to give each other room.

Jill and I were again running together and I actually tried a little bit of running this time which felt good and was much needed – power walking was beginning to stress my muscles and I needed to give them a break. Odd to think of running as a break from walking but that’s what it was! We also had no music with us and didn’t need it – our chatter, the various bits of entertainment and the general atmosphere was enough.

After about 5km, we headed back towards Epcot and then ran a different route to yesterday through the park, including the Boardwalk area. And it was so much fun. Ridiculous amounts. We could not stop smiling and would find ourselves getting carried away and running, even though we’d promised ourselves that we would walk and conserve our energy. We had stops for selfies and had a lot of marvelling at the surroundings – knowing how lucky we were to be able to run this morning in such a location. Feeling incredibly grateful.

Almost too soon, it was over with the finish line in sight. We crossed it with huge grins and felt great – another run done. And my leg is still behaving itself. It had 1 very minor twinge today but was fine once it (and the rest of me) was warmed up. Next up – 21.1km. See you in the morning (again!!).

Dopey training – week 27

Training is done. Not that I’ve been following the training plan for a few weeks now, thanks to my ‘niggles’ but it’s officially done.

Briefly – it’s been a week of a few power walks and lots of high step count days in between.

We visited Green Lake in Seattle to stretch our legs and I pushed my walking as hard as I could, managing to stay ahead of balloon lady pace, despite feeling cold and mildly unfit. I knew that cutting these last few weeks wouldn’t kill my fitness completely but it has taken a bit of a dent, however it was either that or rule myself out completely with injury.

On Saturday, parkrunday, we were in San Francisco so headed for Crissy Field. This walk was hard. Cold, again, and just felt slow and alone. All of the ‘I’m not good enough’ thoughts were surfacing as I could feel my calf pull and I just wanted to be able to run like I could see all of those ahead of me doing. I tried a few steps of running but felt familiar pains so went back to walking and called on all my positive mantras just to finish. The pain wasn’t as bad as it had been a few weeks earlier and I was still keeping up a good walking pace. And the scenery made me smile. Crossing the line, I was consoling myself that at least I can finish the 5km at Disney, if nothing else.

I’ll extend this training week to Monday as, being New Year’s Day, it was an extra parkrunday and by this time, we were in Florida so went to Clermont Waterfront. The weather was awful but I actually had a fantastic walk. Who knows what had changed in the 2 days since my previous one? I didn’t look at my watch, didn’t care what pace I did and just enjoyed it. The 5km still felt long, making me wonder how the other events would feel but I saw that as a positive – 2 days before, I had been sure I wouldn’t be doing any other events. In the end, I finished only just over balloon lady pace but feeling much more positive than on my previous 2 walks.

So training really is done. I have no idea what the next few days will bring. I have no idea whether my leg, my lungs or my mind are capable of finishing any or all of the events. Let alone finish them, I don’t know whether I’m going to start them all. Each day will be its own decision point and I can’t commit to any more than that. What I do know is that I did the training. I skipped a small number of runs through illness or injury but did all the others, despite long days at work, cold, heat, being tired or just not wanting to. If the training plan said run, I ran. And I couldn’t be prouder of that. Whether or not I bring home all the bling I hoped for, I have achieved something beyond what I thought I could and the journey has shown me what I’m capable of, physically and mentally. Those who told me marathon training was life changing were right and I’m so glad to have done it.

Summary:

Thursday – 5km (49:12)
Saturday – 4.9km (47:36)
Monday – 5km (51:09)

Dopey training – week 26

If you caught up on my blog last week, my training is now done (whether complete or not) thanks to my dodgy legs. So this week’s ‘training’ is really more about looking after myself and doing whatever I can to get me to the start line, not easy in the last crazy week of school. So it has been a week of trying to stick to early bedtimes, foam rolling and being kind to myself.

I also went to the physio who massaged my legs (which felt fabulous afterwards but excruciating at the time) and said soothing, positive things. Like ‘look after yourself, take it easy and you might do this’. She also kindly offered to help put me back together if I came home broken.

And this morning, I did my one piece of actual exercise for the week – parkrun. I walked with my husband and a friend I hadn’t seen in ages and it was marvellous. A beautiful morning, great company and no grumbles from my leg on our walk. Followed up with a lovely breakfast with our crew. It reminded me how lucky I am to have found the running friends I have – an incredibly supportive and kind bunch of people.

So, in all, a training week without much training but very important anyway. And now, after all these months of planning and running, we’re sitting at the airport, waiting to board our flight. I’m excited, nervous, terrified but, most of all, proud of what I’ve already achieved, regardless of what happens on marathon day. But that’s a story still to come 😀

Dopey training – week 25

I didn’t run on Tuesday – life and the craziness of my working life at the end of the year got in the way and I decided to rest up for the mock Dopey ahead of me. My first run for the week was Thursday and I set off for my usual lap of the neighbourhood. All was going well with pretty consistent and easy intervals until about the 4th kilometre when I felt the familiar tug of pain in my leg……my left leg. Not the one that’s currently giving me grief. My spare, uninjured one. I immediately toned it down to a walk for the remainder of the session and tried hard not to panic.

On Friday, I woke up mostly pain free on that side and got through the working day without any problems. I was due to do another training run Friday night but decided to skip it, just in case.

This morning, I opted for ‘just’ 5km at parkrun (rather than the 19km that my training plan was calling for) and the first minute of it was fine. The rest was not. There was definitely something not right with my left leg. The fact that its pain was overshadowing that which currently lives in my right leg said it all. I managed to walk pretty fast on the flat but going up hill was not pretty and I was thankful for my sunglasses so I could hide the tears from my fellow parkrunners.

And that’s it. Very hard to write a training recap when you’re no longer training. The taper officially begins today and to say I’m not happy about it is clearly an understatement. Tomorrow I should be tackling a 40km training run but instead I’ll be trying to quell the anxiety and enjoying having extra time to pack, hoping it doesn’t turn into a very expensive opportunity to cheer my friends on in a big overseas event. I have a physio appointment booked on Thursday anyway so will see what she says. All I can hope is that, with 3 weeks to go, my niggles can heal enough to get me over the finish line.

Weekly summary:

Thursday – 5km (48:01)
Saturday – 5km (49:38)

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Dopey training – week 24

Last week’s entry ended with positive thoughts for an injury free journey to the start line. As I continued to feel tweaks in my leg, I chose to rest instead of run on Tuesday and then booked in to see the physio on Thursday. Even before attending, this was anxiety-inducing – my regular physio was no longer there. While that doesn’t seem like a big deal to others, it’s a huge deal to me. I’m not one to cultivate relationships with my healthcare providers – I don’t even have a regular GP, choosing instead to see whoever is available at the clinic when I need a doctor. However, once I find someone I feel comfortable with, I stick to them and I had found an absolute gem of a physio. He took me seriously as an athlete, never flinched at any of my aspirations (regardless of how wacky) and, most importantly, put niggles into perspective with a spoonful of reality and a prescription of ‘You’ll be fine – keep going’! So it was with some trepidation that I approached a new physio. It turned out, I had nothing to be nervous about – she’s great. Equally supportive and just as good at (softly) telling me to stop whingeing and get back to training. I still have soreness at the top of my calf but she massaged it and assured me it was nothing big enough to stop training for.

So, on Saturday, I got back into it with a parkrun fix, at home for once. And it was lovely. My legs felt great, my lungs felt great and it was, generally, a pretty easy and relatively speedy run. It was made even better as I was tag teaming with another parkrunner along the way and we were pushing each other – she was running continually while I was run/walking but we were pretty much the same pace. She crossed the finish line with a PB and I was so pleased for her – almost as good as getting one myself! I also tested out my new RunFaster gear and can confirm it feels as good as it looks 🙂

Today, it was time for a long run although a run of 11km doesn’t feel long anymore. It’s an interesting point really – I like the fact that it doesn’t feel long and hope it never does again but I obviously can’t keep these kms up forever. Anyway, I digress. I chose my favourite Surf Coast Trail as I didn’t really feel like running and needed something special to get me out the door. Seeing all of my friends posting on Strava and Facebook about their runs was the final push I needed and I got my gear on and went. I also saw a couple of friends at the start of the run which was great – set me off in the right mood. My leg was pretty good throughout the run – a bit pinchy on the hills but not terrible. I did take it easy but also tried not to shirk on intervals until my leg had had enough and kept up a solid pace overall.

Next week is our mock-Dopey runs and our final looooong run. I’m not 100% convinced my leg will let me do it but we shall see.

Weekly summary:
Saturday – 5km (39:20)
Sunday – 11km (1:41:31)