Last weekend I ticked a big one off the list – my first marathon. I have run the odd half-marathon in the past, and always said to myself, ‘oh my God, why would ANYONE EVER want to run a full marathon?! ‘ I always thought I had no interest in pushing myself to run for hours and hours, and that I’d rather train for a faster half-marathon time, if anything. Actually, another glass of wine sounded like a better idea.
So it was with a fair whack of incredulation that earlier this year I found myself thinking, ‘um, maybe this is something I’d like to see if I can do?’ … what the heck? Where had this come from? Yes I had pushed out a hefty eight pounder and survived to tell the tale. Yes I had endured the Cape Brett Challenge updownupdownupdownupdown. Perhaps I was starting to come around to the idea that I could do whatever I put my mind to. But 42km? Yikes. With trepidation I signed up to run the Queenstown marathon.
Ady McKenzie wrote me a fantastic detailed training plan which saw me rain-soaked and wind-blown for much of the winter. I was definitely making progress though! The plan included a hill run, interval speed training, a long slow run, and a short easy trot each week. I also took a weekly 75 min ‘Yin’ yoga class to try and straighten out my unbendiness. I should have done some strength training at the gym but I didn’t.
I enjoyed the training so much more than I thought I would! I travel a lot for work, and saw some amazing countryside on my early morning long runs. Everything was on track until about a month before the race when I started to notice a real pain riiiiight a the top of my hamstrings, where they attach onto your pelvis. I tried doing extra stretching but if anything I felt it was getting worse. After doing a bit of research it became clear that I had a classic case of ‘over-lengthened’ hamstrings – this can happen if your stronger quads overpower your hammies and cause a bit of a tilt in your pelvis as you run. Stretching your hamstrings is likely to make it worse – what you need to do is stretch the opposing muscles more, ie the quads and the hip flexors. Things weren’t looking good a week before the race, so I went to physio to get some professional advice. She reckoned I would be able to do the marathon, ‘but you’ll be a bit slow and in a fair bit of pain.’ Oh yay. That sounds fun, I thought. ‘Take Panadeine Extra at the halfway mark’ she recommended, helpfully. What about Pinot Noir, I thought. She stuck some needles into me, gave me some exercises to do, and said come back after the Race of Pain and we’ll fix it…that’ll be $90, thanks.
I hobbled away with a furrowed brow.
The day before the race I presented myself at the airport, trying to take deep breaths and mentally ticking off items in my head. Oh God, did I have my shoes? Yes. Yes, I had my shoes. And my socks?? Yes. Hydration pack? Yup. The flight attendant welcomed me aboard, and as she handed me back my boarding pass I was alarmed to see how much my hand was shaking as I accepted it. I was really doing this! Same time tomorrow, I would be galloping along. Sort of.
In Queenstown I was lucky to have the support of friends who had done countless marathons, triathlons, Ironman events, and general masochistic activities of that nature. We had a day of carbohydrate mania – it was quite fun, actually. Extra toast, sushi for lunch (more please), almond croissant don’t mind if I do, salmon and fries and kumara and salt-and-vinegar chips and dip and…..would I be able to move in the morning?
After a fitful sleep I couldn’t wait to get to the start line and get this thing over with! I dressed carefully, applying all the anti-chafe in the right places (it’s true) and soon we were hopping onto the shuttle bus to the start line. It was an overcast morning with pockets of sunshine peeping down onto the mountains through the clouds, the odd moment of drizzle, and a light south-westerly wafting across the lake. Perfect running conditions, really. I was so hyped up that I couldn’t sit still, a great big grin across my face to stop my bottom lip from quivering. Extreme nervous excitement is a pretty strange sensation, don’t you reckon?
After three trips to the portaloo (better to be safe than sorry) I joined the masses in the ‘4-4.5 hrs’ time category as this was what I was aiming for. We took off through the manicured downs of the plush Millbrook Golf Resort, bounced along the quaint main street of Arrowtown, and descended to the beautiful Arrow River trail. I was feeling good and had to remind myself to slow down and take it easy – it’s very common to go out too fast and lose the plot later. But by the time we reached the shores of Lake Hayes I was really starting to feel the pain in the pelvis. Stuff waiting til halftime I thought, 8.5kms in, I’m taking the drugs now. Unfortunately they didn’t really do much, and as the kilometres passed I just had to go slower and slower as my hammies shortened up. Luckily, the alpine scenery was stunning. Some of the homes we passed were enough to make you hyperventilate. And just when you were thinking to yourself ‘WHY AM I DOING THIS? Whyyyyyyyy’, there would be a helpful Air New Zealand sign declaring “I run because I like cake.” Very true, I mused. And wine.
There were live bands dotted along the course. There were supporters with picnics in the backs of their station wagons. There were red-cheeked local children whose soft, sticky little hands gave us encouraging high fives as we lurched past. There were swirling green rivers, and weeping willows above them. On we ran.
I took small bites of my banana at regular intervals and sipped on my water. At one bridge I shoved a handful of salted cashew nuts into my cheek and held them there for a while, and at another bend in the river I allowed myself a jubey chew. It’s hard to eat while you’re running – you really don’t feel like it, because all your blood is going to your hard-working muscles and your digestive system shuts down a bit. I saw a few people heaving their guts out on the side of the trail, and I’m sure some had more dire problems, ahem, further down. Who was it who first called diarrhoea ‘the runs’? Oh, the joys of marathon running. I felt a moment of immense gratitude that so far, I had not needed my emergency toilet paper carefully tucked away in a pocket of my hydration pack.
At the 28 km mark there was a very cruel hill. It snaked its way steeply up a chalky cliff behind Queenstown airport, and everyone in sight was striding up it. So did I. But as soon as I got to the top, I forced myself to get running again straight away. This was a beautiful section of the trail underneath the aptly named Remarkable range, with the deep green Kawarau River looping and pooling below us. Soon we came to the sign proclaiming 10km to go! 10 km, I told myself? I can run 10km!! I run 10km backwards, blindfolded, in my sleep! Forget the fact you’ve just run 32….up ahead, a very fit looking girl slowed, stopped, and cried. “It’s too hard!” she sobbed. “It’s just so hard, I can’t do 10 more km, it’s so hard…” “Come on, mate! Course you can! You can do it! All your training!” I yelled as I stumbled along past her, rubbing her arm. But I couldn’t stop. I knew if I stopped to walk, I wouldn’t be able to start again. I hope she finished ok.
The last 8km were hell. I couldn’t pick up my feet, I zoned out and went to another planet. I had a breathing rhythm aligned with my pathetic footfalls and a mantra that I repeated over and over in time to my breath. ‘Fit and strong and so so healthy. Fit and strong and so so healthy.’ Dunno where that came from. I didn’t even have the energy to smile as I passed supporters in deckchairs knocking back beers in the sunshine. I saw a lot of runners succumb to cramp, urgently trying to stretch it out on the side of the trail. The breeze came in off the lake as I rounded the end of the Frankton Arm and entered the Queenstown Gardens track. 2km to go. I have never run so slowly in my life. One foot in front of the other was all I was physically capable of.
I finally mustered up a grin as I crossed the street into downtown Queenstown. I was going to finish! I had actually run the thing! ‘GO, RANDOM STRANGER!’ said one large sign held by a group of young blokes, and ‘MICHELLE!! YEEAAAAAHHH!’ they hooted after me, reading my name on my race tag. Another girl held up a huge home-made sign promising ‘RYAN GOSLING IS AT THE FINISH LINE, WITH A PUPPY!’ Now that’s what I’m talking about, Willis.
My friends were at the top of the finish shute and took photos of me as I tripped my way down it and over the line. Words can’t describe how elated I felt. Was all that pain worth it? Hell, yes!
Would I do it again? I can’t believe I’m typing this. Probably. Definitely. Yes.
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