Quite a few months back I signed up for the Málaga half marathon. My running was feeling strong and getting faster. The world was a beautiful place full of fun and potential.
Not so sure but something started to change, recovery was slower, my times started to fade and I was just feeling not quite as positive about my future running as I was before. This finally got to the point about 2 weeks before the half marathon in which my left heel and ankle were so painful as to eliminate my possibility of training. I did some research online and feel that my pain could be plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis or a range of alternative, but equally difficult to pronounce, diagnoses. Obviously with any comparison of supposed injury to online symptoms can be the path to messing yourself further, but who am I to buck this trend? So I applied logic and thought to myself that this could be complete nonsense. I promptly ignored that and in the absence of another neat answer to my pain I thought I’d ‘run’ with online healing of my supposed symptoms!
In order to try and improve my rather sorry situation, I obtained a tennis and a golf ball and started a ball rolling massage programme of my own creation that fired off a range of sensations in my foot, ankle and calves like I had never experienced before. Some momentary and intense pain felt like it may have been creating relief as the day of the run approached, and the hobbling lessened. I was still not doing any training runs, but I was feeling more positive that I would at least be able to get around the course, leaving some of my pride intact, and believe me, I do not have so much to safeguard these days!
As my mum always likes to watch men in tight shorts prancing around in a sweaty mess, she had come over to watch. Having a similar attraction to partially clad, sweaty and oft-times hairy men, my dear old (in every sense of the word) friend Steve, who had just completed his year long Southern America extravaganza, had popped over also. The desire to complete, or at least participate in the run felt stronger, not wanting to disappoint those that had come out to see the event. This was most-likely a self-imposed pressure, as to be honest I am not sure that anyone but me would really care if I did not take part, and my kind guests had voiced such remarks.
The day finally arrived and I felt not too bad, although I was a little nervous that it was expected to be a warm day and the run was starting at 10am. A late start for most runs, and it would mean that the temperature would be hot for my cold English blood! This creates a new set of possible problems.
We arrived at the train station near Málaga 40 minutes from the start time and 30 minutes from the starting location. As always I needed one last lavatory moment before the run commencement. I waited for another runner in the toilets a few moments from the start. I am honestly not sure what happens to people before a run, but based on the range of toilets that I have used prior to participating in such events, something awful goes on with the digestive tracts of many. If you are to be a participant or an observer at such events, be prepared, and always take some toilet tissue with you, as this is often in short supply! Be warned!
Then as I was walking to the start line, having left my loved ones at the observer point, I was feeling the excitement rise. Just then the ‘gun’ went off and the gathered runners set off. I quickly dived into the crowd of participants, and set off with the masses. Things felt fine and jolly. I was quickly approached by some Spanish runners that were telling me about their minimalist running shoes, some of their pains in transitioning, and the reasons for wearing cushioned shoes that day. A sentiment I could whole heartedly sympathise with! Although pain was not riding with me at that point, at least not in any appreciable quantities.
The weather was indeed warm and the run was decidedly lovely. Running along roads which had been closed for the event which followed along the shore line, and the sea lay to the right. At the 10km mark I was feeling the sensations of discomfort making their way into my body, and turning around at the top point at around 11km was a great feeling. I was at least heading back home from this point onwards. I did not look at my Garmin, there was no point in making myself feel worse by analysing my performance. I then found myself running through Málaga town with the gathered people looking on. This is one of the fantastic things about these events for me. It is so uplifting to see the people and to hear the enthusiasm. I am aware that I’ll not always be able to participate, but I hope that I’ll still be able to cheer the next generation on and for them to feel that adrenaline rush of the moment. Then the cathedral was on my left and I was out of Málaga. It felt like it was all over in a blink of an eye.
The final 5km was a real challenge as my ankle was paining me, and my mind had switched from cheerleader helper mode, into The Blerch. I was hard pushed to persuade myself to continue, as my mind said just walk for a while, it is fine to do that. However, there is another part of my mind that says SCREW THAT YOU LAZY BITCH! Besides it reasons, the quicker I get back then I can just relax as my time will be my own. I slowed my pace down a little, as a psychological requirement, but carried on running. My pace steady rose again.
The heat was becoming a little more intense by now. As a general rule of thumb, I usually do not drink when doing distances of and up to half-marathon, as I never really acquired the skill of drinking and running. It just works out better to get round as quickly as I can and then worry about recovery afterwards! However I could feel a sense of dehydration kicking in, and an underlying exhaustion. For this reason I picked up a water bottle at one of the drink stations nearing the end. As I gulped down the water that I was liberally spraying into my face I noticed a wheezing and difficulty in breathing. I made a note of this new sensation and carried on. The feeling passed after about a minute of slowed and more difficult running. In the short term it felt uncomfortable, but after that momentary feeling passed, I felt much, much better and stronger. A reasonable trade-off in my eyes!
Soon the finish point at the stadium, where the run began, seemed to be nearing and I could recognise familiar areas that I had seen on the way out. Even though tired and hurting I dug a little deeper, it is always nice to finish strong regardless of how one feels inside. The stadium was there on my right and I sped up slightly feeling things were closing and I could do this. The few bits of reserve energy made their way from wherever they were hiding and moved to the places where they would be useful. Fantastic. Here we go I thought to myself. Then the stadium entry point passed on my right, and my mind understood, that I may have sped up too soon. This was not going to finish as I had expected. A short way past the stadium entry there was a hairpin bend, and my heart raced again, YIPPEE. This was it, the stadium, and therefore the finish line, were within grasp. At this point I also overtook a guy that was running in sandals, and as if it meant something my mind was grateful that I overtook this fellow! Not so sure why my mind does that. I had no idea that the guy in sandals existed until that point, but overtaking him at that moment meant something in my puny, pathetic little world!
So it was I could see the stadium entry and hear the sounds of success issuing from within. With a lightness in my heart I passed into the stadium, tired and in pain. My ankle hurt like hell and my left hip must have been compensating my movement somehow, as this was on fire. However we had reached the climactic point, the finish! Well at least that is what I thought.
On entering the stadium, there was a final punishment. They had a running track and the finish line was almost a lap of the running track away. With a sense of disappointment that things were not quite done, I found the next stage in my reserves. This is the stage that one knows is going to hurt. It has been put there to save you in the case of absolute emergency. When threat is so significant that it does not really matter how you come out of the situation, as long as you do. Recovery and repair can be dealt with later, but for now, this energetic burst is going to push you to the maximum effort point. This is when I knew I would REALLY hurt. I stepped up my pace internally, and let go for the final burst. Carried by adrenalin, or whatever else it is that allows me to be even more stupid than normal, the pain moved away from the front of my mind and allowed me to push that little bit harder. As I was on that final stretch, the finish line ahead, I looked to the stands to my right and saw the collection of loved ones that had come to watch my not very impressive (from a time perspective) effort, and felt gratitude and appreciation of their attendance. It was then that I crossed the final line that mattered, the finish line, and was terribly, terribly relieved!
It is now pretty much 2 weeks later. I have not been able to run and my left ankle, heel and achilles are pretty trashed. I obviously pushed myself a little more than sense would normally allow. So given the pain, the heat, the difficulty of the day and the days since would I have done it differently? Not at all!! It was wonderful, thrilling, exciting, and it made me feel alive. For anyone that has not experienced participating in an organised event of physical demand like running, for heaven’s sake try it!! Really!! You may be a sideline observer that looks on and thinks that such people are idiots, but I tell you, in my experience it is amazing. I hope that I will continue to do such things until time robs me of the ability, there is just a fantastic sense of accomplishment that is not based on anything else except for your own sense of trying your hardest to achieve your best.
Please note, I would recommend anyone looking to participate in a physically demanding event to put in adequate training. This will not only enhance the enjoyment of the event, but will aid in the recovery afterwards. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! 🙂 Now what are you waiting for??