Let’s recap. I have run for many years and T-A-R-S came about because I realised a few years ago that as I got older I couldn’t keep pushing my body to go faster and beat the last time. So I moderated my running, listened to my body more, ran more carefree; and in doing so I found a new joy in running simply for its own sake. I continued to do events – Half Marathon in particular – and last year had that voice in my head which persisted with the idea of doing another full Marathon… until injury stopped me last summer. Building again from scratch last autumn I was doing well and becoming stronger, so much so that I decided this January to have another try at 26.2 miles.
My autumn marathon, Nottingham Robin Hood. But this one had more of an edge: I half-expected my damaged calf to stop me again as the miles built up, and promised my body that if that did happen, I would not inflict a full-marathon programme on it again. This journey would end either at the start-line, or knowing that I would never run a marathon again.
I had some hospital tests recently, and had the results last week. It seems that some months ago, there was a problem with my heart. So now I’m on medication, possibly the only athlete to be training on performance-inhibiting substances. “This runner is limited to 9-minute miles, please pass, we apologise for any inconvenience.”
I can still run. In fact the consultant encouraged me to run, apparently it’s good for my general wellbeing (no shit, Sherlock! How many years of med school did that take?). But I have to keep my heart-rate within a safe range. And while I have been comfortably up to 14, 15, 16 miles in training I can’t run a marathon, because – and this I absolutely accept – the second half of the programme and the day itself is infinitely more than double the strain of the first.
So that’s it. It’s over. 29 Weeks; 104 Runs; 606 Miles. (So far, and I had been relishing the thought of training the 2nd half).
But now it’s over, no autumn marathon for me.
I have run in the past week, and (barring a trip in the woods) will be fine for the Half at Robin Hood. But it’s not the same: those runs are no longer part of a marathon-training accumulation. And – even apart from the effects of the meds – something else has fundamentally changed: it feels as though I am not running because I am able to or choose to, but because I am being permitted to, and when I run it feels as though I am carrying something with me. It would have been easier if I had torn my calf again, at least then I could have apologised to my body, reconciled the fact that I had run myself out, repaired and eventually picked up again with TARS. But this, a heart problem FFS!?
It is upsetting and disorientating. I have prided myself (defined myself) as being strong and healthy, but now this? And I took pride in being a regular blood-platelet donor (138 donations so far, I had hoped to reach 150 this year) but I am now barred from that too. Having been a “regular” I went into the donor centre to say goodbye, and was actually tearful. I have lost my marathon, but also a part of what and who I am.
Charity starts at…. how many miles?
I have another complication too. I had REALLY wanted to use this (possibly final) marathon to raise some sponsorship for my charities. I have not asked for donations for my half-marathons in the past because I do them regularly: a Marathon by contrast – the whole journey, not just the run on the day – is a very special and demanding endeavour, and I have tried to use that to help Grief Encounter and b-eat.
So if I am only running a Half, can I still ask for special donations? I will have to come back to that one.
Sort yourself out, and stop moaning
But marathon runners are a pig-headed, belligerent lot. It isn’t easy: that’s what makes us. We have as many setbacks and uncertainties as we have triumphs and the joy of our running is extra-charged with the knowledge that we can lose it any day. We get hurt, we adjust, and we come back. And when we get tired, so tired that we so desperately just want to lie down and please-make-it-stop, what we do is find another depth within ourselves, shut down “normal”, and run on until we come out the other side.
So. I have been giving myself a good talking-to.
- I’m fine. I didn’t become one of those headlines of “Runner dies in race”. I am under supervision and protected.
- I can still run. In fact, given a different warmup and lower pace, I have been running pretty well (you can go f*** yourself meds, I’m running despite you, I will beat you).
- I will still run the Robin Hood Half; and I will take the same pride I did in my last few half-marathons, by managing my pace and hitting a target time (rather than beating a target time: different, but actually just as satisfying).
- Half Marathon is a fantastic distance: it is hard work on the day and needs training and planning and managing, but is not as punishing or disruptive to normal and family life as 26.2
- So far I have run 5 full Marathons but 37 Half: this will be 38 and in years to come I can add some more. That’s nearly 8:1, who knows I may even get to 10:1 in due course so why stress about one lost marathon?
- There have only been four years in which I have run a full Marathon. There have been many times when I have wanted to run a Half but failed through injury or lack of preparation. This is definitely a Half-marathon year. Actually a two Half-Marathon year, which ordinarily I would be perfectly happy with.
- There is more to running than Marathons. I run for relaxation (meditation even); to get away from the pc and motorway; for space for myself; for fun and mud; to keep healthy and in good shape despite all the pleasures of food and alcohol; and to be out in the weather, the fields, the woods and changing seasons. The joy of simply running for its own sake.
- I still have all of that. I run.
That is all true. Being quite rational and objective it all makes absolute sense. I know all of that. Yes, indeedy.
Trouble is, just at the moment, I don’t quite feel it in my heart. Which, ironically, is exactly where I need it.