Crossing the finish line.

My first marathon. It is hard to express in words all the emotions, all the physical and mental efforts that is require to reach the finish line. I am not sure I can.

Running is the oldest sport. I am sure our hunter-gatherer ancestors practiced it long before the concept of “sport” has been invented. Marathon run has been the first discipline in the modern era olympics, and it is one of the few sports that continues to be dominated by amateurs. It comes close to the pure idea of mental and physical challenge. A challenge with oneself, and with others. The run is long enough so that it engages a person “soul”. It is not about the run itself. It goes deep into your very being.

The origins of the marathon run trace back to ancient Greece, with many possible explanations. These, together with the nice motivation for the official distance are well explained eg. on Wikipedia.

To me, for as long as I remember, marathon runners were always covered in a thick mist of mystery. Watching them starting and finishing the race, watching their faces with unimaginable effort yet strong determination was always inspiring. I knew early on that one day I will cross the boundary between the two worlds: the worlds of the spectators, and the world of the runners. But the decision wasn’t easy, and as with all big decisions, it was always put up for later.

I have been running for fun since as long as I remember. Perhaps it is a form of active meditation. An easy way to lose myself. Letting the legs work and the mind wonder was always a way to put a smile on my face. Afterwords. Not necessary during the run. When running I stop being an individual, but I have the sense of being part of something more. Something much older. Something much larger. The concept of Marathon running is maintained by thousands of people participating. Vast majority of them participate for the sake of participation. For the sake of the challenge. Opportunity to be among like-minded people that share the same joy of the activity itself. It is simple, yet complex and sophisticated.

I have, for the first time, officially participated in a running event last year. I’ve done half-marathon with a friend (Melanie). The second half-marathon was the first run when I cared for time. I have been preparing myself mentally and physically for the last 3 months for the full marathon, together with two friends: Peter (#81) and Tony (#200). I have covered over 250km of trail runs, with the longest distance of 25kms.

Stomach flu 2 days before the race reduced substantially the actual capabilities on the race day itself. Fever, dehydration and inability to eat anything during Friday and Saturday put the entire race into question. I had little chance building up carbohydrate reserves or even maintaining a normal body resources. Saturday night with severe diarrhea was not a good start for the race neither. Despite the physical conditions, my spirit was eager to run. So I did. My body was not going to like what was about to happen to it. Yet, I wanted to run, despite the condition my body was in. The first 30kms passed like a breeze. I did not have a great time, but I was doing physically and mentally fine. Then it hit me. Within 2kms my performance dropped virtually to zero, and strong cramps in legs and back muscles forced me to stop to stretch few times. The effort to continue running, despite the cramps, seems like a really bad dream now. For about 7kms or so, I really struggled to keep moving, maintaining the progress forward. Slowly, I have worked my way back to running again. The final 4 or so kms were definitely better. I have passed the worst of my nightmares. I have passed it successfully, and reached the finish line. With tears in my eyes.

It is hard to say whether the mental efforts were bigger than the physical discomfort. They go together. For sure, I have been physically beaten up before on many runs or long tramping trips, but I have never reached such a low mental state as during this race. A real character building exercise.

The tears of joy, of relief, and pride. My accomplishment. Truly, the hardest thing I have ever managed to achieve.

Sharing the experience with Peter and Tony just added extra value. Some vents and emotions you simply cannot describe talk about. You cannot share these with your friends in any other way but to experience them with your friends.

(Note: all photos from the event available at seenindunedin.co.nz)

Update: 2 weeks later, 25th of September

The recovery took about 7 days. The stomach bug passed and I was able to eat normal food on Monday. The knees recovered within the first week, and I have managed to run short runs the following week. Everything (work-wise and life-wise) seems easier now. Less scary. I guess going through a major mental torment puts things into perspective. I will definitely never run a marathon ever again without feeling generally healthy. So here it is. My first marathon. My personal best. 3:56:58. Looking forward to improving my time in the next run in few months.