...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Skorna äter asfalten / Shoes eat asphalt

I don't think I've been wished with so much good luck and been greeted with so many words of congratulations for something I undertook, until this past weekend, in connection with the Stockholm Marathon.

So first of all: Thanks everybody; you know who you are! I've probably thanked you in person / online! But thanks again anyway. There are few occasions when I feel that many of my friends are thinking about me at the same moment. This was such a time, and I think it helped heaps as I took myself around all 42,195 meters of asphalt. From all the well-wishes, “good luck kicks”, congrats-messages and encouragement I got, I started to feel after a while that even you were involved in this crazy attempt of mine! I really appreciate the lift! :-D


Now, where to start?

If you're not a runner, I hear it can be boring to talk to runners who have a tendency to talk about their exercise too often to anyone willing to listen (Not strange to talk about something you spend several hours a week doing). In the course of my marathon training, I've learned that there are two sets of non-runners: those who don't get the whole idea of races and immediately express their disinterest; and those who are curious and impressed and want to hear a bit more. To the latter, I think it pays to be a considerate storyteller. So yes, I'll forgive you even if you don't read everything ;-)

But how did my marathon feel like? How did it go? Despite all the stories I heard and read about pain and cramps and hitting the wall, I must say that in contrast to this, my run felt – well, super! For me that means: I was injury-free, I had energy to the finish (and even increased my times for every 10km. Amazing!), and I clocked a good time, beating my initial expectations. That makes for a boring first marathon-story, eh? Actually it feels like bragging (and according to my friend Karin, shamelessly unfair!). I even had energy to talk all the way back to her place while walking. Admittedly, my legs felt like logs directly after the race, so it was a painful walk. I guess that was really the worst part!


I think that most of this is really thanks to the marathon program I was following. Anders Szalkai, a Swedish long-distance runner, produces these running programs on the marathon.se site. Highly recommended! I actually just opted for the free version of the exercise program, but I'm proof that even the free version is pretty damn good!

At the starting line, I had a good feeling that this was the day I was training for. I have been training for 6 whole months and have over that time felt the ups and downs of distance running – the swelling pride, but also the monotony. I've logged in enough long-distance passes to become acquainted with (be friends with?) my aches, pains, and tiredness. At worst, the marathon wasn't going to be anything drastically new than the other long-distance passes. But in fact it felt better, because this run was the culmination of all those ups and downs and hard work, and it was the day I'd been waiting for since December. Only the last 12.2 of the 42.2 kilometers was going to be unchartered terrain, and I felt ready for it too. Any finishing time under 5 hours was good for me, but I calculated that, in theory, I could finish at 4h 20m as my fastest time. The training program seemed to have given me a solid idea of what was realistic, because I finished not too long after my hypothetical fastest time, and clocked 04:28:59.


What did I think about while running? is another question I get. In fact, I don't think my mind has been so empty of thought as it was during this marathon. It actually felt like my legs weren't really mine. There's a reason why people call running a kind of meditation. Everything was really here-and-now. My thoughts were very simple and uncomplicated, and mostly about the things around me like: Oh, this is going pretty well; The Stockholm castle isn't really that charming; Oooh, shower spray!; Uuugh, shower spray!; Boy, that guy has lots of energy gels!; I wonder how it feels for this man to run 42.2 kilometers in a gorilla suit in this drizzle?; My legs are tingling; Check your posture; My socks are wet; Hmm back ache; Yay, the next 5-kilometer mark!, Etc.. I didn't even have the opportunity to use my mantra of encouragement, sometimes used in my long-distance weekend passes (Trivia: it's the blog entry title!).

My conscious thoughts during the marathon included trying to give and take positive vibes by clapping or high-fiving at the lone cheerers (they took themselves there in the rain when they didn't need to!), and remembering to look at and thank the stressed out guys and girls distributing the water and sports drinks to the swarm of runners. Sometimes I tried to get eye contact with people running beside me. I got a wink back from a Finnish runner.

I don't know if it was a conscious effort, but I also never thought beyond 5 kilometers at a time (brains are probably used to thinking in increments). I knew that my chip clocked my time for every 5 kilometers of the race and that friends were watching my progress online. My goal, throughout the race, was just to take myself to the next 5-kilometer mark so my friends would know that I was still in my shoes. So yes, you were with me along the way too, and I thought of you and tried to visualize you in front of your computer screen!

By 38 kilometers, I had already passed by many racers who had to stop or slow down for different reasons, and I still felt alright. Karin, whom I already saw several times around the track, biked alongside me on the last 2 kilometers, cheering me on and giving me a boost that I didn't even know I was capable of then. Thank you Karin; that really felt wonderful! 

I should also remember to thank Susanne, my running buddy, whose idea it was for me to take on this challenge, and Jon and Judith for – haha! – sponsoring my shoes. Now I'm a Marathon finisher, and to show for it I have a small chafe under my armpit, one blue toenail, a hoarse voice today (probably a cold on its way), and of course, a medal! Yahoo! :-)


Some of my friends are already asking me when my next marathon will be, or if I would do this again. I must admit I thought of it after the second round in Västerbron, of all places (the steepest climb)! But I think I'll bask in this feeling of satisfaction and happiness for a while yet, and give that question consideration some other time. It's like you don't ask mothers if they're planning a next child right after giving giving birth to their first one. Besides, although the marathon itself went really well, it's the thought of once more going through months of training including its high and lows, early mornings of forcing myself out of bed and sometimes asocial weekends devoted to running which I really have to give serious second thought. So the short answer is: I don't know yet, but I could.

Lastly, there are some things that I learned from this 6-month long journey that I want to write down and share (and then I'll keep quiet about running for now, promise!):

What I learned about life from training for / running a marathon:

Go for it! If you've always wanted to try something – if it seems possible and you've been wondering how it would feel – try it! Or as I read from a marathon website, “to do something you've never done before, you have to do something you've never done before.” It's also important not to fear doing the unknown, and to actually look forward to that you're going to do what you've been curious of. I think one of the first woman pioneers of marathon said that marathons were like a metaphor for life because it's all about overcoming adversity. But at the same time, it's not anything impossible or beyond reach.

Be prepared. Scout motto, I know! But it really does go a long way in life, doesn't it? In this case, not to train enough or not to inform yourself about what you can expect is just asking for injury. If you're planning to join a marathon, read a lot and prepare yourself in the best possible way so you don't end up regretting that you forgot to think about what turns out to be basic stuff like salt consumption or hydration. Have a plan, and try out everything out beforehand, including your running gear and the food you'd be consuming during the marathon. “Nothing new on marathon day,” as another saying goes. I think I survived so well mostly because of this “be prepared” rule. But this rule, of course, also includes knowing and respecting your limits, and knowing that there are just some things you can't prepare for.

Don't undermine your own achievements. After running several long-distance passes over 20 km, I and others around me started to get a strange perspective about what's long and short. Colleagues and friends started to say to me in pride, “I jogged 7 kilometers last Monday," and then quickly add: "But that's nothing compared to what you're doing!” I usually try to remind them that seven kilometers is long by any standard, and probably longer than what most of their friends and acquaintances run in a week. I should remind myself this too: all achievements are good ones. 

Give back. One of the things I really appreciated from “Born to Run” was that it took the self-absorbed prestige out of running. Running doesn't have to be about ego. In a race, if you think about all the people thinking about you and all the cheerers cheering for other friends and loved ones, you get a feeling that you're really not alone running those kilometers. Try to cheer on the cheerers, and encourage others in their efforts. The really interesting thing is that every time I high-fived an outstretched palm from a cheering stranger (and not all runners care to!), I really did feel that my energy bar went up a notch. Now that's something to think about, probably in other aspects of life as well.

Not but not the least: one shouldn't run faster or overdo things beyond what's enjoyable. Find the joy, and be kind to yourself!

*All pictures c/o Karin!


Blogger Vicky G said...

Joy, congratulations on finishing a marathon!!! I think I congratulated you in facebook, but as I'm now starting to run up to 5K, I appreciate your marathon so much more! Ang hirap to start from scratch. My shins hurt so much the first couple of times I ran but now they're getting better.

I'm really training for a duathlon in March, just fun distance -- 3k run, 10k bike, 3k run -- and I hope I survive it! I'm following a training plan when my work sched allows. We also plan to run half a marathon in December, and I'm looking forward to that! Hahahaha, just sharing! It's so inspiring to read your outdoor activities (Reading your cycling adventures is one of the reasons we got a bike!) :)

11:39 AM


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