My First [?] Marathon
Unlike other people who have firm goals or charitable responsibilities to running the absurd distance of 42.195 KM, I really didn’t. In my ignorance, it appeared to be a realistic goal for someone who just started running. I didn’t even like running much.
I began by running the 10 KM Pink Ribbon Breast Cancer race back in Spring. It was full of the elderly and the young, infirm and pregnant. At this race, running had been dressed up with pink balloons and hip-hop music. It seemed fun and carefree.
It was pleasant and the temperature cool, so I figured, why not run more than four times that amount in one go? How hard could it be? Especially for someone who just started running and achieved more height than distance in every step? I didn’t properly understand what it took to run a marathon. That the training and nutrition would be on my mind all day everyday and that sunburn and chaffed arms would become a part of my life.
I truly thought that if I could run 10 KM in under an hour then I could run 42 KM in 4 hours, right?
Throughout the four months of training I had a lot of people ask about my nutrition. It’s true that friends only ask about your protein intake when you’re a vegan, because secretly they think I only eat lettuce and cabbage [Fortunately there are plenty of people debunking the protein myth savvyvegetarian, Veganhealth]. I never had a problem getting adequate nutrition in my 4 years of being vegan nor during my training. For vegan inspiration or assistance I would sometimes visit No Meat Athlete or read general running magazines.
On Sunday September 9th, after tubes of vaseline, weeks of 6am starts and hours trying to get my blasted sensor to work (‘walk around to activate your sensor’ !!!) I did it.
For the disbelievers I provide evidence.
Overly enthusiastic pre-run power stretch on the left and exhausted smile on the right.
Wearing those sunglasses the entire run left a bright white imprint across my nose. Note to self: next time wear waterproof sunscreen or run with an umbrella.
-0:15 Group stretch to PSY’s Gangnam Style completed, I eagerly jogged to the start line with a thousand others who were also bouncing up and down with anticipation. There were speeches. They were boring. I stood by myself towering above the other, almost all male, Korean runners. It suddenly got real. I’d already began reaping the accolades of praise and I’d made Dave spend his entire weekend on public transport so that I could do this ridiculous race. Now I had to run it.
0:00 Some guy, somewhere yelled “GO” then brightly colored smoke was visible above the power lines. I turned up my music, took a long calm breath and began to plod along with the others in slow motion, through the banners and towards the Demilitarized Zone, the 38th parallel between North and South Korea.
2 KM They always say to ease yourself into the start, don’t exhaust yourself too quickly. Well – I was sprinting. It was a PR of 4.54 per KM which is insane for an inexperienced marathon runner. At 2 KM, an old-timer (who was overtaking me at the time) suggested I slow down. I hadn’t even checked my brand new runners watch when I quickly realized he was right. I was so caught up that I followed the ‘actual runners’. This was good in that I’d already made great progress and hey, every KM counts. But I became thoroughly discouraged as I fell back and had throngs of people overtake me.
3 KM The 1/2 marathon runners began passing me by even though they had started 10 minutes later than I.
4 KM A guy with a jump-rope, I kid you not, overtook me all the while jumping through the damn rope. I never saw him again.
5 KM – 10 KM I had expected this to be the easiest part, and it was, in part due to my crankingheavywildfuntunes and the clusters of military men cheering us on. Every 800m or so a few dozen Korean soldiers in full dress would hoot and enthusiastically holler, “Fighting” or “Run, Run, Run”!! It was a good time to smile and embrace it all. As a foreign tattooed woman running solo, they responded particularly well to a high-five or reciprocal “Fighting!”. Their presence also prevented any walking which in hindsight was also good as I may have turned around and started running back.
12 KM I saw a 50 year old in tightly wedged black spandex. This was new to me. I could actually see the bottom of her cheeks wobble with every stride. I don’t mean to critisise older bottoms (all women are beautiful), but with 50 years up your sleeve you may have spent 2 mins looking at your behind in the mirror before you decided that ‘exposed’ would be your marathon look. That said, I learned a lesson in what not to wear.
~13 KM I ran through the massive old gates announcing my entrance to the DMZ. The entry checkpoint was manned with armoured guards intensely watching us bounce and smile with excitement. It must have been a strange sight to onlookers.
14 KM Suffered high-five failure at the hands of Korean soldiers obviously taking their job too seriously for funny running antics. I liked the hooting and hollering kids from the start of race better.
17 KM Ate half a mooncake at the pitstop, took another half for when I went around the corner so that fewer people would see me stuff my face and considered putting a third in my shorts for later. I didn’t.
18 KM In the flow of things I began to take in the scenery. The path was a paved road around a town whose industry was rice, rice rice. The landscape was beautiful, an assortment of greens, vibrant and diverse. Wild Chinese herons were everywhere and the mountains in the distance where stunning. The sky was overcast (perfect) and the temperature a cool 20-23˚C. Pretty lucky for a first timer.
21 KM Halfway point. OMG what was I thinking, I’m only halfway?
23 KM I began living for the sign posts. Yeah yeah the scenery was beautiful and I was technically running through a war zone, but all I wanted was water. Roughly every 2 KM there was a sign daring us to make it another 200m to the oasis. What was thoroughly depressing was having to suppress the urge to gulp from the ice-bucket and instead sip 1/2 half a cup of cool clear heaven juice.
25 KM My chest was heaving, my knees were in agony and I was greedily eyeing the cop-out van which enticingly cruised beside me. It probably suspected I would soon give-in any moment or worse, collapse.
27 KM I turned my earphones to full volume thinking an assault on another part of my body may distract from the joint pain.
30 KM I had been visualizing a balloon in my chest. As I inhaled I was inflating the balloon to its full capacity and then exhaling it until it was a shriveled piece of limp plastic. It was blue. I don’t know where I came up with this idea or why, but it appeared to keep me focused and reminded me to breathe. No matter that having said balloon in my lunges would’ve seriously impeded my running.
33 KM Then I found a running buddy. I’m actually quiet a dick when it comes to running with others, the only exception being if they’re a good friend who runs at the same pace. If not, forget it. I find it difficult to chat with people when I’m working so hard on keeping my balloon blue, especially if they’re not huffing and puffing like I am. I begin to resent them for not be exhausted like me. If they run slower than me, I suddenly decide that I’m taking the racing aspect of the marathon seriously and they’re holding me back.
My running bud was of the former and what made it worse was that he, like I, had never run a marathon before. But unlike me, he swore he DID NOT TRAIN. He said he’d run 10KM the week before which was the longest he’d ever run. He had never heard of gel caps and wasn’t coated in vaseline like my shimmering bod was. Not fair, I say.
37 KM I gobbled my 3 and 4th Tylenol and drank too much water. I could hear it slashing around in my tummy.
39 KM I had decided at 22 KM that I needed a fabulous reward for all this movement so I decided to buy myself a gold watch. Absurd and overly lavish , I don’t need it and can’t afford it. Yet by 39 KM, I wasn’t just thinking it, I was saying it aloud with some profanity as enthusiasm.
40 KM It actually felt like I was falling forward and not running. My torso was leading while my legs were (only just) able to catch me from falling. It’s the running style I fondly refer to as the ‘heavy breasted’
41 KM Coca-cola! Hallelujah! Not something I would regularly drink but OMG was I grateful for that corrosive black sugar.
41.5 KM I became so powerful that last KM that I actually broke into a sprint. I became emotional at seeing the finishing line, both relieved that it existed and that I had completed the whole marathon without cheating or getting shot.
42.195KM Falling on Dave at the finish line, I was especially overjoyed to have finished before a troop of heavily tattooed army recruits. Although I hardly had the energy to make it to the sidelines.
- Fancy medal on a bright green ribbon saying I ‘finished’ the marathon. I will be wearing it all week.
- Being overtaken by a guy running while jumping rope.
- Waiting for the countdown and getting a suspicious back rub from my neighbour.
- Octopus-head-wearing-runner (damn that must’ve been hot!)
- At the midway point, a Korean drum band playing us on although I suspect less enthusiastically then they had an hour earlier.
- Finishing the whole thing without cheating and the bragging rights that go with it.
- My expectation of ‘running in the DMZ’ was that I’d be running next to wild deer, storks and squirrels like some Disney film. Didn’t happen.
- Sharing a portaloo with male athletes, the less said on that the better.
- Really really stiff and sore legs the day after.
- I did not lose a single kilogram / pound / gramme. Nada.
According to the sophisticated shoe tracking device my official time was 4h 35m. I’m happy with that considering my goal was to not-die.
Will I run another race? Probably, but not another marathon as they’re pretty time-consuming and sore. Plus watching me use the handrail to move up and down stairs provides too much entertainment for my friends.
Bravo to all runners. You’ve got guts!