“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?”
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” John F. Kennedy (http://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm)
So too my son and I chose to run the Melbourne Marathon last Sunday, not because it was easy, but because it was hard. Little did I realise exactly how hard it was going to be. I have been running for five years, gradually building up my distance and endurance. When I completed the half marathon in July in good time with relatively few aches and pains I felt ready to embark on the real thing. Little did I realise that a marathon is so much more than twice a half marathon. My previous longest run was 24 km and that lack of 30+ km experience came back to bite me on the day.
I completed the first half of the marathon with relative ease because my body was used to the pounding it received over that distance. But after about 25 km the legs began wondering what was happening and why we had not gone to collect our drink and finisher’s medal.
I ran on, inspired by a particularly energetic Motörhead track blasting into my ears. I began to set myself small goals to avoid thinking about how far I still had to run. A little cheer erupted in my head when I hit the 30 km mark. After 32 km I knew that the remaining kilometres could now be measured in single digits. Unfortunately the knowledge didn’t stop me flagging to the extent that, around 34 km, a fellow runner felt compelled to give me an encouraging pat on the back as she glided past. Still, I was doing better than that poor fellow lying on the stretcher, surrounded by paramedics, with a drip in his arm.
At 35 km there were only seven kilometres to go. Seven kilometres! I often ran seven kilometres. I could easily manage seven kilometres. Are you joking? There are still seven kilometres to go! And then the heavens opened up but I was in too much pain to notice. I kept slowing to a walk, willing myself back into a run and then, when the knee pain got too much, dropping back to a walk. At 37 km the inspirational speech given at the start of Tough Mudder (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUwXTfWxCTM) burst into my ears. I “hoorahed” myself back into a run.
Turning the corner at 40 km, two kilometres from home, it felt like someone stuck a knife into my right knee. I crumpled but didn’t go over, dimly aware that an official photographer was busy recording every grimace to sell to me later. I slowed to a walk, a stumble, a shuffle. I figured I could manage the last two kilometres even if I had to crawl over the line, but that was not how I wanted to go out. I kept trying different running techniques to ease the pain in the knee: turning the leg outwards or shuffling sideways. I even contemplated running backwards. All around other runners ran past me.
I felt despondent, and then I saw the light towers of the MCG, the world’s greatest sporting stadium, the magnificent home of Australian Rules Football. The final 400 metres involved running a lap on the hallowed turf. No way was I going to walk this. I gritted my teeth and propelled myself into a lopsided, stumbling jog. I ran into the stadium, the stands of that great arena surrounding me. At 200 metres I stumbled and almost fell, but had just enough energy left to pass one final runner before collapsing over the finish line into the arms of my waiting son (I encouraged him to go on ahead at 25 km when it became obvious that I could no longer keep up). Sobbing and laughing simultaneously I felt so incredibly proud of us both.
As the adrenalin finally left my body I was utterly and totally spent. I had given my all, could barely move and felt close to passing out. A banana and a Powerade managed to restore some semblance of normality.
Now, three days later, I still feel tremendously buoyed by our accomplishment. I am sure family and friends are well and truly sick of hearing about it, which is why I thought I would tell you.
No doubt there are many who would consider this to be a ridiculously foolhardy expenditure of energy. Why run 42.2 km when you can drive that distance in a fraction of the time with absolutely no pain involved? I think this is one of the things that define us as a species. Had we taken the easy way and not risen to the challenge, made the effort or sacrificed our comfort I suspect we would all still be living in caves finger painting on the walls.
And now, I am going to have a nice lie down.
Dr. F. Bunny