I ran Manchester Marathon on Sunday and it went well for me. Consequently I’m brimming with cheesy clichés and motivation quotes that are cringe worthy, twee and well, a bit smug. I have already been likened to Uncle Albert, the loveable old geezer in ‘Only Fools and Horses’ who can’t remember what he had for lunch but can recount stories of his days at sea ‘during the war’.
I would like to put it all down to a calm meditative mental state which underpinned meticulous training and a precise and scientific nutrition strategy. In reality however, it probably all came down to the sweat and tears during training and the commitment to get out there even when I didn’t want to or was tired or it was snowing. Again. I think there was definitely also a bit of luck on the day. I slept the night before incredibly. I tried to quieten my suspicions I had over-tapered, I fuelled well, I was hydrated but what I most aware of was that my head felt strong. I was ready to give it a go. I wanted to get to the start line and see what I could do. That is a whole different mindset to rocking up to the start, freaked out and underprepared. The knowledge that I had done my best during training and preparation gave me a quiet confidence that I couldn’t have predicted. During training I tried to control what I could and do my best in all aspects of my training, my fuelling and my sleep. And my best some weeks was not as good as my best other weeks. I could not control the weather or life stress so in the same way, I dealt with the uncontrollable as best I could. I wasn’t expecting this hint of self confidence and I certainly didn’t articulate it especially as a first time marathoner. But it was there. I could feel it and it scared the hell out of me! Who was I to feel this trace of self-assurance? I may know a little bit about endurance, but I had never run over 20 miles!
So! The Greater Manchester Marathon day dawned on 8th April. The forecast predicted perfect running conditions – still, dry, and cool; definitely luck!
I’m not going to relive every mile in this blog – there were a lot of them and I can’t actually remember them all but I would say that this marathon claims to be flat, fast and friendly and I can’t dispute it. The spectators were incredible. Just such a boost during the dark times. Our names were on our race numbers and hearing your name, albeit from a stranger, made me smile every time! After half way and seeing my family twice in about 10 minutes and even having Ieuan running alongside me for 100m or so, I managed to banish the demons insisting I couldn’t keep up the pace I was on (gutsy or stupid I set off faster than my planned race pace) and found myself in an almost meditative state repeating mantras that I had never used before but that had just popped into my head.
Mantras for me, are a very personal reaction to the place your mind finds itself and to what your mind needs. I desperately needed to remind myself to trust my training to counter the wall I had been told I would hit at mile 21. I had no clue how my body would respond over 20 miles however, I had written myself a fairly robust and at times brutal, training plan where I tried to simulate the last 6 miles. Reminding myself to trust my training reinforced my belief that I had done all I could.
I have found it hard in the past to keep my mind focussed and then before I know it I am suffering. I find myself thinking about the finish too soon or telling myself I can’t keep up the pace or can’t go on. I couldn’t afford for this to happen at any point on the marathon. I didn’t want to just wing it and hang on. It would be painful and really unpleasant. I told myself to keep my head and it really worked for me as repeating it as a mantra blocked out the doubts and focused on the now.
At 18 miles my quads started grumbling and by mile 23 they were screaming. I was hurting but with 3 miles to go I had no intention of letting the pain flood my mental state. I still felt mentally strong but cracks were showing. It was getting harder to repeat my mantras, harder to retain the focus.
The last mile felt like it went on forever. There was no banter, chat or buzz from the runners around me. We were all suffering, all trying to get to the finish.
Seeing the finish line maybe 700m away was huge but it was still a long way off. I passed my family again which undoubtedly spurred me on, motivating my legs to speed up to get over that line.
I crossed the line and despite the incredible pain that ripped through me, I was elated with my time and the whole sense of achievement. Such a hugely positive event for me as I ran my own race, followed my own plan and it all came together. I am fully aware however that not all athletes would have had the same experience despite better training, or preparation and for those runners who crossed the line having mentally and physically suffered, I have the utmost respect and admiration. It is a very long way for all of us but if it isn’t going the way you planned or trained for, the road must feel even further. Having that degree of perseverance and determination is staggering; that desire to finish whatever the odds is the ultimate test of mental strength. And I guess that’s why they say that whilst training for a marathon is 90% physical and 10% mental, running a marathon is 90% mental and the rest is physical.