The Unconventional Road – To Berlin
Most marathon training plans will take you through some 16 or 20 weeks of a staged increase in mileage and effort. Ever one to do things my own way mine hasn’t quite worked out that way.
I’ve been on the fence of whether to run Berlin or not. It was meant to be my first attempt at a BQ and a chance for me to show what I can do on the fast/flat marathon record breaking course, but due to nerve damage in my back I’ve been unable to run successfully at any speed since February. With a solid 4 months off running altogether I was able to come back in July and get some training miles in before the aggravated nerve struck again and another few weeks of hobbling ensued.
So what has training for Berlin looked like, its been about 6 weeks of what I’d class as solid marathon training mileage anywhere from 30-40 miles a week, and then 4 weeks of what I’d like to term ‘putting all your eggs in one basket’, aka holding out on mileage to make sure my legs can handle one long run a week. This has consisted of 2x10s, 2x12s, 1×14, 1×16, and a 20 miler. On the weeks where I’ve managed to long run I’ve not hit higher than 25 miles, and on the weeks when I haven’t been able to long run, well lets just say there hasn’t been a lot of running at all. On those weeks I’ve mostly been doing a lot of doubting/crying/sweary wording.
So why do it? Why turn up to a race that I know won’t be my best or even close to that? I thought about this question a lot this weekend as I tackled my make or break 20 miler…
As I set off on my 20 miles in the peaks this weekend I knew it was make or break, I’ve had so many painful and confused running experiences in the past few weeks, that I honestly had no idea if I’d make it, and what it would mean if I did or didn’t. I chose a route that took in some of the white peaks and had a mixture of clearly marked trails and then some off the beaten track, to hopefully keep things interesting. I wanted to distract myself and to explore a little. I started on the Tissington Trail, within about 30 seconds I was ready to quit! The old disused railway line was long and straight and a little boring on a dull day, and the pain in my leg was paramount. I thought if I’m hurting now I’m never going to make it around 20 miles. That’s a really dangerous mindset to start with! I told myself to get to 6 miles and if I was still in pain I could quit, knowing then that I still would have covered a return loop of 12 miles. I could at least be proud of that attempt. My now quite comical gangsta limp is brutally obvious in the early stages of my running, I have zero trust in putting weight through my right leg, and the psychology of that is HUGE! I also feel the need to explain this in detail before I set off running with anyone so they don’t ask questions about why I’m running like a weirdo, this as you can imagine does wonders for my social anxiety…
I turned off the trail on to a road section and thought to my self what a shit route I had picked, I was actually in the middle of a self talk argument of how utter bullshit it was and therefore by proxy how utter bullshit I was for planning it, when suddenly I turned a corner and saw the hills and the rocks and the sheep and everything I had wanted from the peaks. I ran eagerly towards them with a smile on my face and had to laugh at my self for being so unbelievably negative, something I think I have been for far too long now. I stopped and set up my phone and started running around taking pictures of things. I didn’t look at my watch. I didn’t care about pace or stats or any of that, and why should I? seriously though, why does my elapsed time matter to anyone other than me?!
As I got to Dovedale nature reserve it all got a bit sillier as the heavens opened and the views got stupid. I love running in the rain it makes me feel alive and wild in all the best ways, and powerful and brave in ways I often don’t associate with myself. I looked at my watch to realise I’d run 10 miles (half way already!), I had no idea if I had limped those or ran them normally, and once again I didn’t care. All this bumph that had been occupying my brain space for so long just started to melt away. I started to climb and got pelted by the British weather some more as I went. I hadn’t seen a single person all morning, it was just me. The climbs were tough and technical as I went off-piste and scrambled over rocks.
I felt free for the first time in forever, free from all the things that have stopped me over the past 6 months from just being able to move forward without thinking. The deeper my mind got in to keeping me upright and on whatever path I was meant to be on, the less pain I felt, the less I questioned what I couldn’t do and what my setbacks were. I finally got out of my own way.
I ran back towards the trail I’d started on that morning and began to think as I often do about what I would write about that run later on, how I would describe it, and what it meant to me. For the most part I felt an insane wave of happiness, which I honestly haven’t felt from running since February. This runner’s high that we all take for granted had been taken away from me for so long because everything I did was/is cloaked in pain. I let myself ask the question what does this mean for Berlin, I was nearing 15 miles and feeling mighty fine, so for the second time this training cycle (if you can call it that), I let myself believe I could actually do it. This sounds pretty stupid coming from someone who has run 16 marathons, of course I can do it, but honestly when your body quits on you time and time again your mind starts to follow.
I was at my car, massively short changed myself there; I’d only just about run 15 miles. It was THE moment, I could quite easily have said 15 miles is plenty, got out of the rain and in to the warm and headed back for a fry up (veggie obvs)! But I didn’t. I couldn’t because that’s not who I am, I’m not a quitter. I made a decision a decade a go not to quit and I’ve been making it ever since.
I ditched my pack in the car and decided to do the last 5 on road to prove to myself that I’m not just a girl who loves getting lost in the woods. I ran my last 5 miles trying to navigate my way around a rather soggy town centre. It was boring in all the ways running on roads is boring, but I did it full of exhilaration, I felt stronger in those last 5 miles than I’ve felt in the last 5 months. I finished knowing I had more to give maybe another 6.2, maybe another technical ascent, maybe more than that altogether. It was far from perfect, it was far from pain free, but I’m reassessing what those things mean to me on the daily. I knew if I could run on my own in the peaks for 20 miles in the pouring rain I could run around a city with some 60,000 other runners. It wasn’t anything to be afraid of, it was something to embrace.
So my road to Berlin has not followed a plan, it’s been ultimately flawed in every way possible, but that’s ok! It’s ok to turn up to a marathon out of shape and out of form and just run in whatever way I can in the moment. I’m not an elite athlete, I’m not paid to PB, I may never Boston qualify, I may never run the world majors (I’m kinda over big city marathons), I may never get to run for a living, and do you know what I may never even get a free pair of shoes ;-), but none of that matters. None of that is the reason why I run.
I run for me, I run to be free of everything that occupies my brain space, I run because life is hard sometimes, I run because nature is beautiful all the time, I run to inspire other people to get out the door, I run to talk about how much our brains can screw with us, I run because it saves me time and time again, I run for the friends I’ve made, I run for the experiences I’ve had, I run for the future me, the future friendships, the future experiences, the future life lessons I know I’ll need, I run because I’m just a girl who loves to get lost in the woods, I run because I like to test my speed on the roads, I run because I love it! And with that epiphany moment, I knew I’d keep doing it, even if it’s not at my best, fastest, perfectist (new word), because perfect is bullshit, always has been, always will be. My personal best is whatever I manage to do on that day, in that moment, because whatever that looks like, whatever numbers are associated with it, whatever way you want to slice and dice it, I know I’ve worked my ass off to get to that point.
So yep I’ll run in Berlin, I’ll run in Loch Ness, I’ll run in Snowdon and I’ll run in Graz for one heck of an autumn of pushing my body. I may not finish all or any of these races, but I’ll show up, and I’ll keep showing up every single time. That’s just me!
There’s nothing like a change in scenery to change your perspective!
Let the taper commence!