I sit a two weeks out from my first full marathon and it still hasn’t sunk in. Two weeks ago I was standing in a red plastic poncho with members of out Not Fast Just Furious RAV Team at the gates of the start line ready to begin what would be the final leg of my marathon journey.
My training plan was just over 25 weeks long, yet my journey started over four years ago when I decided that running actually could be something I could do. Over those years my mental strength has been challenged and I have really come to appreciate the power of my mind when faced with obstacles that I never thought I would be able to conquor. I have had to yell at, fight and ignore the demons in the recesses of my mind that push forward in my moments of weakness to tell me that I am not good enough, fit enough, healthy enough or slim enough to have achieved what I was about to do.
I walked through the other start groups almost laughing at even thinking about positioning myself in these. I paused slightly at the start group labelled “elite runners”. I had such admiration for these men and women who would begin in this pack. Just as the adrenaline would be pulsating through my body, these elite runners would have the same chemical creating nervous energy in theirs. I stood in the last group to begin the marathon. The tumultuous rather than ‘flat’ course stood before us. I felt excited, nervous and calm all at once.
This was definitely a different mindset compared to four weeks ago. Who was I to think that I could take on such a run. I was fat, heavy, unhealthy, lazy and unworthy of even thinking that such a distance could be taken on. This 32km training run had left me feeling like I had bitten off far more than I could chew. I knew I needed something to block out the voices in my mind. I succumbed to the headphones and searched a range of podcasts that would uplift me during my weakest moments.
As they brought the last group to the start line I checked my pockets for the headphones I would need to ensure I could drown out the unwanted chatter that could occur in those hard moments. Approaching the start we could finally see the blue sky peering through the rain clouds that plagued us for the morning. It lifted our spirits as they started our group. I had may game plan for the run and I needed to be careful not to ignore it or to get swept up in the movement of the crowd. I was to run four minutes and walk for one minute. This was the interval timing that had got me through my long runs and I was not going to throw away my training plan just for the hype of the moment. I had my sights on the 7km mark. This would leave me with 35km to go. This had been the longest distance I had run in my training three weeks prior to the torturous tapering.
That longest run had left me 7km closer to the full marathon distance. The negative feelings slashed at the edges of mind and I had sent an SOS message out to my local running tribe for support. I had to get this training run done otherwise they would be right. I was hopeless and I was deluded in thinking I could take on this journey. My call was answered and a friend joined me for the first 7km and another for the last 7km. I was filled with such relief when I could see my friend in the distance to join me for the last 7km. She had arrived at the right time to see me through to the end of the training run, while my RAV girls messaged me words of encouragement as I told them where I was up to. She ran next to me chatting away knowing that I had no breath or energy left to respond. We ran the last 3km together and I threw my arms around her as she left me feeling so elated that I had reached this point in my training.
The night before the marathon she messaged me as though fate had intended that moment to be the point in time where I needed her words the most. Once again the demons settled in and I had been telling myself that I was worthless and I was still the slow chubby girl who faked asthma attacks to get out of Cross Country Carnivals at school. This friend, who had ran full marathons, numerous trail runs and UTA 50, wished me luck and assured me that I was more prepared for this Marathon with my training than what she had ever been for her first marathon the previous year. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I had put in the hours, the training, I had sacrificed time with my family and stayed up late at night doing work so I could fit in a training run. Her message was a symbol of the many people I had standing behind me as I prepared for this race. I had reached this point not on my own but with a village of people supporting me the whole way.
As I reached the half way mark of the marathon I still felt good. I was smiling, I had energy, I could still mumble thank you to the boy scouts, girl scouts and many volunteers that offered us refreshments. I listened to the podcasts I had chosen and I felt strong. I was tired but my legs still had a lot left in them, my breathing was steady and my mind was focused. I had trained for this. I may have been the chubby girl at the age of 12 giving up, but I was now the 38 year old who would not allow myself to give in. I was stronger than this.
I then hit the 28km mark. Humility set in and I felt exhausted. I messaged my husband all the way back in Australia telling him how hard it was. I had just run up another hill and I thought for a ‘flat out’ course this was far from flat. Call it an undulation if you will but it is still a slope that goes up and therefore takes more energy. He immediately messaged me back, it was as though he was waiting with anticipation by his phone to hear any word from me that he could, his words were affirming. He told me that it was hard and that I could do it. I continued on and eventually reached the 7km to go mark. This was the magic point that I knew I would have to get to. The point that I had not done in my training. I continued to listen to the inspirational women on the podcast and I decided I needed to change my game plan. I began to run for 1 min and walk for 1min. In the past I would have seen this move as a failure. But now I was seeing it as strength. Knowing when to change your game plan is important.
I hit the 1km to go mark and the middle of Queenstown. This is where the trail I’d been running for the last 6ish hours turned into the roads of the township. Passersby called out my name and I could feel my energy rising in me. There were no demons to be found to squash my confidence. I couldn’t help but smile. And then I hit the last ‘undulation’ before the runway into the finish line. Of course there would be a hill at the very end and of course there would be a pub at the top of that hill with many runners celebrating their victory or even spectators who had spent the day in happy hour to cheer on the runners. Which ever it was, I felt the pressure that I had to run past this group. I threw my game plan to the wind or rather the fresh sprinkling of rain. I ran up that hill. I could see the pub on the corner and just as I thought, the cheers started to come and those who had the eyesight to see my bib called out my name. I couldn’t’ help but wave as though I was an Olympic Champion. I had 200m left. My friends were in view near the finish line cheering me on. I waved as I sprinted (although when I watch the video of me crossing the line it is nowhere near a sprint) to that finish line. I saw the time on the box and knew that regardless of what it said I had just completed my first marathon. The emotions were many and I could not help but hug everyone, especially my RAV friend Tammy who I latched onto and in a sweaty heap did not let go.
What followed was a mix of emotions. I was a marathoner. Then the demons started to creep in at every moment they could. At every point these demons tried to infiltrate my success I was reminded of my success. This included my husband calling me affirming how proud he was of me.
When I opened Whatsapp I could see messages from my local running group talking to each other about where I was up to as they monitored their Runaway Series app. Then a phone call came through messenger from my running friend who had messaged me the night before. She yelled at me across the phone that I was a marathoner and that she was so proud of me. The RAV girls with me in person and with me in spirit uplifted me with words of congratulations. I once again was reminded of the tribe of people that stood behind me.
I posted my run to Facebook and I was flooded by messages of congratulations. I was reminded by some that they were in disbelief. I used to cry to be picked up so I didn’t have to walk and I was reminded that I used to pay my brother to go and get McDonald’s for me. I could have taken these reminders as the demons of my past reminding me that I wasn’t good enough, but these reminders were not about failure, they were a reminder about how far I had come. One friend commented that she initially felt disbelief because of what I used to be like when we did the Duke of Ed hikes together and then added that achieving a marathoner was not unbelievable at all because I had always been determined and a little bit stubborn. Her words were a reminder to me that my determination, training, family and running tribe all contributed to what was a great success. Those demons had no hold on this success because what I had done I had worked hard for, just like any athlete. I had completed my first marathon journey.
Now I prepare myself for the next goal. I have UTA50 in my sights and while I rest post marathon, I contemplate the game plan for my next adventure.
By Kate Bradley