(The Hard Part)
International Athlete and Final Year Student
Coach Education and Sports Development
University of Bath
After about 22 miles of running had been completed, the going became
decidedly tough and there was a noticeable decrease in the pace I was
maintaining. A gradual, unexplained discomfort was spreading across my
left side and it soon developed into an unmistakable stabbing pain that
was not going to permit me to ignore it. In training this feeling is not
uncommon to experience to some lesser extent, but in the course of the
London marathon it was being significantly amplified.
Other than an overall body fatigue, backache, nausea, and screaming
stiffness of leg muscles, the restrictive spasms of stomach cramps had
become the focus of my attention. This was, I guess, my body's way of
shutting down and telling me to stop running. Therefore, with just four
miles left to run, I had to over-ride this message to my brain in order
to finish the race at all.
HOW DID I OVERCOME THIS?
Many elite distance runners have mechanisms, which they employ to 'fool'
themselves that they are not really in need of rest. These became increasingly
essential for me to adopt as 'I Never Quit!'. So, my head was preoccupied
with the thought of all the work that had gone into my training since
last October and how well the preparation races had been going. As these
failed to suppress the overwhelming desire to walk, I replaced these images
with recollection of previous marathon experiences where I had managed
to over-ride similar amounts of pain. For instance at Dublin in 1997,
I ran with a stress fracture of my left tibia and came fourth, vowing
never to run another one again. Also, in London, 2002 I was suffering
from a condition called anaemia, which inhibits the amount of red blood
cells carrying oxygen and consequently gives your muscles the impression
that you are running at altitude.
I reminded myself that I was better off than on these two occasions and
it was not going to be as bad this time. As this message began to clouden
and I felt myself switching off into a 'faint' mode at 24 miles, I drew
on upon all my strength of character to get me through. I told myself
how stubborn I was, how determined, and how important it was to finish
and 'not to fail'. This self-talk was done silently as I approached the
final mile of what had been a very lonely run in terms of competitors.
I knew how many suppor
I imagined runners closing me down from behind and this made me
push on still. I also thought of everything that I had given up, left
behind, shut out of my life to enable me to focus on marathons. The crowd
was no longer a source of enjoyment. I was embarrassed and did not want
the thousands of cheering spectators to watch me suffering after so much
effort. I wanted to keep smiling and tried a half grimace at a few people
who called out my name. They did not know what the matter was, but could
see that my style was poor and I was slowing up considerably. I stuck
my fist into my ribs in desperation. 'Nothing Worked'. Lucozade had spilled
down my left leg from feeding stations every five miles, and water had
soaked my vest instead of being ingested. All this reflection was too
late now, I just had to grit it out. Not far to go.
The first finishers for the elite men's race came past with just 800
metres to go. They had set off nearly 45 minutes after me and were going
to cross the line ahead of me. It was a terrific sprint between five top
men and I had the best view imaginable. The Morrocan athlete was very
nearly sick over my shoes as he passed me and I was tempted to copy him.
The speed with which they shot by made me feel as if I was running backwards,
or at least standing still.
MEDAL AND MEDITATION:
I put a final 'pathetic' effort into the last 100 yards to get inside
2hours 54, only ten minutes slower than predicted! I received my medal
sheepishly and walked to collect my baggage from the start. The whole
performance was rewound in my head and replayed several times as I recovered
and staggered towards the train station. I was unable to sleep that night,
because I had not done myself justice, it was pretty unfair. The playful
side of me had been having lots of fun with the excitable crowds early
on and perhaps I forgot I was there to achieve something more? I don't
think I'm cut out to make the big scene after all.
This is a good question. The reason used to be for the challenge, then
it became to chase the dream of breaking 2hours 40, and now? I think perhaps
it is a security barrier to lean against whilst the rest of my life is
changing so rapidly and there is so much uncertainty. It is almost like
the running is like a rock that will always be there and as long as I
have that I will be alright. What else is there?
It is difficult to say what benefit I get from making continually, punishing
demands on my body. Often my health, happiness and social life all suffer
incredibly. So is it some strange type of punishment for not succeeding
at my first GB international half marathon? Or is it, not wanting to leave
any unfinished business or have any regrets? Or is it simply seeking another
chance to make my mark on the world in some way? I do not know for
sure, but I perceive that it could be a combination of all three of these
suggestions. It is certainly not for monetary gain, anyway. All I know
is, that as long as I hold distance running important to my self-identification
and self-acceptance, I will have to continue to pursue the sport.
Anita Jane Mellodew