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MARATHON EXPERIENCE

(The Hard Part)

Anita Mellowdew

International Athlete and Final Year Student

Coach Education and Sports Development

University of Bath

WHAT HAPPENED?

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.

COPING STRATEGIES:

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

STICKY PATCH:

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.

RUNNING BACKWARDS:

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.

WHY MARATHONS?

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

April, 2003.

 

 

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