Dear Max and Rebecca
Whenever anyone asks me what time I’m going for at a race, I say “Any finish is good, but I don’t want a dramatic sprint to the finish line in order to beat the clock”.
Well, on Saturday, I did just that – sprinted to the finish, and crossed the line with just 12 seconds before the gun went off. It was my closest non-finish ever, and one that will continue to terrify me while at the same time reminding me of how far the heart and head can go in times of crisis.
How did I get to a position of 12 seconds before the gun? Well, a few things. Poor training, though I had done enough long runs (three sloooow marathons and two slooooow 32kms). An absence of three years since my last ultras (the year after my last ones I was pregnant, and I just wasn’t ready to tackle longer distance after giving birth). A loss of confidence. So much going on this year in my head and heart. And my own loud voice booming to myself that I couldn’t finish this year.
In most of my long runs this year, I’ve fizzled out towards the end, and each time I’ve lost the head and heart with about 10km to go. I don’t know why this is. The hardship feels too much to bear, and I lose the will – and the way.
I haven’t always been like this. Back in the day, I used to run Two Oceans much easier. Not finishing was never even a worry. But this year, the doubts spoke louder than the hope, and I tried so hard last week to rally the positivity and pep talks, and picture that finish line, medal and white Easter egg reward (and by Easter egg, I mean a box).
On Saturday’s race, all was going great. At about 14km in I started running with the most amazing bus of wonderful runners who I’ve run several races with this year, and with whom I’ve had the most fun. The energy was high, my confidence soared, and I believed I could keep up with this awesome group. I had ticked off all my timing targets, and then at around 40km, I started to wane. I still got to the marathon mark in more or less the time I wanted, but I was unmotivated, sore and energy-less.
The walking became more frequent, the apathy increased, and at times I couldn’t be bothered to run, even while knowing that walking was slowing me down, and that I’d really have to push it towards the end in order to finish. My attitude was “I’ll sort this out the end. This is my problem for later on”, as I couldn’t really get it together then.
I saw my dad and Ilana with around 6km to go, and 45 minutes in the bag. They offered great words, encouragement, Easter eggs and tonic water, and it was enough to propel me for a few hundred metres, before I gave in to the pain and fatigue, and started walking. I knew I had to suck everything up in order to finish, and so I put foot where I could on the downhills, and tried to plod up the last few hills without walking too much.
I knew I would finish, but I knew I had to push hardest for the last kilometre. If I had have walked or lost focus, I wouldn’t have finished – I simply didn’t have enough time to let this happen. As I hit the grass towards the finish line, there was shouting and cheering with the crowds pushing us to finish before the gun), but I had a bit of tunnel vision, only watching that big looming clock ahead of me, while sprinting to beat it. I knew I could do it, and when I did, I burst into tears, and one would’ve thought that I actually didn’t make it owing to the outpouring of emotion.
The gun went off, and I couldn’t look back. It’s truly heartbreaking seeing runners not fulfilling their goals, especially after running alongside them.
After looking at my times, I saw that I ran the last kilometre in 5.25, my fastest kilometre on the day, and most likely my fastest kilometre this year (I’m not exaggerating here – I haven’t exactly pushed beyond my comfort zone this year).
I am grateful that my optimism was the ultimate victor on the day, and that I found the courage and strength when for a large part I felt I had none.
It was an exhilarating, exhausting, elevating and frightening day, and another lesson in the strength of mind and body.
Yours in running,
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