Post-DNF

After spending the last 13 weeks training for a marathon that I didn’t complete, I feel a bit empty.

Apparently it’s quite normal to feel a bit flat after a marathon. But I’m pretty sure this is when you’ve actually finished it, and all your hard work has paid off and you don’t have a goal to aim for any more.

So, what happens if you DNF? I ran 18.4km on Sunday (which is 43% of a full marathon, stats fans). As a result, my legs haven’t really felt tired all week, and although my ankle has been sore, I – for obvious reasons – don’t feel like I ran a marathon. I don’t feel like I trained enough (partly due to injury, but also because I didn’t quite make the long runs) but I still feel like I trained and that the training has somewhat gone to waste.

The first day or so after Halstead, I looked up upcoming marathons and wanted to book something as soon as possible. I thought about doing a half marathon this coming weekend but I think I realised (deep down, at least) that this was a silly idea.

By Tuesday or Wednesday I’d decided that while I do want to have something to train for, it might be sensible to recover fully first and try and enjoy myself a bit before launching straight into another marathon.

I’ve decided that my plans for the next few months are as follows:

  • Let my ankle get better
  • Start eating better instead of snacking so much
  • Ride my bike more – I’ve barely ridden this year and I miss it
  • Focus on shorter distances until the end of summer, like:
    • Parkruns
    • Some 10k races
    • Maybe a half marathon, depending on dates
  • Triathlon! An olympic in June/July and a middle in August
  • An autumn marathon

It seems silly to say that I put a lot of pressure on myself as my times don’t really back that up. But I’m not very kind to myself for not being fast enough. I would love to find a balance where I’m training enough that I’m okay with my times in races, rather than always feeling that I could have pushed harder and not been defeated so easily – if I just felt that I had done my best I think I’d be happier with my times, whatever they were. I’m not sure when this was last the case… The Kevin Henry 5k last summer, maybe, as I kept pushing the whole way round. Maybe the Regents Park 10k last winter, as although I was slow and plodded around, I kept going instead of thinking about stopping or slowing down. I took a random day off work early last year and ran around in Regents Park and surprised myself by not doing any of my normal silly mind games. I need more runs like that… instead of always feeling such a let down…

Halstead & Essex Marathon 2016 – DNF

After I ran the London Marathon two years ago, I was disappointed with my time, and I vowed that I would beat it at this race. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t – I’d trained a lot more and was a better runner. I felt quietly confident.

Two weeks before the race I tripped and sprained my ankle. It swelled up and was very sore to walk on, with a big black bruise below the ligament. For the first couple of days I had to take a lot of painkillers and ibuprofen gel, but gentle walking as soon as possible made it a bit better. I managed four runs before the marathon, none of which were very satisfactory. My confidence dropped away a little.

On the Friday before the race I had my first ever migraine and had to go home from work as I couldn’t see anything, couldn’t remember any of my colleagues names and thought I might throw up everywhere. I wasn’t sure what the word “confidence” meant any more.

I decided to do the marathon anyway, and headed to Halstead in Essex on Saturday afternoon. We stayed in a pub, in a wonky-floored room with big wooden beams. The room had two beds so one was commandeered for all my kit. I had some visual problems again on Saturday night but slept well anyway.
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On Sunday morning I woke up, showered and got myself together. I ate a banana and a bagel with almond butter, and downed a coffee. I covered myself in sunblock and walked over to Halstead Leisure Centre, race HQ. I got my number, had a final toilet stop and queued up with the other runners. There were about 500 of us and the sun was beating down.

“I’m not supposed to say this”, said Matt. “But it’s going to be really hot!!”

He wished me luck and I listened to the final countdown with trepidation. We began the start-line shuffle and soon we were off. The course went out the leisure centre car park (where I tried to wave nonchalantly at Matt but got cut up by another runner) and turned left, down a hill and out of the village.

We turned onto a small road and up the first hill, towards the fields. It wasn’t steep, definitely undulating rather than killer. Coming down the hill was a classic car, although they were at a standstill as the narrow lane wasn’t wide enough for a few hundred runners plus a car. There were a surprising number of classic cars out – more than one would have been a surprise in itself I suppose, but there were five or six.

It was very, very warm and just before 5km there was the first water station. I necked a cup of water and carried on through the village of Pebmarsh. There were lots of people cheering who’d driven out there (clearly friends/family) but also locals out cheering. A farmer had driven out to the edge of his field and was watching from a good vantage point, relaxing in the sunshine.

halstead2

The scenery was stunning, and I genuinely enjoyed looking at the yellow fields of oilseed rape, the rolling hills and occasional animals. We went past a llama farm and there were also horses and cows, and birds circling lazily in the air. It was also quite fun to watch the snake of people ahead – every time there was any shade on the road, all the runners would head to that side of the road, and luckily the cars were few and far between.

By the 10km water station my right foot was cramping really badly, I guess because my ankle felt weak and my foot was trying to protect it. The strapping around my foot didn’t help. I started making bargains with myself to keep myself going but by about 15km I was yelping a bit when I ran and also when I walked, and I really didn’t think I could go on. I spoke to a man who was walking, who said he was going to drop out. “What’s the point in doing yourself a long term injury?” he said. I knew he was right but I also knew I’d feel like a total failure for giving in.

The marshals were all friendly and supportive. “Looking great!” said one, with a slightly sceptical look on his face. “At least you’re not sat on the sofa at home, anyway.”

Matt had said he’d be cheering at about 17km, but when I didn’t see him immediately I was upset and may have sworn a bit under my breath (okay, maybe a lot). For the last few kilometres I’d been thinking how if I *was* going to drop out then this would be the place to do it as at least we’d be together. My foot was really hurting a lot and I didn’t want to keep going as it would just get worse. And now I couldn’t see him – I didn’t know what to do. But there he was, on the other side of a water station, trying to take a picture of me.

I stopped and told him I was quitting. I took my shoe, sock, bandaging off and let my swollen foot out. I couldn’t move my toes, even staring at them. I drank some water and let Matt eat the last of my energy chews (he’d already started on the jelly beans I’d been saving for later in the race). It felt quite surreal.

My mum showed up and we jumped in the car and drove back to the leisure centre. We came up behind the first place runner and I wound the window down so I could lean out and cheer him. He didn’t seem to appreciate it but I like to think he gained some extra speed to get away from the hecklers in the car.

I had a shower, returned my timing chip, ate an ice cream and limped around. Matt went to the football and mum and I hung around in Braintree, eating scones in the sunshine and laughing at just how Essex it all was.

I am trying hard to think of the positives but it’s a struggle.

  • It’s weird not feeling at all tired post-marathon when I expected to.
  • It’s odd to leave a race without a medal.
  • It’s horrible feeling that you’ve let yourself/other people down.
  • It’s really strange thinking how I still haven’t run a marathon since London, and does this mean I was a better runner then than now?

(Will I ever run another marathon?)

Marathon training – week 12

Monday: went for a swim as I still can’t run. Turns out that I do remember how to swim, but I haven’t improved in either speed or style. Bruising is looking pretty grim.

Tuesday: I slept without having my ankle strapped up and regretted it as it swelled up again. On went another bandage!

Wednesday: I decided to see what running was like and went for a jog before work. Having strapping on my ankle helps but I can definitely feel the sprain. 2.1km.

Thursday: no running, no nothing.

Friday: I thought my ankle might be feeling a lot better but I wrenched it getting out of bed. It’s not better. Bought some gels in preparation for next week’s marathon though, MEGALOLS.

Saturday: went for a little run around the park, which was sloooooow and involved a lot of footcramp but thankfully not that much ankle pain. Woop! 7.3km

Sunday: we went for a walk in Kent, 15.6km from Borough Green to Sevenoaks, via Ightham Mote, the Greensand Way and Knole Park. The sun was out, we wore shorts, we stopped for cake twice – perfect day. When we got back, I jokingly asked Matt if he wanted to go for a run. He said yes and we quickly got changed before he changed his mind! We set off and for the first 400m he was cocky and wanted to run fast, before he asked if we could slow down. We got into the park and ran up the hill, Matt not feeling so good now. On the downhill he started sprinting and carried on along the flat. This lasted another minute or so before he ground to a halt at 2.5km and we had to walk the rest of the way home. I was still really proud of him though!


Total: 11.9km – pretty awful but could have been worse. I did a swim, which counts for miles, right?!