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Thoughts from Rutland Marathon

28 September 2022

Such perfect marathon weather’. The smooth path stretches along the edge of the dam. A family claps and cheers from a bench. Ten more runners overtake me.

I’m glad I’m not going out too fast’. The smooth path ends, turns gravelly and weaves through a carpark and up onto a grassy slope.  

‘I just need to keep the lid on for ten miles’. A marshal shouts, “well done young lady”. I’m 46, but I’ll take it. The stony track curves up and down around the inlet of the reservoir.

‘Look at the water, maybe I’ll see the osprey’. The lead runner of the half marathon whizzes past.

‘Keep it steady’. Another sharp uphill, a right turn, a left, a downhill.

The turning point must be soon’. The lead male runner passes, big beard, leopard print vest.

 ‘Do not speed up’. The first woman runs past, pink t-shirt, big smile.

‘I do not need to speed up’. Five more women pass and the turning point is there. The route doubles back around a line of orange cones in the woods.

‘Keep a lid on it’. Runners pass, still on their way to the turning point. The five mile marker goes by.

‘Only five? No, don’t think that. Half way to ten ’. The runners coming the other way are slower and more friendly.

‘This is better, I’m enjoying it’. Say “well done!” to every female runner. A dog lifts its leg to pee on the seven mile marker post.

‘Nearly at the dam, now’. A man sitting on a bench makes full eye contact with me and says nothing. Across the dam. A child jumps up and down, blowing a whistle.

‘I should be feeling better than this’.

The path stumbles between mole hills and rabbit holes. ‘This grass is really green from the rain’.

The route goes back past the start funnel. ‘Try to look good’.

The loudspeaker calls out the names of passing runners. A few cheers. ‘Try to feel good’.

Out of the carpark, the seventeen mile loop back to the finish begins. ‘I won’t count the hills’.

There were six hills between that point and Hambleton Peninsula. ‘This might be a bad patch’.  

The half marathon turning point is behind me at eleven miles. ‘I might feel better soon’.

The path stretches out along the north shore, looking flat but somehow going uphill. ‘It’s good to be outside’.

Mile fourteen. Mile fifteen. Up the hill to mile sixteen, my chest pulls with every breath of air.

“Stop it!” I shout out loud.

But I can’t push away the negative thoughts. Over the final ten miles, I try everything.

‘It’s good that my achilles isn’t hurting’.

‘Every uphill has a downhill’.

‘This gel will make me feel better.’

‘I always love running here’.

‘It’s still a beautiful day’.

‘No-one is going past you’.

‘Everyone feels the same.’

‘Don’t walk unless you have to’.

‘Just walk if you need to’.

‘Just get to the finish’.

‘You’re going to make it’.

When I cross the finish line I feel two things: relief, and certainty that there was nothing I could have done differently. This day wasn’t my day.

It is true that much of a marathon is what’s inside your head, the stories you tell yourself about how you’re feeling, the stories you tell yourself before you start, and how you spin it afterwards. But now that I’m older, I can see that it’s really the body. Yes, you can make yourself keep running or let yourself give up, you can decide to push or decide to walk. But it all comes from the body. The training, or the feelings on the day, dictate it too.

Looking at my insane heart rate recordings, I know I couldn’t have done anything else on this day. I know that the rushing of blood in my ears, the nearly fainting, that was the very edge of what was possible. I went right up against it. There was nothing more I could have done on that day.

When you’re young, or you have tons of training in your legs, you can carry a bad day and your brain is your only barrier. As you get older, on a bad day you can’t push through it.  But on a good day, you can run just as fast as ever.

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