This time last year, I was a bit mental. I was struggling with Clive my anxiety monster and generally finding it tough to get on top of a huge sense of overwhelm.
I have always had a love-hate sort of relationship with exercise but in 2014 I really felt like I hit my stride with running. I trained for, and ran, two half marathons (which are 21.1km for those uninitiated) and completed them in pretty good times. I was in great shape, both physically and mentally, for a while. The problem was, I put so much pressure on myself to achieve those quick times, that I ended up sucking the enjoyment out of the actual act of running – and flew myself right into a gigantic mental meltdown when I thought about having to match – or beat – those great times.
I achieved a sub-2 hour half for my first effort at the Gold Coast in July, which I was really pleased with. And then, when I backed up to do the Brisbane Half Marathon in August, I put pressure on myself to achieve another sub-2 hour time. Problem was, Brisbane is much hillier than the Gold Coast, and so I struggled from the first kilometre to keep up with the 2-hour pacers. (Pacers are people that run in organised races at a certain pace, so you can use them to gauge your own speed.)
But for 20km I kept up – struggling and hating it all the way. Then, on the final stretch, a pacer shot past me, shouting the encouragement, “Come on everyone, only 700 metres to go!”
People wooped and cheered all around me. Not me though. That’s when my brain just snapped, and I could do nothing but stop and walk.
I felt like such a loser! After walking for a few minutes, I got myself together enough to jog into the Botanic Gardens for the last couple of hundred metres or so (and rounded a corner to see my family waving and cheering – so glad I started running again before my kids saw me!).
I finished in 2 hours 1 minute and 1 second. Something in me broke. It wasn’t even about the one minute and one second over my target. I just hated everything about that run, and I didn’t know how to process it or whether I could love running again.
I stopped running for a while, and then tried to start back but even struggled to run 5km around my neighbourhood. I also struggled with a back injury and when my physio suggested I stop running for a while to let my back heal, I gratefully jumped at the chance to take a break.
Problem was, Clive the anxiety monster came back in a big way. I felt horrible, unmotivated, paranoid and trapped inside my own brain. And my back got worse instead of better.
I knew I needed to start running again, but I needed to rediscover the enjoyment factor and not go too hard on myself. I went back to basics and enrolled in Operation Move’s Learn to Run program.
I truly started from scratch, but as I began to get stronger, and to build up my distances, my monkey mind started to quieten, and I not only felt more comfortable running, but my anxiety began to dissipate. (And after seeking a second opinion on my back, I started to heal that with core strengthening work.)
And the idea of a marathon started dancing around in my brain.
Was I fucking crazy? Didn’t I just put myself through a whole lot of punishment for not achieving what I wanted to achieve in a half marathon?
Would it be too much? Could I train for a marathon without putting too much pressure on myself to achieve a certain time or go too hard? How could I go from alternating one-minute runs and walks to running 42km…in a row??
I talked to Zoey from Operation Move about it, and she shared her story with me about the ups and downs she has gone through to become the marathoning super woman she is now.
And I thought: fuck it.
I just turned 42. What better time will there be to run 42km?
Could it all go tits up? Yep.
Could I fall in a heap and not even finish? Sure, it could happen, but I don’t think it will.
Could I burn myself out by putting everything into achieving this monster goal? Hmmm, yes, and I won’t lie: that scares me quite a bit.
But my goal is to run this marathon without once worrying about the time I’m doing it in. And then to keep running and meeting other runners and enjoying being a part of this wonderful running community that is everywhere once you start looking for it.
My goal is to be a runner for the rest of my life.
I have met some absolutely amazing women through running. Women that inspire me and make me realise there is much more to running than the time on the clock when you cross the finish line. There is also camaraderie, self actualisation, and some really cool gadgets and cute clothes.
Yes, running can be a solitary sport, but it can also be a wonderful way to connect. Not to mention a way to keep fit – both physically and mentally.
So I will run the Gold Coast Marathon in July – in 16 weeks (my official training program starts on Monday). The furthest I’ve run in my training so far is 18km so I still have some work to do.
The prospect terrifies me, but it also thrills me.
I will run it to prove that I can. And I will run it to prove that anyone can, if they set their mind to it.
I’m just a regular 42 year old woman with a brain that tends to eat itself if left unattended, and a few spare hours a week. (Well, not spare – but scheduled in for training!) And fuck it, I’m going to run a marathon.