I finished my 1st marathon in 3 hours and 30 minutes. Some would say it was easy for me since I used to train athletics as a kid but I was a long jumper. I’ve never ran more than 2 kilometres at once and if I did run 2 then it was warm up jogging. I’ve never even liked running that much but it’s not very common for a young person to get into ‘boring’ endurance sports anyways. After ripping my first ACL on a skateboard, my long jump career was over and I could finally let myself go and go snowboarding. I knew what I wanted and I had no plan B since my vision was clear. I wanted to be a professional snowboarder so I could snowboard as much as possible and that had its price, which I payed with another ripped ACL, few broken bones and some 40 stitches. None of for I cared about much at the time.
A decade went by and all of a sudden I felt like going for a little jog on the local river banks. At that time my long run would be a circle around the lake (which is 6 km) and after running ‘that much’ I had horrible calves and knee pain. It seemed like an ultra distance to me.
So I would occasionally think to myself what a solid runner I was, the way most beginners probably do, until one day I accepted the half marathon bet from a friend who is much older and about double that more experienced when it comes to running. Till then I’ve never ran for even 1 hour straight, partly because of my bad knees, partly because that’s what crazy people do. But my style was always to jump into things first and then think about them later. And so my first half marathon was hard, the new level of hard. So hard it was mind-blowing. I didn’t walk once but it took me 2 hours to ‘run’ to the finish line. Needless to say I lost the bet and said - never again!
My next half marathon was still a fight with the old bet and I lost again but I did get 10 minutes faster just by knowing what to expect. Of course I said never to do it again and never lasted for about half a year. I joined Youtube running club with coach Google and decided to put some work in. I really wanted to enjoy those 21K more and suffer less next time I do it. After 6 months of regular, 30 kilometres per week, training I again got faster and ran 1h43min which was finally enough to get rid of my, year and a half old, bet. Happy how my body was listening I decided to put another 4 month of training in and I ran Rovinj Half in 1h36min. My knees were suddenly getting better, the pain went away and, naturally, my next step was a full marathon. I’ve heard running 42K is something you can’t understand unless you do it and since I need to learn everything myself it sounded like a fun challenge. The race in Slovakia, I decided to attend, was beginning of April and I started training quite late for it. Few minor snowboarding injuries slowed me down but in two and a half months I managed to put down about 70 kilometres per week and still have enough power to go snowboarding. This time I decided not to focus on speed much and I ran mostly easy with few long runs that made me confident about finishing the whole distance. What I didn’t think about enough was my nutrition during training. I always run on empty stomach and since my longest run was 33 kilometres I could get by with not eating. “I just don’t like carrying food and love to run light” - says she with the big old Garmin watch that’s heavier than a bottle of water.
So the race day was coming closer and I did my training as people without the coach usually do, a bit shorter and lighter than planned. I’m also probably the only person who puts 100 hours into training but forgets to register for a race. Those four weekends prior to the race were filled with snowboarding and I somehow forgot. In the end I realised the race registration was closed and my only way of getting a spot was pulling some strings from my athletic past. I called my old colleague Goran, who now has a running club, so he got me in instead of one of his runners who gave up. Happy go lucky, nothing new for me.
Temperature in Bratislava was 20 degrees on the start already and it went up to insanely hot 26 C. I knew this was bad, I just didn’t know how bad yet. I never get jitters before these kinda events and it amuses me how nervous people around me sometimes are. I just imagine how nervous they would be standing in front of 20 meters long jump on a snowboard competition. This is only running, you can always stop and go home, unlike snowboard contest when they sometimes have to carry you home. Activities like this one are just painfully fun experiments for me.
It was easy for the first 10 km. I was warned what might happen many times so I paced as planned and held myself down. The only energy gel I had was around my waste bumping all the time and it really annoyed me. I ate it around 15th kilometre since carrying it further became unbearable. Maybe it would be better if I didn’t, maybe it wouldn’t, I don’t know.
How would I?!
My time for the first half was 1 h 43 min and I already knew the 2nd lap was going to be fun. I imagined myself on 40th kilometre going up that bridge again, the bridge that already now gave me troubles. Then around 25th kilometre heat started to seriously get me and I knew this was going to be a struggle. It wasn’t supposed to get so hard so early. My, already baggy t-shirt, got 3 sizes bigger under all the water weight I was pouring on my head every aid station so now I had a heavy skirt instead of a shirt (lesson learned). Straight, long roads were glowing even more heat under the noon sun and occasional building shadows were my only comfort. That moment, when I asked myself why exactly was I doing this, came a bit too early too. I was prepared for it, but not yet. Sign for the 35th kilometre was still not in sight when I considered quitting and just going home…but I’m in the foreign city, pretty much alone, and don’t really know the way so what the hell. I’ll just try to keep going. All of my ideas how gracefully I was going to run my first marathon were overshadowed by twice stronger excuses why none of it matters any more and I should just stop. 3:30 pacer group was behind my back and I realized it will be a mission impossible to stick with them. On the 37th kilometre the real deal started and I couldn’t find a single reason why I shouldn’t stop, so for the first time that day I did. I stopped running, sat on the rails and looked for my dignity lost somewhere on the floor. My heart was quite still, my lungs too but my legs just couldn’t keep moving any more. I was imagining myself on a bike or a longboard for at least 100 meters but I knew this was the point I had to disconnect my thoughts and just make another step. Those last 5 kilometres of stumbling, walking and running felt like forever. Two guys close to me were going through a similar meltdown so we looked like Monty Python's Ministry of silly walks. Then 200 meters before the finish line I felt too embarrassed not to run so I found just enough strength to pass next to all those people cheering and pretended like it was not a big deal. It was a huge deal. So I said - never again!