Don’t let the swamp of sadness drag you down while you’re running

Friday 6 March 2015

Training for Rome Marathon (for real this time)

Week 8 of 10

15 days to go

Dogbite, tetanus injection, weird reaction to tetanus injection, and antibiotics have not had a favourable effect on my running this week. Sunday’s 8 km run was pretty awful, with me feeling as if it was the longest distance I have run this year, and was doubled over, hands on knees and gasping at the end of it. I went off the antibiotics on Monday, without finishing the course, and on Wednesday I hit the road again.

I thought I would sneak in my 30 km – planned for Saturday morning – before the weekend. Things always happen – like a mad dog attacking your dog while you’re walking along, minding your own business, and your hand getting in the fray, for example. And then you wish you had run when you could, instead of putting it off.

The 30 km distance seems more terrifying, somehow, than the full marathon distance. And the closer we get to the marathon date, the more I realise how much more running I should have done – how many more runs I should have done per week and how many kilometres further I should have gone per run. And I regret all those times I should have done some strength training and found a watertight reason not to. And every weekend that passes without me having attempted a 30-kay has me feeling more anxious.

So I stole a few blocks of fruit & nut milk chocolate from the Significant Other’s secret stash (which he keeps in the drawer that has no handle, so breaking and entering is more difficult), put them in a little ziplock plastic bag and headed off along the Fanwalk. Nice and easy, I told myself, just nice and easy. Seven minutes per kay. No faster.

Nyergh …! Nice and easy didn’t really want to come. I felt better than I did on Sunday, but I still felt leaden. The idea was to run 5 km and walk 1 km, and see how that will work out when I do the marathon. I ran the first 5 km slightly faster than I intended, at around 6:30 min/km, and resisted the temptation, as much as possible, to pick up stray bottle caps I saw littering the pavement.

The water fountain at the dog park next to the lighthouse slotted in nicely at just after the 5 km mark. I don’t know how many dogs have wrapped their chops around the spout, but I stopped for a drink anyway. I’m still alive to tell the tale, so it must be hygienic enough. Starting to run again after walking wasn’t easy. My calf muscles burned and I felt even heavier than before I started walking.

Running became a little bit easier but I still kept the pace at about 6:30 min/km, even though I tried to reign it in a little. The run up the little hill that links Victoria Road and Beach Road almost floored me, and I had to stop and walk when I got to the top. Dammit man. All that hill training over these last few weeks, and this little hill has me reaching for the oxygen mask.

The next water fountain, just past the Ambassador, was at around the 11 km mark. Some runners were hovering at the fountain, yakking away, and so I ran on a little bit to give them time to move on. I turned around and they were still there – the woman had her leg up on the wall, stretching, and was nattering one steady, uninterrupted flow of words. Why can’t some people just get on with the business of what they’re meant to be doing? Just run, dammit. I decided to just use the water fountain anyway and, once I’d had some water, had a block of fruit & nut chocolate. It tasted pretty good, so I had another block, knowing that it would just make me thirsty and that there would be no more water until I got home. I also realized that 30 km was not going to happen.

The two little blocks of chocolate gave me a bit of a boost of energy, though. And it gave me stomach cramps. Ah man. What am I going to eat on the run?

I plodded off towards the 15 km mark, my speed now happily sitting at around 7 min/km, with a very slow km where I walked for about 500 m. My knees started hurting, and my ankles and my arches. Mostly everything from below the waist was hurting and everything above was feeling tired. I had had a reaction to the tetanus injection, and the huge swelling on my arm hurt each time my feet hit the pavement.

I turned a corner and right in front of me was a glorious view of the sea with the sun setting over it. A long strip of reflected sunlight stretched across the glistening water towards me. It was the distraction I needed – like Marshall Ulrich says, focus on something other than aching body parts; remove their power to slow you down, remove their power to make you stop.

And then I let my mind wander to the Swamp of Sadness. It’s amazing what thoughts enter your mind while you’re running. Your resistance is down, you’re tired and feeling a little despondent, and any bad thoughts can take the opportunity to squeeze through the chinks in your mental defense.

And so there I was, running along, and thinking about the golden Cocker Spaniel puppy I was given for my sixth birthday. I loved this animal as only a six-year-old could love her very first and very own puppy. And then he got sick. My dad didn’t see the need to have him vaccinated and so he was still a very young pup when he got sick. I remember sitting on the floor in my parents’ bedroom. My mom had a blue dress made of a thin fabric, with tiny pleats, and the puppy was wrapped in it. I think he was wrapped in a blue cardigan as well. He just lay there, limp, too sick to move, looking at me with those big, brown Spaniel eyes. I remember my mom standing in the kitchen, ironing, while I was trying to feed him small pieces of bread that I had dipped in watery Bovril. This would make him better, my mom said. Well, he didn’t get better. They didn’t take him to the vet, and he didn’t get better.

A man arrived in a blue van with a white cross on the side. I stood under the arched trellis of jasmine and watched as he carried my puppy to the van. He was still wrapped in the blue jersey. They were going to make him better, I was told, and then they would bring him back. A few nights later, just before they switched my bedroom light off, I asked when the man would bring my puppy back. They didn’t really have an answer for me. They muttered something and told me to go to sleep.

My running slowed down to almost 8 min/km while my mind wallowed in the Swamp of Sadness. Wow! Issues! I thought, and pulled myself back from my sad thoughts. Unresolved issues. Best not to pack those issues in my fanny pack when I prepare for a long run.

I picked up the pace. Only another 2 km to 15 km. Focus on happy things, and don’t venture into the Swamp of Sadness again. Instead, I focused on sounds. I picked a sound and focused on it until it faded away. Then picked another sound and so on. Just run to 15 km …

Doing just 15 km would have been wrong, though, so I pushed on to 17 km. And then it was enough. Done. I was done. No more running tonight. No attempt at 20 km or 21.1 km, and definitely not at 30 km. The sun had set and it was getting dark. Time to wander home. It was only 17 km on a flat route. But it had floored me. I should be flying across that kind of distance by now.

I’m feeling a bit despondent about my condition at the moment, but I figure I’ll recover. It’s a bad patch. It’s not as if I have done no running at all. The miles are sitting in my legs and I’ll feel better one of these days.

While I was driving to fetch The Kid this afternoon, I thought about how the courage of running a marathon lies less in the marathon itself and more in the training – in having the courage and determination to get out there after you have been knocked down. And to do this not only once, but time and again. To not give up. To say ‘I’m going to do this thing’ and just get back out on the road and start up again after an injury or after an illness, and to keep going back out, no matter how hurt or tired you feel.

And not giving in to the Swamp of Sadness.

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