What do you do once you’ve run a marathon?

So I’ve run a marathon. Now what?

Back at home and almost immediately mired in the everyday business of school runs, grocery shopping, making supper, trying to save the garden, catching up with admin and stressing about how I’m going to meet the next deadline if the book hasn’t even been written yet, it is as if my visit to Rome and the Maratona di Roma never happened. If it weren’t for my blogs, the few Facebook posts, the cell phone pics and, of course, the medal to prove that it had happened, I would just as easily have believed that I had been in a coma for a few days.

I am o longer a rock star. I am not pure awesomeness. I am not a superhero. my life is no longer extraordinary. i am back to simply getting on with the banal little tasks that consume the hours between waking up and falling asleep.

So what do you do after you have run your first marathon? Or, I suppose, after you have run any big race or achieved any big goal.
I don’t know?!

So I googled it. And all that comes up are tips about resting. Apparently one should rest after running a marathon. Some say one should rest one day for each mile raced, so a marathon should be followed by 26 days of rest. As if that weren’t ridiculous enough, there are those who say one should rest one day for each kilometre raced. So one’s marathon should be followed by 42 days’ rest.

Well, that’s not what I wanted to hear!

I need the Next Big Thing!

For months my life has been dominated by the marathon. Even if I was slacking, my slacking would be soured by guilt. That nagging little voice in the back of my head would be telling me to switch off the TV, close the book, cork the bottle of wine, go to bed and get some rest, get off my butt and get on the road. None of the usual fun activities were much fun anymore. My social life had shut down – I didn’t want to meet a friend for lunch because lunch with her would inevitably involve a glass or two of wine, and there was training to be done. Another friend likes to meet at six in the evening, which is training time, so I didn’t see much of her either. The Significant Other wanted to invite friends over for dinner. I refused. After a long run on a Saturday morning the last thing I would want to do is cook for a dinner party, entertain guests until late at night and then clean up afterwards. I avoided Friday night suppers because I needed to get to bed early, not drink and watch what I eat.

And now it’s done. How do I fill my days with nothing but rest and recovery? What will I even think about? Actually, I know what I will think about: the effect all this resting instead of running is having on my waistline and how that is going to affect the effect of those streamlined outfits I bought in Rome. I’m hungry all the time – I’m hungry writing this – and if my appetite doesn’t adjust to match my level of inactivity, things are going to go pear shaped faster than you can say ‘step away from the fridge’!

Clearly this will not do.

Having to rest is an annoyance, and something I didn’t really consider. But I went for a little run on Sunday, exactly a week after the marathon. I ran only 3 km. it took me a few paces to realise that I wasn’t breathing. And I wasn’t breathing because the pain in my knees knocked the air out of my lungs. That night my aching legs kept me awake. I had thought that all the walking we had done in Rome would have eased out the kinks but clearly there is more to post-marathon resting than walking between 12 and 18 km a day.
This evening a random thought popped into my head: the Two Oceans Marathon. They call it a marathon, but really it’s an ultra. It’s 56 km and it’s a year from now. Should I give it a go? If I really train for a year, instead of cramming in 12 weeks, it might be a less stressful affair. It might even be possible.

Or should I aim to do another marathon but faster this time?

I read all these blogs and magazines and books about runners’ race experiences and they’re all so fast that I feel quite embarased that I had even dared to mention any of the races I had run. so maybe speed should be a priority, rather than distance. like, maybe I should try to run a 4:30? How long would it take to be fit, strong and fast enough to shave half an hour off one’s race time?
Part of me has been worrying that this running business is too self-centred, too narcissistic. I mean, what is the big deal about running a marathon? It’s not as if you’re giving homes to orphans and healing the sick. You’re not doing anything for any human being other than yourself. And, really, no one cares that you have run a marathon. No one cares how far or how fast you have run. The people close to you kind of care, because your running is important to you, and other runners understand what you’re going through and why shaving a minute or two off your time to clock a sub-something-or-other is such an issue. But other than that, one’s running has not a scrap of impact on anyone else’s life.

The flip side of that is, of course, that a fit, healthy body is more useful (and cheaper to maintain) than an unfit, unhealthy body. With lack of exercise comes all sorts of health and emotional issues, and then you become a burden to those who care about you. And, if your kids see you doing something that is tough, it might teach them something about resilience. I read somewhere today that you can be certain that by running a marathon you will have inspired someone else to take up running. And that’s a good thing, right? It would be pretty cool if li’ll ol’ me in her turquoise tie-dye running pants managed to inspire someone to run.

I don’t know if I’m imagining this, but running seems to have done something to the way my mind works. Once I stopped cluttering my runs with noise about how I couldn’t run, that it was too hard and that I hated every step, my mind turned towards how I would describe what I was going through. I started writing my best blogs during my runs. The flaw in all of this was that I would forget all that vivid imagery and those creative passages by the time I got home. But at least I knew that my neurons had produced sparks of something, if not exactly genius. And this weekend, while I was standing at the Cape Town Jazz Festival, listening to the great bands performing, my thoughts turned to running. I can’t remember a single word, unfortunately, but i know I came up with some great insights and cobbled them all together in some Pulitzer prize-winning prose.

Maybe if I run a bit further and a it more often, I’ll progress to the next step, which is the part where I can hold those thoughts until I can find a pen.

For now, though, whether I rest or run, my project for the next four weeks is to get ready for AfrikaBurn. As usual, it’s a Just In Time project. I’ve had all year but now it’s down to the wire. Four weeks of making lists and mind maps, shopping, preparing, sketching, agonising, sewing, beading, baking and whatever other craft and activity will be needed to create outfits and decorations needed to go and play in the desert for a few days.

Maybe then I’ll figure out what the Next Big Thing is supposed to be.

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2 thoughts on “What do you do once you’ve run a marathon?

  1. I think it takes a while to sort out and process what running a marathon means to you. You’re correct in that 26.2 doesn’t change the world in a huge way but it changed you in ways you have yet to discover. Congratulations.

    • Thank you so much for that comment. There certainly are thoughts and emotions bubbling under that I can’t quite grasp. I will try to be a little more patient.

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