Two weeks to go

7 September

Remember those mornings just before you had to write a big exam? You’ve crammed everything you could into your marshmallow brain and now it’s too late to study even one more word. There is nothing left to do but turn up, sit down, and write. Your gut is churning with nerves, your eyes are burning from all the late nights and your mind is a blank slate – not a word of what you forced into it remains. You want to rush back to your room, have one more shot at studying. You want to bargain with the gods … for them to turn back time or to write the exam for you … either one will do … just make this angst go away!

But there is nothing more to be done. It’s too late. It’s time to stand and deliver.

And this is where I am now. It’s time to stand and deliver. Nothing I do now, other than taper, is going to make one second’s difference to how I run the Cape Town Marathon.

I keep going back to my training logs, checking and re-checking: have I done enough? No, of course I haven’t! Can I get away with what I’ve done? No. Because running doesn’t allow you to ‘get away’ with stuff. You’ve either trained sufficiently, or you haven’t. You either feel good on the day, or you don’t. You’ve either stayed away from the wine and the food that churns your gut and causes cramps, or you haven’t. And that is that. Pure, simple, crystal clear truth. Just you, your body, your mind, and the road.

There’s no hand to hold, no yarn to spin, and there are no excuses to be made. No one cares, anyway. Everyone has his own story, and the only person who is going to buy into your story, or find it remotely interesting, is you. And even you know your story is pure cotton candy – about to evaporate at any moment, forgotten. All that you will remember is how you ran the race, not how you trained or how you didn’t train or what excuses you made to avoid training.

I keep telling myself that the Cape Town Marathon isn’t the goal. The goal is simply to run 42,2 km in just under five hours, which is all I need to qualify for the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon, which I hope to run on 26 March. I managed the Rome Marathon in 5:04, and that included taking in the view, taking some snaps of the sights and waiting in a queue for the portaloo. So I should be able to manage 4:59:59 for CTM, right? Right?! Agree with me, dammit!

And so, for reassurance, I’ve put my Rome Marathon and Cape Town Marathon training logs, courtesy of Strava, next to each other and each day – multiple times per day – I compulsively compare my weekly distances … this week I did more for Rome, that week I did more for CTM … oh, but look, I had a whole two weeks for CTM where I had that bug and didn’t train … but then, again, look here, I had time off for Rome … Reassurance does not sit in the training logs.

In his book, Chasing the Dragon, Running to get High, Mark Matthews describes so accurately what goes through a runner’s mind during the short weeks of marathon taper:

You haven’t run enough, you need to do more. You really think you can do this? You didn’t train enough. Better go take a run to see how fit you really are. Maybe you don’t need to taper as much as you thought you did. Come on, three weeks of tapering? Way too much. You have a friggin marathon to do, it’s dangerous for you to go out there and not train more. You want to embarrass yourself? You’re getting lazy. You’ll lose so much fitness.”

You’ll doubt your abilities, he says, and your brain will take any small ache and blow it out of all proportion – something huge and threatening.

It sure does! Every morning starts with an in-bed assessment – what muscle, bone, joint, ligament is hurting? My hips, my knees, my ankles, my shins … everything hurts … OMG, I’m going to do the whole marathon in pain! That is, if I can even do the marathon! And, of course, I’ve not trained enough. I’m going to do 5:30. It’s going to be worse than Rome! Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod

And, for me, every bad training run is proof that I’m not ready for the marathon. I’m going to fail dismally. I’m going to embarrass myself and my family. I’m not going to be able to look the Coach in the eye. I’m going to run and hide away from the Significant Other. They’re going to be so disappointed in me. They’re going to have to make placating noises, say stuff like ‘You did well’.

And it matters nothing that Mark Matthews runs a marathon in three hours something, while I’ll be thrilled just to crack five hours. How I run my marathon is as important to me as it is to the guys up front. They’ll be feeling the pain as much as I do. Their calf muscles will burn their arches will protest. And their minds will mess with them at the 35 km mark. What happens to them will happen to me.

The only difference is that I’ll be feeling the pain for a few hours more that they will. They’ll be strutting their stuff, silver or gold medals around their necks, knocking back a cold beverage, and I’ll still be talking myself from one mile marker to the next, willing myself not to give up, telling myself I’ve got this, I can do it. My head will still be spinning, my ITB will be shrieking, my feet will be protesting with each step, the sun will be sitting high in the sky, wearing me down, but I’ve got this, I can do it.

So whether I’ve done enough or not is irrelevant. I’ll be lining up on marathon morning, irrespective of whether I had done my homework or not.

Could I have done more? Of course I could have. Will I do more next time? I sure hope so.

But for now: just get up, lace up, turn up. Run.

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