It all started in a taxi ride that lasted one and a half hours instead of only half hour! Now who decided it was a good idea to start a race on a dead end road and partially close off the few roads leading to it?!
As it was only 17 minutes before the start of the race and I was not moving much with the taxi, I decided to take a 3km “warm up” and jog myself to the start line. Arriving there with only few minutes to spare, my bladder insisted on a last minute stop...thanks to the good hydration plan I had followed the whole day!
Now the good thing of arriving that late, was that most of the toilets were empty with no queues...so that was the most efficient toilet break I’ve ever had on a race.
Ok, now I’m ready, and made my way through the crowd as the countdown was ticking. My first impression was that I was looking forward to run if only to escape that wave of body heat surrounding me.
So here we go, easy jog for the first few km, I’ve got time...42 km to pace myself through. 1km into the race, as I run along Aviation Road, I still see shuttle buses arriving, loaded with runners who obviously have missed the gun. My surrounding fellow runners are all mumbling “oh no”, or “pity”... exactly my thoughts!
Cruising along, after about 5km the crowd scattered a bit and the heat is not no bad anymore, or is it?!
Looking at the half marathoners who are coming back from their journey, I notice that almost all of them are walking. Hum...now the first thought to enter my mind is “oh c’mon guys! You are only running 21km, push through it!!” Somehow I knew that it will come back at me to bite my rear end!
I happily passed the 10km mark, looked at my watch, it’s all good. Feeling good, having a good pace, passing people...I’m gonna conquer this race. I thought to myself, “one quarter done”.
The next 10km was passing as quickly as I let my mind wander around, look at the trees and the sea with its many lights from all the ships. I kept drinking at every hydration stop, walking the distance of the tent, then running again. I’m in a good rhythm, I decide I like night running.
And there it was, at 21km... the WALL. All of a sudden, I started feeling queasy, tired, thirsty, hungry, all at the same time. My brain can’t process that many things at the same time, and it feels like I’m overloading. Is it the strong smell of the pong pong flowers that make me dizzy?! Ok, walk a bit and eat another fig bar, it will pass as quickly as it came, and I’ll run again.
It did not get better. I’m at the turn around point, feeling miserable and wandering what’s happening to me. Never in my previous marathons have I “hit the wall” that early in the race. I’m very upset with my body, I’ve trained so hard and so well I thought, why am I feeling like this?
I decide to stop and stretch a bit. While doing so I notice the other runners all huffing and puffing, slowing down, even walking. I start running again, and that’s when it hit me...it is now past midnight, and my body is just pleading with me to go to sleep and rest.”No way”, “not now!, get me to that finish line and then you’ll sleep as long as you want”.
I really struggled, 5 more km in and I realized that I’m now walking longer and longer at the water stops, I even walked when there was no water stop. I was defeated, feeling stuck to the pavement while trying to pull a huge lead ball behind me.
I passed the 27km mark and the very real thought of quitting enters my mind. Never in my life have I struggled like this. Never have I felt pain nor felt like I was crossing the very last limit of my ability. I’m starting to think that giving birth without epidural was actually less painful than what I’m going through right now!!
Now my mind struggles too...I’m not a quitter, I’ve trained so hard, I’ve never quit a race...can I just stop and walk away? Is that really the last bit of energy and will power I have? Maybe not, so I decide to run to the 30km mark and then re-evaluate my judgment.
At this moment, the 5hours pacers are passing me, I stick with them for a brief moment, but sadly realized that I can’t keep up with them. I don’t even care anymore.
At km 30, I’m not feeling any better, but by then walking is as much of a struggle than running, so I just keep running instead. We are off the main east coast park, so if I was to quit here I’d still have to walk for awhile to get to a main road, and in this neighbourhood I suddenly realized that my chances of getting a taxi at this hour is almost zero. So no looking back, I have to run, I have to run to the finish line.
When I reach the 35th km, I know now for sure that I can do it, and that gives me a little jolt of energy. The faster I can run, the faster the misery will end.
The last 7km was a blur, by now I’ve stopped looking at my watch because it was too depressing. My only mantra was “one foot in front of the other...one foot in front of the other”. There was nothing else in my mind, there was nothing left in my body.
During the last 2 km, I tune into the outside world again, to realize that my fellow runners are getting excited as well, we can do it, we are doing it. As I pass few people walking I cheer them up, “let’s go, no more walking from now, let’s do it”.
I pass the finish line in 5hrs 18min and dedicate the last blast of energy into the biggest smile I can manage. I did it! It’s all going to be fine now, the pain can stop, the body can shut down, the mind can rest.
It was my first night race, and as a rookie I didn’t do my homework properly. I trained long and hard, but never past midnight. I was convinced that I could achieve a PR under 4 and half hours as it would be less hot, totally underestimating that my body would put up a fight.
I had reached the darkest place of my mind in that race, doubting everything. But what a journey it was, I am in awe of the amazing brain that can push limits like that.