40 year old Marathon Virgin

“Always start with a quote. It makes your blog post look super profound”

Martin O’Leary, probably. 

I’m in New York to celebrate my 40th and my wife’s.. eh.. definitely not 40th.. ahem… when I realise I can’t escape the cold hard truth – I’m injured, and I need treatment. It’s the start of April, and I’ve just run in a four mile race in Central Park, an incredible experience. I went out early in the morning to get some extra miles in, stopping to take photos of the park along the way, and because I’m a massive nerd, outside Dana Barrett’s apartment building from Ghostbusters. I’ve never been as happy on a run. Except for one small thing. 

Massive nerd pictured outside building

My shins had been killing me for a while, and they were getting worse. I’ve been down this road before, and I know how it goes. The pain will get progressively worse until I have to stop running for a few weeks. Only this time I can’t afford to stop. I have a marathon to run in two months, and I’m heading into a hugely important part of the training cycle.

The race around Central Park is spectacular, proper bucket list stuff. About 10,000 people have turned out on a bitterly cold New York morning, and as I wait for the start line I realise I’m the only person in a singlet. Battle hardened New Yorkers are all in jackets, long sleeve tops, tights, hats. Me – a pair of shorts and my trusty Watergrasshill singlet. Freezing my arse off. 

During my warm up run the pain in my shins had lessened the more I ran, but waiting around at the start of the race as I get colder, I know it’s going to be an issue when we get going again. The race is then delayed by 15 minutes, which certainly doesn’t help. When we do get going my shins are in bits, but I manage to ignore the pain and I’m happy with the time I’ve run – the atmosphere of the run more than compensates for the pain in my legs. I finish the race and I’m happy, find my wife Devina and we enjoy a lovely morning around the park, me sneakily leading her to filming locations that I wanted to see. “Oh here’s the fountain from the end of John Wick 2… is that… is that the bridge from the end of Home Alone 2 where Macaualy Culkin gives Brenda Fricker a turtle dove? Oh look, that’s the bridge from the snowball fight in Elf…” She’s a lucky woman.

Post race bagels need to become a thing at races here

I am, however, hobbling around to these places after the race, and I know what I have to do. I send my physio a text. “Save me Marky-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope”.

Mark is well used to my shit at this point and talks me down off the figurative ledge, and we set an appointment. I still have two days in the Big Apple left, but I’m hobbling about in pain, and I decide the best thing to do is numb it with alcohol, which I do with aplomb.

“Same as always?” laughs Mark as I take my place at his treatment table. “Yup”, I sigh back. Mark gets to work, focussing on my IT bands and calves and shins, telling me to rest up and giving me stretches to do before our next appointment.

“Rest” is not a word runners want to hear with a big race on the horizon. I’m immediately panicking – the marathon is gone, there’s no way I can run it now, why is my stupid body always failing on me like this? I spend a lot of time on the exercise bike instead of the roads around the Hill, and it’s fairly lonely stuff. While at least I’m getting some exercise done, and I’m watching some movies while doing so, nothing beats being on the roads and getting the miles in.

As I discussed in great detail in my last blog, I had a great run at the Cork-Carrigaline 25k, so much so I started revising my expected marathon time. I had rested up, my shins behaved, and I was happy out.

Two days later though the frustration was back with a bang, as a run was abandoned after 300 metres due to shin pain. That frustration would get worse, much worse.

Before the lowest point though I ran a terrific race in Ballintotis, getting my confidence up again. My long run that Saturday was mostly uneventful, nothing spectacular but still 18 miles in the bank. A rest, a short run that Thursday, a trip to the physio and I was ready for another Saturday long run. What resulted was probably the lowest low I’ve ever experienced as a runner.

I knew I wasn’t right when I woke up that morning. I knew I wasn’t right when I got my gear on. I knew I wasn’t right when I got in the car and drove to the Marina. I knew I wasn’t right, but still, I went out for my run.

I went through my long run ritual at my car (it mostly involves slathering a gallon of Vaseline everywhere, eating half a packet of jellies and tucking energy gels into my waistband), but I knew I wasn’t right. I waited for my watch to find the GPS signal. It beeped, and I was ready to go. And I just stood there.

I knew I wasn’t right.

But still, I eventually started my run, after a minute or two of willing myself forward. I knew within seconds that my planned 20 miles was just a pipe dream, and that I was in tremendous pain.

I manage a mile down the Marina before I stop. I can’t go on. With tears in my eyes I turn back for the car. My marathon is done. It’s impossible.

The walk of shame back down to the marina, clutching a handful of gels is heartbreaking. Me, alone with my thoughts, watching other runners breeze past without a care in the world. Me, limping, wiping tears from my eyes. I’m devastated.

A handful of gels and a shedload of frustration

I stop for a coffee at the coffee dock and take stock. I just need to rest up. I’ll be fine. I look at the calendar. I don’t have many long runs left. This is a disaster. I won’t be fine. Shit. Those conflicting thoughts seesaw in my head all day. It’s exhausting.

I spend the weekend moping about the house, sighing dramatically every so often. Steve Rooney (The Legend) is on to me frequently, offering encouragement, sending weekly training plans that I feel guilty I can’t execute. I know I have to rest if I want to run, I also know I have to run if I want to run the marathon. It’s a fairly vicious conundrum. Stevie is great at motivating, but he’s also not afraid to tell me the hard truths – time is ticking away and I need to be running.

I rest up for a few days and decide to test my legs on Tuesday evening, and I manage 5 miles around the Hill with the legend that is Denis Cronin, a man who’s always on hand with advice and encouragement. Another run on Thursday evening, solid if unspectacular, and I’m feeling a bit more confident. Maybe I can tackle 20 miles this weekend…

Some of my teammates from the Hill and I make a plan to head out from Silversprings and go for a lap of the Marina, before following the half marathon route, then back to Silversprings. Give or take 20 miles.

I manage to get around alright, the first 13 miles being great, the second 7 not so much. I also made a mess of my route planning so I still had a mile to do when I got back to Silversprings, which was soul destroying. My car was right there, like!

I was delighted to get to the 20 mark though, it was a pretty significant hurdle to leap over, and while I’m not as fit as I’d like and not getting as many runs in as I would like, it shows I can still run the long miles at the weekend. 

I’ve revised my marathon time back down, but that’s ok – my main target has always been just to finish it. I’ve come to peace with resting up in between long runs and am doing my best not to get frustrated when my body won’t do what I want it to do. I’ve gotten better at not forcing it and knowing when I shouldn’t run, when I should rest, when I should go on the bike.

As I write this I’m in a pair of air compression boots that have been loaned to me by dear friends, which have been a huge help. I’ve planned out my long run for Saturday, which will be the last long one before the Marathon, but before that I have the always wonderful Cheetah Run in Fota which I will use as a very, very slow training run. My legs should be ok for the long run on Saturday, They should be ok for the Marathon. Once they get me to the start line I’ll be happy. My will power can take care of the rest.

That and the thought of pints at the Runners Diary after party at Deep South.

Posted in CCM, CCM Leaders, Uncategorized.