“Nobody runs a marathon without having something to prove to themselves.” I read this quote in one of the many, many running guides I pored over while training for the marathon. The more I think about it, the more it seems to hold true.
A marathon is a gruelling task that requires an incredible amount of physical and mental tenacity from its participants. No one runs a marathon “for fun”. If someone tells you that, they’re either lying or certifiably insane. Then again, you have to be a little crazy to want to run 42.195km.
When my editor asked me if I wanted to do exactly that in Sydney, I said yes right away. The “why” is a little complicated, but part of it has to do with wanting to overcome something impossibly difficult. I was then told it would be in three months, which made me hesitate for a second, but I decided to stick to my answer because how bad could it be, right?
Before beginning my training for the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival, I was only averaging about five to seven kilometres a week because I was just getting back into the swing of exercising.
The plan was to run at least four times a week: three runs of a shorter distance and at a faster pace, and a long one at a comfortable pace, increasing distances as I progress from week to week, which would give me a longest run of 32km.
I woke up at 4am on Saturday mornings to grab a quick bite, use the facilities, and head out for my long runs by 5am. Everyone I told thought I was a madman for getting up so early, but I wanted to be done with training before the heat got brutal so it made perfect sense to me. I’m not saying it wasn’t tough, but I’d rather wake up earlier than flirt with heat exhaustion.
My first six weeks of training went by pretty well. I was cruising through my runs and felt great. But then, things became unimaginably harder.
When I attempted my first 25km, it was murderous. By the half-marathon mark, my legs felt like someone had taken a bat to them, and my hip flexor was so tight that my left leg kept buckling. As I laid on the ground during my cooldown, I began questioning why I was doing this in the first place.
This became a regular thing after each run. The runs never got easier and at one point, I contemplated folding. On one particular run, about two hours in, I was running alongside a body of water near Punggol Waterway Park, thinking about the events that occured in the past year when my thoughts landed on my dad.
He had suffered a heart attack a year ago, and because of that, his lifestyle had to drastically change. He loved playing golf and being out of doors, but these days he has to avoid exerting himself. It got me emotional and made me think about how important it is to live your life, and to accomplish the things you want to when you can.
The question that rang in my head for the rest of my training runs was “If not now, when?” This ended up becoming the other part of why I wanted to run the marathon.
I arrived in Sydney, feeling extremely jittery. Even though I had newfound drive, the furthest training run I managed was only 28km. I’d have to do that and another 14km in a couple of days, and I wasn’t entirely certain I was up to it. Hordes of other runners were arriving at the airport too, clad in their team jerseys, looking like they could run this thing blindfolded.
I didn’t get much sleep the night before the race. I got up, slapped some peanut butter on a slice of bread, and made my way to the event with my fiancée. I was glad she was with me.
It was 9°C that blustery morning, so all my fellow runners were huddled close. A local radio DJ was standing on the back of a truck with a loudhailer, trying his best to increase morale at the start line, and to his credit, he did a pretty good job. Soon the air horn sounded and we were on our way.
The cold made it difficult to breathe for the first 10km, but it was the views that truly took my breath away. Running across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the city’s CBD was a fantastic experience.
My favourite part of all were the supporters. I was humbled at the sheer volume of people who chose to spend their Sunday morning cheering mad people who decided to pay a handsome fee to run a ridiculous distance. The best motivational sign held up that day had to be:
“If Trump can run, so can you!”
One by one, the familiar pains started to set in along the way, but I was hellbent on finishing. A pacer caught with me at one point and said, “Don’t you stop, C6846”. Through the pain, I managed a chuckle at the thought of being referred to by my tag number, like an inmate. I ended up sticking with that pacer to the end of the race.
As I turned the corner towards the final stretch leading to the Sydney Opera House, both my legs were giving up on me and I almost fell multiple times. I must have looked like a drunk. I caught a glimpse of my fiancée among the crowd at the end and it was emotional. As I crossed the finish line, the woman right behind me burst into tears and I couldn’t blame her. I was close to tears too.
Three months ago when I set out on this Herculean task, I wanted to prove to myself that I was up to it. Along the way, I discovered a more meaningful drive. I’m an emotional guy, so I don’t expect your marathon experience to be like mine, but if you’re on the fence about whether or not to do one, I say go for it. It’s one heck of a great way to learn about yourself.