Toeing the line with Commonwealth Games and Olympic champions; standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of Kenya’s top marathon runners. This was an experience I didn’t think would ever happen. Yet here I was in 2015, starting in the elite filed in the Gold Coast marathon. The wall of runners in front of me was dominated by some big names in distance running and I was standing in their shadow, about to set off on my own 42.2km journey. I thought back to 2013, running into the MCG at the finish of the Melbourne marathon, covering the distance in a new PB of 3:08. Throughout 2014, I continued on the path of PBs, the road of podium finishes and eventually, first place wins. The year finished on the same wining streak with a massive 12 minute PB marathon time of 2:56. Suddenly, I was up near to the pointy-end of the running tribe and I wasn’t quite sure what to do or how I managed to get there.
When I stated running marathons in 2010, it was enough to simply finish. I never saw it as a race against others; it was a run against the clock and myself. Nobody else mattered. The marathon was a bucket-list distance and something that I didn’t expect to continue to improve on. But as the years went by and I traded in the white runners for fluro racing flats and the cotton tights for lycra shorts, I continued to chip away at the time. My goals started to shift and somewhere along the line, the reason why I ran got lost amongst the fluro, the lycra and new expectations.
Enter 2015 and five years after I finished my very first marathon. Suddenly the smooth road of PBs had stopped and in its place was a mountain of struggle, personal pain and a nagging foot injury. Where a half marathon at sub 4min/km seemed almost effortless the previous year, my legs now felt like they were wading through a road of thick, sticky treacle. A half marathon PB of 82:40 in 2014 slowed into 86 minutes by April the following year. I entered into a vortex of meaningless races that I cared little about, obsessed with trying to chase a PB, to redeem myself of the disappointment and frustration born out of the result from the previous race.
Gold Coast Marathon (July 2015)
And so I decided that my big ‘A’ race of 2015 was to be the Gold Coast Marathon. After 12 weeks of consistent training, I felt confident of chasing down a PB. Going out at 4:05/km, I felt good and stepped up the pace at around the 15km mark. I think I lasted another few km before the pain train caught up with me – earlier than usual – and I unwillingly hopped on board. My time was 2:56:50 and I finished 11th female; a respectable time and place by most standards, yet not finishing in the top 10 and unable to obtain that PB time (short by just 51 seconds), I felt like I had failed. Finishing a marathon as the 11th female certainly wasn’t in my reality a couple of years before but now it felt as though it was no longer good enough. As my times got slower, the legs and heart became heavier and the clarity that running once brought turned into a cloud of uncertain expectations. Suddenly, the purity of running was lost. Instead of feeling alive, strong and free, I felt week with disappointment and trapped by frustration.
Melbourne Marathon (October 2015)
Yet still I pushed on and continued the battle to try to win a new PB. The Melbourne marathon was supposed to be the race to redeem myself of an ‘average’ year of ‘average’ races; to prove something (yet I have no idea what that something was supposed to be and who I was supposed to be proving it to). It was only during the final 4-week block of training that the passion and love of running started to come back. My mind became slightly more focused, the legs a little lighter and pace a little quicker. Although deep inside I knew I hadn’t prepared enough for a PB, I sill forced myself to chase an unachievable expectation and with that, I allowed self-doubt to dictate the race. Ignoring an on-going foot injury, I went out strong and dug deep, holding my own for about 32km before that pain train came to scoop me up. You know the feeling; the once springy legs become tight and dull and the quick, light steps become slow and heavy. Then self-doubt enters your mind and spreads through like poisonous venom sending you to a cold, dark and lonely place. Or something like that.
I felt my PB slipping away from me but somehow held on to finish in 2:58:52. I was shattered. It was almost 3 minutes slower than my PB, set on the same course last year. As the hot, salty tears started to roll down my face, I realised that despite my self-doubt I’ve had all year, I still managed to finish in under 3 hours. Twelve months ago, I would have been doing cartwheels about that, not standing there weeping like a baby.
It’s at that very moment – when the thin line that separates us from giving up or digging deep – we realise this is the reason we run. It’s not just the challenge to get a new PB or a higher placing. It’s about being able to dig deep and move forward when things get tough, despite the physical hurt and emotional torment. It’s about finding strength within yourself to get over the line.
As you develop as a runner your goals begin to change and certain expectations get put on you. For me, 2015 was a struggle to find balance; to continue to challenge my body and test it’s strength but learning to leave behind unrealistic expectations. Finishing off the year with a mountain race and a new adventure in the Kepler Challenge made me realise that as I enter into a new running year, I need to let self-doubt give way to the empowerment that running brings and to chase the adventure, not just the PB!