Something strange happens when you book your first marathon. You discover that, despite forty plus years of evidence to the contrary, you are in fact a closet nerd.
I'm sure there are people who train for and run marathons perfectly happily without assigning too much attention to them, beyond the necessary hiking up the milage over a few months on the way and the taking seriously respect that is their due. I don't seem to be able to do this, probably because I'm a planner. I like lists and schedules. I like the comfort and reassurance of seeing my training plans carefully worked out well in advance and based on a solid amount of research and reading. I like to have time to think about things, to consider and to be prepared.
I like looking at the pieces of paper that contain my training schedules: neatly filled in boxes with dates and miles and types of runs and a space left for a tick beside each entry or (God help me) a cross. Because if there's one thing training for half marathons has taught me this year it's that things will go wrong. If you factor that in, and set aside a few weeks for injury/ illness/ life/ recovery, then it won't undo you. Planning, you see?
That's all OK. That's Good. What I wasn't expecting was the way marathon running would consume me. The stationery-lovers among you will nod when I say that I have a new notebook just for it.
This contains notes on nutritional information: what runners need to eat, why this is so and where you can find it outside of a bottle or packet; the optimum time to refuel and the balance of proteins and carbs it takes in two special post-run windows to restock glycogen from the used-up liver and muscle stores (one at 30 mins and the second at 1-3 hours, around 100 kcals each, in case you were wondering); a section on electrolytes, what they are and why you need them, and when you should take them, and at the back, a page per run on each of my training runs. Eventually there will be a full training plan and notes on things I've tried that either worked or didn't, and doubtless a section on kit, helpful and otherwise.
The unexpected nerd in me is loving all of this. Even M, seasoned marathon runner of well over twenty years, has perked his ears up at the refuelling sections. He's a man who happily glugs down a few glasses of wine the night before a marathon and eats whatever's to hand and runs in ancient shorts and a crapy old t-shirt he's done the decorating in, getting round on a few gels and a back-pack of water and coming in somewhere near the top in super-fast time, and I respect that, I'm in awe of it, because he's tough as nails in a quiet, non-fussy, unassuming way and I like the fact he just gets on with it with no fuss and does so well. But even he is interested in the 3:1 carb and protein ratio; even he didn't turn his nose up at the raw coconut water I'm drinking right now to help put back the potassium I lost on this morning's rather painful nine miler through nettles and brambles and humid drizzle and knee pain that had me walking larger sections and hobbling about gasping back at home (physio tomorrow. And before anyone tells me running is bad for your knees may I refer you to the above husband's record?).
Marathon running is focusing my mind, it is honing my respect, it has gathered me in and it is holding me to attention. It is supporting me and encouraging me; it is egging me on, telling me I can do more than I ever thought I could. It is making me fight, not give up, not give in. It has shone a light on my diet, my sleep, my weekly routines, my approaches to things, my health, my fitness, my strengths and weaknesses. It is testing what exactly it is about running I love (endurance over speed, it turns out), whether my mind is strong enough to cope with the endurance feat running 26.2 miles represents and whether my body will cope with it without cramping, or getting tired out, or hyperventilating or hallucinating, or blistering. It is teaching me that, if I prepare soundly and well and sensibly for it, then I have every reasonable right to expect it to.
I am consuming every running book I can get my hands on, comparing and contrasting the approaches in each. I grin when I read about how hard one very fast road runner found the switch to trail racing, rather smugly feeling that that is my natural territory and the one my running has grown up in; I nod in understanding when I read about how one runner knocked over an hour off his marathon times over the course of several road marathons and then crashed spectacularly in one where he focused too tightly on time alone; I smile when I read about how a woman who took up marathon running almost by accident never thought she could do it then got hooked and turned into an endurance athlete. I cringe when I read about how the starting pens at one city marathon were awash with pee and so tightly packed that runners were being lifted off their feet, and I gasp with respect at descriptions of fell running across breath-taking landscapes.
These are all inspiring, encouraging tales, because they are about ordinary people who just decided to try. Even or perhaps especially, the ones of woe where races went pear shaped and people had rotten times. Because in every single instance they came back. They ran another and proved to themselves they could do it. The time for many of them was irrelevant - what mattered was finishing. Marathon running is a celebration of the human spirit more than it is anything else.
No matter how easy some folk make running a marathon look (and my own husband is one of them), they are not easy. They take over your life; they change you; they sweep you up and carry you with them until you can think about very little else. They become your focus and the centre about which you revolve. My days off running are the days when I look forward eagerly to going out again. My days of running are the days I smile most and go to bed at night with the biggest sense of achievement and personal satisfaction: simply put, tired but happy.
And yet despite this you have to find a way to stay grounded, to not allow them to take over completely.
It's a steep learning curve and one that I won't experience in the same way ever again, and I'm a little sad about that because if I chose to run another marathon after Edinburgh it will never be the first one again, and so I'm embracing my inner closet nerd and giving her full permission to immerse herself in reading and research and drawing up and refining plans, thoroughly enjoying the uniqueness of the experience.
Hope you're all well? Ted had huge fun but limited success repeatedly chasing the thunder out of the garden last night and M returned from shopping this afternoon with a new basketball for Poppy. It is almost bigger than she is. She is pleased and keeps wagging her tail whenever she looks at it.