If you’ve read Fat, Slow & Determined or any of my other articles, you will know by now that I’ve blagged my way through some absurd physical challenges far beyond the scope of my natural ability. Despite being severely undertrained, painfully clumsy and generally incompetent, I somehow seem to (quite literally) scrape my way through.
I signed up to my first half marathon based solely on the notion that running a lot would allow me to eat more. A fairly idiotic reason to run a half marathon but what more could you expect from a fairly idiotic human? After some (but not a lot of) training, I turned up slightly hungover and ready (ish) to go. By half way through the “race” I’d lost both my friends (because I was too slow) and had been lapped by several Kenyans and countless elite runners. My hangover was finally about to win when I bumped into an old colleague. I took one look at her and realised she was exactly where I was - Struggsville, Tennessee. We ran (walked and jogged) the rest of the race together in mutual agony.
Despite my disappointing (and yet not at all surprising) performance I was, from that moment on, hooked on marathons. I decided there and then that I would run a full marathon one day. And not just any old marathon… I would run the New York City Marathon. For the next seven years I applied several times to no avail. I ran (walked and jogged) four more half marathons and two full ones before I finally got in to the big one.
So far in my life, despite having the coordination and grace of an octopus with a head injury, I had managed to survive all of my misguided adventures without any serious ailments. But of course, three months after securing my place in the race of a lifetime I sprained my ankle on a hiking trip in Tasmania.
I know what you’re thinking… it sounds exotic and interesting. It wasn’t. It was the most mundane injury imaginable. Sustained whilst ranting about the Welsh rugby team losing to England in the Six Nations tournament (which in Wales is the equivalent of John Lennon, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana all kicking the bucket in one day), it was the slowest and most unimpressive fall of all time. I essentially just rolled on my ankle and sat down in slow motion. Nevertheless, as a result, my foot was absolutely buggered.
Now most people would stop at this point and think: “you have the biggest race of your life in seven months, you need to rest this foot and make a full and speedy recovery”… but not me. I decided to keep hiking through the pain over the next couple of days. And subsequently, over the next few weeks I also went canyoning and river tubing in Scotland (as you do). I reasoned that I could continue through the pain so why not?
This (quelle surprise) was my first New York Marathon mistake. Despite being able to just about complete the activities at the time, it ultimately meant that my ankle took months to recover rather than a few weeks. With the marathon in early November, I wasn’t able to run on my ankle at all until August. So for those of you wondering if three months is enough time to adequately train for a marathon… it isn’t. It isn’t really enough time to train properly when you’re in reasonable shape, let alone if you’re out of practice, overweight from drinking too much and haven’t run at all for the last four months. But I’d never let logic and reasonable thinking deter me before so why start now? This was my second New York Marathon mistake.
So there I was, painfully out of shape with only 3 months to train for the mother of all marathons. I decided to quit drinking as, from my 28 years of existence (and 16 years of drinking experience), I knew that alcohol (and the subsequent hangovers) was probably my biggest deterrent when it came to training. I knuckled down and tried to cram as much training in as possible over those three months.
My third mistake came as a result of sheer frustration. I set off on a long run after work one night and found myself utterly exhausted after just one pitiful mile. I waddled home angry, distraught and terrified that this marathon was too much for me. But along with clumsiness and grave stupidity, stubbornness and mental resilience (despite logic and reason) are two of my best (and worst) qualities. I don’t back down from a fight and once I’ve said I’m going to do something I’m damn well going to do it. So I set my alarm for 2am, got up, ate some peanut butter on toast and went off to attempt my long run again.
To my surprise and delight, I completed the distance. I looked like an absolute lunatic running past the drunk backpackers of Bondi in my lycra at 3am (and I got some very funny looks from taxi and delivery drivers doing the rounds at 4am and 5am) but I did it. I got home, jumped in the shower and set off for work.
That’s right. I not only decided to run a little midnight marathon on my own… but I also decided to do so on a school night. What an absolute nutter. By 2pm, I may as well have been drunk. I was slurring my words and making no sense whatsoever. I was utterly exhausted… y’know… because I’d just run 15 miles, on 4 hours sleep, and then gone straight to work for 9 hours. Again, what an absolute nutter.
The worst part is that I repeated this particular mistake four more times. I decided that it seemed to be working for me (as I was completing the distances) so I might as well continue. I also managed to convince myself that it would ultimately help on the day as I would be used to running at weird times so jet lag wouldn’t be an issue. As I type these words they sound even more idiotic than before. But that, unfortunately, is how I “trained” for the New York City Marathon.
My fourth mistake was booking flights from Sydney to New York via Dubai in order to gain some Emirates frequent flyer points. At the time I thought: “it’s just a few extra hours, it can’t make any difference”. Wrong. I arrived in New York after about 30 hours in the air (following a full day in the office and some stop-overs along the way) absolutely and completely broken. I wanted to curl into a ball and die. I didn’t have the energy to have a shower let alone run 26 miles in 3 days’ time.
My next two mistakes were probably a little beyond my control at this point but I still count them as mistakes, mostly because I believe they were a result of my actions (mistakes) leading up to this point.
Number five was not sleeping at all two nights before the marathon. Because of my jet lag (after flying across the world the long and wrong way around), I was wide awake ALL NIGHT. I watched about 12 episodes of American Ninja Warrior (as one does) before deciding to just get up at 4am (why not, I was used to it) and run three miles on the hotel treadmill. I figured that way I could at least sleep in later rather than go for a scenic run around Central Park as I’d planned.
Number 6 was catching man flu the day before the race. After 15+ miles of running, you barely have enough energy to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Wiping away sweat-covered snot every few seconds isn’t a welcomed addition to your to-do list at this point. But who said marathons were supposed to be easy, eh?
Number 7 is my favourite of all my New York Marathon mistakes. On the day of the race, we had to get up at 4am which, ironically, is probably the only part of the experience I was actually trained for. Nevertheless I was all over the shop and was half asleep trying to get myself together to go and catch the bus to the start line. I walked around my room like the walking dead, smushing peanut butter into bits of bread because I had no toaster and no knife to spread it. I then went to brush my teeth. In my zombie-like state, it took me a few seconds more than I’m proud of to realise that something tasted a bit off about my toothpaste. It’s understandable really, because it wasn’t toothpaste at all… it was Deep Heat. I spat it out as quickly as I could but by that point I was sure I’d accidentally swallowed some. I left my hotel room minutes later with a new level of terror (and Deep Heat) in me. Marathons are always a bit of a gamble as far as your bowels are concerned (as famously demonstrated by Paula Radcliffe one fateful day). I had so far managed to steer clear of the infamous runners’ trots but surely ingesting deep heat hours before the race was a direct train to Diarrhoea-Town? And with this thought thrashing around in my head like a cocaine-fuelled shark in a fishing net, I had completed my final preparations for the New York City Marathon.
So, ladies and gentlemen, if you are planning to run the New York Marathon in the foreseeable future, take this article as a definitive list of what not to do. The race itself was both awesome and horrendous. I managed a good eleven miles before I had to start walking and jogging the rest of the way which, all things considered, is quite impressive (for me at least). The atmosphere is electric and the race route is a tour of all five boroughs of New York. It’s actually surprisingly hilly which (surprise, surprise) I was not prepared for but finally finishing in Central Park is an absolutely amazing feeling. This however is where I realised my eighth New York Marathon mistake.
I had opted to have my bag waiting for me at the finish line rather than go for the ‘post race poncho’ as recommended. This meant that after finally finishing my 26 mile ordeal, I had to walk another mile or so to retrieve my bag rather than just go straight to the hotel. This might not have been so bad if I’d run the whole race. Walking it off might have been a welcomed change in that case… but considering that I’d had to walk a hefty amount because of mistakes 1-7, I was now left moving like John Wayne and wasn’t too keen on covering any more ground! It was getting dark and I had added a mile to my race, plus another mile to get back to where the finish line was… plus another two miles back to my hotel.
As I waddled down some numbered avenue wearing my finishers medal, high-fiving strangers and dreaming of the pizza I would devour upon arrival, I decided that I would come back next year (minus the ankle injury, the midnight training routine and the deep-heat disaster) and absolutely smash it. Now, with race day creeping up on me like a slow-burning fart, I’m starting to realise this was probably my ninth and final mistake.
With only nine weeks to go until my second New York City Marathon, I’m booking my flights to include a four-day stop-over in San Francisco and I currently have no plans to see Deep Heat anywhere near my suitcase. I also haven’t trained in the middle of the night. In fact, my only mistake so far is that I haven’t actually trained much at all…
To be continued.