How to lose a Marathon

How to lose a marathon

This is not a post about running. It is a post about pain. It took me 6 hours 32 minutes and 59 seconds to complete this year’s London Marathon. There will be no smiling triumphant photos. I actually only ran a few miles. The rest was mostly hobbling and, quite innovatively I thought, a kind of skip-dancing which involved dragging my incredibly painful left leg along, which had not fully recovered from an injury. It was crazy, stupid even, but it was another of life’s lesson: I must learn not to push to win, but to learn to lose.

Pain forces you to focus. Knowing that your pain is going to continue for the foreseeable future forced my mind into a strange state of calm. It felt like I was accepting that I was slowly dying. There is a kind of peace in death.

It may interest you to know that I only began running a couple of years ago, because I unexpectedly lost my job, my husband and my home in a very short space of time. Being left with nothing, I was immediately panicked and terrified. I ran away. Perhaps I hoped that when I returned from one of my many long runs, my old life would be there waiting for me, so that I could triumphantly run back into its warm arms. It never was.

Around Kilometre 10 of the 42km Marathon distance, I struggled to accept that I was NOT going to run at a fast pace with an amazing finish time. Cue excessive crying and loud panicked profanities. A father whose small daughter had been holding out her palm to “HI FIVE” me pulled her in closer as if to say, “This is not one of the fun runners darling.” I didn’t give a ****. I swore louder. I was not going to “win”. I could not accept that I had “lost”.

Marathon painThis very much mirrors the psychological struggle I have been silently going through in the last few years. Physically, I have been moving, but emotionally, I have clung desperately to parts of my past like a desperate drowning cat. My running has saved me, I think. The more I ran in the early days, the freer I felt. You must try it. With the right tune, or the right wind, or the right sunlight on your face, you feel lighter in spirit as your burdens drop away. It is liberating. It is like being a frightened child who has finally opened their eyes after a loud bang. It appeared that when the world ended, it didn’t. I found myself running into unusual neighbourhoods, at strange times of day, into foreign woods and parks and fields. I felt like a newborn gulping fresh air for the first time. I felt invigorated, exhilarated. I wanted and needed to push the limits of my new found freedoms in ways I could not predict.

For me, new-found freedom meant travelling. For me, it involved a hike up a Bulgarian mountain, a jump from a Jamaican cliff, a boat trip sailing down the Amazonian river and a night in a hammock in the Brazilian rainforest. Every time I travelled, every time I packed up my suitcase and left, it was like a glorious little death. Perspective, in time or distance, is a wonderful strengthener, is it not? Perspective gives you deep strength because it gives you deep trust. Wherever you go, you’re ok. Whatever you do, you’re ok. Whatever happens, you’re ok. It is impossible not to find a new kind of trust in God, or the universe, or yourself.

200 metres to goMy point is this. Marathons are like life aren’t they? When you hit rock bottom, and look around, the rocks are not so jagged and horribly dangerous. They are just rocks. When you are far away looking back, you realise that despite everything, you are still very much alive, you are still here, you are still running, for whatever reason that might be. And it doesn’t even matter if no-one’s at the finish line. You are.

I ran for The Lavender Trust, the UK’s only fund to support younger women with breast cancer. I have still not reached my sponsorship target… please help. www.justgiving.com/marathonmarven

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3 responses to “How to lose a Marathon

  1. I loved this. Deffo agree learning to lose is a useful skill; it kind of takes the pressure out of life when you know you’ll survive if you hit rock bottom. Congrats on making it to the finish line!

  2. but you completed and pushed through when the going got tough. that mental toughness will serve you well in the future. well done.

  3. Nicola, lovely writing. But there was nothing to lose! Did you know the original marathon runner reportedly collapsed and died after racing 25 miles flat out from Marathon to Athens with news of a Greek military victory over the Persians? Marathons have never been about speed. They are about endurance, just like life.

    Here’s a short film. It’s about how, when it mattered the most, we were all first.

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