“From now on, it’s only downhill and the flat path!” one of the organizer’s staff screamed in an attempt to cheer me up. The official poster on a stand showed the 33rd kilometre. The body craved for rest, but my mind felt marvellous. I felt I can keep the pace and achieve a better than expected milestone.
Istrian marathon is organized in April and is the first of the big running events in Slovenia, Europe. The specialty of the Istrian marathon is the track that goes along the Adriatic Sea. The runners can enjoy the sound of the nearby sea along the 21 kilometres; the rest goes via the hills with vineyards, olive trees and the Mediterranean flora. The small towns and the crowd along the track provide an unique atmosphere. It’s not an easy marathon for a first-timer as a runner must face 315 meters of elevation.
My partner and my daughter waited for me at 17th kilometre at the tourist resort where we stayed for the weekend. Only few hundred meters away they should wait for me at 29th kilometre (the track went from one town to another and back), but I was too pessimistic about my speed and came too quickly to the meeting point, so we missed. It was a pity; it’s always nice to have somebody cheering for you also after 21st kilometre when fatigue hijacks your body.
Shortly after the 33 kilometres came the tunnel. As it was colder inside, I wanted to speed up bit and run faster to achieve better result. I swung my arms, leaned slightly forward, but, you guessed it, body did not follow. It was the famous 30km+ hell. It wasn’t a typical running wall that I read about in the books and internet. My body was exhausted and some parts of it started to ache. First real pain came from the shoulders. I didn’t know why? It felt like my arms were loose and would fall off the shoulders. Like the muscles that kept arms to shoulders were stretched and could not quite do their work. It took few kilometres before the problem became minor. But only because another problem got bigger. My back started to hurt badly. My running technique is far from perfect, but I blame the blisters that appeared out of nowhere in the middle of my sole (never got one in my 16-week trainings programme). I started to feel the blister somewhere around the 22nd kilometre. I thought I got a small stone in the right shoe or that the sock wrinkled in some funny way. But a short stop did not reveal anything like that. I had lived with the pain surprisingly easy; nevertheless, it probably affected my running pose. Consequently, I (probably) stepped on my heels too much and little by little my back had to bore more than it could stand. Since the back “cracked”, I had felt every step I made. I had 6 more kilometres to the run.
I felt like stopping. I wanted to drop out. But my pride didn’t allow me.
I signed up for my first marathon in the beginning of December 2016 and since then my only focus in my free time was running. I rarely went out for a drink; all I was thinking about was how to pass the 42.195 kilometre mark. I read books, watched YouTube videos, read the blogs and other internet posts, and I was testing and following the marathon training programs, i.e. Polar’s and Marathon Austria’s. I sticked with the latter. You can imagine I started to talk about the marathon at work to my colleagues and to my friends. There was nothing else to talk about. If I didn’t mention the marathon in the conversation, they reminded me about it. It became a known thing. He is going to his first marathon, what an achievement in the making. Wow. People wished me well, they were proud, they had a few envious laughs, but overall, the feeling was good. And myself, I felt stressed, obligated to actually run it. There was no way back.
The 16-week training programme didn’t go perfectly well. I had lots of stress at work, there was a cold winter in Slovenia, and I needed to do few business trips. Somehow, I had managed to do close to what was prescribed, until one day, I got a bit sick. It should pass quickly, but I had to return to work after two days and instead of being out of training for a week, I was confined to warm places for three full weeks. I just could not do anything besides the 8-hour workday. I was devastated. So much effort, and in such bad conditions. Snow, rain, and freezing temperatures, you name it. All in vain? I already considered skipping the event, when I spoke to experienced runner. He advised me to test my readiness by running three half-marathons in three consecutive days. “The challenge accepted!” I said and actually ran all three! I felt nice, tired, but not too exhausted. After the third run, I just stretched, showered, and went out to the park with my daughter. “So, let’s do this!” I encouraged myself and decided that after all, I will take part!
But at 36 kilometres all the above did not mean much. The longest run I did was the 30 kilometres long run before the 3 week pause. It was an unknown territory. I questioned myself whether the pain is something a well trained and seasoned runner would persist or he/she would do the only wise thing and stop. I was confused, but that didn’t help much, I had to decide. I let my pride and unbelievable wish to finish lead me forward.
4 kilometres before the end a lady caught me and started a conversation. We exchanged few sentenced and ran together. It felt good to have somebody alongside. She complained about fatigue. I wanted to walk, but she was much older and she ran proudly. So, so did me. I admit if I was alone, I would walk a good portion of the last few kilometres. We slowed down to a walking pace only at the last two water stations. It was her first marathon also. I admired her even more, when she told me; she worked hard at her garden for several hours the day before the race. I was – according to the plan – relaxing by the pool.
Few hundred meters before the finish line I heard my name. I looked around and I saw my sister and her husband in the audience. Their kids were with them, waiting patiently for me. I asked him to take some pictures, what he did with a smile on his face. I turned to my running companion and asked her if we run together through the finish line. They organizers announced our names, when we ran hugged over the shoulders over the finish line.
The emotions were unbelievable. All the work paid off. The achieved milestone was so big, I will be proud of it the whole life.
A Marathon Finisher!