Facing your decisions.
if you missed the start of this 3 part blog series, you can start here.
At the 40 km to go mark I had been running with the nine-hour bus for about seven kilometers. I was tucked away in the middle of the group just behind the bus driver. I could tell Joseph was poised and very experienced. I had no idea if the others knew Joseph from before the race, but I can sense that everyone had committed and trusted that this bus, led by Joseph would get them to the finish line under nine hours, earning themselves the highly desired Bill Rowan medal. At this stage of the race, I can tell you that I wasn't feeling so hot and it was helpful to be running with a group. At the same time, this is where the mind starts to easily go elsewhere but the task at hand. It starts giving you reasons for slowing down, questioning your reasons for running an event of this magnitude and a slew of other things the mind likes to tell you when it's in discomfort.
When I notice the mind going through acrobatics, I bring my awareness back to my breath. I narrow my focus to the process at hand. One step, two steps, take in water, breathe, focus on the uphill in front of you, and anything else going on around you. This becomes my rehearsal.
This rehearsal is what was getting me through the later miles of this race. The fatigue starts to creep in, the body has been in motion for hours and the finish line is still far away. This is also where I can start to feel like I'm in no man's land. It's similar to standing in the middle of the desert with nothing in sight, except the vastness of it all. I have a decision to make. How will I proceed the rest of the way?
There's no negotiating here. I proceed the only way I know how by embracing whatever will come in front of me the next forty kilometers. I bring myself back to the process of running with the group. I zero in on every detail of taking water from the side of the course, keeping my distance from the feet in front of me as not to trip, handing my extra water to the person next to me that wasn't able to grab any, and we become a moving unit. There's a reason it's called Comrades Marathon, and there's no lack of comradery as we march on in our common pursuit.
The course is now starting to have more and more downhills. Don't be fooled, after hours of pounding the legs on the roads, going downhill requires focus, strategy, and patience. I shorten my stride as much as possible on the downhills in order to minimize the impact on my quads. My stomach is starting to settle now, I'm following the lead of the bus pacer, my energy is slowly rising, and I'm fully engaged with the process. As the kilometers tick bye, Joseph is steady in applying a walking strategy every so often on the uphills in order to conserve energy and slow down the heart rate. His experience is handy on many of the unfamiliar climbs and unexpected twists and turns. Every so often he would reassure us the finishing time to be just under nine hours at the current pace. With so much of the race still to run, I was impressed with the small margin for error in pacing that Joseph kept calculating, while never demonstrating doubt in guiding us to achieving our objective, this is called confidence in leadership.
We continued with the run-walk strategy for a while as the kilometers to the finish line started to approach twenty. I had taken in some of the originally planned nutrition by this point and I also started to incorporate small amounts of Coca-cola into my routine in order to settle the stomach. I typically don't use any of the nutrition supplied on the course, but in this case, it's important to stay flexible to modify the plan based on what will assist the body in getting the job done. I continued to use Coca-cola every other fueling station. The key to this was keeping a consistent intake of this fuel source, allowing the energy to stay high while keeping the volume of fuel taken in to stay low. It's exactly what my stomach was needing. I was feeling light again and my body started to respond with the urge to get my move on.
It's now twenty kilometers to the finish. The sun has gotten more intense and I'm exposed without any shade. I stay conscious about pouring water over my head every aid station that comes up. One of the aspects of completing these events that I love is solving the puzzle as I like to call it. One must consider all the pieces that go into completing this event as opposed to bulldozing through a shorter event without having to stay engaged in the longer process an endurance event demands.
I'm now starting to feel much better. I have more rhythm to my running and dare I say even some pop in my steps. I start to consider going ahead of the group on my own since I was feeling more and more confident that I could improve on my finishing time. When this happens, we are faced with risk. Once this decision is made, it comes with a risk of going too hard, the body shutting down and finishing even slower than I would have run with the bus. What do I do?
Despite feeling slowed down by remaining with the nine-hour bus, I decided to stay with what got me to this point. Of course, there were thoughts of doubt circling my mind, but once I made the decision I stuck with it. I want to point out, that it's inevitable in these events that we're going to be faced with these decisions at least once, often it's multiple times. As is in life decisions, what decision will we make? I can tell you that my decision was conservative.
Once I made my decision, I was confident in proceeding to the finish with strength and pride in what I'm achieving. The bus continued with its run-walk strategy and encouragement for one another. I was now even more committed to staying with the group and being a part of it in every sense. As we were getting closer to the city outskirts of Durban, we had a few more uphills of smaller nature to tackle. Joseph was still shouting out pace times and reassurance that we were on pace to meet our goal. I also could tell he was tiring and his body was covered in sweat. I still believed in this man and his guidance to know what it will take to get us there.
Something that I was realizing in the closing moments of this event was my preparation and goal. You see, I estimated that my body was in shape to complete the event in eight hours, but my approach during the event was loose. It wasn't detailed. I didn't break down the exact paces needed to be run to achieve that goal. However, it wasn't my goal for entering the event, so it was ill-advised for me to make that goal up in the middle of the event. I was aware of all these facts, and it's important for us to be real with our selves in these situations. In this example, I can tell you that had my goal been to run eight hours, it would have required approaching the race from kilometer one with that goal in mind, knowing exactly where I need to be at checkpoints, practicing that exact pace in training, training with kilometers in my mind rather than miles, and many other factors. In other words, it would require me to be very, very specific in all aspects surrounding that goal. Reality is, I didn't have that goal as my target, and that's just fine. Should I desire that goal in the future, that's what it will take.
Now back to the closing kilometers of the race. Joseph had guided us like the champion that he is, he cared for our wishes over his own, and lead like a solid leader that he is. I was feeling better and better each closing kilometer. Joseph, having sensed that he would slow the group down, released the group to go on their own at five kilometers from the finish line. Once again, Joseph demonstrated his selflessness.
We scattered all over the road on our own, like cattle released from the gates. My legs were full of running, I could feel my heart beating faster and faster. I could see the stadium hosting the finish line in the distance. The street opens to a wide boulevard with plenty of space to run. There are people lining the streets cheering me on. My pace is quickening each stride, I'm filled with excitement and euphoria of having covered the last eighty-seven kilometers. I'm running closer and closer to the stadium in front of me and I hardly feel I'm running. I'm in some other reality that is only inside me and there are subtle cues such as the walkway over my head with a banner with the race slogan, No Turning Back that pulls me back to the consciousness of what's around me.
What's around me is people of all races, colors, and shapes lining the final few turns on the boulevard about to turn left entering the stadium. As I'm running around the left bend in the road, I look up at the bright blue sky. At that moment I have a wave of calm and surrender cover my entire body. My eyes tear up, I'm overcome with the emotion of people I never met in my life cheering for me. For a moment I forget about the finishing time and my focus shifts to the dip in the road going under the stadium. I feel like those athletes at the Olympic Marathon finishing at the Olympic Stadium. I imagine this is what it must feel like when I watch the Olympics on television.
I'm in the darkness of the tunnel under the stadium running toward the light in front of me. It's a right turn into the stadium. I'm greeted with a deafening roar of the crowd. I'm so excited my legs are turning over so fast I feel as if I'm about to trip over myself. I'm overcome with tingling and goosebumps all over my body. I'm not even concerned about the finish time, because I know it's in my grasp. I'm running around the last bend of the ninety-kilometer course and waving to the crowd. I'm so engulfed by their energy that I'm blowing them kisses as I come to the last short straightaway with the finish line in front of me.
At that moment, I don't want the moment to end. I slow down to a walk to absorb as much of this energy as I can contain. People are running past me to get to the finish under nine hours. Me? I'm in no rush, I have all the time in the world to cherish every last step of this special moment. I turn around with my back toward the finish to face the crowd one last time. Thank you, Durban. Thank you, South Africa. Thank you, Comrades Marathon.
I'm home, 8:57:24. This is Comrades Marathon 2018.
This is part 3 of a 3 part blog series featuring my experience of running the 2018 Comrades Marathon. Thank you for following along.
What do I do now?
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