Long Live These Endorphins!

Just for the record, the endorphins are still surging from finishing the Mototapu Icebreaker Marathon last week! I can’t wipe the grin off my face, and to tell you the truth, this feels almost as good as seeing a book you’ve been writing for years finally published.

When it’s been a long time, and in my case 34 years since I did my last marathon distance, you can’t quite believe you’ve done it. My book, Marathon Woman, took almost that long, too, as I kept writing, and then would put it away. I just wasn’t ready to go that deep again in both cases. It hurts to plumb the depths, physically or emotionally.

But now I’m ready to go again, because in writing or running, empowerment from doing it builds confidence and takes away the fear of pain or failure.

I’ve known this all my life; I lecture on it, I write about it…but when it comes to yourself, it’s a new story.  I’ve learned a lot about myself from this difficult marathon, and it’s both hilarious and eye-opening.

I’d trained hard, had done at least 8 runs over 3 hours, 2 over 4 and one at 5 ½, wearing a backpack loaded with the emergency gear I needed to carry on the run and doing them all on rough, rocky and hilly tracks.  Still, I was nervous as hell; was it enough? The Motatapu is one of New Zealand’s toughest races; it’s not about time, it’s about doing it.   It turned out yes, I’d done enough, but no, I was still not prepared enough. Both the up hills and downhills were steeper and longer than any I’d done; I felt gypped that after having to walk some of the uphills that the downhills were so steep I could not really run them, but instead had to jog carefully down the loose shingle.

The river crossings nearly killed me.  I guess I couldn’t imagine that I’d get more than splashed; instead the rushing water and slick bottom stones nearly knocked me over and my shoes so filled with water and grit from the force of the streams that when I tried to lift my now very heavy feet, my hip flexors began to howl in protest.  There was one advantage to the streams though: the water was so bitingly cold it totally numbed your calves and feet. So when you ran on the sharp stones, you couldn’t feel them.

And the glutes!  Oh dear, I talk about having to sit on a tennis ball to break up the little anvil in my buttocks, but at half way, both of them just seized on me.  I had a Crisis of Confidence. Yup, my first one ever in a marathon.  I thought, ‘I can’t lift my legs!  I might not be able to finish this.’  My watch said 2 ½ hours, I kept telling myself to get a grip; I’d done 5 ½ hours in training. But not with an immobile backside.

For those of you who know me, you know I am skeptical of anything but the Hard Work School of Running Improvement. So you will now laugh your own butts off when I tell you that I was so nervous about this race that I’d pasted magnets on my butt, on my back, in my arches; I visualized myself happily sipping a latte at the finish; I carried extra energy gels and now I was looking heavenward and invoking all the old helpful spirits of my life. At one point, I said, “I’ll tell you what, God, if you just loosen these glutes a little, just a little, I think I can finish. How about it?”

And POW like a lightening bolt came the message, “You idiot, you put a fast-acting Advil in your pocket this morning, why don’t you take it?  And why don’t you take your energy gel?”   And so I did. I had no idea why I’d put an Advil in my pocket when I left my hotel room; I’d never done that before in hundreds of races, and I rarely used gels.  They both worked like a charm. I began to loosen up, began to stride again. Oh boy!

I even began to appreciate the scenery, which is why I wanted to do this race in the first place. On environmentally protected land, this remote, wild, high sheep country is both stunning and scary. The scale is beyond vast; there is no one there; it’s about both survival and appreciation.  I was one lucky and grateful woman to see it and run through it. But I still wanted it over.

The last 10k of this event is downhill. Gorgeous but not nice, it is rocky and treacherous, with a sheer cliff on the right hand side. The race instructions say, “If you go over this cliff you likely will die. So stay left.”  I was hugging the left canyon wall but did venture a peep over the side to see if it really was a cliff and nearly puked, so you get the picture. As I ran down this track I was seriously jamming my toes into the end of my shoes, but my feet were still frozen and I couldn’t feel it. I was sure I’d lose all my toenails the next morning, but since I couldn’t feel anything, I just thought, what the hell!

With a mile to go, thinking you were home at last, you go around a curve and find that the next half-mile is a slog through a river bed, with big stones to crack your ankles against. I looked heavenward again and asked, “Tell me, is this a test?”

Then out of the water and around another curve, we burst out of the woods and could see a mob of cheering people lining the finish chute on the village green in the tiny mountain village of Arrowtown.  I was happy to finish strongly, as Roger was there with a hot latte and a bacon sandwich and I found myself blinking back tears.

Postscript: The next day, I had absolutely no soreness.  I did not even bruise a toenail, nor have a blister. I’d heard that trail running left your legs in good shape, but this was an absolute revelation to me, as the road marathons used to just shred my feet and thighs.  Roger and I went for a 3-hour hike, much of it up a mountain slope and down again, and I felt fine.   Later in the day I discovered that my time of 5 hours 38 minutes was good enough to win my age group by 33 minutes….of course, there were only four women over-60!  But I was 164 of all 270 women; that pleased me a lot, even though I swear I’m not competitive.

Have fun, be fearless, be free.

Posted in In the News
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