A Marathon of a Journey
Updated: Sep 6, 2022
My marathon and I
Training and preparing for my first marathon was physically and mentally the toughest challenge that I have done, but the feeling after completing it was like no other. As I crossed that finish line in October, the feeling that ran through me was immense.
My legs seemed to have become disconnected from my conscious thought and my eyes welled up with emotion.
My beautiful wife gave me hug and slowly some semblance of normality returned. The realisation set in that my legs were absolutely shot. I’d given everything, not just that day but for the last 18 weeks, and this was the culmination. An intrinsic challenge and triumph, that on reflection I am extremely proud of. A small fragment of euphoria that will long live with me.
However, the obsession has set in and I think I can genuinely say that I am firmly entrenched into the world of gloopy gels, head torches and fluorescent shorts and tee shirts. I have ‘my trainers’, the Strava app which allows me to interact with other like-minded souls and the tetchy irritability that comes when a run is missed. I’ve traded in the football changing room, the deep heat, the 15 post-match beers and a very Anglo Saxon dialect, for a very different kind of passion (due mainly to being slow and old and no longer able to do the game, or myself, justice).
Setting goals and overcoming hurdles
Last year I set out to do a hundred runs of 6 miles or more. I accomplished this by October and had spent the year just getting out there and blasting away. Every run I would be trying to go all out, trying to beat my times ( and beating myself up if I didn’t ), intermittently running longer and further than I had ever done in my life. As a physio and previous gym instructor, as well playing and training for football ever since I can remember, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll give a marathon a shot’ ( I’d entered the London ballot but failed in that attempt).
I thumbed through the various races and saw that Milton Keynes had a marathon in May of 2016. I registered and paid, and buoyed by this, set out to nail a hardcore bit of training. Having run for three quarters of the year and remained injury free ( more by luck I would say in hindsight) I thumbed through a few marathon schedules and decided to have a go at a few of the sessions that were outlined. This included some intervals, some long endurance runs and some lactate threshold sessions. Needless to say, a couple of weeks into ‘playing about with it’….then ping…I pulled my thigh muscle.
Christmas came, I applied all my physio knowledge to heal thyself, whilst all the time rankling with my new found ‘inner runner’ self, desperate to get back, desperate to hit the start of the marathon training plan so I’d be ready for May and like so many of us I just went back too early. Before I knew it my calf had gone…it was like the world had ended in that split second, which of course it hadn’t. My marathon dream was over.
Back to the drawing board
Back to the gym, take a step back, rationally analysing my running year via the brilliant Strava app. With my physio head-on, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that going hell for leather 3 or 4 times a week was not the most sensible way to train and remain injury-free…an embarrassing admission from an experienced physio who has spent years preaching the importance of ‘progressive overload’ as a means of injury prevention as well as rehabilitation.
It became evident that running a marathon in May would be unwise as I started some more specific running focused rehabilitation and sensibly donned the trainers once more, working out my baselines and then managing to build up to running 6 miles pain-free. Once again I got the list up of marathons for the year and saw that there was one in Abingdon in October 2016. There it was, this would be my goal and driver, and the focus of my running attention. I had 3 months to work on my strength and conditioning, put into practice all the myofascial stretching and mobilising that I had been giving out regularly to my patients, as well as doing my own progressive calf complex strengthening programme in between my 2-3 runs per week.
And we go again
I attended a brilliant course for both personal and professional interest run by a chap I actually did my physio training with some 14 years ago. It was entitled ‘Running Repairs…Getting Runners back on track’. I came away feeling energised and enthused having analysed my running gait in a bit more depth as well learning new and different ideas more specific to the running population, although many of the principles are applicable over most sports.
I have no shame in plugging Tom’s associated website too which is laden with a plethora of information, both anecdotal and with great links to a lot of up to date research. His website is running-physio.com and he is well worth a follow on Twitter too @TomGoom.
I now felt good and ready to embark on the 18-week plan culminating in my first marathon. My start date, the 20th of June 2016! One thing that I had naively underestimated, was the fact that the birth of my beautiful son that August, would correlate nicely with the increase in the training demands required!!
Being a little obsessive by nature I made it my mission not to miss one session and thankfully managed to stick to that and remain injury-free, despite a little sleep deprivation!! It is fair to say that I became fully immersed into the world of the all consumed runner, ever switched on to what sessions were when ever mentally planning how to fit them in around social events as well as feeding and nappy changes!
The key point I took from the structure of the sessions was to allow enough rest between the tougher ones whether that be intervals or longer endurance ones or running at lactate threshold pace. Although many experienced runners will be well versed in this, it is key for those of us just starting out on our running journeys. For me, running slowly and well within myself was alien at first as I had always been a competitive soul brought up on the blood and sweat ethos of training and challenging myself to always do better.
The final week
I made it to the final week pre-race with just a couple of recovery runs to do prior to the big day. Always in the recesses of my mind on those last couple of runs was the nagging fear that injury would kick in at the last knockings. The power of the mind is so incredible that all of a sudden things started to feel as though they were twinging, my tightening calves and thighs were subconsciously returning to haunt me. However, I made it, all good to go, and knowing that I had left no stone unturned in my training preparation.
I spent the last week trying to load up on my carbs. The night before the race the kit was out, the number 757 pinned neatly to the front of my royal blue tee shirt and my fuel belt looked as though I was just about to head out serve queen and country!! Fuel gels and energy gel blocks would see me through. I paced around the living room, constantly tidied the kitchen and generally just annoyed the hell out of my wife!!
The big day
Up at 5 to feed my boy,
Nervous excitement for this marathon joy,
Four hours time I’ll be on the line,
Porridge and honey, I’m feeling just fine.
Trip to the bathroom, it’s in the plan,
Soon I’ll be part of the marathon clan,
Dosing up on the H2O,
Another trip to the bathroom, it’s time to go.
Like I was shot from behind as I sat in the car,
I’d forgotten to bring out my cereal bar,
It’s a vital part with an hour to go,
The pivotal difference between fast or slow.
We need to pull over or there’s no point in going,
As well as no fuel my bladder’s soon overflowing,
Relief like no other my head starts to clear,
And I purchase a cereal bar to quash all the fear.
We rock up at the venue and there are cars galore,
Some comfort to know there’s more than one running bore,
In my mind, they all look as fit as Mo Farah,
Once again I’m away to empty my bladder.
The time’s ticking on, another trip to the loo,
I’m ready to go, clad in Everton blue,
We head to the track where we’re all going to start,
I’m still not convinced that I’m feeling the part.
A little stretch here and a little stretch there,
I’m penned in with the others, we’re in the marathon lair,
A check of the watch and we’re ready to go,
The gun’s gone off, I already feel slow.
The adrenaline rush is now kicking in,
To go off too quick is the cardinal sin,
But I’m feeling so good and incredibly quick,
Got to rein it in now or else I’ll be sick.
3 miles in and a smile on my face,
I’m in it, I’m running a marathon race,
But hold on a sec, I need just one more wee,
It’s not in the plan as I find the first tree!!
Back in my stride and a gloopy gel down,
Still a smile on my face, no need to frown,
At 5 miles in I wave to my wife,
She’s totally lived through this marathon life.
Feeling euphoric I just didn’t slow,
Now 18 miles in and only 8 to go,
Obsessively in tune with my minutes per mile,
This wasn’t so tough I thought with a smile.
Then onto 20 and the psychological war,
I’d not been beyond here ever before,
With a minute or two well and truly in hand,
Surely I’d smash the target time I had planned.
But then it kicked in as I hit 24,
Someone had closed the psychological door,
Running on empty I grimaced at a lady,
As she thrust in my hand a green jelly baby.
On the final run-in, I caught sight of my boy,
A timely big boost as I welled up with joy,
A lap of the track and then I’d be done,
What a journey I’d been on in this marathon run.
On crossing the line and awash with emotion,
A medal, a mars and just a general commotion,
The feeling inside will live long in my mind,
Now to start thinking of the next race to find.
By Salil Das
Reflect and learn
Now that the dust has settled and I can well and truly reflect on the marathon ‘process’ I feel very lucky to be in a job where I can impart some knowledge and tips to those runners coming in with various injuries.
As previously mentioned, training overload is the most common reason for running injuries and allied to looking at someone run and identifying any little areas that may need tweaking, there is a lot we can do as runners to prevent injury and more importantly recurrence. As my running interest has gained momentum it has also been great to pick up tips from various patients far more experienced in long-distance running than myself.
I am amazed how many people are affiliated with the local running clubs, notably Finch Coasters and Bracknell Forest runners and indeed how many people are just getting out there and running. I firmly believe that we all have the ability to run and through some education and understanding can help to dispel some of the myths that surround this most natural of activities.