Sunday, October 11, 2015

For The Journey: 3 Things I Wish I'd Known For After A Marathon

I wrote this post, Recovery: Life After A Marathon after I completed the Race For Life Marathon. I wanted to clear up a the misconception that everyone who runs a marathon belongs in a CollegeHumor video because their hobby is so hardcore.

In the following days I learned a lot more about the 'post marathon experience' and whilst there are a lot of posts (Pinterest, I'm looking at you) extolling the virtues of marathon running whilst telling you the 26 essential things every first time marathon runner should know, there don't seem to be many people who are willing to talk about what happens when you're not one of the people who immediately starts looking for the next marathon or wants to show their medal to anyone who stands within a 10ft radius. Everything I did read seemed to indicate that although tired, and probably a bit stiff, I'd feel proud, hungry and possibly be considering my next big goal or challenge.

It's one week since I made my way through 26.2 miles of the challenge of my life, and here's how the aftermath panned out for me.

Sunday 4th October: I crossed the line sobbing. I cried for all the people who couldn't be there to see it because cancer keeps taking them for its own, for the pain in both my hips and for the disbelief that it was finally, finally over.

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After T told me to try and look happy because he wanted to send the picture to my mum to show I was alive and well

I got home, and I managed to eat a small meal, I got myself clean, packed and went back to my base in Cambridgeshire ready for work on Monday. By the time I got to my final destination, I was tired and I struggled to feel anything much. I was also a bit surprised not to be hungry.

Monday 5th October: Stiff, yes. But not injured. This is a good thing. Because my sole reason for running was my challenge to raise money for Cancer Research, I made sure to post on social media about finishing a marathon. In truth, I feel like I've achieved nothing except putting one foot in front of the other for a bit longer than normal. I still wasn't hungry and eating anything more than small snacks actually made me feel a bit sick. A series of crashing lows came in the afternoon and evening, I managed to do not very much and found it frustrating at going to bed that I still had an untouched to-do list. I put it down to tiredness and hoped the stiffness would be better in the morning.

Tuesday 6th October: Less stiffness, good. Hit fundraising target, good. Still not hungry, probably bad. Still lacking a sense of achievement, probably not good. Still feeling low and a bit tear-y, probably bad. Asked for some advice from my trainer. I can't explain how far I am from ever wanting to run more than 10km ever again. Generally- miserable, tired and not really sure what this is all about.

Wednesday 7th October: Feeling marginally more human, but under instruction from my trainer (because she banned me from attending running club until I adhered) I trundled off to see a GP to see whether the crashing lows and lack of appetite are within the realms of normal recovery. Turns out, it kind of is. Who knew? Not me.

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Trying and failing not to cry as I'm about to cross the finish line 

Here's 3 things I wish I'd known before I embarked on the race so my expectations weren't quite so.... far of the mark

1. Not everyone feels euphoric
26 miles is a long way and it's hard work. I spent over 4 months training and lots of people spend longer than that getting marathon ready. 4 months for one day. For one race. One block of however many hours. One event. Crossing the line, especially if you had a tough time running might actually feel a bit of an anticlimax and that beaming sense of achievement might just be eclipsed by relief that it's finished and a bit of wondering why you thought it was such a great idea. It's ok to feel down, or to be emotional, or to not want to celebrate.

2. Drinking too much water is a thing, and hydrating after an endurance event isn't as simple as drinking all the water
I drink a lot of water on a normal day. I had problems with this in the summer because when you drink a lot of pure water, it dilutes all the electrolytes and sodium in your system, flushing out not just the toxins in your body, but the good stuff too. When you spend hours running and sweating and drinking water because you're sweating, you run your system dry of all those important electrolytes. I thought I'd been good at making sure I took on electrolyte drinks at every water station, but apparently not enough. Symptoms include tiredness, weakness, nausea, and in serious cases confusion, coma and death.

3. It takes time to get back to 'normal'
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I guess I probably shouldn't have expected to feel exactly the same after the marathon as I did before because I spent 6 hours forcing my body to do something hard. It was pointed out to me that endurance events do have psychological effects, as you should expect when you force yourself to do something tough, even if you've trained for it and I'd agree that marathons, ironman competitions, all these things require as much, if not more strength of mind than physical strength to get you to the finish. So is it really fair to expect to feel the same afterwards?

And one more thing...
I didn't run specifically in memory of one person. We have survivors in our family as much as we have lost loved ones who have left huge holes in our life. I started this challenge because I felt that I needed to do something positive and wanted to raise money for Cancer Research. When I crossed the marathon finish line, nothing changed. My running a marathon or a one hundred marathons cannot bring back the people we have lost, it doesn't give my grandmother back the kidney she's missing nor does it change the rate at which my grandfather is healing from his surgery. I'm not stupid- I know running a marathon won't bring anyone back to life, but when you put so much of yourself into something for a cause that's so important to you, it's a crushing disappointment that nothing tangible has changed once you're finished.

I won't be signing up for more marathons. One was enough for me to realise that it's not my thing and I'm not ready to commit my all my free time to one hobby that can have such far reaching impact on everything I do. I'm also not ready to feel on the edge of despair after something I supposedly do for recreation. I'm not an athlete, and I don't want to be. I am looking forward to enjoying running club sessions that are fun, I'm looking forward to 10km races because that's fun too. I'm also looking forward to spending my weekends sewing, crocheting, cooking, drinking wine, eating cheese, going 'out' out and having choices over how I spend my Sundays.

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