We all know that if the ‘why’ is strong enough the ‘how’ will follow somehow.
There are no buts or ifs once the desire to finish the challenge or task you’ve set yourself is powerful enough. That was the situation I found myself in. I knew I was going to do it, strengthened by the reactions of those I shared this decision with. Their ‘why on earth would you do it?’ was often followed by my ‘why not?’
The more I mentioned it, the more determined I became. It seemed one of those things that ‘everybody’ wants to do but very few actually get round to doing it. A bit like setting up your own company, moving abroad or learning another language really. We all think about it at least once in our life but somehow reality takes over and we find reasons for not doing it. But I was going to do it. Why? Because I had reached 40, because I want to see if I could do it, because I want to push myself. Because I can.
The ‘How’ was less complicated. Thousands and thousands have done it before me and I don’t even want to count the numbers of books or articles that have been published on this elusive running distance. ‘Marathon Running for Mortals’ became my bedtime reading. Inspired by the Mortal Miracles I was dreaming of my own Miracle. I read every tip twice, three times, memorised the mantras and soaked it all up. Mind you I skipped the most important part - the training schedule - and only did the bits that suited me best. Hey, I’m only human.
My favourite piece of information was ‘don’t try anything new on race day’ which was drummed into the reader. How could anyone be so stupid to try anything new on race day? I promised myself of all the things I would or wouldn’t do I was going to be smart and well-prepared. I would not try anything new on the day. To throw all the hard work away by trying anything new on the day.
And all of a sudden months of preparation came to an end. It was Sunday April 17th, I was in London, injury-free. Today I was going to run my first marathon.
Shoes well worn-in. Check. Trousers, favourite pair. Check. Socks, never had blisters in them. Check. Favourite long-sleeved shirt. Check. Barnardo’s vest with running number. Never worn before but surely that is not going to make a big difference. Slightly too big but who cares? Check.
On my way to Greenwich I was already boiling. I was dressed according to the weather forecast which I must have misinterpreted... Grey and overcast with showers later in the day. My fourth and fifth hour of plodding would nicely coincide with ‘later in the day’ so I came well-prepared. Or so I thought.
In my fourth mile, red as a beetroot, steam coming out of my ears, I was questioning love, life and everything else. Running was fine, I mean, this was only my fourth mile. But if I was to extrapolate the heat I was in for trouble. Real trouble. I mentally prepared the race by talking to my various demons.
Body: ‘I hurt. You kill me. Please stop’.
Brain: ‘Get off it. Only two more hours of it. Get used to it’.
Body: ‘Pain. Pain. Pain. Stop. Walk. Stop.’
Brain: ‘Pain is temporary. Pride is forever. Keep moving.’
But these were not my demons. Instead my internal conversation was as follows:
‘If you keep this shirt and vest on you end up draining yourself, far too hot.’
‘I can’t take this shirt off because that means taking it all off first.’
‘Well, take it all off then.’
‘I can’t. There are lots of pubs and supporters here and I don’t want to stand here in my bra, looking like an idiot.’
‘You are Dutch for heaven’s sake, since when do you care?’
‘Well of all my sports bras I’m not wearing my white trendy one but my ‘flesh-coloured with grey tint as a result of a wrong laundry cycle’ one. Besides, that vest is too big and probably means that I run a lot more exposed than I want to be.’
‘So what? Take it off at the next stretch when there are no supporters and you feel better instantly. You look like an idiot anyway, and no one is going to care.’
‘I shouldn’t. I’ve been told not to wear anything new on race day and I’ve never ever run in a vest before. I may chafe and get a sunburn.’
‘Get real, you wimp. You didn’t follow the training schedule either, and you are still here. You can’t be selective with accepting advice.’
This went on for two miles. Two miles of deliberation, getting hotter by the second. Finding a spot without supporters proved impossible as well, so I had to accept I was going to be in full view. The best I could do was making sure it was not right in front of a pub.
And there it was. A relative hiding spot, perfect. I manoeuvred to the left, took my vest off, took my top off and stood there, in my flesh-coloured with grey tint sports bra.
It was over in a second. I tied my top around my waist whilst running, adjusted all that needed adjusting and was pleased that I finally plucked up the courage. I was also secretly worried that I ignored the Master’s advice: Don’t try anything new on race day.
But do you know what? I did many new things on race day. I met new friends on race day. I now know that I can run for 26.2 miles and grin continuously on race day. I can adjust on race day. I have run a marathon on race day. I have survived on race day.