From hero to zero: the pain of a glory-free half-marathon

It's all uphill from here ... (Image courtesy of Jeep-people)

Route: Croxton to La Trobe University, return
Distance: 23.3km (241.1km total)
Duration: 2 hours 25 minutes (22 hours 9 minutes)

A little over a week ago I ran onto the pristine turf of the Adelaide Oval, kicked into a sprint for a couple hundred metres and crossed the finish line to complete my first half-marathon.

It was the longest run I’d ever done and I crossed the line accompanied by the yelling and clapping of a small crowd that had gathered to congratulate foolish souls such as myself.

But on the Saturday just gone, there was no crowd to cheer me on, no finish line to lunge for and no real sense of satisfaction when my run came to an end. All that despite eclipsing my longest run by more than 2km.

Earlier that day I had met Meghan down in Croxton and together we zig-zagged our way toward La Trobe University — the institution of higher learning where Meghan and I studied together, worked together and where Meghan works currently. After the gorgeous beach- and river-side route we’d taken the previous week in Adelaide, Saturday’s run through industrial parks, dodgy-looking backstreets and alongside major roads was rather less of a visual treat, but it did the trick.

We started running at a noticeably slower pace than last weekend too and with it being one of the warmest days for several months, we both found it difficult to adapt to the conditions. (In fact, come the end of the day, my pace was around a minute slower per kilometre than during the Adelaide half-marathon.)

Where the Adelaide half-marathon featured numerous drink stops where we could pause momentarily to stave off dehydration, Saturday’s run saw us cover 19km without so much as a mouthful of liquid.

The lack of water certainly didn’t help me to find a comfortable rhythm and by the time we’d covered around 11km I was on the lookout for some way of getting rehydrated. As we ran past Northland Shopping Centre on the way back Meghan asked if I wanted to duck inside to grab a drink and, stupidly, I refused. Looking back now, even just a splash of water probably would have been a good idea.

As it was, I managed to get my first sip of water after 19km, back at Croxton. Meghan and I parted ways and I ducked into a nearby shop to buy a bottle of water. I downed the whole bottle quicker than I probably should have, but I didn’t care — the water tasted fabulous and I was going to waste no time in guzzling it down.

As Meghan and I parted ways I decided I would not only run home, I would take a little detour so as to better my longest run by two kilometres. Given how little time I have before the full marathon on October 9, I can’t afford to waste any time ramping up the distance.

I shuffled my way through the backstreets of Thornbury, following a route that I knew would take me beyond 23km. I got home feeling glad that I’d gone the extra few kilometres, despite the toll it had taken on my body.

In the four or so months since I started this whole running caper I haven’t struggled as much as I did on Saturday. If you read books such as Chris McDougall’s excellent ‘Born to Run’ you learn that endurance running is as much a mental battle as it is a physical battle. On Saturday, for the first time, I got close to the point where I needed some kind of mental strength in order to keep going — my body had almost had enough.

Strangely, I recovered quicker from this particular run than I have on just about every other run. Sure, my calves and Achilles tendons were tight later that day but by the next morning I had zero pain to speak of.

Of course, things are only going to get worse. I’ve got time in my schedule for another four long, weekend runs and I can’t really see them getting easier than Saturday’s.

Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that if you can run more than 30km, you can run a marathon and I’ll certainly be testing that maxim come October 9. So, here’s how far I plan to run in the next four weekends:

September 10 – 25km
September 17 –
27km
September 24 –
30km
October 1 –  
32km

That leaves me more than a week to recover from my longest run before tackling the beastly Melbourne Marathon on October 9. Can I do it? I freaking hope so.

I certainly haven’t come this far to fail.

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About Matt de Neef
Assistant Section Editor at The Conversation

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