super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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An open letter to race spectators

For pretty horrible reasons, a lot has been written recently about people who willingly get out of bed early in the morning to cheer for runners at events. Even though no one has been nice enough to ask for my thoughts on race spectators, I thought I’d put them out there anyway, because I’m not paying US$18 a year for this domain to not have an opinion on whatever comes to mind.

In the picture above, the person surrounded by wonderfully drawn MS Paint love hearts is my darling mother (convenient since Mother’s Day is coming and, you know, SEO and stuff). The person with the cord awkwardly coming out of her shorts is yours truly. Darling mother is here pictured cheering for yours truly in the last kilometer of the Lisbon Rock n Roll Half Marathon last year, which also came to be known as my worst result ever in a half marathon.

That “worst result ever” (for which I blame the heat rather than myself, obviously) meant that my family, in the first and only one of my races they’ve ever been able to spectate (since I have this habit of racing on the opposite side of the world to where they live), had to stand in the sun for over two hours on a Sunday morning instead of much better ways of spending that time like, you know, anything else.

They didn’t care, though (or, if they did, they kept it to themselves). They were happy to cheer me on even though it was about a million degrees (approximate estimate, probably not the exact temperature) and they’d had to park their car approximately a million kilometres away (also an estimate, possibly not the exact distance) to see me run, a past-time they have zero personal interest in. Mum is actually of the opinion I shouldn’t really run that much, that it can’t be good for me. And yet, look at that. After two hours in the sun doing nothing but dodging other people’s sweat, she was happy to see me run past in the last kilometre and even ran alongside me for a couple of hundreds metres.

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Two months ago, I ran a marathon (can you believe how long it’s been since I last bragged about mentioned it? Me neither!). A few of my friends drove hundreds of kilometers to support me. Pictured here is my friend N. (with P. behind the camera). They drove from Auckland to New Plymouth on Saturday, got up early on Sunday to watch me run, saw me cross the finish line and had to drive back to Auckland that same day. They were part of an awesome group of people who willingly drove along the second half of the marathon course, stopping to cheer for me along the way. Every time the pain got really bad and I had to walk, I’d spot N. jumping out of the car and waving his arms around in the distance, shouting “Go Vera!” and I would keep going for a little bit longer. I talk a lot about how important it was for me to eat and drink at the right times but the truth is that seeing these people along the way was more important than 1000 energy gels (no exaggerated estimate here).

Sometimes, my support crew will half-jokingly tells me it was a “tiring” morning waiting for me to finish a run. They know it gets me worked up to hear it because I’m the one with all the muscle aches and I just want to tell them to shut the hell up. But it is exhausting. It’s not their hobby and they’re not getting any personal satisfaction out of it so, to be honest, sometimes I have to wonder why they do it and how they can muster the enthusiasm to get out and do it. Why they don’t just wait for me to get home, shower and then tell them about it. These people will not only cheer for me in the sidelines but also hug me when I cross the finish line all sweaty and gross. They’re weird.

And then, there are the other spectators. The people I don’t even know. The people who don’t even realise how much they keep us all going. People who make signs that make me smile when my cheek muscles feel too exhausted to move, people who hand out extra sugar in between aid stations, little kids high fiving runners along the course…

I’ve come to realise all those people clapping until their palms hurt are a big reason why I enter so many events (about one per month in the last couple of years, sometimes more). For most of us recreational runners, these events are more than just a chance to test ourselves. Let’s not kid around, it does feel pretty good to see people cheering for you and know they admire what you’re doing. How many chances do we get to have that in other parts of our life? Every time someone says something nice to me as I run past them, I feel almost like I’m excelling at what I’m doing even though I’m right there in the middle or back of the pack. Since I wasn’t one of the cool kids doing drugs in school, I can’t be absolutely sure it compares to the high you get from those, but I know that the sense of pride I get out there on the course is pretty hard to beat. I suspect a lot more non-runners would give it a go if they knew how absolutely on top of the world they get to feel at a running event, no matter how far down the bottom they place in the rankings. The next day, you go to work and life might be a little bit shitty, but that’s ok because, did you see yourself yesterday pounding that pavement? Did you see those people cheering you on, thinking you were awesome for even trying it?

So thanks for that, all of you people who get up early to watch people run. Your support carries us runners when all our energy has left us. If runners at those events are people trying to be the best version of themselves they can be, you’re also not doing too bad a job of that either, showing the world how people can support others, friends or strangers, for absolutely no reason other than just being good people. I love the hell out of all of you and your selflessness is very much noticed and appreciated, even if my sweaty face doesn’t show it at the time. Let me know if you ever decide to enter an event and I’ll come support you. Provided it’s not too far away, or too early, or too late, or too hot, or too cold. Other than that, I should be able to make it.


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Seven things you should never say to a runner

Runners say some pretty crazy stuff and I don’t judge non-runners for giving us weird looks and thinking we’re not really all there. We accept it, the weirdness comes with the awesomeness. But life would be a little easier if those who choose not to run weren’t so full of advice and stupid questions for runners.

In the hope of ensuring that we all remain friendly and I never have to throw my running water bottle at anyone’s face, let’s all agree that certain things shall never be said to runners ever again, okay? In no particular order, since they’re all equally enraging:

1. You ran a marathon? How many kilometers was it?

A marathon is 42km (or 26.2miles, depending on where in the world you are). The marathon distance is general knowledge and you wouldn’t go past $5 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire without knowing that one. Don’t ever ask me that again. Ever.

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2. Did you win?

I’m a recreational runner. If I get a personal best, that’s winning. Hell, if I finish, that’s winning.

(and no, I didn’t win. Thanks for making me feel like a loser)

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3. Yeah, I know how you feel after your marathon. I jogged for half an hour yesterday and my legs are killing me today. 

No, you most certainly do not know how I feel. I can’t even begin to describe how much you do not know how I feel. Instead I’m just going to wobble away from you so you don’t have to see the rage in my eyes.

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4. I enter a marathon every year. It’s really not bad. The last one I did was a 5km along the beach.

A 5KM RUN IS NOT A MARATHON. A 10KM RUN IS NOT A MARATHON. A 20KM RUN IS NOT A MARATHON. Refer to the first point on this list for information on the marathon distance and stop bragging about having done something you have never actually done.

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5. I don’t even like driving that far!

I’m glad you’re laziness makes you proud. Actually no, I’m not. It’s nothing to be proud of.

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6. You shouldn’t run so much, you’re going to ruin your knees!

Please refer to this and then proceed to shut the hell up.

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7. I’d love to get into running but I just don’t have the time.

I wrote about this a while ago here too. The assumption that I’ve got less going on in my life because I make time for running is rude and hinting at that makes you a bit of an asshole.

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B for Boston

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The plan for today was to be jealous of people in Boston, running the world’s most iconic marathon. The plan was not to feel fortunate to not have been there. Then the plan changed. Instead, I decided to run a B-shaped (almost) 10km course as a tribute to the victims of the tragedy in Boston, where I was joined by two other fellow runners. It started and finished on the aptly named Boston Road in Auckland. We ran along our route chatting away about running events we’d entered, sharing tips and tales of running achievements. Not a sad word was spoken, except when we complained about the rain hitting our faces.

I followed the reactions on the internet all day today. Never had I seen Kathrine Switzer’s quote used more often than I did today. The first woman to run the Boston Marathon, back in 1967, famously said: “if you are losing faith in human nature, go and watch a marathon”. It has never been simultaneously as appropriate and inappropriate as today. The race famous in 1967 for Switzer’s entry is now famous for being the scene of a crime. Watching what happened at that finish line does nothing for anyone’s faith in human nature today.

But watching what happened after that does. There are a number of examples of people offering others a roof in Boston, or any other sort of help. The Red Cross doesn’t need any more blood because it got so many donations from selfless people. The NBC reported that some runners crossed the finish line and kept on running towards the hospital to give blood. People offered food, shelter and any kind of assistance to those who needed it. Humanity wins (Patton Oswalt has a good post today about that).

My thoughts kept drifting back to Boston today because, in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m really into running. And Boston is, as many describe, the holy grail of marathon running. As runners, we’re part of the same tribe, a global community of like-minded people. Those were my people out there in Boston today, we’re part of the same group. Messing with my people messes with me.

Plus, this is a sport event. A charitable event. A symbol. The triumph of men and women going further than they thought possible. It is linked to camaraderie, to the best of the human spirit, to overcoming adversity. It’s not meant to be linked to any of this bombing bullshit. If an event like this isn’t safe, where’s safe? The sad realisation is that nowhere is safe. It’s hard to look at images of people with missing limbs and not lose faith in human nature, wherever those people are from.

Today sucked. It sucked in every direction. It sucked in Boston, and in Iraq, where lots of lives were also lost in explosions. It sucked in the Koreas (damn, just get along already!) and it sucked in a bunch of other places I won’t even mention here because this is a blog about running so I’ll ask you to go elsewhere for the news of all the suckiness in the world today. I’m going to focus on the good: I went for a run in the rain with two fellow runners, it felt great. On days like today, I feel even more fortunate to be part of this crazy community.

“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon”, yes. If that marathon turns out to be a horrible tragedy, you can still admire the amazing feats of those who finished it (please, 2013 Boston finishers, don’t feel bad for bragging about your time!) and you can also admire the amazing acts of kindness that came out of it. That, if nothing else, should help restore that faith in human nature.

I hope you get out there and run today. Just because you can.


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12 tips for running a marathon and maybe not hating it completely

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I didn’t have the absolutely perfect first marathon experience. Things went well and I finished it but not without an injury that has put me off running for most of the last 3 weeks (almost back, running shoes, I swear!). This means I probably shouldn’t be giving you advice on marathon training, right? Well, wrong. This is the internet. Anyone can have an opinion. Knowing what we’re talking about is irrelevant.

I’ve read approximately a bazillion words on the internet and in books about how to train for a marathon and how to go from wanting to run a marathon to actually doing it so, for lack of anything more interesting to say, here’s a bit of a compilation of stuff I figure is pretty important when trying to tick this item off the bucket list.

1. Choose a marathon

The first thing to do is pretty obvious: pick a marathon. Any marathon. But really, settle on it. Decide you’re going to do it. That’ll be your run. Register. Give them money. There you go, now you’re committed. Unless, of course, you back off and ask for a refund. Wuss.

2. Tell everyone

Don’t ask for a refund. Instead, tell everyone you know that you’re going to run a marathon. Yes, everyone. It’s out there now. You’ve gotta do it. People will start asking how training is going and all that stuff. Do you wanna be all like “oh nah, kind of got over that”? Didn’t think so. Verbalising your intentions, unlike what some people think, is not about bragging. It’s about motivation, commitment and taking responsibility for your actions, owning up. Ok, maybe it’s a little bit about bragging too. But you’ve been running your ass off, brag away.

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3. Study the course

Now that you’re fully committed and you know exactly which marathon you’re running, it’s time for what is quite possibly my favourite step in the whole thing: obsessing! Study that course, examine the elevation chart to the littlest detail. And then, of course, plan your training runs accordingly. You’d be silly to run a hilly marathon without some hill training under your belt, for example.

4. Get organised

Find a training plan that works for you or design your own. It’s important that running doesn’t take over your life completely and doesn’t affect other aspects such as work or your social life (it’ll inevitably have some sort of impact on that but you should try to minimise it as much as possible). Make a spreadsheet or note the training sessions down in your diary. If it helps you commit even more, find a running partner or join a running club.

5. Run often but not too often

Finding this balance is perhaps one of the hardest parts of training. A lot of words have been written about the importance of taking rest days so don’t feel guilty about not running. Weekends, however, are for long runs. Break this rule and you shall suffer eternal damnation. Well, or just sleep in anyway, eternal damnation be damned, it’s not like anyone is paying you to get out of bed on Sunday to run. Just keep in mind that you need to work on your endurance and days off work are the best time for that. Plus, you can always take a guilt-free long nap after each long run so just suck it up.

6. Cross train

You think training for a marathon is all about running? Think again. Head to the gym, the swimming pool, the yoga studio, the bakery. Ok, not the bakery. I mean, the bakery too but, really work all the muscles, not just the legs and not just the stomach. I stopped going to the gym for ages and found myself having more upper body pain during a long run than leg pain. Your whole body needs to be prepared for this.

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7. Watch what you eat

You’re not going to have a very good time during that marathon if you keep eating the way you’ve been eating (unless you’ve been eating well this whole time in which case I’m terribly jealous and please tell me how you do it!). Put down the Creme Eggs (or send them to me) and eat more of the good stuff. For actual tips on what to eat, head here, for example. I’m eating chicken-flavoured chips while I type this so I’m really no example. It’s important that you keep in mind that you’re not on a weight-loss diet. You’re eating to fuel up for long runs. There’s no room for guilt, but plenty of room for an extra piece of cake.

8. Enter other races

Consider entering other running events. A half marathon here and there won’t hurt and it’ll keep you in check throughout the training process. That said, don’t underestimate the power of your weekday short runs. A 5k can take you a long way. Well, it can take you 5k away, but you get my point.

9. Get proper running shoes

I know running is all about doing whatever you want and it’s good because it’s cheap and all that stuff but let’s face it – we’re talking about a full marathon, not a jog around the block to the bakery. Get serious about it. Consider getting your shoes fitted. I know it’s not everyone’s thing and some swear by the whole “you can run on anything” philosophy but proper running shoes have saved my ass (well, my feet and knees) multiple times so I’m all for spending that money.

10. Make mistakes. Fix mistakes.

Get all your testing done before marathon day and try nothing new on the actual race. Test your gels, your electrolytes, whether your running watch annoys you on that wrist or not. Are those shorts comfortable? Is it likely that you’ll be chafing? Are the sunglasses going to be a nuisance? Test it all in advance so you know what you’re in for and you can minimise some of the issues.

11. Plan

Tapering week is all about not running (and not going insane). It’s also about planning for the big day. In my case, the marathon was out of town and it involved a road trip and a night away in a motel. Packing was important because I wasn’t going to have all my worldly possessions on hand on that day. Other than the usual stuff you pack for a weekend away, I had to remember the stuff for the race. I chose to run with a hydration pack that included nuts, Gu, chips, Nuun, jelly beans along with my knee brace and a small first aid kit. I was pretty prepared (and the extra weight didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would). You might not want to carry as much with you but it doesn’t hurt to keep these things nearby, just in case you change your mind a couple of hours before the race. I didn’t end up using all of that stuff, obviously, but I’d have had to pull out of the race if I hadn’t had my knee brace in my pack, for example. In the end, the nuts and chips went untouched. I had 4 Gu gels (at 8k, 15k, 26k and 34k) and a whole lot of jelly beans from then on, but it helped me to know that I had a bunch of stuff handy if I needed it.

12. Run the hell out of that marathon

Become officially badass.

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When I train for my next one, I’ll definitely have to up my game on some of these, namely eating better and cross training more. And maybe tone down the whole “telling everyone about it” bit because I don’t want to put my friends through the hassle of having to change numbers and addresses to avoid me.


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This pain in the knee is a pain in the ass

The doctor didn't make me get an x-ray so this'll have to do. It's adapted from the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia. Note: not my real gluteus.

The doctor didn’t make me get an x-ray so this’ll have to do. It’s adapted from the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia. Note: not my real gluteus.

After ten days of self-diagnosis and scaring myself with imaginary surgeries, I decided to do what everyone else had been pestering advising me to do and went to the doctor this morning. Nothing fancy, just my good old GP.

The knee that has been hurting to the point of driving me to tears for 10 straight days decided to stop hurting for pretty much the exact amount of time I spent in the doctor’s office. When the doctor started bending my leg and asked me to tell him when it started hurting, it never actually did. “If you had done that just yesterday, it would have hurt a lot, I swear” I assured him. Mmm Hmm.

My doctor is a fine kiwi chap. On my first ever visit, I remember he told me I was never going to make him rich. Silly man didn’t think I’d get into running, obviously.

I was his first appointment this morning and he welcomed me in a t-shirt, shorts and jandals. Almost five years in New Zealand should have made me blind to this but I can’t help finding it different. Different-good, of course. Different-bad if he accidentally stabbed his toe with <insert name for sharp object found in doctor’s office here because I didn’t go to medical school and, worse, never watched Grey’s Anatomy so don’t know the names of any of those things>. My point is that his relaxed outfit reflects his relaxed attitude. I’d normally worry about something like that, but when I asked him about how long I should go without running for, his answer was something like “you can run when it stops hurting. If you really have to run, try to do it on softer surfaces instead of concrete”. Translated into obsessive runner’s English, he basically ordered me to hit the trails this weekend. Doctor’s orders.

Anyway. He has a bunch of books with images just like the one above (minus my edits, so not quite as insightful as this one) and he touched my knee in a bunch of different places so I suppose he probably knows what he’s talking about. He’s convinced this is ITB syndrome. Iliotibial Band Syndrome, because he called it the proper stuff.

Sounds fancy. Also, kind of validating as far as injuries go. Look at me all real runner with a proper runner’s injury. But also, ouch. According to the fountain of all 21st century knowledge, Wikipedia, here’s what’s going on south of the muffin tops:

The iliotibial band is a superficial thickening of tissue on the outside of the knee, extending from the outside of the pelvis, over the hip and knee, and inserting just below the knee. The band is crucial to stabilizing the knee during running, moving from behind the femur to the front while walking. The continual rubbing of the band over the lateral femoral epicondyle, combined with the repeated flexion and extension of the knee during running may cause the area to become inflamed. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iliotibial_band_syndrome)

So, really, ew.

I was told to keep icing it, keep taking Voltaren, advised to add Voltaren gel to the equation (because I’m not giving those guys enough money already) and stretch every day (every day? Like, seriously? People stretch every day?). I left the office before he had time to mention the foam roller so that’s my full list of recommendations. My jandal-wearing kiwi doctor also told me that I could do physiotherapy if I wanted to but, for this sort of thing, he finds that “it just doesn’t do much and it’s a real pain in the ass having to go to the sessions”.

After describing a potential treatment as “a pain in the ass”, he told me I could go home and Google more stuff about ITB syndrome to find out more. I like that my doctor openly tells me to look stuff up on the internet. He doesn’t realise I skim it for information on every little pain or itch and always end up dreading amputation.

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So far so good, though, I may just be able to keep both of my legs and, here’s the real shocker, this knee might actually heal completely. I’m looking forward to being reminded of what it feels like to walk properly.

(I know you’re all incredibly smart people but I read an article today about a woman trying to sell her kids on Facebook to pay for her boyfriend’s bail so, you know, the world is kind of full of idiots. Which is why I need to add to the bottom of this post that no one should ever, ever, ever, under any circumstance, take medical advice from me. Ever. Take advice from my jandal-wearing doctor and Google your pains away. No, really. Don’t.)


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A list of stuff I’ve done recently that doesn’t matter because it wasn’t running

Day 8 of not running. But who’s counting, eh?

Me! That’s who.

If I wasn’t so lazy and numbers didn’t bore me so much, I’d tell you how many hours it’s been since I last ran. It’s a pretty big number, I know that much.

The good news is that I haven’t killed anybody. The bad news is that I apparently woke up screaming in pain in the middle of last night thanks to my knee. It seems that, when I’m asleep, I have a tendency for drama. Luckily I don’t remember any of this in the morning.

It’s been a pretty uneventful week, to say the least. I’ve been limping my way to and from work and didn’t stray very far from the bed on the weekend either. But the fact that nothing is going on doesn’t stop me from giving you a really long and detailed update on all the nothing that’s been happening. All the hours that I would normally have spent running on a regular week have now been filled with other activities. So let’s recap. Over the last week, instead of running, I:

– Complained about how much my knee hurts.

– Got a full-body massage and fixed the back and neck pains that the marathon had caused.

– Went to a rock concert hours later and got some of those problems back, as well as adding “ears” to the list of sore body parts.

– Told everyone about the marathon (I swear I’ll shut up, people. One day. But really, a marathon!)

– Complained about how much my knee hurts.

– Iced my knee

I bothered with the towel in the beginning but now I just put the peas right onto my knee. I switch between different frozen vegetables to shake things up a little, since I'm basically ALWAYS icing my knee these days. I'm doing it right now, in fact. And you can't even tell from there! Such an exciting life.

I bothered with the towel in the beginning but now I just put the peas right onto my knee. I switch between different frozen vegetables to shake things up a little, since I’m basically ALWAYS icing my knee these days. I’m doing it right now, in fact. And you can’t even tell from there! Such an exciting life.

– Kept whichever pharmaceutical company manufactures Voltaren in business.

– Kept track of how many days I’ve gone without running

– Expected everyone to compliment me on the fact that I haven’t punched any of them even though I’m clearly two steps away from complete madness due to not being able to run.

– Talked some more about the marathon. Did I mention I ran a marathon?

– Iced my knee

– Read about running

Reading this book hasn't been helping much in the way of containing my rage. I WANT TO RUN! But I can't even go one step beyond where I am right now without limping.

Reading this book hasn’t been helping much in the way of containing my rage. I WANT TO RUN! But I can’t even go one step beyond where I am right now without limping.

– Made sure everyone in a 10km radius knew I’d run a marathon. Like, really, it was an entire freaking marathon!

– Slept in until 10:20 on a Saturday and 10 on a Sunday instead of getting up before the cat in order to run. So much free time, what do you guys do with it?

– Avoided the foam roller even though everyone tells me it’s the best thing since sliced bread (but they also add it hurts like hell and sliced bread doesn’t so that’s -10 points for the foam roller, +10 points for bread I don’t need to slice myself).

– Iced my knee

– Kept track of how many days it’s been since I last ran. Eight entire freaking days, and counting, in case you’d forgotten.

– Hung out with the cat more than the cat wishes I would

That's her "this is the longest this idiot has spent trying to play with me" face. I'm afraid there's plenty more to come, Zara! I haven't even told you all about my marathon yet!

That’s her “this is the longest this idiot has spent trying to play with me” face. I’m afraid there’s plenty more to come, Zara! I haven’t even told you all about my marathon yet!

– Signed up for half marathons (one of them less than a week from today) because making running plans is the only thing keeping me from absolute madness.

– Avoided the foam roller some more

– Drank beer

– Limped

– Faced the foam roller. Didn’t die. Not sure it helped either. Kinda meh. Stay tuned for more exciting updates, as soon as I can be bothered driving to the gym to use that thing again.

– Ate everything in sight. Fact: marathons will make you hungry.

You know how some people save special wines for special occasions? I do that with breakfast cereal. This box of cinnamon-flavoured cereal travelled from Portugal to New Zealand with me last October. I saved it for a celebration. Running a marathon qualified as special enough.

You know how some people save special wines for special occasions? I do that with breakfast cereal. This box of cinnamon-flavoured cereal travelled from Portugal to New Zealand with me last October. I saved it for a celebration. Running a marathon qualified as special enough.

– Realised that signing up for a half marathon in less than a week’s time was probably what some might call a “mistake”. By some, I mean every sane person on Earth.

– Iced my knee

– Got the Ice Ice Baby song stuck in my head

– Got excited about being able to take 10 steps without pain, only to realise the pain is back and the next 10 steps are going to be agony

– Researched post marathon blues on the internet and found out that they’re a thing. But, fear not, there are cures.

– Drank wine

Two different types of wine. There have been more. I don't complain so much about this part. Post-marathon hydration is important.

Two different types of wine. There have been more. I don’t complain so much about this part. Post-marathon hydration is important.

– Dropped the marathon into every possible conversation. You have an iPhone? That’s cool. That’s the one with the Apple-shaped logo, isn’t it? Fruit is awesome. I had a banana before I ran a marathon last week.

– Complained about how much my knee hurts.

– Bragged about the marathon.

You guys. My knee hurts. Like, really, it’s time it stops hurting now. I’ve narrowed it down to 3 things: runner’s knee, ITB syndrome or gangrene. Just kidding. Don’t look it up on Google Images. Oh, you just had to, didn’t you? That’s gross.

Anyway, it’s probably one of the first two. Before you tell me that I should go see my doctor, I know. I know. I’ll get onto it soon. Give it another day or two. Don’t make me admit that I’m really terrified the doctor is going to tell me I can’t run for a month or two. Heads will roll and probably not just in a metaphorical overly dramatic way.

Because have I mentioned it’s been 8 days since I last ran?

But also, I ran a marathon eight days ago. So there’s that.


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The day I became a marathoner

(Warning: this isn’t a funny post. It is lengthy and detailed. Read at your own risk but perhaps get a cup of tea or something first.)

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I’ve spent hours trying to come up with the words to write about the experience of running my first ever full marathon yesterday. I’m a writer and I’m supposed to know how to use words so that they say what I’m thinking but I’ve rarely felt as lost for words as I feel right now. So I’ve decided to just sit here and spill onto the WordPress dashboard whatever comes to my mind about that day, regardless of whether it makes much sense or not. I just want a record of it, for my own sake, even if I can’t translate my feelings into words in any language. Just assume that whatever you get from what I write, it is like one of those sachets of powdered juice that have had way too much water added to it. The reality is an undetermined number of times stronger than what I can describe.

On Sunday, just before lunchtime, I became a marathoner. It went right up there to the list of biggest achievements of my life.

I’ve been asked “how’d it go?” a lot in the last few hours. Possibly the hardest question I’ve been asked in a long time (since I chose social sciences and stopped having math classes in school, probably). I don’t know, you guys. I want to say “it went great” because I finished but I also want to tell you about how I had moments of pain (physical and mental) that I thought would be beyond my abilities to overcome (so, in that sense, not so great). It was horrible and amazing and painful and joyful and brilliant and terrifying and exhausting and energising and every other adjective in the OED. It was like a whole lot of emotions that you’re supposed to feel over a long period of time (days, months, years) all condensed in a few hours. I laughed, I cried, I felt worried, relaxed, tired, distracted, focused, happy, sad, and all the other emotions in between. I took my body and my mind to a limit that I wasn’t sure they could take it and I crushed the voice in my head that kept telling me to stop. That I didn’t have to do that. That no one needed to choose to be in pain. That I could just go to a bakery and go sit by the beach with a donut instead. That’s what I wanted, a donut. Why the hell was I not sitting down eating a donut?

Because I wanted to be a marathoner more than I wanted a donut (and that’s saying something because I really freaking love donuts).

I won’t lie to you: I was scared shitless. Just freaking terrified. I went through the week before with my “no big deal” face on about the Cold of Doom but I lost hours of sleep worrying about my weaker-than-average lungs. I wondered whether I was just being stubborn and irresponsible for putting myself through the marathon right after (still during?) the worst cold I’ve had in years. I didn’t want to get sicker. But, most of all, I didn’t want to give up.

On Saturday, after getting to the hotel, I laid all my running gear on a spare bed in the room, ready for the 5AM start the next morning. We’d been given the chance to start at 6:30AM, with the marathon walkers, so a few of us runners chose to do that. I knew I’d be slow and I couldn’t see a reason not to start an hour earlier and get it out of the way. The alarm went off at exactly 5AM and I took about 0.03 seconds to jump out of bed. I had a muesli bar, half a banana and cheap instant coffee from the hotel. I got ready in between numerous toilet breaks. My stomach hurt with anticipation. I got a text from Stacey telling me it was raining outside. Crap, I hadn’t even thought about that possibility. I blocked it off my mind. “You’re not giving up because water’s falling off the sky, you idiot.”

At 6:30AM, we lined up at the start line. It wasn’t raining there. A runner asked us if it was our first marathon and our positive answer was received with a look that translated into “you have no idea what you’re getting yourselves into”. “Please don’t scare me,” I told the lady. “But you’ve done half marathons, right?”. “Yes.” “Oh, you’ll be fine then.” I freaking hope so. The guy with the shotgun (yes, an actual shotgun to start off the race), pointed it up to the dark sky and yelled that we had 20 seconds to go. Oh boy, I needed the toilet again. The shotgun went off and the fright made me jump even though I totally knew it was coming. And then we started running. That was it, we were on our way.

Some of us carried torches because it was still pitch black. A few minutes later, it started raining. It rained until around the 10km mark. The sun started to come up but the clouds weren’t letting much light come through. I was freezing. I didn’t have my iPod on because I wanted to be as alert as possible. It was dark and the road was open to traffic. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other trying not to think about how long I had to go, because I knew the number was overwhelmingly big. I told myself I was just going to go to the halfway mark, where I knew my wonderful support crew would start popping up. I was going to run until I could see familiar faces, that was the goal. I’d figure the rest out later.

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Eventually, the sky cleared up and the rain clouds were replaced with a blazing sun. It was like running in different seasons. The sun was burning my head (and I now have a sunburned scalp to prove it). It made me almost miss the rain. I put my iPod on and tried not to think about what I was doing and all the things that were making me feel uncomfortable. The backpack bouncing up and down (and I have a couple of burn marks from that too), the wet clothes, the congested nose. Luckily, I managed to store that all in the back of my mind. By the time I saw the 14km sign, I was loving it. I loved it and then loved it some more and, at 20km, I spotted my friends for the first time. They had taken the nearly 5 hour drive from Auckland just to cheer me on and, even though I much prefer when they meet me for dinner and I’m not sweating through every pore, I couldn’t have been happier to see them right then and there. I knew I was almost halfway and I started thinking about walking but I saw them and didn’t want to walk in front of them so I gathered the strength to keep on running.

The finish line of all of my longest road runs had turned into my halfway point and I was ecstatic to realise I could keep on going. At the 22km mark, however, I decided to walk a few meters, just to mentally reset and get myself ready to run the rest of the way. I took maybe a dozen walking steps and then decided to run when my knee cap felt like it had popped out of place, making me scream with pain. A spectator came from the other side of the road to help me out. I had ice spray on my backpack and she got it out and sprayed it on my knee. I walked a bit longer and, 100m or so later, picked up a slow running pace again. But I was in pain. A whole lot of pain. My knee was sending me a clear message that I really should stop. I was responding back that I hadn’t gone all this way to now give it all up because of a stubborn knee. We had this argument for a whole 20km, in a run/walk negotiation that ended up lasting longer than I had anticipated, interrupted by pauses to put the knee brace on and re-apply ice spray. I know for a fact that I could not have kept running if I hadn’t had my knee brace on me, which makes me really thankful I ran with a backpack that was so well stocked it gave the idea I was going camping.

The last 20km weren’t as pleasant as the first 22km but my exhaustion grew directly proportional to my excitement to finish. I questioned my ability to finish for a couple of kilometers and tried to assess whether the pain on my knee was something that I should really worry about. In the end, I decided to truly take it one step at a time and not worry about anything more than the road immediately ahead of me. Painful step after painful step, I ran my way to the 30km marker, being cheered by my wonderful crew at different spots along the way. I grew mentally stronger as time went by, because I knew that each step taken was one step less that I’d have to take to reach my goal.

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Eventually, I switched from taking it one step at a time to one kilometer at a time. I told myself to re-assess the knee pain at every kilometer marker and gave myself permission to give up if I thought I was causing permanent damage. “There’ll be more marathons,” I thought. But there was also this one, right now, and I was mentally strong like I hadn’t been before and I didn’t want to waste that. So every kilometer marked the decision to run one more. And then one more. And then one more. At 35km, I had 7km to go. I told myself that 7km was something I could do before breakfast so there would be really no excuse to give up now. I bargained with myself “get to 5km to go and we can worry about the knee again”. And then there were 5km to go. I kept switching between running and walking and using the ice spray along the way. The extra pressure caused by the knee pain was getting the rest of my body extra tired too. I tried to focus on the music. I even tried to quietly sing along, hoping that’d take me somewhere else.

With a mere 4 kilometers to go, things got messy inside my head. I was exhausted, drained out. I wanted it done. I started thinking about the things I’d been told by people who’d done this before. Kim Allan, an experienced ultramarathoner, told me to “smile through the pain” so I repeated that out loud to myself a few times, like a mantra. Then I tried to actually do it, I tried to smile. I figured if I could fake a smile, maybe it’d turn into a real one. But boy, I was knackered. And not the “that was a tough day at work” kind of knackered, more like the “I just want to sit here and not move forever” kind. I wanted to see my friends again but they had all headed down to wait for me at the finish line. I needed something else. So I took the tough love approach with myself and thought about how I really shouldn’t be such a wuss. I got emotional in a sappy gooey way. I thought about my life and how truly wonderful it is, how I have a job and I have my health and my family and friends, how I get to travel and explore the world and do the things I always wished I’d do. I thought about my mum and dad and their daily struggle with circumstances they didn’t choose to be put through. I thought ‘if mum and dad can get through each day, you can get your stupid legs to keep moving”. And so I kept moving, my brain in a puddle, thinking about how I could have it so much harder and this was nothing compared to what other people go through. “Smile through the pain” got replaced with “stop being such a freaking baby”, which I said out loud a couple of times.

As I was busy working my way out of those bad thoughts, I spotted the 40km marker. That was all I needed to see. For some reason, 40 seems like a much bigger number than 39. I had run 30+ kilometers before but I had never reached 40 in my life. I had a “holy shit, these legs just ran 40km on their own!” moment and my fake smile turned into a big genuine one. I had 2 tiny little kilometers to go. I was happy. And so I ran. And ran. And ran. I turned down the last street to see the park where the finish line was, right at the end. I wanted to walk a few steps, my knee was complaining again. I walked maybe five steps and a girl came up from behind and told me to keep pushing through. I wanted to tell her she didn’t know how much pain I was in but the voice inside my head reminded me to “stop being such a freaking baby” and so I went back to running pace with her.

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It wasn’t long before I spotted familiar faces again and they started trying to make their way to the finish line before me. “I don’t mind slowing down for you guys,” I told them, only half-jokingly. Then I looked ahead and there it was, in the distance: “FINISH” in big bold font. There’s no giving up now. I ran the happiest meters of my life towards that finish line, could not have stopped smiling if I had tried, my mind in a mess of emotions, barely able to believe I was going to be allowed to stop.

Maybe one day I’ll get to a point where marathons aren’t such a huge deal. This one was my very first one, though, and it’ll forever have a special place in my heart. It was the first time I realised I could do it. The girl who hated PE in school, the girl who struggled with TB as a kid and had weak lungs thanks to that, had just become a marathoner.

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A friend who has run a marathon before told me a couple of days before that I was about to discover an overwhelming sense of possibility, like nothing could stop me from doing whatever I wanted. That stupid knee couldn’t stop me and neither could exhaustion so I guess she may very well have a point.

Ever since I crossed that finish line, over 30 hours ago, I’ve been the happiest I’d been in a long time. Feeling proud of myself is sort of a rare thing for me, because I’m one of those “too hard on myself” types and always think I could have done better. Yesterday, however, I left my heart on those roads and now I’m just enjoying this weird feeling of complete satisfaction.

I’m a marathoner now and I’m never not going to be a marathoner again. I think this is what they call life-changing.

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