Enjoying the Journey of Marathon Running

…the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon pushed my physical and mental limits

BY ADAM O’MEARA

Running a marathon isn’t easy. Whether you’re the winner of the race or coming across the finish line in five hours, it will push your physical and mental limits.

And those physical and mental limits is what the sport of running is all about for me. Running keeps me goal-oriented and focused, both on enjoying the journey towards achieving my race goals and demonstrating my ability to focus mentally on daily tasks.

That emphasis on focus is particularly important for me. Without exercise I can begin to exhibit symptoms of the broadly used term of ADHD, which I was diagnosed with in grade 12 of high school. I personally consider this “condition” a blessing as I attribute my energy, zest for life, and never-ending curiosity (attributes of many who are placed into this personality classification) to it.

I work in the natural health and supplement industry and know for certain that physical activity is shown and proven to be a necessity if you wish to live a healthy, happy and long life. Albeit training for marathons puts highly unnatural amounts of stress on the body.  As a response to this big stressor, I am very careful with what foods I put in my body and I rely on high quality natural supplements to help mitigate cellular damage and keep my immune system strong (I am proud to serve as an Ambassador of PURICA and represent the wellness company on Vancouver Island).

On the day of the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon – October 7th – it was cold and rainy in Victoria. Yet as the nearly 8,000 participants lined up to partake in either the 8k, ½ marathon or full marathon events, I did not sense any disappointment or resentment to Mother Nature. The energy at any sporting event is undeniable and it feels good, really good, to be part of it.

I looked to my left and to my right and saw people of all ethnicities, shapes and sizes who were out there for their own reasons. But once that air-horn sounded and we all began our race we each shared one goal – get to the finish line as fast as possible… And then to the pancake breakfasts, Thanksgiving dinners and (for me) a couple cold, locally brewed beers.

Training had gone well leading up to this event.  Back in April I had employed the services of a Canadian running legend and coach, the one and onlyJim Finlayson. With his direction I was able to maximize the available training time and get my body into good enough shape to have a shot at my lofty goal of 2:35:00 for the full marathon.  I had a previous PB (Personal Best) of 2:44:00 for the open marathon and a couple sub-3 hour marathons in the 16 Ironman triathlons I had completed.

With all my running and endurance sport experience, doing an open marathon didn’t seem that intimidating until about 48 hours before the race. At that time all the usual pre-race nerves, excitement, anxiety and rivers of emotions started flowing through my veins, and into my soul.  It is impossible to explain the pre-race feelings you get when you have prepared to your best potential, but it is safe to say that it is a magical feeling that never gets old.

Getting your running mileage up to certain thresholds is important, and I was able to log quite a few 100+ km weeks. This gave me confidence.  And I had nailed some key sessions in the 6 weeks before the event. Upon reflection before the race I found beautiful peace of mind in the fact that I had really done all I could in training, and armed with this confidence I was ready to race to my potential on the day.

About one mile into the race I settled into my own pace and allowed the eager group just ahead of me to drift away. Proper patience is critical to success in any distance but the longer the event gets the more important it becomes. The ultimate goal pace was 3:40/km and this is right where I sat through almost 30 kilometres. Fuelling the body properly with exogenous carbohydrates sources is also something that can’t be ignored at this distance. My fuelling was on track, and stayed on track for the entire event.

At about 19 km I had hooked up with two runners from Seattle and we worked well together for about 15 km. At that time I made a small miscalculation and ran past the table that my third bottle of energy drink was on, I had to turn around and lost about 15 seconds, which is just enough to snap the tie I had with the other runners. For the last 8 km I was all alone. My focus was still good and my physical strength was not yet fading. It is typically the last 10 km of a marathon that really start to hurt, but this is no foreign feeling to me and so I was ready and willing to push on through.

Just before the 39 km point my body started to indicate it was reaching its limit. My quadriceps were both showing early signs of cramping.  When a major muscle group like this starts to threaten to cramp it is a real problem.  The only thing to do is to shorten the stride length, listen intently to your body and go into survival mode in order to not seize up completely and have to walk.

Muscles seizing up due to fatigue and/or inappropriate levels of calories and electrolytes is a horrible feeling that I am familiar and try to avoid at all costs since walking or limping is much slower than running an adjusted pace. I won’t forget that 39 km marker for a while as it was right at that point that my quads packed up and went home early. I drew on my years of experience and was able to manage the damage enough so that I could continue to run, albeit slowly.

The finish line never gets old, and at this race you can’t actually see the finish line until you are about 150m from it, so when you come around that last slight bend and see it the elation sets in and all the discomfort that has infested your body disappears…until you cross the line and stop running. Then, it really hurts for a while.

I knew I had done everything I possibly could have on the day, and so my first real attempt at running an open marathon was an overwhelming success.  The typical feeling of “I will never do that again” was there, but I was in a more peaceful mindset at this finish line than I have ever been in the past. When I competed in triathlon and there was prize money on the line I was almost never satisfied with my performance (even if I had won the race). But as I age and mature I have started to enjoy the journey more since I know it won’t last forever.

I would like to leave you with two last thoughts:

  1. It does not matter how fast or slow you are, the important thing is that you set a goal (in any physical activity) and enjoy the journey to that goal;
  2. Each event in which you participate allows you to set a positive example for the youth and helps build your community.

Train smart!

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