Monday, October 14, 2013

When Failure Feels Like Victory

If you're reading this today hoping to hear about my triumphant run on the weekend where I ran fast and ran strong and PB'd then you're going to be disappointed. There was no fast running or strong running or PB's. But there was triumph. Because triumph isn't always measured objectively.

Before I start, though, I will warn you that I'll be over-sharing in this post. So if you're at all squeamish you might as well walk away while you still can. But if you're a runner then you'll probably enjoy all the gruesome details because we thrive on all that stuff.

I'll start where I left off on Friday - feeling stressed about a whole heap of issues that had cropped up during the week. I'd vowed to leave them all behind in Brisbane and try to enjoy my weekend but, like the major stress-head that I am, I carried them all down to Melbourne with me. I'm just lucky that Jetstar didn't charge me for excess baggage. I was so stressed that I couldn't eat Saturday morning - not good when I'd hardly eaten Friday either.

We got in to Melbourne and were greeted by the Mum of one of Josh's friends, who'd been on the same flight as us. She'd run with the squad some years ago and had very kindly offered to drop us into our hotel. That was awesome and saved me worrying about the bus trip and finding where we were staying.

Our hotel was amazing! I'd been told it was fancy but had no idea until I saw the lobby. The views from our 40th floor room were spectacular.

We dumped our luggage and went to find some food but again my stomach wasn't cooperating and all I could eat was a bit of rice and some chicken. Not fair - this was the one day where I could indulge my carboholic tendencies without guilt and I was being betrayed by my body.

As the afternoon wore on my anxiety levels started to rise. I couldn't face going out to dinner with Serena and Josh. I just stayed in the room and ordered a sandwich and tried to stuff it down my throat. My head was in a very negative state - I knew I hadn't eaten enough and it was going to literally mean running on empty. And that's if I could even make the start line. I'd prepared my gear and set my alarm but everything in me was just wanting to turn it off. 

But I didn't want to let myself down. I'd trained for this for months. This was my way of celebrating the return of good health and proving that the dark days were finally over. And I didn't want to let down everyone who was rooting for me - and there were lots of people! Texts and Facebook messages - wonderful, supportive messages kept streaming in while I was sitting on my bed feeling just so awfully pathetic.

But it was one person in particular who stopped me from turning off my alarm. One very bossy, loving, kind friend who knew just what a nut-case I can be and who vowed that she'd do what it took to get me to the start line. She had her alarm set for the same time as me and told me that she'd be checking in first thing in the morning to assess my needs. So I really had no choice - the alarm stayed on.

But of course I woke up before the alarm. Played a few rounds of Words With Friends to keep my mind off things. Forced down a banana and a piece of bread and jam. Got dressed then texted my bossy friend to let her know I was dressed and as ready as I would ever be. 

Josh and Serena walked me to the start and made sure I was settled with the squad before heading back to bed. There's nothing better than being surrounded by your running family to help keep the nerves at bay. My anxiety just melted away as we chatted and walked to the start line.

And then it was time to run. The gun went off at 7am and it wasn't long till we were shuffling over the line. I actually wasn't feeling too bad. I didn't feel a thing from my niggly Achilles. And for the first time in days I felt a little bit optimistic. Maybe it wasn't going to be so bad after all.

And it wasn't ... for the first 15 kilometres. But slowly my lack of fuel started to catch up with me. I was feeling way more tired than I should have at this point so I slowed down. And for the TMI part that I promised at the beginning - I was starting to get cramps. Not leg cramps but period ones. Of all days for it to come!

But I kept on. We ran down St Kilda Rd and then turned right along the waterfront on Beaconsfield Terrace then doubled back to run up the other direction. 

At around 18k I realised that I couldn't see properly. It was raining but it wasn't rain causing my problem. I was getting an aura - the visual disturbance that people get before they get a migraine. Great!! Here I am not even half way through my event underfuelled, not being able to see properly, having period cramps, knowing that there was every chance I'd end up with a major headache and already feeling like I was done. 

A couple of my friends ran past me and asked how I was doing. It really sucked to have to say that I was struggling even before halfway. But it was what it was and there was nothing I could do except suck it up and keep going. I told myself I just had to make it to the half marathon point. And once I made it there I wasn't too far from 30k and once I got to 30k I was going to allow myself to run/walk the rest of the way.

But I didn't quite make it to 30k before I had my first walk break. By 28k I had an awful stitch that just wasn't letting up. So I walked a bit. But when I stopped to walk the cramps felt worse. So I took the two ibuprofen tablets that I'd brought along as a 'desperate measure' and started to run again. 

I kept on run/walking for a few kilometres as we headed back up St Kilda Rd. I felt miserable. I'd wanted so badly to finish this run better than I had my first marathon. I hadn't cared too much about the time but I'd wanted to run the whole way and I felt that I'd let myself down. But I wasn't going to give up. Sometimes just finishing instead of giving up is the victory so I continued to plod along as best I could.

I was almost up at the Botanical Gardens when two angels appeared on the course. It was my bossy friend, Bec and Youngie (another friend from the squad) who were doing the half marathon. I can't put into words exactly how much they lifted my spirits. I ran with them for a bit until their course veered off from ours but that little time with them was just what I'd needed. 

My sweaty angels in disguise.

I stopped to walk just once more up a long hill but something had happened in my head. My body didn't hurt any less but I'd surrendered to everything. Every step that I took now was a little victory against all the stressful things that had happened in the last week. A victory against my long stretch of bad health. Against all the personal crap that had happened in the last four years. Every step was like I was thumbing my nose at the universe and saying 'throw your worst at me, I'm not going to let it beat me!' 

It was six glorious kilometres! 

There was one clear moment where all I felt was gratitude. Even though I was hurting and everything had seemed to conspire against me in that last week, I was doing it. I couldn't have done it last year and all I wanted back then was just to be able to run. So how could I not feel grateful?

The 40k marker was a huge surprise - somehow I'd missed number 39. That was an exciting moment because I knew that the squad tent wasn't too far away. And once I reached the squad I knew that their cheers were going to carry me to the finish line. 

The GaleForcers are a rowdy bunch when they see one of their own. They made me feel like I was a superstar. And it wasn't hard to run the last stretch into the MCG and around to the finish.

My finishing time? 4:21. 

It might not have been exactly how I'd hoped, but I feel so much prouder of this event than my first marathon. And this medal is now the pride of my collection.

And before I finish I just want to say a huge thanks to every member of the GaleForce squad. You guys are truly amazing!


  1. Congratulations Char. A marathon always tells a story and yours is one that you won't forget in a hurry. Well done!

  2. So you have such a bad run and you only loss 20min, come on that is great, now fine the next marathon (or half and race again in 2 or 3 weeks, I don't think your body is worn-out from the race as it would have been with a 3h40!!! So that 3h40 is still there waiting to bee run!!!

  3. So you have such a bad run and you only loss 20min, come on that is great, now fine the next marathon (or half and race again in 2 or 3 weeks, I don't think your body is worn-out from the race as it would have been with a 3h40!!! So that 3h40 is still there waiting to bee run!!!

  4. Wow!!! Congratulations, Char! I read this with baited breath, loved where you said "sometimes just finishing instead of giving up is the victory", which is so true, and was so happy that you turned what could have been a disappointment into a huge personal triumph - way to go!

  5. Congratulations. You ARE a superstar. You've just come through all of that and out the other side. What a fantastic story! Now have some rest and enjoy life for a while.

  6. I can't believe you felt so crappy and still ran a 4.20!! Wow that is excellent. it just shows how tough you are mentally and how fit you were going into the race. Well done. I'm so glad you feel proud of yourself because you should be.

  7. Char you are my hero! I can't say how many times I said to myself reading your post: okay here I would quit. But you? You didn't, you pushed through and didn't give up and that's such a greater achievement than a finishing time. You came, ran and conquered.

    Well, well done! So proud of you.

  8. Yah I agree ur time good considering! Every marathon subject to the whim of the marathon gods ;) everything needs to be perfect for a PR.

    Any day you can run a marathon is a great day!
    Well done at pushing through!

  9. I agree with coach Dion too. Repeak in a few weeks and go again if u anything the more times u run a marathon the more u get used to it..and good to use that base for another go.

  10. Congrats Char! You are such a superstar. You saw the light at the end of the health issue tunnel and you pushed through! That's a GREAT time. Especially given the stress you've been under. Well done and welcome back to marathoning!

  11. Wow - I have been waiting for your report to see what happened, I was wondering on Sunday how it went! I'm so sorry you were under such stress, but you toughed it out and showed the world how strong you are!

    Great perspective and a fantastic reminder that it's not always about running a PB. I love this post - well done!

  12. All of that and you finish with a 4:21? You are a star! That is awesome! Well done Char! You are right to be so proud of this one.

  13. You made me tear up, well done you on going, doing and finishing xx

  14. This brought tears to my eyes Char. You overcame so much to even get to Melbourne and then - you just kept going. I'm probably most proud (if I'm allowed to be proud of another grown adult) that you dug deep and just kept going DESPITE everything.

    I hope you cherish this run because it wasn't perfect .

  15. Ugh, I am not getting your updated posts on my blogroll for some reason....but I popped over b/c I knew you ran the race and wanted to see if you had written... anyway, enough of that.

    I have SO much I'd love to say...I wish you were here with me so we could sit and chat over tea - you and I are two peas....I've said that before and I'll say it over and over again (especially after reading this). The only difference is I have no willpower against eating cupcakes! :)

    I get severe anxiety racing marathons - a HUGE reason why I didn't slap another on my race calendar when my foot got better and I therefore decided to tackle the trails, where time doesn't matter as much (nor does a structured training plan). So many things can go wrong in a marathon and unfortunately you got to experience the vast majority in one race - lucky girl (not!). It royally sucks...but damn if I wasn't choked up reading further and further how you didn't give up - your strength and tenacity to fight the fight is incredible and I am extremely proud - and happy - that you finished this beast when I know at times you didn't want to. Sometimes the runs which are most valuable to us aren't the ones we PB'd or ran perfectly, sometimes they're the ones that made us fight to the bitter end and persevere. Super proud of you, Char!!

    I am a very firm believer in taking the fitness you have and carrying that to another marathon quickly ... I've run some of my very best marathons by doing so. Just a thought :).

    You've come so far after all you endured with your health....wear that medal with extreme pride. You earned it!!


  16. WooHoo - I knew that you were super tough and you just showed how very tough you are!! You rock!!! I'm so happy for you and the way you pushed through all of the factors working against you!!!

  17. How nice of your son to walk you to the race! And I am very impressed that you did this marathon and did it well with all that happened in your life just before it. You should be very proud of that medal! Congrats!

  18. omg, what a recap! I was on pins and needles reading've been through a lot this past week and you did amazing...4:21 is a great time considering how awful you felt! congratulations, so thrilled for you!

  19. Congrats on the strong finish! Way to push through lots of negatives and come out shiny in the end. Good job!

  20. Char--Sorry it was such a tough day for you. But I totally get the sense of satisfaction from having gutted it out and finished (been there more than once). You are one tough lady to make it through like that. I hope you are resting up and treating yourself nicely this week!

  21. Wow, what a post. You gave me goosebumps! I am so proud not just that you got up and ran that marathon when you felt crappy to start with - but you kept going when you got the cramps and the aura and everything started feeling awful. And then to come out feeling so awesome? It's just inspiring stuff. I loved it. Congratulations.

  22. Wow, what a race experience! I'm sorry things all went so wrong, but I love your attitude!!!! You triumphed through it all and that shows and tells so much about you. Perseverance is something so many people don't have. Congrats on what I would consider a great race. Amazing job!!

  23. Great post and what a great race!! I love it that we have all been in those shows and can so relate. Those last kilometers must have felt the best ever!!

    Congrats Char!

  24. So proud of you for not giving up! What an amazing time at that! xoxo!


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