By the time I had reached New Zealand in 2011, the furthest I had run in my life was 10km in a race I entered with my good friend Gaz. I still remember absolutely dying on the very first training run we did eight weeks before the event and how proud I was when I ran my first mile without stopping. This was a huge deal. When race day came, we had hit our target of getting around in under an hour and we were so exhausted we didn’t even make it out for a pint!
By the time I left NZ in 2015, after 4 years, I was a very different person. I had completed my first half marathon, first full marathon, first off road marathon, first ‘ultra’ at 60km and finally, somehow, completing the 100km Tarawera Ultramarathon in Feb 2015.
Each one of these races was a massive challenge at the time. I signed up to the 2012 Rotorua Half Marathon while I was at home in Ireland the previous Christmas. It felt like it was something I needed to do rather than wanted to do. I had spent the last nine months either working insane hours or drinking too much, had just had a pretty nasty break up and things were pretty bleak and unhealthy. I told hardly anyone about the half marathon that I had signed up to. Looking back, the main reason for this was that I wasn’t sure if it was something that I believed I could actually do.
I booked myself into a little room in Rotorua, hired a car and drove the six hours from Wellington. I had given myself the challenge of getting over the line in under 2 hours. My mat time was 1:59:57. I was toast but delighted!
Later that day, my legs had seized up and were fairly useless so I went to take a look at the prize giving. At some point in the prize giving, medals were given to the men and women in a special category who had completed the full marathon. These medals were for the people who had completed the full marathon and who were over 80 years of age. One of the men was about six rows in front of me. He jumped up and almost skipped to the stage. I was 29 at the time and could hardly walk after running half the distance this man had. It was incredible and so inspiring. There were several people over the age of 80 that had completed the full marathon. I knew there and then, that I would be searching for a marathon to enter that evening.
After seeing these octogenarians collect their medals, I decided that I wanted to complete a full marathon before my 30th birthday. The Auckland Marathon was the obvious choice, it would give me seven months to train and was one month before my birthday. Crossing the finish line that day was a surreal experience. I had thought that a marathon was something for athletes and masochists! I used to laugh at the losers out running at 7am in the morning. Why would you want to do that? (I asked myself the same question every two minutes for the duration of the marathon.)
Yet, on reflection, the point of the marathon for me wasn’t to run a stupidly long distance, it wasn’t to boast to your friends or show off, it wasn’t even to improve your fitness. It was to go out and try and achieve something that you yourself didn’t believe you were capable of.
As cheesy as it sounds, crossing the finish line of your first marathon (or any distance that you don’t think you can complete) is a gift that no money can buy. This is not because of the race itself but because of the significance. It’s not that you have proven other people wrong (which is unimportant anyway), it’s that you have proven yourself wrong. You have achieved something that you didn’t think you were capable of. You thought you were too weak, too unfit, not mentally prepared, too much of an amateur, you didn’t feel like you should even have been lining up to begin with. But you went out and did it. At some point in over those 42km, something in your brain flicked from “I can’t do this, this is nuts” to “I an going to do this” and that is, without doubt, one of the greatest feelings and insights you can ever experience.
You have silenced yourself.
Kepler and Tarawera
Breaking through one mental barrier gives you the motivation to break through more and more and to keep raising the bar. If it wasn’t for the half marathon, I wouldn’t have entered the full marathon. If it wasn’t for the full marathon I never would have read ‘One Step Beyond’ by Malcolm Law, chatted to Ewa and Brent from WoRM and ended up signing up for the Kepler Challenge which is a 60km mountain race. Once I completed Kepler, I had an urge to run 100km and the Tarawera Ultramarathon fitted the bill.
The feeling of completing each one of these was very powerful and I could not have been prouder for getting through them.
But one thing was missing…
Doing the best you possibly can…
I know we should not look back and have regrets but I think it is important to look back, reflect and learn lessons. Looking back on these races, there is a common theme. That theme is that I scraped through each one of them. I did just about enough to get through them, especially the ultra marathons. I hadn’t prepared myself as much as I should have. I didn’t stick to my training plan. I tried to take way too many short cuts. In summary, I didn’t take this events seriously enough. I didn’t do as well as I could have.
And so it begins… again
So, this is a take 2! Going right back to basics and starting from scratch.
This is the beginning of a two year journey, broken down into 8 phases.
The goal… to run a truly scary race in 2018. Something ridiculous, something audacious, something that I have trouble believing I could finish, something that makes you laugh/cry in equal measure at the mere mention of it.
There is only one real contender that springs to mind.