Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fun and not-so fun

Signing up to do a marathon in Amsterdam on 16 October after having a French wine fuelled dinner with Ausssie friends a couple of months back was probably not the most considered decision I had ever made. Irrespective the number of my week day runs slowly increased and my weekend runs became progressively longer. However, during the same months, so did my professional work load, as did the number of injuries I was persevering with. My second attempt to train for my first marathon (the first being in Australia in 2009) was starting to look pretty shaky.


A bursa is a small sack of fluid that sits between the tendon and the bone. Its function is to provide cushioning for the tendon so that it doesn’t rub directly against the bone. A useful little function within our body, particularly for our hip joints which withstand a lot of repetitive movement, especially when running. What happens though, when the hip bursa becomes inflamed, resulting in bursitis? Well after a 30km run, you basically have serious difficulty walking.

This was my situation prior to going to Peru in the first week of September. My long weekend runs weren’t enjoyable and became excruciating affairs. In an attempt to persevere, I’d recruit my mate Rich to run with me just so I could get through the distance. Pace, on the other hand, was another issue. The bursitis was all stemming from the fact that I have really high arches in my feet that consequently puts a lot of pressure on the balls of my feet when I run, causing them to burn and ache during and after running... so I was in a lot of trouble.

Just before going to Peru I managed to get new insoles for my runners which provided the much needed support for the arches of my feet. Testing them out for the first time on yet another 30km odd run was not my cleverest thought I admit. Whilst my hip pain significantly reduced, the two biggest blisters of my life spanning my entire arches of both feet, once again, rendered me unable to walk.

Taking my new insoles along with me to Peru, I tried to fit in a run or two. Although I was not overly motivated by the threat of being kidnapped as a foreigner in Lima, which is sadly a common occurrence but rarely spoken about. However, trekking, climbing and descending over 80km with my new insoles ensur4ed they were sufficiently broken in.

Arriving back in Paris a month before my scheduled marathon, I went for my first proper run in almost two weeks. Whilst surprisingly I really did feel the benefits of being active at high altitude for a week, I came to realise that completing the marathon in my goal time was not going to happen. Sure – I could’ve got through, but I wasn’t going to enjoy it, and being my first one, that was an important element.

However, not content with simply giving up, I decided to do a replacement event, the 20km of Paris, the weekend before the marathon was to be held. One problem – the event was entirely sold out. Where there is a will, there is a way! I put the call out to people from my Parisian triathlon club. Did anyone know of someone unable to run the Paris 20km race? Sure enough someone else’s misfortune, became by gain. When picking up the race bib and timing chip (built into the bib) the day before the event, I realised that I wouldn’t be racing as just some number. Non, non, I would assume the name of the tri club member that couldn’t race the event, “Magda”.

"Allez Magda!"

I had hopes of doing a good time the following day, with perhaps setting a personal best (PB) over the distance. It was in fact a year to the day that I had scored my PB for the half-marathon at the Melbourne Marathon the year before.

Those hopes were slightly diminished the next morning when I woke up to it raining outside...hmmm a distracting element. Meeting with friends under the Eiffel Tower, I was told that a lot of ‘non-runners’ do the event, and that it would be very frustrating trying to get through all the people and that I should treat it as a fun run. “A fun run, what the hell is that?”

A lot of people there certainly was. Almost 25,000 to be precise. Waiting in the rain in the thick of it, I started to doubt the chances of any sort of quick time. When the gun finally went off to mark the start of the race, it took a whole 10 minutes to even cross the start line. Finally I began to run, but the pace was slow. I was trying to get past everyone without using too much energy by wildly darting through the crowd.

There I am! Can you see me?

Coming up to 3 and 4km I started to think ‘Hmm, this slow pace means that I’m really going to have to pick it up over the next 16km’. However, those hopes were quickly dashed when at the first water station at the 5km mark all the non-runners stopped to get a drink, which meant that the ‘actual runners’ were virtually slowe3d to walking pace in order to get through.

It was shortly after the 6km mark when I finally decided to abandon any hope of a quick time when we all had to take a left turn in the Bois de Boulogne, that led us down a narrow forest path and yet again we were reduced to not much faster than a jog at best.

I figured if I was ever to do a run just for fun, and not go for either time, or to better a PB, or challenge myself over a new distance, then what better city to do it in the rain than Paris. Although that didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to make it a least a decent training run. So with the ‘time anxiety’ melted away, I settle in to enjoy the morning.

It was at around the 8-9km mark that I had past the bulk of the female runners and was surrounded mostly by men. Any female I did spot, I picked off in my ‘run-pay’ efforts. However, one of the most amusing moments came just after the 10km when an ambulance decided to enter the race with its emergency lights and sirens blaring, except it was going in the opposite direction of the runners trying to cut through the swath of 25,00 runners. ‘Only in Paris!’ I thought.

The rain didn’t let up during the whole run. Let me assure you that running alongside men who are in wet clothes couple with their perspiration, provided for the most unpleasant dank odour.

At 18km, I spotted a bright yellow sign which stated “La santé avant la performance”, translated as ‘health before performance’. I wondered whether this was because yet again we were being ferried down a narrow path under a bridge which required caution, or whether it was for all the non-runners that were going to try and push themselves towards the end of the race. Surely enough, as if it were scripted, I then spotted a man lying on the ground wrapped in a foil hyperthermia blanket being attended to by first aid officers as he was trying to take a sip of water.

The sign appeared again at the 19km mark, but at that stage I was just keen to get out of the rain. After crossing the finish just under 10 minutes from my half marathon PB, a clear indication of the situation of the race, it took a good 10 minutes to get my finisher’s medal and show bag. Yet again, only in Paris would you get sparkling mineral water at the end of the race and a clock of dark chocolate.

My growing collection of medals

The hot post-run shower was very much appreciated. So too, were the celebratory ciders with a couple of my mates later that afternoon as we laughed and recounted our race stories...well fun run stories.


So my second attempt at my first marathon, might not have been successful, but I’ve already entered an international marathon event next year, whilst not under the influence. I have a very good feeling that it will be third time lucky!

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