On New Year’s Eve 2019, my Running Pal and I found ourselves in a pub, discussing our hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. More specifically, we were discussing our hopes and dreams for the spring marathon we signed up for. We both had lofty but achievable goals and a plan to get there. Looking back, this sounds like some sort of cruel joke. It kind of feels like one too. The dust hasn’t really settled yet, has it?
By March of 2020, training was well underway and my pace was getting quicker. I was feeling strong, but was simultaneously cognisant that the global race calendar was starting to wither away as the rapidly progressing pandemic kicked itself into ever-higher gears.
At that point, the organisers of the Belfast Marathon sent out an email to say that the race was still scheduled for the beginning of May, but there would not be t-shirts (presumably because they were being produced in China). Going off that information, I continued to train.
As I was packing to go to Belfast this weekend, a full nineteen months after receiving that email, I realised that that was my first personal brush with the pandemic. Not getting a t-shirt after running a marathon was the first, gentle wave of an oncoming high tide. I could wade in that water, though, and, in that moment, did not foresee that I’d soon be fighting against the current. This story isn’t about that, though. It’s definitely part of it, but we’re here to talk about the race.
Over the course of the pandemic, the Belfast Marathon was bumped from May 2020 to September 2020, to May 2021, to September 2021, and then finally to October 2021. It made for a long time of adjusting and readjusting training plans and trying to keep running a constant during such a challenging and uncertain time.
Training for this race for the fifth time went just okay compared to training seasons gone by, but I like to think I was doing my best under the conditions of living through a global pandemic. Stubbornly, the grace I typically give myself doesn’t always extend to crushing marathons, but I put in the work and my goal was still in reach. It wasn’t going to be particularly comfortable on race day, but the goal was in reach.
But then, two weeks before the race I felt an unnerving tickle in my throat. You know that feeling of when a cold is brewing and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it? I cringed knowing my body would spend the next ten days (apparently the average length of the common cold) fighting a cold rather than resting and gearing up for the race I’d been looking forward to for two years. Both of those things require energy and there’s not enough for both at the same time.
I was feeling rundown but on the up-and-up a couple of days before leaving for Belfast. It helped that I was very much looking forward to a weekend away with pals. And, despite queuing for race numbers for two hours and twenty seven minutes, what a wonderful weekend it was. We scouted some iconic (?) filming locations, learned some history, shared a sauce, and revelled in the general excitement of a race weekend.
After a strangely restful night’s sleep it felt great to put on my race gear and head for the start line of my first race since July of 2019. The logistics of the morning went smoothly and it felt great to be surrounded by fellow runners.
Toeing the line for the first time in so long was exciting, the air was crisp, and the sun was shining. It was a good day for a marathon. Overall, the weather was a treat, with the exception of some gusty winds. The temperatures were cool and the sun was out, with a few downpours mixed in, just to keep things interesting.
The first five miles of the race were quick but manageable. My pace was a little quick but far from uncharted territory. It felt challenging and great until I felt a cough that I just couldn’t seem to clear.
That was when I dropped my time goal. Five miles in. Soon after that, my nose started to run, which is not the kind of running you want during a marathon to be honest. I blew my nose into my own shirt thrice over the course of the race and amazingly was not arrested for being absolutely disgusting in a public space. By mile eight I felt mad and frustrated and I was not having a good time. That’s a bit early to be feeling that way. But I held on and ran 18 more miles. Every one of them was genuinely miserable, but I ran them anyway and managed to cross another finish line.
A marathon win in my book is crossing the finish line feeling like you could not have possibly gone any faster and I finished the Belfast Marathon feeling just that way. Upon finishing, I shed my usual finish-line tear, always in sheer amazement of what I’ve just done. This time was different though because I couldn’t tell if they were happy tears or sad tears and they just kept coming. I parked myself on a bench and just had a good cry. I love a good cry. In the end, it was a mixture of two years of anticipation, being frustrated that I didn’t run the way I know my body can, and the incredible feeling of training for and completing a marathon. It was a conflicting bunch of emotions.
So while it definitely didn’t play out as I had hoped, it’s still another training plan seen through and finish line crossed and that’s a feat in and of itself, global pandemic or not. And naturally, I’m already eyeing the next race, so watch this space for marathon number TEN. Literally how did that happen?
Thank You Notes
- Thank you to chocolate milk for, as always, going down so easily after a long run – a tasty and on-point carbs to protein ratio to kickstart recovery.
- Thank you to my Running Pal for being a pal and such.
- Thank you to the city of Belfast for a great weekend and a wonderfully supported race. It’s been a long time coming and it felt great to be out there.
And finally, a quick question for any menstruating runners who might be reading this: Have you ever had unscheduled bleeding DURING a race or long run? Is this a thing that happens? Or just incredibly poor timing for a bout of spotting? Either way, EYE ROLL.