“You do not know what pain is yet”, says Niander Wallace to Deckard. “You will learn.”
Seventeen full marathons completed. Complete. I’d like to say that once more, complete. I look back on this era, reflecting on the positives: finding friends, chasing the goals of getting faster, fitter, stronger and probably most of all, learning.
Rewind the clocks back to 2010, where it all began. To run a full marathon was the ultimate, the goal, the lifetime achievement. Nervously I signed up, having completed a few half marathons, feeling the need to try something new. Many of my coworkers and friends recommended to try a full marathon. I questioned to why there is no three-quarter marathon, just half (21.1km) or full (42.195km). The step-up from half to full seemed massive, like switching from a small hatchback to an 18-wheeler truck.
And I am no natural born runner. I was a child with asthma, imperfect eyesight and raised in a non-sporting family. Probably the most success I had in sport during school was playing games of chess. I did swim and cycle for fun, however, I remember when I was a teenager, being forced to run a 3 kilometre ‘cross country’ as part of my school’s physical education and walking most of the course due to lack of fitness.
Somehow I scrapped through completing my first full marathon in 2010 (in 4hrs 12min). There was nearly no motivation to do another marathon after that.
I couldn’t walk properly for two weeks after. However, I would thank my dear friends (yes, you all know who you are) influencing my ‘return’ to marathons back in 2011.
Particularly, an annual wager for ‘victory dinner’ with Michael, a high school buddy, over a marathon was the metaphoric carrot on the end of the stick and pushed us both to achieve faster times. Later on, the motivation was less of a dangling carrot, instead I felt it to be more like a taser stun gun… That said, there is nothing more deliciously satisfying than a sumptuous meal won through this wager system. Conversely, there was nothing more bitter and discouraging than defeat.
The journey of seventeen marathons has been like a long haul flight. As the graph shows, over the eight years of racing, the finishing times were overall down, but certainly by no means was it a flight without turbulence. In fact, it was more like a roller-coaster. However, the overall trend was that my times were improving, particularly in Tsukuba Marathon’s 2013 result (3hr7min), which cut 18 minutes off my previous best time. The following year, 2014, was a particularly tough year, where I was close to quitting, poor race choices and bad luck resulted in pretty average finish times for three marathons in a row.
I believe it was due to these three marathons which made me rethink and created the state of “nothing left to lose” mentality. With the pressure off and applying a more strategic training (just work on your weaknesses), long runs with Harrisson and Stan up to the lead up of Beppu Oita “Betsudai” marathon in 2015, the magical sub-three hour time was finally achieved.
I can tell you, running a sub-three for the first time is likely to be one of the best feelings you will feel as a runner.
But where to from there? When this whole journey began, I would have never thought I could endure more than just a single marathon, or become that ambitious with goal settings. You will see on the chart there were five marathons after Betsudai 2015, later in the year Toyama Marathon was pacing a friend, winning the 2017 Tokyo Marathon lottery was a must-do and the other marathons were completed with minimal training.
From the first attempt of the full marathon, to the fastest, I managed to cut 1 hour 15 minutes off my time. A good running friend, Mika T. mentioned me that obtaining a better race time is sometimes like squeezing a wet cloth: the first part is relatively easy, but the last few drops are really difficult. I totally agree with this and holds very true. Even the great World Record Holder, Haile Gebrselassie, cut his official times by just five minutes.
Seventeen marathons. I was born on the seventeenth day.
So I think it is time to move on.
I have nothing more to prove in this distance. I won’t stop running or give up on racing, but I feel physically and mentally pressured to give up on the stress of full marathons for a while. Shorter distances are fine, involving much less training and recovery times are quicker, while longer ‘ultra’ distances although require more stamina, are far more conservative in pace, which I feel is more natural.
I may well be questioned about this abrupt sign off. For the most part, I had fun and experienced so much during the races and the training and preparation that came with each. There was also injury at times, although fairly lucky compared to some other running friends. Acquiring pain management with heightened pain tolerance was necessary. Definitely staying positive and persevering during these rough “turbulent” times was a good trait to learn.
“I don’t want to complain anymore after this… which means it’s better to stop here”, Haile, on retirement. New York, Nov 2010.