What goes through the mind of somebody as they are running a marathon? Well, thanks to Nicola Ranger, the TBS crew will never have to find out first hand…
It’s just after 6am. It’s cold. It’s just getting light. You are standing in a crowd facing an inflatable arch, listening to a true blue Aussie compere announcing the minutes ’til the starting gun, giving a quick weather forecast, and introducing Bob who, this morning, is running his 40th marathon.
His 40th marathon? This is your first. You’ve done the training, you’ve not even had a beer for three months, but can you really keep on running for 42.2km?
You shuffle your feet, check for the umpteenth time that your runners are done up, your race number is safety pinned to the front of your rapid dry singlet. Other people are a little too close for comfort – sniffing, stretching, yawning.
Somewhere near the inflatable arch, the starting gun goes off. You shuffle forward, patiently waiting your turn while the people who actually know how to run get going and go zooming off ahead. Then suddenly you’re off, you’re running and now you just have to keep on running – for most of the morning.
There are pacemakers in amongst the crowd, even right near the back where you are. Each pacemaker manages to run the whole marathon with a little flag sticking up their back, waving above their head indicating their target time. You are pleased to see that Mr 4hr 15m is only just ahead of you. You tell yourself not to worry, it’s just about finishing – time is just a bonus. But really you know that if you don’t get your target time you’ll just burst into tears every time you have to talk about it, ever, for the rest of your life.
So what happens then, during this entire morning of non-stop running? How do you just keep going? Headphones are frowned upon for safety reasons, so you didn’t bring your iPod. Of course others just ignored the warning, aren’t getting told off by race officials and are just having way more fun than you’re having. Not fair!
You sing a little song in your head instead and realise around the 30km mark that you’ve had that same song on a loop in your mind for 3 hours now. In fact, your whole mind has just been on loop, only your body has been moving forward.
Most normal humans need some kind of sustenance, over and above water, during a marathon. You would be forgiven for assuming that runners only consume super healthy natural sources of energy, treating their sweating, chaffing bodies as temples and all that.
Er, no. Most long distance runners get their energy boost from gels. Little sachets of goopy gel that could be mistaken for a hair product. Gels contain (as far as anyone can gather from reading between the lines of the marketing blurb) simple carbohydrates, sodium and amino acids, in a consistency that can be easily consumed without actually eating. Some even contain my favourite drug, caffeine.
So you struggle along to the next water station, sucking down one more sachet of gel, trying to wash it down with a few mouthfuls of water, trying not to look like you’re choking, all without actually stopping running.
There’s about another hour to go and your feet are really hurting now. Like, every single step hurts. You must have blisters on your blisters – heck, with this much pain surely something must be bleeding by now.
You know your pace is getting slower. It’s a cold morning. Your nose has been running for as long as you can remember – where is all this snot even coming from? At the last drink station you accidentally grabbed a cup of event sponsor brand name sports drink instead of water, then chucked it over your head. So now your face is a sticky mess of snot and sports drink.
At this point, suddenly there are people along the side of the road, shouting encouraging words and waving motivational signs. Of course they’re not there for you; they’re actually waving to their friend just behind.
You turn a corner, and you can see the inflatable arch in the distance. You can hear music blaring and the compere is back, as cheerful as he was first thing this morning.
You put your head up and try to run faster, knowing that the end must be nearly there, but the inflatable arch just isn’t getting any nearer, there’s another bend in the road, there’s still another 500m, how is that even possible?
Finally you can see the finish line. The clock says something less than 4hr 30m as you run through the inflatable arch. You did it!! You ran a marathon!!!
Twenty minutes later, you’ve finally caught your breath. You are in proud possession of a bottle of water, a medal, a banana and one less toenail than you started the day with.
Nicola first ran a 5km fun run in 2001 – last week she finally ran a full 42.2.km marathon. With a finish time of 4hr 23m 40s, Nicola is satisfied with this achievement, and will not be putting herself through such torture ever again.