Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Running a Marathon

Last Sunday was the second Brighton marathon, and having spent the last couple of weeks writing about things that weren't actually really failures I thought that it would be high time to talk about one of my worst moments in the last few years.

I entered into the first Brighton marathon as a charity runner, but I never actually managed to run the thing. I hadn't done any running for years when I decided to give it a go, but I was generally feeling bad about letting things get away from me and I wanted a project that was hard, but possible, to give me some sense of capability again.

I used to be pretty fit as a teenager, playing rugby, swimming and generally getting involved in the house athletics competitions at school. But gradually I let all of those things go, eventually stopping swimming, the last remaining and most enjoyable of my sporting activities, when I was self-harming and needed to hide it - possibly the by-product of cutting myself that I most regret. I have now, and had at the time I decided to enter the marathon, begun swimming again, which is definitely a good thing.

So, it seemed like something that I could do, although it would take a lot of work - but that work would be physical rather than mental, which was attractive to me as at the time I was reeling from my continual failure to get stuck into the accountancy qualifications that I had said I was going to do. I had basically based my entire application for the job I was doing on getting these qualifications, but had hit a sort of stagnant patch where it was apparent that I didn't need to get them in order to continue happily in the job now that I had it. Also I had recently been denied a pay rise despite having been given more responsibility and so I was reaching a position of not caring, which is never healthy for me.

And I started running, even though I hated it. It was hard to start with, but I was good at it. Even when it was slow going, and I couldn't go for five minutes without needing to slow to a walk for ten more I kept going, because that's really what I'm like. Even though I started only going half a mile in short bursts I knew I could get better, and before I had to stop I was up to just under ten miles with one walking break halfway through.

As I ran I would often fantasise about catching my leg in a rabbit hole and breaking an ankle, or slipping or something else out of my control, because then I would have a legitimate excuse to stop that would not be my fault. I didn't stop running though. The problem was, I was beginning to see that something was wrong. I was getting pains in my knees after runs that would last for days, and I was wearing tubigrips constantly to try and pretend that I had it under control. Eventually I went to the doctor, and he said that if I kept running on pavements, which was all I could do around here, then I'd mess up my knees. They were too week and there was nothing else for it; I should try cycling or something else less high impact.

I felt horrible, like my body had betrayed me. Which unfortunately feeds nicely into my general pattern of body issues. I know that my will is basically strong, probably too strong because I end up pushing myself until I get ill rather too often, and then I burn out and manage to fuck my life up in new and interesting ways. Unfortunately my body is weak: frail and fundamentally corporeal. Like all flesh it can only fail, and it fails more often than I can cope with. Sometimes I remember and I know what to expect, but usually I forget and then I come away disappointed.

Having to admit that I had got what I had been telling myself that I wanted was also hard, because it meant that the second guessing, failure embracing part of me had won - its view was by default the dominant one, and so it became stronger. Having to pull out of the race flattened me, far worse than the training for the race had been able to. Training was something I could cope with because it was a series of challenges. Failure - not training - was just a sea of flat days punctuated with self-recrimination. I was so fucked off by it all that I couldn't even admit to the failure on the blog I was writing to track my progress and raise funds - I just left it empty and mute, another piece of internet jetsam swiftly forgotten but frozen, accusingly, in place.

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