Taking back control in 2020
Editor’s Note: The following piece is a story of my own experience running a 'COVID' marathon - this was not an experiment for an article, and I never intended to write about the marathon, but a lot of people have reached out wanting to know more about it, or have followed my daily journals on Strava. So for those reasons, please enjoy a rare look at my own running on TEMPO - and trust me when I say we won’t be covering my running again!
On March 8th this year, I stepped off course at the LA Marathon at about the 23km mark - it was at the Good Vibes Track Club cheer zone at Fred Siegel (shoutout to all my team at GVTC for being so good to me that day and always). I went into the race with a sore foot that I tried to ignore for about 4 weeks through a bunch of international and domestic USA flights, and sure enough on race day it flared up. My foot hurt for sure, but I think I equally gave up on that race mentally. So after stepping off course and spending the next 2.5 hours in one of the darkest headspaces I’ve ever been in, I resolved that no matter what happened, I would finally get my sub 3 marathon in 2020.
With a clear head, I started to make serious plans in April to run another marathon in 2020. Of course at that time I didn't know what cards 2020 still had to play. Most races globally were still scheduled in - I had even booked a holiday with my wife in July! But as the weeks and months went on and the restrictions were stacked on top of each other, it became obvious that training for a marathon was going to be much harder. But I also knew I couldn't quit, not again. And not like this.
I’ve ran over 3,000km since that day in March, and I think deep down there has been some anger or desire for retribution in every single one of those steps. Anger at myself, and the choices I made on that race day and in the lead up. So it felt phenomenal on Sunday to hear my watch beep at 42.195km and see 2:54:58 on the face. It took me 8 months to make up for a past mistake, but on Sunday I finally did it.
It wasn’t a race. There were no other competitors. I don’t get a medal, there wasn’t even an official start line. But I’ll remember it forever.
So, what did I learn from this, from training for and running a marathon on my own during COVID?
The thing about running a marathon ‘time trial’ is that it’s truly you versus you. Not just on the day, but for the 10 or 12 or 20 weeks you train for it. Especially in a Melbourne winter - there are excuses everywhere, multiple chances every day to take the easy route. Add in covid, a 60 minute restriction on outdoor exercise, and I can see the appeal of giving in to the situation. It's where the 'you versus you' comes in - the optimistic goal-driven part of you wants to achieve a goal, and believes it will be easily attainable, that you're capable of it. Then, when difficult choices need to be made, when you come to these forks in the road, the other you tries to lead you to comfort, warmth, and safety. You versus you.
And this is not me saying ‘anyone who took the year off is lazy’ - I know how it sounds. Rather, I used something as familiar as marathon training, the structure and the routine, to bring me some normalcy in a year that is anything but. They say (I don’t know who, but I say it a lot) that hope is the most important feeling we have, because it’s what keeps us pushing forward. You must never lose all hope. I trained for a marathon because it gave me hope that there was something more to look forward to in 2020. Each night when I closed my eyes and went to sleep, my last conscious thoughts were often of either my training or the impending race day, and that was just the distraction I needed. We’re all different. For some of us, running became the last thing we wanted to do, and I understand that.
Perspective is also important - I know I'm lucky that I can drift off to sleep thinking about running, when so many in our communities are worried about illness or job losses or any number of issues in 2020.
If you want to train for a marathon during some of the toughest lockdown restrictions in the world, you can. But you have to really want it.
This marathon goal consumed me for 8 months. But it was worth it.
This training block for me meant navigating some of the tightest lockdown conditions anywhere in the world - Melbourne has spent over 200 days in some kind of restrictions this year - and doing 90% of my runs solo. There were some obvious comprimises that had to be made but very few marathon training blocks are ever perfect. What I missed in physical preparation from the exercise restrictions, I probably gained in mental strength (that's what I tell myself).
When I think about my ‘marathon experience’ from this time trial, I look back on the lead-in. Normally in those last couple of weeks before the race, your chat groups are pinging with talk of pacing strategies, notable points on the course, packet pick up, and more. You go through the nerves and the anxieties together - it doesn’t feel like much at the time, but it is such a big part of the amateur marathoners experience. I can't wait for the day when races open back up and the group chats light up with entry links and the conversations start about goal times and accommodation and everything else. I miss it.
Even now, 24 hours after the marathon, I find myself thinking more about the training that got me there than I do about the day yesterday. Sure, I had to execute the race, but the achievement isn’t the race. For any of us, the achievement is getting through a long block of training, saying no to excuses, and being resilient and focused. The race itself is really just a celebration of all the work - the work will either show or it won’t.
This marathon project for me was about wrestling back some control in a year where we’ve all had our plans derailed. It’s about having the conviction to keep pushing forward through adversity - 60 minute restrictions, no group runs, and more. And it’s about wanting something bad enough to go out there on race day when there’s no crowd, no atmosphere, no finisher’s medal, and taking it.
I’ve shared this because maybe you’re planning to run your own time trial marathon or maybe you’re feeling a little lost with your goals because races are cancelled. If I can train for a marathon during Melbourne's various lockdowns in 2020, then I absolutely believe you can persist through whatever your circumstances are and get where you want to go.