New York, New York

October 28, 2013

In less than a week I’ll be running New York Marathon. New York is probably the most famous marathon and with around 47,000 runners, I think it’s the biggest. It has the reputation for being a fantastic experience, not least because of the thousands and thousands of fantastic spectators lining the route.

This will be my second time running NY marathon and things are certainly a lot different this time around!

2009
The last time was in November 2009. It was my second marathon ever and I was very focused on running a good time – or at least a better time than my first marathon 18 months before. Objectively speaking I was in good shape and it should have been possible if things had gone according to plan. But that’s the thing about marathons. There are so many variables, many of which you have no control over. I managed to pick up a stomach bug 3 weeks before the marathon and that mutated into a lung infection with a course of antibiotics which finished only a couple of days before the marathon. But the flights to New York were booked so off we went although 2 days before I was still in doubt about whether I was well enough to run. The day before I decided to go for it: mainly because I wasn’t sure I would ever have the chance to run New York marathon again and after all, how bad could it be???

Well, the answer turned out to be: really bad! Sometimes when you run you just have a bad day and if it’s a normal training run you decide to shorten your run, or head home. Believe me, if you already realise after the first km that this isn’t your day, then 42.2 km is a really long way! I hoped that I would feel better after 5 km: I didn’t, but I kept on going. I sort of managed to keep it together for the first half, but after that it was truly awful. To be honest the only reason I didn’t drop out was that the thought of the effort of trying to get back to my hotel by any other means just seemed so overwhelming that it seemed like the lesser of two evils just to keep going.

NY 2009. Glad to be finished!

NY 2009. Glad to be finished!

When I finally crossed the finish line I didn’t have any of the usual euphoria over having done it, I just felt really glad that it was over! Later, when I had time to absorb it all, I felt (1) Really disappointed by my time (3:49 when I had been aiming for under 3:30) and (2) Cheated of the “NY marathon experience”.

 

2013
When I was given the opportunity to run in this year’s NY marathon it seemed like the perfect second chance to have that “NY marathon experience”. My main goal this year was the Ironman, so running a marathon at this point is mostly just for fun, riding on the form that I’ve built up over the summer. This time I don’t have a time goal. I have a start pace in mind so I don’t go off too fast, but once I find my pace, my plan is to run on feeling and focus on having fun without my eyes on my watch.

The thing is this, that in the four years that have passed I might not have become a better runner in terms of speed, but I do believe I have become a better runner in terms of the running process. With the benefit of hindsight I can see that I cheated myself of the experience last time around. I was so fixated on running a specific time that, when things started going off course when I got ill, I got stressed and started doubting myself. With that mental state up to the race of course it ended as a bad experience. If I had instead accepted that everything wasn’t perfect, I could have relaxed and taken easy and I believe I would then have had a good experience despite not having good running legs on the day. In other words, I have learned that if you think it’s going to be hard, it will be hard. But if you decide it’s going to be fun, then it will be fun!

So this Sunday I’m going to have a great day. I’m going to soak up the atmosphere, and enjoy the weird and wonderful sights, sounds and smells for however long it takes me to get to that finish line in Central Park!

Tune in again next week and find out if I reach my goal!

Falling in love again

October 6, 2013

I’ve been in love with running for quite a number of years now. When I finished cancer treatment in December 2010, I naively imagined that I’d be back to my running “normal” within a few months. Well, 9 months later I ran a marathon, but almost an hour slower than my personal record. Disappointed, I did some historical research and figured that it had originally taken me 2 years of consistent and systematic training to reach my “peak” so decided I would give it 2 years. In that period the focus of my training was on getting faster, but as the 2 year mark approached I was still nowhere near as fast as I used to be. Reluctantly I had to accept that it just wasn’t going to happen. So it wasn’t that I fell out of love with running, exactly, but my inability to get back to my previous level seemed like a symbol that I wasn’t what I used to be and never was going to be.

That was one of the factors that influenced my decision to go for the Ironman. To prove to myself that I might not be as fast, but I was still fit and tough and that the cancer hadn’t “won”.

So my focus changed. I was still running of course, but less than usual since that was the triathlon discipline I already had in place. As I was regularly pushing myself outside my comfort zone swimming or cycling, it was a relief to come “home” to running, where I felt comfortable and relaxed and could process all the thoughts, feelings, stresses and strains from the Ironman training. I fell in love with running again and stopped feeling it as a symbol of anything.

Then early this summer I noticed something strange. My running speeds in training were, quite suddenly, getting faster. And it wasn’t just something I was imagining. In July I took part in Etape Bornholm, a five day stage race (running) and was really surprised that I clocked times that were close to my pre-cancer times, and surprisingly came second in my age-group. Then a couple of weeks ago I ran a 10 km race and got a time that was only 40 seconds slower than my all-time personal best (and according to my favourite tool the age equivalence calculator I should be 90 seconds slower by now!). And last weekend I ran a half-marathon 9 minutes faster than the same race 1 year ago, and again while not a personal record, faster than the age equivalence calculator says I should be by now.

When I realised that my running was getting faster again I figured that I’d really like to have a shot at running a marathon again before the winter and by chance I got the opportunity for a start number for New York marathon on 3rd November. So for the last couple of months since the Ironman my focus has been back on running. But while I’m looking forward to running in New York, I’m no longer obsessed about proving anything in terms of finishing times. While I’m curious about how well I can do, mostly I’m looking forward to having a great experience doing the thing that I love.

I do of course realise that the many hours I’ve spent swimming and cycling have had a huge impact on my fitness gazellelevel which has influenced my running. However, I don’t think that it’s the only factor. I also believe that shifting my focus away from the obsession with “getting back to normal” freed my inner gazelle.

Yes – Kirsten the gazelle is back!