THE ROAD TO MY FIRST MARATHON
Updated: Jul 30, 2019
From overcoming my fears after falling at the Two Oceans Half Marathon to getting back on track - increasing my long runs, some race reports - and everything in between; this is the journey of training for my first marathon!!
Just eight weeks after recovering from my back injury I lined up at the TWO OCEANS HALF MARATHON. However, after slipping and falling over a water sachet just before the 4K mark I was unable to finish the race. *The following two weeks after my fall was everything but easy or ideal. I was extremely stiff and had to undergo a lot of treatment for my back to be able to make it to the SPAR LADIES 10K CHALLENGE in Port Elizabeth.
I walked away from SPAR PE frustrated after my race was ruined with GI distress the day before and on the morning of the race. I felt dehydrated by the time the gun went off, and my normally *low heart rate was already pumping around 180 bpm during my warm-up. The whole race was a battle, my legs felt like jelly - powerless and useless. The hilly course and wind didn't make it easier, either. But I finished. I crossed the line in 34:40, placing in 12th position, as 5th South African. I wasn't dissatisfied with my position as it was the most competitive Spar race ever hosted, sporting a field filled with talented international runners. However, I felt extremely disappointed with my time and the way I felt during the race. All my time-trials on the road proved that I was ready for a new PB. All I wanted to do was to BEAT THE OLD ME.
In 2015, at the age of nineteen, I ran my PB on the road in a time of 34:39. The following three years I was unable to compete on the road while running on a NCAA D1 scholarship; in fact, I didn't compete at all during my first year - due to a car accident.
The three seasons I did compete for the university, I won four Sunbelt Conference titles (Cross Country, Indoor 5000m x 2, Outdoor Track 10 000m) and two NCAA Regional titles (South-East Regional Cross Country and East Regional Outdoor Track 10 000m). I bettered all the personal best times I had on the track, whilst hardly having any experience with track running. I focused on the cross country and road racing growing up in South Africa. I also competed in the 10000m for the first time and after winning in a new track record of 33:37 at the NCAA East regionals. (The fastest track time by any South African in 2017) I was chosen to run in the NCAA 10 000m final and became an All-American in the 10000m.
Coming back last year, after going through a second car accident in January, I was so sure I would beat my old personal best times. However, it wasn't that simple. At the TOTALSPORTS LADIES RACE, I was only 8-weeks back after my back injury flared up again. On that hilly course, with the Bo-Kaapse wind blowing, it wasn't a PB race for me either, but I couldn't be more thankful to have claimed the title on Women's Day.
Since then, I chose to compete in longer distances, such as 15-21K, as my dream was to run my first marathon at the beginning of this year. My plan failed after falling again in December when an Uber driver slammed his door against my chest. (Read my blog post Even if I fall I will still fly) I was out for a total of two months and only started to make my comeback 8-weeks before the TWO OCEANS HALF MARATHON.
FLASH FORWARD ->
This run wasn't about anyone else. This was about me, and all I wanted to do was BEAT THAT 19-YEAR OLD ME. I was trying to see perspective in everything that has happened, but there was just no end to this deep, dark tunnel. Due to all my "freak accidents", this was only the second race of the year that I was able to complete. I have never been an injury-prone runner, in fact, since 2014, I have not had a single serious non-accident/illness related injury. So why am I always the one falling or the victim of some freak accident?
The struggle continued when I got sick 3 times in less than three months. I had a bad cold and flu and no matter how much I tried to boost my immune system, that cough, runny nose and dry burning throat didn't want to leave. I was entered as elite for the FNB 12K ONE RUN. However, on race day I still felt really sick and decided not to race as I knew the following weekend was the second leg of the Spar Women's Race Series hosted on my training ground in Cape Town.
At SPAR CAPE TOWN, I failed to start. I had no confidence in my training or my abilities, due to being sick and hardly getting any training done, but my mind was even more unfit than my body was. I had a big battle raging in my mind, and although it may seem stupid to the world...
I was overwhelmed by fear.
I had a fear of falling again. I feared the big starts. I feared my back injury relapsing. I feared to disappoint my sponsors, my coach, those who look up to me and, obviously, myself. My fears and doubts became so strong and the voices of those around me became so loud that my own disappeared...
After my fall at Two Oceans even my parents told me to stop running competitively, and it wasn't the first time this year - or in my life - I heard it. In February, a doctor told me to reconsider my career choice and rather not run more than 10-21K races. (Read my blog post Changing the Plan, not the Goal). My heart felt crushed and my dreams seemed shattered. All I wanted ever since I was a little girl is to one day be one of the top female long-distance runners in South Africa - I wanted to be a marathon runner.
Feeling lost and uncertain of what to do next, I went to the Green Point Track the following week. Every Tuesday morning at 6am the Atlantic Triathlon Club, Embark, and their coach, Garth Dorman, trains on the Green Point Track. He invited me to join in on a 400m session with the group and it ended up being the best session I had in months! Rain or shine, I haven’t missed one 6am Tuesday Track session since that day. I use to run all my track workouts alone; not only did running with others bring my times down, but it gave me a sense of community and allowed me to enjoy my workouts again. I want to thank coach Garth, for allowing me to run with his group, but more importantly, I want to thank him for the support and new hope he has given me. Coach Garth has a great ability to gear the sessions for all different running abilities at the track, motivated and inspire his athletes to work hard, always give their best and NEVER EVER GIVE UP.
So, the journey began and I started chasing my marathon dream again...
Since Comrades, I have had uninterrupted consistent training with weekly long runs, track sessions, tempo runs and solid mileage. My gym session and rehab exercises have been present every week, as well as some recovery sessions in the pool and daily foam-rolling, stretching and mobility work. I feel extremely thankful for my brother who bikes with me weekly on my long runs - he has been going the extra mile (literally!) to support my dreams.
I have completely changed my training and also my mindset. I feed my mind the same way I do my body: with things that will make it stronger. My day starts with visualization, motivational videos or some mental training while having my breakfast and coffee. I don't even look at my phone until I am done to avoid any distractions or negative inputs from the world. I write down three goals at the beginning of each week and set one smaller one every day. Whether, it be to run at a certain pace, hit target times in a workout, complete a certain distance, or just to recover properly before the next day's harder workout - I prioritize that and do everything in my ability to achieve it.
I had a small breakthrough last weekend after completing my first half marathon of the year at the CAPE TOWN FESTIVAL OF RUNNING 21K. I finished the hilly loop course in a time of 72:56, as the first female, as well as the 6th runner overall. I ran the whole race not really knowing how to pace myself since all the markers were so far off - the leading bike made a mistake by taking us around the wrong mark in the first kilometer (resulting the route to be a few 100m's short), so I just ran on feel. I felt disappointed that it wasn't an official PB, due the short course, but I will just keep on working and focusing on the main goal! This wasn't a target race, but to me it was a big victory to have the courage to line-up again and REALLY just enjoy racing again.
Yesterday, I completed my longest run so far in my marathon build-up. I slowly increased my long runs over the weekend these past few weeks peaking at a high of 36km yesterday morning. It is crazy for me to think that I am only 6km away from that magically marathon mark! I managed to run strong the last 6km and finished below my goal marathon pace.
To me, training for my first marathon has been the most rewarding and exciting journey I have ever taken on. It has bought purpose and enjoyment back to my running. You get to know yourself on a different level while training for a marathon - I realized I am capable of so much more than I thought and really fell in love with the sport again. I am pushing my limits again and working towards beating those personal best times. I may never be the best, but I am going to be the best I can be!
Follow my journey the next few weeks, as I work towards this big dream of becoming a marathon runner.