Guys. We did it. We ran the Geneva Marathon, and I am so damn proud of us. I beat my PB by a whopping 17 minutes, finishing the race in 4:14:52.
But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
We set off for Geneva on Friday night after work. We managed to find a nice restaurant that would feed us dinner at 11:00pm so we didn’t starve. That was a good start.
The weather was absolutely abysmal on Saturday. With heavy rain all day, and more rain in the forecast, I was having a bit of a meltdown about the whole situation. We went to the race village to pick up our bibs.
The atmosphere was a bit gloomy and I had a deep sense of anxiety. I was imagining running a marathon in the pouring rain. I had visions of blisters and agony. Tears and despair. Four months of hard training GONE! I was not in a good head space.
For those of you that have done a marathon, you know there is actually a marathon before the marathon. It is called the Anxiety Marathon. It’s basically a 24-48 hour period of fussing. I obsessively checked the weather. I worried about walking too much. I worried about performing well. I fretted about hydration and food. I thought I could feel a niggle in my knee. A tickle in my throat. Basically, I was convinced everything was falling apart.
I laid out my clothes. Fussed about them. Decided I’d be cold and that I needed something else to wear.
As luck would have it, there was a running store next door to our hotel so we went in and bought some sleeves for an extortionate price (60 CHF!!!!). That store was having a great day preying on the anxieties of out-of-town runners buying emergency kit they didn’t need, given the grim weather forecast.
We ended the evening with a pasta dinner we made ourselves in our hotel room, which thankfully came with a little kitchen. I was feeling a little better about things and repeating various mantras in my mind. The Anxiety Marathon was officially ending. I had a clear mental vision of running strong down a long hill into the city centre with the historic Jet D’Eau in the horizon.
Sunday morning arrived and I thanked the lord it wasn’t raining. If we could just start dry, I knew I would be fine. The start line was a mere 10 minute bus ride from our hotel, and with a very civilised start time of 9:45, we had a nice long rest, and reasonably leisurely breakfast.
The Geneva Marathon is a pretty small race. While there were more than 17,000 runners total, the event hosted 8 different races, and only about 3,000 people ran the full marathon. As such, bag drop and the toilet situation were very swift and well organised. Things were starting to look up.
We found our starting pens easily and within a few moments we were off. Graham decided to run with the 4-hour pacer. I knew that was out of reach for me, and I held back, thinking I’d be somewhere between the 4:15 and 4-hour pacer.
The route was everything promised. Reasonably flat and absolutely beautiful. The first 10km melted away as I admired the mountains in the distance and listened to the footsteps of other runners around me.
I was keeping on pace and feeling altogether far too comfortable. But I reminded myself to stay cool.
Then my watch stopped working. This has happened before. The Nike+ app on my Apple watch just seems to crash, usually at the most inopportune times, like when I’m doing timed intervals, or… during a RACE!
I blocked it out of my mind. I was prepared for this to happen, and decided I would run by feel. That seemed sensible, and besides, I knew what time I started so I could at least check the time as I went.
I glanced behind me and was surprised to see the 4:15 pacer gaining on me! I knew I must have lost some pace in my dreamy zen-like running state. My watch decided to fully shut down, so the pacer was all I had. I decided I’d stay with him till the end.
We didn’t talk though, because everyone around me spoke French. But somehow, they became my friends. They were my partners in this run and I felt like they had my back, even though we never even made eye contact. There was an unspoken bond between us all. I could just feel it.
I turned on my music around 12km and was feeling remarkably happy. Just absolutely joyous and thankful for the ability to be running in this beautiful place. The song Come Sail Away came on and I felt a bit like I had a spiritual moment. I mean, I’m not a religious person, but I felt like I was out of my own body, watching myself. I ran along easily watching a bird circle in the sky in the distance, mountains in the background. This is what I was training for. I reminded myself to enjoy every minute, because in a few short hours, it would all be over.
All this time, I had to pee. I knew that a stop was inevitable, but I was NOT going to wait in a line like my last marathon wasting precious minutes. I would wait for the perfect moment: an available toilet, or a well-placed bush. I budgeted 30 seconds max.
Finally, around 28km, I had to make my move. I saw a line of toilets and dashed off the route. Just as a guy was about to go in, he saw me approaching and gestured for me to go first! THANK YOU MARATHON ANGEL MAN! I was so thankful at that moment, I nearly cried. In less than 30 seconds, I burst out the door and was back on the course. I grabbed an orange segment and some water and off I went…way, way too fast.
I could see the 4:15 pacer ahead and I knew I could catch him so I picked up the pace. But I suddenly realised how stupid I was being. There was literally no sense blowing all my energy just to catch this guy. I still had 14km to go!
Then I got a pretty major side-stitch and as I slowed to manage the pain, my right knee really started to hurt. I was barely chugging along now and I was entirely convinced this was it. I’d blown it. At the next water station, I walked through and gave myself a pep talk. You can do this. You are unstoppable. You are a warrior! And then, I literally said out loud, “F*ck you knee!” and pressed on with a renewed sense of motivation. I was not done yet.
Suddenly, the 4:15 pacer was within my sights again. This time, close enough that I could definitely catch him. With a well-timed downhill, I turned my legs over faster and within 60 seconds I was close enough that I could touch him. “YES!” I screamed triumphantly. My 4:15 team looked at me and smiled. One woman said, “Bonjour!” welcoming me back to the group.
Now I was in it to win it. Well not literally, but I was in it for a substantial PB. I could feel it.
At 32km, the vision I had the night before became a reality. With the final 10km ahead us, we cruised down a long, forgiving downhill with Geneva’s Jet D’Eau on the horizon. I felt incredible. Like I was high. The song The Final Countdown came on and I was grinning ear-to-ear.
It’s tough to communicate in a language that’s not your own. It’s even tougher when you’re concentrating on running a marathon. But at one stage, the pacer said to me, “C’est difficile?” Maybe I looked like I was slowing. “Non!” I shouted. “C’est parfait!”
As we approached the city centre, I knew the race was coming to a close. I reminded myself to be present an enjoy it. (Side note: I clearly did a terrible job of this. Graham remarked later how the course looped back on itself, and I hadn’t even noticed. I ran through the same area twice and had no clue!)
With 5km to the finish line, I saw Graham. I knew that if I passed him at any point, it meant that he was having a very bad race. I stayed with him for a few seconds, reminding him that we had just a Parkrun left! A mere 5K! Anyone can do that, but he told me to go on. I felt bad leaving him, but I knew he wouldn’t want me to jeopardize my own time.
By this stage, my body was hurting pretty substantially, but I continued to chant powerful mantras in my head.
With 1K to go, I could see the finish line in the distance. It seemed an eternity away, but I pressed on, determined and focused. By this stage, I had lost the pacer again.
I crossed the line in triumphant fashion, looking a bit wild and crazed, but altogether beaming with pride. The 4:15 pacer had just finished and we gave each other a big hug. “Felicitations!” he said. “Merci beaucoup,” I replied. This was the extent of my French language capabilities at this point.
A few short minutes later, Graham crossed the line. I was so damn proud of him. I know he was disappointed, but running a marathon is a big f*cking deal and your first success deserves celebration, no matter what time. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
Thankfully, despite the tough final kilometres, Graham doesn’t appear scarred for life. Frankly, I think he was more scarred by my Anxiety Marathon (sorry!)
We were a bit disoriented trying to find our bags, but once we changed and got some water and food, we were in much better spirits, recognizing the magnitude of what we had just done. We headed straight to the massage tent. I was not leaving until a stranger rubbed my legs and feet. That was non-negotiable.
The massage therapist asked me what hurt. HAH! Ummm… everything? We decided to focus on legs and feet, which was a wise choice. They were barely functioning at his point. One quick beer, and it was time to go warm up.
Back to the hotel to shower, nap and change. Then we hobbled to a nearby Italian restaurant for a well-earned meal. 200 meters probably took us ten minutes to walk.
Given flight times, we had to come back Monday morning. I’m not going to lie, a 5 am wakeup and 7 am flight the day after a marathon was a rough choice. I was in a world of pain. Getting to work felt as monumental an effort as running the marathon itself.
Note to self: If running a marathon in future, take the next day OFF WORK.
I’m now paying for this a bit. I pushed my body to the absolute limit and I am in full system shut-down mode. I have come down with an immediate cold. It was like my immune system just gave up. My muscles ache and my feet are in pretty rough shape. I am a shell of a human.
BUT, I’m a proud shell. A really proud one. While there were some rough patches, this marathon was really validating and wonderful. A big thank you to Graham for joining me on this journey and a huge congratulations to him for his first (and hopefully not last!) marathon.
I am so proud of us.