So, I learnt even more about myself at the Paris marathon. Not least, my ability to triumph over adversity (or heat in this case), and how much more serious I need to be about my training. I also learnt, for the first time since I’ve been running, how your brain can punish yourself into being disappointed when in actual fact, you should be celebrating.
As a teacher, I know the power of a growth mindset over a fixed mindset, and I know that there isn’t a marathon runner in the world who has a fixed mindset – there can’t be because otherwise the failure rate would be massive. I’ve also become aware however, that the growth mindset can sometimes trick you into thinking you can achieve more than you are currently capable of, which leads to disappointment.
I don’t class myself as a “marathoner”, or a “marathon runner”. I maybe class myself as “someone who has plodded through 2 marathons” now, but I do take pride in the fact that I have achieved this despite having been running for less than 2 years. I jokingly say I rely on “brute force and ignorance” to get me through, and largely this is true, but I do need to change that. In the classroom, we try to encourage a growth mindset through praise but with positive ongoing targets so that children are encouraged to do more, achieve more. So why, when I took 26 minutes and 21 seconds off my previous marathon time, did I feel disappointed?
I started well, and strong, maintaining a pace for about a 5 hour marathon. I felt awesome and comfortable until about the 9 mile mark, when the sun was becoming high in the sky, and I lost my breath. Typically my inhaler was in the bottom of my backpack and it was too much of a faff to get to. I dropped to a walk to try to regain momentum. The water in my bladder-pack was coming through warm, my breathing was laboured and I was aware that a blister was forming under my left foot. Ironically, I’d predicted that in the morning as this was my first big run that I didn’t have brand new, fluffy socks for! My bad. I walked to the 15km water station and took on water, banana and orange and continued on my way. By this point I was jeffing* it, but I took great delight in running down the Rue de Charenton (see half marathon post), although it didn’t seem as long or as imposing going down. As I passed the half marathon mark, I was running with the 5h30 pacer and felt pretty strong again. One of the 5h pacers dropped back at this point, removed his flag and started running with the 5h30 pacer which I thought was bizarre, and then he disappeared completely.
At 24km, it just went wrong. The sun was at its highest. The medic vans were racing left, right and centre. I was thirsty – again. My blister hurt. My knee hurt. My IT band hurt. I was done. I was walking. I was going to stop. Took a couple of selfies and wrote a Facebook post, just for the hell of it. I’d come all this way, to my most beloved of places and She, Paris, wasn’t going to help me out this time, or so I thought. The beauty, and the blossom, and the Spring… it was all for nothing.
Marathons, and the running community in general, are nothing if not giving and it shows the true generosity and spirit of people. I’d seen a couple run/walking earlier. I’d passed them and then they’d passed me and so on. As we went into the tunnel Voie Georges Pompidou, with its eerie green lighting, but it’s oh so cool interior, I started to walk and chat with Kelly and Chris. They were from Lancashire and both suffering with injuries, Chris from a lack of training too! I plodded along with them and remarked I was struggling. I asked if they minded if I walked with them a while and they said yes. Kelly set a remarkable pace – a walk that was only 1 minute per km slower than the pace I’d been running. Chris was definitely at the “F**k this s**t” stage of the run, as was I, but Kelly was having none of it. As we came out of the tunnel into daylight and passed by the Tuileries, I knew if I stayed with this determined young woman, i’d make it to the end. The tunnel at Cours la Reine was decked out like a spa. The scent of jasmine in the air, mood lighting, wafty music… It was beautiful and relaxing, but probably not what I needed to feel at that moment. In a complete juxtaposition, as we entered the tunnel at Pont de l’Alma (the Princess Diana tunnel), it was disco lights and club music. Perhaps they should have been the other way round?
I felt a renewed energy when we passed the Eiffel Tower, although not enough to run. By now, pacers were a distant memory, blisters were abound and I was cooking and looking like a lobster. My only thoughts were of the next bottle of water and of the finish line. At 30km I realised, I had not come here to fail. It was shortly after the 32km mark, the time that I had hit the wall in the Medoc, when I realised that arriving in such a suburban area of Paris on a sunny Sunday afternoon, was not the most conducive to a marathon. The point at which all runners and walkers need a boost seems to be the quietest area, free of spectators and bands. All extrinsic motivation drops. More so, when you realise that you actually cross out of the Paris boundary as you enter the Bois de Boulogne.
As we weaved our way in and out of shady spots, treasuring water and oranges and trying our best to remain at a good pace and upbeat, we realised we were finally into single digit kilometres to the finish line.
The finish line was well secluded until after the last roundabout, but then, there it was. 200m away and so we ran. I smiled for the cameras, raised my arms and finished like the marathoner I was. Hugged Kelly and Chris, cried a little bit, but I’d done it. 6h06m19s.
I collected my finishers t-shirt, my medal and some more water. I bade my new besties farewell, I waddled to the metro and headed home. I went straight for a beer and was hailed a hero (or a tomato, not sure which) by the bar owner, who insisted on a photo with me and my medal.
So why disappointment?
I’d said I wanted to finish before 6 hours. I’d started in the 5 hour zone and was going strong. My growth mindset told me I could do it, it was my body that told me I couldn’t and I felt a little cheated. My assertion that mind over matter was a necessity in marathon running, has been disproved by a body that proved more strength and training was needed. I felt a little knocked sideways and the little white angel (growth) and the little red devil (fixed) had a little mindset argument. Thankfully, the right one won.
It’s taken until now, a week after the event, to realise the total opposite. I’m proud of myself!! I finished the bloody Paris Marathon!! I BEAT my last marathon time by over 26 minutes!! I got a PB!!!!! I did something many people will never do and I did it in 26 degree heat. Did I learn more lessons about running? Yes! Did I learn more lessons about myself? Yes! Will I do it again? Yes! (In September when I return to the Medoc)
Am I a marathon runner (jogger)?
Ps. if you’re thinking about running a marathon, do this one… it’s stunning and the breakfast run the day before is a definite date too!!
*jeffing – “Run Mummy Run” term for the Jeff Galloway Walk/Run method