04 October 2021

We are liars

The mornings have felt like Malaysia this week, the same as last year, because it was cool, but also humid, and cool and humid in the way that you knew the rest of the day would be hot. The British, or should I say we because I now feel this way too and I am British, need to comment on weather like this, to talk about how we had so little weather like this in the summer. I didn't pay enough attention to how hot it got and found myself on two occasions arriving at a location for a meeting, sweating, trying to stop sweating, and apologising for sweating, before launching into the same story of living in Malaysia when I would get up and sweat through a shirt three times before getting to work. 

The training sessions for the marathon have finished now. It's been a year of training, with the cancelled races and Covid and everything else that seems to bog me down, at least in how I think about running. My confidence about what I can do. When I finally came to run the Chester Marathon yesterday, I was tired in the way that my Protestant self would not accept — I was tired from my sinful nature, really, from eating too much and not trying hard enough, because if you're honest with yourself, you can always try harder. 

But really, there was nothing more I could have done. I ran everything I was supposed to run at the times I was supposed to run them. I couldn't stop eating, but that is a recurring problem in my life, one that I can't simply undo with will. The week couldn't have been more stressful either, with complaints from students, Yoko starting a new job, work and more work and then other work. The petrol shortage. I was exhausted at the beginning even before I got in the car and set the phone to guide me North, to wherever Chester is. I ended up leaving late and stayed in the sort of Airbnb you think is probably ruining this country, a room in a beautiful house in the countryside that no real person can afford, and which smelled like a farm outside. I slept and woke up at 2:43 to the sound of a car leaving — I got up to check it wasn't my car, that someone wasn't stealing the grey Picasso. This was, of course, a silly, strange thought, but one that seemingly made sense in the middle of the night before a marathon, when other thoughts also make sense, and then you wake up and they are either gone or you don't remember. I got up and forced myself to eat a bagel, something that I hadn't done for the marathon I ran in June and for which I blamed my failure then. If I had only been properly fuelled, I would not have caved late in the race.

Caving late in a race, or in the back half of a race, is a feeling you can't quite describe. It's demoralising in a way few things are demoralising. You have trained for months, you have been tired and frustrated and angry and uncomfortable, and then for ten or twelve miles, it all seems to come together. Imagine feeling that way, feeling like you might actually be able to do it, and then it just leaves you and you become a kind of ghost. The pace falls out and you slow, every mile, losing time. You want to throw up, or cry, or stop. People begin passing you and there are then suddenly two hills, but lined with people shouting your name because your name is written on your bib. Imagine that. 

When it was over, I couldn't imagine it. My legs came back quickly enough and I walked a mile to my car along the river in Chester, the rain coming down and people walking the other way. I was in the top ten percent of finishers, but I didn't know that, I only knew that my spirit had left me and when I had done the things I said I would, to straighten my back and to quicken my stride, that it hadn't worked. I came under the bridge to where the cars were parked, all empty like everyone had died and I was the only one left. I pulled off my wet clothes and sat down in the silence.