42.2 my way

How does one describe a marathon?

The friendly, excited atmosphere that started on the metro already, total strangers from all over the world, all there for one and the same thing.

The unexpected kindness, people cheering, helping each other to carry on.

After 38 km, when I almost couldn't run anymore, this guy came up from behind and started talking. "Come on, let's run together for a while" he said, so we did.

After 39 km, when I almost couldn’t run anymore, this guy came up from behind and started talking. “Come on, let’s run together for a while” he said, so we did.

The pain.

The excitement.

The happiness.

——

I had been to Italy 5 times before, but this time was different. This time I went alone, just like the very first time, but this visit and the first visit had only that in common.

I didn’t fret. I didn’t count down. I didn’t plan obsessively. Heck, I hardly planned anything at all.

——

It was raining heavily when I came to the Colosseum on Sunday morning. By the time I was approaching the starting line, when the air around me was thick with excitement, when The Final Countdown was blasting from the speakers, just at the very minute the gun shot went off, the sun came out. 19,000 people reacted as one, laughing, clapping, rejoicing. Many cried. I had sent a The Face of Fear-selfie to my husband an hour earlier, but all fear was gone now. Crossing the starting line was surreal.

——

My first time in Italy, almost 8 years ago, was emotionally exhausting.

Coming to Italy this time was different. I came alone, and even though the major part of the weekend was spent with friends, I also spent time alone, went on the metro alone, dined alone. I had never been alone in Italy before, and I enjoyed it immensely. Being able to find my way around, talk to people… it was empowering. At the same time I didn’t feel like I was in a new place. I felt right at home. I saw my family everywhere, I walked the same streets we walked together last summer, and in so many ways I felt that I was in our city. All of this made me so happy.

——

The first half was easy. I went slowly, made sure to drink and refuel right from the start, walked at all the stations like I had decided, even when I didn’t feel like it. I smiled for the first 10k. I smiled even more when I ran past the 19k mark, knowing full well that I had already run farther than ever before. 20 was big. 21.1 surreal. 27 was TOUGH, but reaching the 30k mark felt pretty darn awesome and I had to stop and take a selfie. I smiled then, too.

It was around this time that it started to get physically painful – tired muscles and badly bruised and blistered feet hurt with every step, but somehow it hurt worse to walk than to run, so I ran, albeit slowly. My face developed a salt crust. My hair was heavy, wet and matted, feeling more like a wet dog’s tail whipping my shoulders than anything.

Running through Piazza Navona was fun. It was packed with people, and somehow Nicki managed to find me in the crowd. She took pictures and filmed with her camera, and even ran with me for a bit – a lovely distraction after 36 kilometers on my feet!

——

Nicki has written far more eloquently about marathon day than I ever could. She is a natural born storyteller, far better than I’ll ever be. Follow her blog, if you don’t already. It is one of the best out there, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my friend. I am very, very proud and happy that she is, though. That she came to Rome to spend the weekend with me, and that she even stood out in the rain for hours trying to find me among 19,000 other runners… that she ran with me, and that she was at the finish line calling out my name… for that, I have no words. 

On Friday night, six girls including me went out for dinner. We have all known each other for years, but I had only actually met two of them before. It didn’t matter. Nobody would have guessed it. We all know each other. We have all been friends for years. How lucky I am to go to another country and yet have so many friends to meet up with, go out with, laugh with. Friends that know me, include me, make me feel that I belong. How much that means to me is yet another thing for which I have no words. 

——

At about 40 km I apparently ran past the Spanish Steps. I had absolutely no idea. I didn’t see them.

The Face of Pain. I was so tired I didn't even see where I was.

The Face of Pain. I was so tired I didn’t even see where I was.

At that point I had tunnel vision, and my only focus was on the tables filled with water, Gatorade and fruit that I knew would be waiting soon after the 40k mark. I drank a whole bottle of Gatorade when I finally reached the station, and then… well, then I knew I was almost there.

Then I saw the Colosseum, and only a little further on I saw the finish line, and started sprinting. SPRINTING! I was still running at a ridiculously slow pace of course, but at least I ran faster than before – and faster than many others that I passed those last 100 m.

Crossing the finish line, I felt invincible.

I crossed the finish line smiling. How could I not?

——

I am so much calmer about Italy these days. Much like any long-term relationship, that initial desperate obsession and infatuation has developed into something deeper, bigger, stronger. I still need it, but I don’t cry on arrival anymore. Leaving doesn’t kill me. I have learned that I can come back. I do come back. Italy is part of me, part of my life, part of my family, and it doesn’t matter where we live. Life is not black or white, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You don’t always have to choose. Sometimes you actually get to have it all.

——

Most people don’t start their running career with a marathon. No, they do a 5k race first, then a 10k, half marathon, 30k, then MAYBE, a couple of years in, they do a full marathon close to home. I am not most people. I never follow the mapped out route. I signed up for the marathon a year ago, at a time when I had never run farther than 10k – once, on a treadmill. Two months later I ran my first 5k in 20 years. Then I took the summer off from running altogether, started running again in fall, got shin splints at New Year’s, had to take it really slow again. I also bought a new salon three months before the marathon and was so busy getting that ready to open that I simply didn’t have the time to train. I kept going to the gym about 3 times a week, I ran a lot of tabatas on the treadmill, but I only did a handful of long runs outdoors, the longest 18.5 km.  Then I tackled a full marathon, just like that. Hello, deep end.

but to lose all my senses
that is just so typically me

I didn’t follow a training plan. I didn’t even run a lot. People kept telling me that I needed to have lots of miles in my legs. I ran for 20 seconds, rested 10, times 8, then focused on building strength where I would need it the most – glutes, hamstrings, core. My trainer made me do pistol squats, deadlifts, box jumps. I worked on my general fitness and strength, but didn’t run a lot. Then I set out to run 42.2 km – 26.2 miles. Every single person who knows anything about running told me it was insane.

For breakfast on marathon day,  I ate two custard-filled cornetti, a cappuccino and two bananas. Other people suggest oatmeal, but I figured that if my best run until that day had been after a McDonalds lunch, then cornetti alla crema would be perfect for a marathon.

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
And through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

——

 - That YOU of all people would run a marathon… said my dad.

- A marathon? Did YOU run a marathon?! said my grandma.

That I, of all people, would run a marathon, wasn’t really something anyone saw coming. Me least of all. And somehow that’s what makes this so grand. That I, of all people, actually did it. That I persevered, what with poor training and my history of always being the weakest, slowest, least athletic, sickliest little nerd of all. The odds were very much not in my favor, but I did it. I beat the odds and finished my first marathon in 5.01.27.

We really can do anything, if we only put our minds to it.

3 Responses to “42.2 my way”

  1. Jill says:

    Such a beautiful and inspiring post, Annika! I could feel all of your emotions…you are pretty good storyteller yourself! :-) Congratulations on meeting this goal so beautifully and successfully…and for taking us along for the ride!

  2. nicki says:

    What a lovely post! I wish you would write more often, you are amazing!
    nicki\’s last blog post ..Uneducated Observations in Herculaneum

  3. Your means of explaining everything in this paragraph is really fastidious,
    all be able to effortlessly be aware of it, Thanks a lot.
    best italy holiday\’s last blog post ..best italy holiday

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