Running a marathon has always been on my bucket list. It’s the pinnacle of running, and I’ve entered the London Marathon for about 5 years on the trot, despite being out of the country for 3 of those, and every year I’ve received a ‘Commiserations’ magazine. I always thought London would be the first – that if I was ever crazy enough to take on the challenge of running 26.2 miles, it would be in my home Capital. I was wrong.
I’d been pondering entering Queenstown’s First International Marathon for weeks before I saw the Facebook Page alert that there were less than 100 spaces left. I entered there and then, in mid July. I had a training plan sorted, and I was feeling confident that I could complete the Marathon in a decent time. Maybe I would have, if life hadn’t thrown me a curve ball.
In the four months leading up to the Marathon, I had completed only 17 runs. In the immediate two months after registering, my health wasn’t on top form, and I wasn’t sure why. A trip to the doctors revealed a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes. What this meant for my running (aside from being terrified during my first run after diagnosis) was extra diligence on my blood sugar levels, and an extra weight to carry. I run with an athletic belt – stretched out to contain a glucose monitor, a bottle of test strips, a finger prick, and a bag of jelly babies. High intensity exercise like running drains your body of its glucose to use it as energy, and brings your blood sugar down. This can be life threatening for a diabetic if it drops too low, and that’s why I made a plan to test my blood sugar every 25 minutes or 4/5kms and eat jelly beans accordingly in order to bring my sugars back up. In training, this worked perfectly, but on marathon day, it was near impossible. Also during October, I had an appointment with a surgeon about my torn knee ligament. Surgery on my knee is to go ahead, and I’m on a waiting list. When he asked if I had any questions, my only one was this: can I still run a marathon in a month? His response was less than inspiring, but considering the marathon would be before the surgery, I decided to throw caution to the wind, let go of the anchor and lose sight of the shore. I needed to cross the ocean.
The eve of the marathon came and I was scared. I’d worked over 80 hours across 7 days straight on my feet at work – I was sore and I was tired. I just kept asking myself this: How am I meant to run a marathon with a severe lack of training, already sore legs, a torn knee ligament and diabetes? The odds were not in my favour. On the morning of the marathon, I rose early and showered after a restless nights sleep, and I sat down to eat the leftovers of the pasta we’d cooked up for dinner the night before, listening to the rain showering down outside. It wasn’t looking to be a good day. The walk to the shuttle bus was miserable, and so was the start line. With no marquees or form of shelter, we were huddled under the trees which lined the avenue. An hour and a half later, after a couple of nervous trips to the portaloos, we were cold, soaking wet, and were off. Early on in the race, we came to our first drink station. The rain became more of a drizzle, and I made the decision to test my blood instead of having water or Powerade. I didn’t want to waste time doing both, and I was already struggling to dodge tens of runners weaving around me while I pricked my finger and looked at the monitor. At that point I realised I would need to do as I had practised; run whilst testing, and to do it before the drink stations so I could take on fluids as well as test. That was the plan, anyway. But the weather had other plans for me. The heavens quickly opened and for the next 10+km I couldn’t test my blood sugar levels at all. My hands were too wet and it was raining too hard for my monitor to work without errors. Eventually, I didn’t feel comfortable running any further without knowing my levels and putting me at risk of them falling to a dangerous level so I stopped under a supporters umbrella and asked for their help. The monitor bleeped with my result and I was glad I stopped when I did, quickly eating more jelly beans and sipping up the Powerade at the next drink station. For a lot of the marathon, I was running blind. I ate jelly beans at what I thought was every 4/5km, and I accepted every little cup of Powerade handed out to me. (which wasn’t ideal because it was the powder type and every cup had a different strength). When we reached the half marathon start line, I felt alright. Struggling a little on the dullest, straightest, flattest part of the course, the ‘20km to go’ marker was approaching. Stepping over it, I looked at Ben and said ‘We’re idiots. We’ve never ran further than this before and we’re running a bloody marathon!’ It wasn’t until we walked through the drink station at the 29.5km mark that I wasn’t sure my legs were capable of running an entire marathon. They were tired and sore, and I had to grit my teeth and grimace as I started them back up to continue. What followed was a horrible hill, which we walked up, before a gentle decline into Frankton. This is where the wind began, with the drink station signs lying on the ground. Hitting up the penultimate drink station, we were on the home stretch – less than 10km to go. I knew the route so well, having ran it so many times before, but I wasn’t prepared for the sheer cold, wind and rain we experienced on the last stretch of the course. The gusts of wind kept taking my breath away, and I had to keep looking down or over my shoulder to get it back. I had to keep telling myself that the pain was temporary. That if I could just keep putting one foot in front of the other, the pain would eventually subside. By the last drink station, the weather had become torrential. I was close to being smacked in the face with branches being blown off trees, and my water cup flew out of the bin as I put it in. I later found out that people were carted off with hypothermia at this point, but Ben and I started back up, shivering and drenched to the bone. It was insane. Approaching the end of the gardens (and leaving the most windy section), we had less than 1km to go. This was it. We’d nearly ran a marathon. Choking back tears, I kept pushing on. We were so close. Around about 500 metres to go, we saw two of our friends cheering us on from the shop they were working in that day. We were almost there. One more small incline, a run over the specially placed ramp into the rugby pitch and the finish line was ahead. I was grinning and we ran towards the marathon finish line. That was it. We’d done it. We’d just ran a mother flipping marathon. And we were alive. We spent the rest of the day lying on the sofa, regularly saying ‘I can’t believe we just did that.’ It took a long time to sink in, that we had ran a distance only 1% of the population had ran, and we did it successfully. The following day I was driving along in my car when the tattoo on my wrist caught my eyes. I looked down at the letters which read ‘type one diabetic’ and for the first time, I smiled at it. Accomplishment had set in. Accomplishment at completing the seemingly impossible, and the realisation that I will never let my ‘illness’ prevent me from doing anything in the world.