Running an Off-Road Marathon For The First Time

After the Queenstown marathon last November 2020, my partner was looking for another marathon that I could aim at doing. At that point, I was still in the throes of depression that I was not thinking of doing anything, let alone another marathon. Nevertheless, she found the Big Easy Mountain Run, a 42.2km run that starts from Snow Farm and finishes at Luggate. I have to say, I did get quite intrigued by the prospect of exploring this area as I have never heard of Snow Farm nor Luggate. Despite, not being very sure about completing another marathon at just only 8 weeks after the Queenstown marathon, I decided to just do it.

As expected, I pretty much regretted making this decision the very next day! Spoiler alert: I enjoyed every minute of the run and I am still feeling the euphoria three days since completing it!

My training for this marathon only consisted of running daily at short distances of 6-8km and a 10km run on a Saturday or Sunday. But, I made sure I was out with my running shoes daily and hitting the kilometres as planned. I did not feel that I had the motivation to run anymore than those distances. I knew that this would not be enough to train for a mountain marathon, but, it was all I could make myself do in terms of preparing for it. I did make sure that my runs pass through routes that I needed to do climbs up and down hills, which was not difficult to find in Dunedin.

The marathon website stated that there is a 9km uphill run, before 12km of undulating terrain and the final 21km would be a downhill run all the way to the finish line. With this information at hand, I thought to myself, “Well, I guess half of the run would be downhill, depending on how tired I am then, would determine how my legs would feel running downhill at that distance”. I knew that running downhill can be tougher than running uphill because you are basically abusing your quad muscles as you control your balance on the descend. However, I was pretty comfortable that it might not be that bad. Am I in for a surprise!

The first 9km uphill was, in the scheme of things, the easiest bit of the whole marathon. By the 13km, I was struggling to keep my pace while running uphill as I tackled the undulating terrain that I needed to cover before reaching the 21km point. It did not take me long to start walking uphills and only running when I am going downhill. Reaching the 21km mark, I thought I would have some relief from pushing myself uphills as I started running downhill. I sighed a breath of relief as I raced down until I saw from a distance that an uphill stretch came to view. My heart dropped, but I still had hope that it would just be that one odd uphill stretch and then it would be downhill till the finish line. It was not to be. I was greeted by undulating terrain for what it felt like an eternity. I felt exhausted at this point and wondered to myself if this is THE marathon that I would have to call it quits before the finish line. Somehow, that thought came and went as quickly as that thought ended. I told myself that I will finish this even if I have to walk all the way to the finish line.

I took me 6 hours and 59 mins to finally cross the finish line. I did not walk all the way to the finish line. I continued running downhill and walking uphill as I passed each kilometre. Crossing the finish line always puts a smile on my face, no matter how much my legs were screaming to stop the abuse. As I write this, I still feel the sense of achievement that is hard to describe in words. All I can say is that it is an intoxicating feeling that you will feel for the next couple of weeks.

I have taken advantaged of this feeling and signed up for my next off-road marathon. I heard about the Motatapu Marathon from another runner at the post-race meal. He wanted to know if I have heard of it, which I answered that I have not. I have no felt so excited about something for almost a year now because of my depression, and I am thrilled to say that I am excited about Motatapu. I have 6 weeks to continue my training and I am sure I will enjoy Motatapu as much as I enjoyed the Big Easy Mountain Run, despite the torture and pain of running a marathon. This is good. Feeling excited is good for me. Feeling excited means I am on my way to my long and slow journey of recovery.

photo courtesy from the Big Easy Mountain Marathon website: https://theultraeasy100.nz/race-distances/marathon/

Depressed: Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything? Do It Anyway.

I have always enjoyed participating in sporting events. Marathons are one of them. After five full marathons, a few 21km and 10km events throughout the years, I have not gotten enough of the adrenaline high that would last 24 hours. The sense of achievement and satisfaction of completing a race is akin to crack cocaine (not that I have ever use that stuff). To put simply; I just love how it feels after a completing a marathon.

This past weekend has been a weekend that filled me with dread for the past couple of weeks. The thought of driving 4 hours, socialising during dinner before and after the event, not to mention, the 42.2 km run itself felt like a mammoth task to take on in a single weekend. Gone was the enthusiasm and excitement when the ‘Enter’ button was clicked a year ago. The sense of being in a good place mentally and looking forward to running a full marathon with a friend who took up running early 2019 has since dissipated.

The week leading up to the event, I kept feeling this sense of dread and foreboding that I have to complete a 42.2km run, despite feeling depressed and physically tired. The past month of training has been a struggle, not being able to keep up with my friend. My body and mind were too exhausted and broken to run any faster. My usual pace of 5’30″/km dropped to an average of 6′-7’/km. This physical sluggishness did not help with my mood either. After every training, disappointment seeps through my pores and my mood takes a dive. The blackness of the past few months have made running more of a to-do check list to be done thrice a week. The sense of calm and joy that running usually brings has been obliterated.

My partner and I left for Queenstown on Friday (20/11/2020) in the morning and I was preparing myself for a social weekend. That night itself we were going to meet with my partner’s colleague and son who did the 10km run. Then, the night after the marathon, we were going to have dinner with my running friend, her partner and her partner’s mother and sister. I kept worrying about being overwhelmed by the social encounters that I have to deal with and thinking about it, adding to the anxiety. I have had these experiences before and I know that I always end up enjoying myself during these social interactions, but it does not stop me from feeling anxious about them when I am depressed. And…as always, I did enjoy them, like I always do.

The morning of the run, my alarm rang at 0620 hours. Groggy from restless sleep, waking up twice during the night, the throbbing headache from the night before blurred in the background, I pushed the discomfort aside as I fumbled my way to the other side of the room to grab a drink, not wanting to wake my partner, the room remained dark. It was not long before another alarm went off and my partner mumbled and reminded me to fetch the breakfast tray from the dining area downstairs. Breakfast was underwhelming; full grain bread, Nutella, a pair of hard boiled eggs and a banana.

The run itself was somewhat disappointing personally. I felt tired by the 3km and could no longer keep up with my friend and by the 13th kilometre, I wanted to quit. Quitting a race was never an option. Pushing through the screaming muscles and pain was expected, not an exception. Quitting seemed so obvious in my mind that I really entertained it for the next 15 kilometres. This just added to the grunt. Each 500m sign to the next hydration station, became a beacon that to keep running, to quickly arrive the hydration station when my legs can stop turning, so I could drink and stop running.

Passing each hydration station and seeing the kilometres melt away, focusing only on my breathing and legs, reaching the last kilometre to the finish line, I sprinted towards the finish line. A melding of cheers from strangers, friends and my partner, a glimpse of their faces from the corner of my eye as I cross the finish line, made every painful stride worthwhile. The adrenaline flooded through my veins as I soak in the surroundings of people blanketing me from every corner, a volunteer placing the finishing medal over my head broke my reverie. I smiled at my partner as she approached me and asked for a hug while my sweaty body protested as she held on tight. What a wonderful weekend!

Surrounded by the people that mean most to me during experiences like this is what I have to keep close to my heart whenever that feeling of wanting to hide away in the blackness threatens to swallow me whole.