I can’t believe it’s only been a bit over a year since I started running. It was in March 2017 when my coworker showed me the route of a half marathon he was thinking of doing. It was in Winchester, a city I’d long heard of as being beautiful, and the course looked so green and lovely. This is my chance, I thought, and signed up. For years I’d been trying to start running, gotten injured a few weeks later, and given up again. This would force me to train properly, and actually get into running.
And it did. Winchester was beautiful, a beautiful hell of hills, with great weather and a sense of accomplishment that’s hard to replicate. (I’ve also never felt so entitled to a roast dinner before.)
So in December, I signed up for another one. This one in my hometown of Dresden, Germany. I was going to take my stepdad with me.
The Oberelbe Half Marathon at the end of April runs over the second half of the Oberelbe Marathon, which starts in the mountains of the Saxon Switzerland and follows the river into Dresden’s historical city centre. It’s a damn pretty course, and doing even half of it seemed like the thing to do in April, if it would keep me running through the winter months.
Reader, it did not keep me running through the winter months.
Well, it did, but not nearly with the same kind of motivation I’d had before my first race. I had no time to do the yoga that had served as my cross training last year. The weather was miserable, and so was I. I battled colds, aching feet and hips and mostly, my own laziness.
But hey, this was a completely flat course! I train on hills! This should be easy, right?
Reader, it was not easy.
As race day started to appear on the weather forecasts, it changed every time I checked. From a rainy 17 degrees it went to sunny intervals at 19, and then changed to a sunny 26. It did not change after that.
I’d trained in winter. I’d trained in rain and ice. I had literally tip-toed my way over icy sidewalks and slipped in puddles. Also, I cannot with heat. I’m not made for it. My body crumbles in the heat. If I’m ever out in the hot sun, I start walking faster just to get into the shade, and then sit there contemplating my life and my choices not to have moved to Norway.
Still, on Sunday 29th April, 2018 at 9.50am, we ran. The first 5k were a lovely breeze mostly under trees, and I went past the first water station taking a dainty sip and nothing else. At 6km, I regretted it. By then the sun was upon us. My legs felt heavy. My head was too hot. People around me were wheezing already.
After this, each time I got hold of a cup of water, I threw it at my head and back until my top was soaked and I started to worry about drowning my timing chip. And still, I felt okay about things. The distance markers along the route were counting down the kilometres left, and they made me feel like this was possible. 8km left? Pfft. I can do 8km! No problem.
And then came the green.
There are stretches by the river that are just green. All the buildings are on the opposite bank, as are the trees. This goes on for miles. No music. No water. Almost no spectators. In the heat.
Thank heavens I had a water bottle with me so I could sprinkle some drops on my face every now and then, but this was the Big Test. These are the moments when our human strength is tested, we face our limits, our demons. This is where heroes are made.
I am not a hero. I walked.
Over the final 5km I walked repeatedly, arguing with myself that it’s inefficient to run when it takes so much more energy than walking, at barely increased speed! What madness, what foolishness to attempt running when walking is perfectly fine. So I walked, and sometimes I jogged again only for my heart to begin stuttering, and walked again. As I said, I’m not made for heat.
I finished at 2 hours and 28 minutes, which I’m not happy about admitting, but here we are. I didn’t get heatstroke, and I didn’t pass out. That in itself is something. I finished a thing. I don’t do that often enough.
Despite what my Nike app guided audio runs say, I don’t consider myself an athlete. I don’t feed myself properly, I don’t cross train properly, and mostly I’m still wearing my 5-year old H&M gear (which is surprisingly good quality). I don’t think any of my times are worth writing home about.
But I run 3 times a week, and I can make it through 21km in the heat without collapsing. Running, if nothing else, has taught me that sticking with something will get you results, and if it doesn’t necessarily make me faster, I know it makes me stronger.