My Accidental Marathon

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh the places we go

I would like to propose another item to add to the infamous “death and taxes” list: the dreaded car service. But while the first two really are entirely dreadful and predictable, I have come to discover that there can be interesting and unintended consequences to the latter…

I had to take a day off work only to be stranded for the better part of that day in a town which I don’t like and wait for a certain car dealership to charge me a minor fortune before reuniting me with my vehicle. Sounds like a hoot, doesn’t it? Well actually, it was.

Rather than twiddling my thumbs all day over a good book and a series of lattes, I instead opted to go for a run. I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that running has the power to make everything a lot more fun – even dull cities and waiting to be robbed blind by a corporate giant. I hadn’t planned the run in any way; I decided this morning that I’ll go for a run and just grabbed my trainers, hydration pack, £5 and some good tunes.

I dropped off the car and then I ran. And ran. And ran some more. I meandered my way around the city, following a vague path from green space to green space, hoping to find some trails in the urban jungle. After I had passed the imaginary 20 kilometre marker, I felt worthy of a reward and briefly dashed into the next bakery, bought some cake and nibbled away at this over the course of the next kilometre or so. Eating a slice of carrot cake on a long run was a novel experiment in running nutrition and as such had the potential to go very wrong indeed. However, although it wasn’t the most practical thing to eat while moving, it proved to be great fuel for even more running. But after another 45 minutes had passed I felt renewed prangs of hunger, and briefly contemplated more cake. A bout of soul (or rather, stomach) searching, however, revealed that what I really craved was something savoury, so I made a beeline for the nearest supermarket and acquired a bag of crisps – the second experiment in running nutrition, with results comparable to the carrot cake case study. I also picked up a tried-and-tested chocolate bar to avoid the need for further pit stops.

With no news on the car and my body willing and able, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and continued my quest as a seeker of green spaces in a grey city. When the call finally came to inform me that my car was ready I had run 45km. By Pheidippides!

marathon thoughts

Okay, I admit that I just love the fact that I accidentally ran a marathon and a bit. However, once the sheepish schoolgirl giggles calmed down, there are a few important lessons which I have learned from this particular run:

1)      Long runs are all about having fun and staying comfortable. Ok, this isn’t exactly an epiphany, but this particular run brought these truths home to me like never before. Long runs are most enjoyable when the pace is being kept to something that feels like a doddle and much time is spent simply enjoying the scenery. I just went for it and took care of my physical needs and – lo and behold – it turns out I continued to run strong for a very long time. I should add that I felt that I could have gone on for much longer and only stopped because it was time to get my car. And it’s a good thing too that I stopped before I did something seriously silly, as I still need my legs to handle the demands of an intensive half-marathon training schedule!

2)      I’m amazed that my body let me get away with eating cake and crisps on a run. It appears that I have been unnecessarily cautious with running nutrition in the past. While I’ve always believed that there’s no right or wrong when it comes to running nutrition, I’m realising now that I haven’t been as open-minded about it as I could and perhaps should have been. The bottom line is that on long runs, we need calories; and we need to get them in whatever form we can tolerate. Giving in to my silly cravings (aka listening to my body!) worked wonderfully for me; it turns out that my body can be bribed to go on forever as long as I keep feeding it calorific comfort food… I expect to get a lot more adventurous in future!

3)      I learned to not worry about long runs. Yes, they are hard, and when things go wrong, they easily have the potential to go very, very wrong. However, it’s not the end of the world.  Long runs are our chance to enjoy our hobby in all its glory; to see a lot of the world and reap the rewards of our hard-earned fitness. They are also a good opportunity to try new stuff.

4)      This particular long run has demystified the marathon, which is a great breakthrough after my meltdown in Athens. Running a marathon doesn’t have to be painful. It doesn’t even have to be particularly hard. Sure, when running to smash that PB, pushing the pace for such a long distance will always require a hefty dose of masochism. However, there’s a different way to run a marathon: it can also be run leisurely and genuinely enjoyed all the way. My whole escapade saw me out and about for 4 hours and 50 minutes, was a fair bit longer than a marathon and included two pit stops at the shops (really, you’ve got to laugh). Sure, it’s slow, but still far from embarrassingly slow. More importantly, it was so much fun that it’s left me wanting to do it all again. And after all, isn’t that one of the most important – but often overlooked – aspect of our training?

19 thoughts on “My Accidental Marathon

  1. vttrailgirl says:

    Great post! You nailed the joy of the long run for me.

  2. Angie says:

    I love this! So cool that you just ran and ran and ran and ate when you got hungry.

  3. Nora says:

    I love that so much can be seen on a long run. Last year I planned all my long runs to routes where I’d pass as many parks as possible. I did one long run from my house, to the St. Louis arch, to my office downtown. When I go to my childhood home I like to run to my old schools. But I’ve never considered running to places to eat as part of the process. I love food, so I’ve got to say, that sounds fantastic!

    • I completely agree with your sentiment of seeing places on the long run. The stops at the shops were not planned at all; it was more a case of convenience (I usually run on the trails) and not thinking that the run would turn out to be quite this long! However, I do always look forward to my post-run food, so including that in the planning is always key for me!

  4. Trails and Ultras says:

    Ah, my favourite kind of run. I wish there were a way cake could be carried more easily when running…it always gets smashed up. If you have any ideas let me know!

    • I dread to think how many accidental marathons you have under your belt. I bet a run isn’t really long for you if it’s under 50km. 😉 As for the cake on the run, I will do some experiments and will let you know of course! During the city run, it was easy to find places to buy cake, but out in the hills it won’t be that easy… I’ve been making a rather delicious (if I may say so myelf!) walnut, blueberry and honey bread which is pretty cakey and can easily be cut into slices or cubes. That might work well – I’ll try it on my next longrun. Btw, I found out today that there’s a Cateran Trail Ultra race that counts for the UTMB points and immediately thought of you…

      • Trails and Ultras says:

        Um…this is a bit embarrassing…the furthest I’ve gone in one go for the last couple of months is about twenty miles. But I have been running more frequently. And I’m now including speedwork- finally. Please please please can you post your recipe for that bread? I must have some 🙂

      • Oooh, speedwork! I’m so proud of you! 😉 I’ve been so good about doing my speedwork too and am actually really enjoying the sessions. Do you use the e-mail address linked to this blog? If so, I’ll e-mail you the recipe!

      • Trails and Ultras says:

        Er…I can’t remember…but my email address is God I’m such a scatterbrain! Thank you!

      • I’ve sent you the recipe – happy baking, and if you use the cake on the run, let me know how it worked out for you! 😉

      • Trails and Ultras says:

        Ooh they do a 55 and a 110 mile on that ultra. I couldn’t do it this year but maybe in May 2015 🙂

  5. You rock! Some of my favorite runs have been when I wasn’t planning on running at all. Well done! 🙂

    • Thank you! It’s a fantastic feeling when everything falls into place: I just felt good and had the time and space to keep going for a really long time, so I did. That’s not something to take for granted – although I usually feel pretty good when running, I do have off days like anyone else. More importantly though, I rarely have the time to spend 5 hours running without a care in the world. Sooooo nice!

  6. Jim Brennan says:

    Love your Dr Seuss!

    • 😀 So much wisdom in so much gibberish! My favourite Dr. Seuss line is: “Be who you are and say what you feel. Those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.” It’s right up there with my general philosophy in life!

  7. Lily says:

    This is so great! Really makes me excited to do my long run today 🙂

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