That Happy Place

My happy place is a wonderful place to be; everything is fluffy and warm there and the sun always shines. It’s the place where I go to in my head when life hands me lemons and the juicer is broken. Yesterday, I spent the better part of 1 hour and 44 minutes hanging out there while running the St. Andrews Half Marathon.

My single biggest mistake was lining up at the start in the first place. You see, I had registered for the race many months ago, long before I started to go steady with this ultramarathon beast. It just so happened that I did a 24 mile trail training run the day before running the St. Andrews Half Marathon.

But because I clearly have an affinity for acts of futility and because my legs were feeling alright, I decided to make my way to the start line regardless and see what happens. After all, if I didn’t try this, how would I ever know whether or not a 5 hour trail run the day before is a winning strategy for an endurance race?

The event itself was complete chaos*; the whole thing was so poorly organised it had blasted right through the borders of the land of ridiculousness and had settled somewhere in the world of great entertainment value. With this being a local race, there were many familiar faces and we shared many a giggle about the latest race day calamity. But really, when has a little mayhem and complete disregard for basic health and safety ever been able to eclipse the fun of running with good friends and being cheered on by others?

My legs continued to feel pretty good as I was busy running my laps and going loopy on the beach in St. Andrews. However and predictably, after blowing all my fuel on the trails the day before, there was nothing in the tank for me to run on. There was no power in the engine, and when I commanded my legs to turn over a little faster shortly after the half-way point, they simply handed over their P45s.

I was bonking pretty hard, and the water station’s untimely demise also put an end to my chances of wolfing down an energy gel. Physically, I was totally spent and running on empty.

But mentally, interesting things were starting to happen. I’d like to say that I have experiencing something akin to an epiphany, but I wouldn’t rule out exhaustion-induced hallucinations either. Mentally, I felt strong – while there was none of the joy usually associated with running, I did feel a quiet determination in my mind to win the battle against the empty tank and disobedient legs. I thought a lot about the ultra challenge ahead, and what it really means to run an endurance race. I have accepted that the whole essence of endurance is that things will get tough and uncomfortable, and that I have to learn to keep going regardless. And that’s precisely what I am training for. With that in mind, I simply embraced the run for what it was – a valuable experience – and told myself that all I had to do was to keep going.

But then all these stubborn and inconsequential thoughts about training made way to a much more important and meaningful realisation. I suddenly thought about all of those people who can’t do what I’m doing. My thoughts turned to loved ones who are no longer with me. I thought about friends and family who are battling devastating illnesses and are fighting every day for the energy to make it through the day. Then I thought about my injured running friends. And that’s when I realised how lucky I am. I didn’t have to keep going – I was able to keep going. I am able to run, and in that moment that was the greatest privilege of them all.

Of course the official times for the race aren’t published yet, and I’m not holding my breath for any remotely meaningful information to ever be released. My sportswatch informed me that I crossed the finish line after 1:44 and that the course was 21.78 km in length. Physically, it was one of the hardest runs I have ever gutted out. I’m so glad that I did it though, because I have learned something very important. This particular run has made me fully realise that it’s gratitude that brings me happiness.

St. Andrews Half

 (A tired, but happy me arriving at – or near – the finish line)

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The organisation of the St. Andrews Half Marathon was very reliable and consistent: the organisers unfailingly messed up on virtually all aspects of the racing experience. Personal favourites included several changes to the start time and route in the days leading up to the event, and the fact that the start line was still being assembled when the official start time came and went. We did eventually start by running into a field of parked cars and then the route took us straight into oncoming traffic. There were a total of three marshals on the entire route and the aid station promptly ran out of water.

The half marathon route was changed more times that I can shake a stick at, and on the day it involved running four laps of the 5km route, which actually turned out to be close to 22 km in length. That’s if you actually ran four laps of the course, because nobody was counting. Really, I couldn’t make this up. I felt so sorry for the first time runners. At the end of the day, I’m just really happy that nobody came to any harm.