When Douglas Adams wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he also created the key phrase that people identify the book with.
42 is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
When asked why 42 is chosen to be the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, Douglas Adams simply answered: “because 42 is fun”
My friend Alex, who claims to be the best strategist among the runners and the best runner among the strategists, loves having fun so much, that simply for fun’s sake, managed to persuade me – a 42-year old woman – to run her first 42 K. Even though I have been running for a while now, I haven’t had given the marathon distance a go yet.
The divine message in the coincidence of my age, the distance and the proverbial number 42 wasn’t lost on me, so I signed up for the full marathon distance in the town of Stara Zagora.
The route? Not the most suitable for first timers, as it was quite hilly with a lot of elevation gain. To top it off, heavy winds were expected.
But I found solace in the thought that starting off my marathon track record with a challenging route, will secure me with a lot of room for easy progress and with a smooth way to improve my future 42K results.
I only had a month to prepare and I was aware this is a highly insufficient time to get good results. I had my weekly volume increased to 65-70 km tops with two speed sessions integrated in the schedule.
30 days gone gone in a flash. The big day has come. I have duly followed all advice I came across in our local running community. Smearing my feet with greasy cream, sprinkling certain parts of my body with baby powder – you name it, I have done it.
The voice of my friend Zori is reverberating in my head. Earlier this morning she has left me a voice message, letting me know that the proverbial wall on the 35th k that I’m fearing exists only for the undertrained wusses.
My husband, Emil, will be our moral and physical support. He will serve us with our designated drinks and energy gels at an improvised aid station. It is located right at the start/final line. We plan on minimizing our time of refueling at the aid station by letting him know which bottle/gel to prepare in advance. This way he will pass it on to each of us, as we pass by the aid station.
It’s time for pre-race jitters and then we toe the start line. I know that if I want to make it through my first marathon, my first 21 k should feel easy. Alex and I are running at a very comfortable pace and we gossip about the other runners. Since the runners at all 3 distances are running the same 10.5 k course (some of us covering more laps than the others though), there is plenty of gossip material.
We kill time by updating our versions of the “Top 3 most attractive male runners” and “Top 3 most attractive female runners” awards.
It’s Alex’ job to slow down my pace in the first half – a task he excels at. He is also a gentleman and shields me from the strong gusts of wind by outpacing me and running in front of me when necessary. Oh, I forgot to mention that my superpower is controlling the wind. I somehow always manage to steer its direction straight against me. This holds especially true if I am running uphill – something I did a lot during my first marathon.
Prior to the race I have promised myself 3 things:
1/my first half will be easy
2/ I will keep refueling at the aid stations. I will force myself to take power gels (even though I dislike them)
3/ I will follow my own pace and will refrain from competing with other women at my distance.
My strict execution of p.2 leads to a new problem. The water that I religiously drink at every 5k starts looking for an outlet. It would be wise to use the toilet, but I dread that this will add at least a minute to my final timing. My pace is already slowed down by me refueling at each aid station and I don’t want to aggravate this by wasting more time in the loo.
God has merci for me though, as I am distracted from my toilet-related misery with a new one. After the 25th K my right toe starts bleeding and becomes super sensitive. Every time it touches my shoe upper I feel a cut-through pain. The front of my right shoe is drowned in blood.
I mentally congratulate myself on my sound decision to wear my old pair of MetaSpeed Sky that is worn long enough to have adopted the shape of my feet. The damage of my toe would have been way worse if I have opted for my new pair (as I was initially tempted to) that is much cooler in color, but I haven’t had the time to break it in.
I am entering the last 10 Ks of my first full marathon.
It is time to part ways with Alex and to carry on running on my own. Upon my next loop of the course I summon all my inner strength in order to resist going to the loo. My coping strategy is to start distracting myself from the pain in my toe by thinking about how much I need to pee and vice versa.
To add insult to injury, I am bereft of one of my fueling sources. Seems that a mean anonymous runner has stolen my energy gel form our aid station, right under my husband Emo’s nose. Now I can supply energy for my exhausted body only from the “magic potion” I have prepared earlier. It consists of water, honey and lemon.
I have instructed hubby that I will let him know in advance what to prepare for me, by shouting it to him while approaching the aid station. We fellow runners know how grueling is to simultaneously shout and to control your breathing while running. I am already aware we are out of energy gels, so I request to have my magic honey potion prepared for me. I shout my order:
“Honey!!!” You’d think this would be quite clear to my hubbie and he would prepare my honey potion. Instead, he gives me a blank look.
-HONEY! HONEY! HONEY! – I am shouting my head off. –
Emil is helplessly looking at me and he is gesturing something in return. We don’t seem to be on the same page.
I repeat my request at the top of my lungs. I wonder what could possibly be going through my husband’s head. We have very different thought patterns but still – I don’t see any room for misconstruing a simple order, such as “honey”.
Given my current state of exhaustion and high irritability, my popped eyes, the pulsing veins on my neck and my forehead, and especially the tone of my voice, he couldn’t possibly be thinking that I am lovingly addressing him as my “honey”, as I pass by.
His facial expression tells me that some kind of message has started slowly making it through to his brain.
I don’t know what the message is though, since in response, Emil is wagging his index finger at me, indicating “No”. I am horrified, as I wrongly decipher his gesture as:
“Unfortunately, the only “honey” available at the aid station is myself. Hope that’s good enough for you”.
I feel like stabbing him – he let the mean runner get away with stealing not only my energy gels from him, but also my honey potion? How will I run 42 k without regular energy input?
I am passing for the 3rd time through the start/final line (have one more to go) and immediately head to the aid station. Thankfully, my magic honey potion is there intact. The nasty gel thief hasn’t laid his sticky fingered hands on my last energy source yet. I hold on to it for dear life. I am cranky though and bug Emil, asking him if it was that difficult to pass my honey-infused water to me.
-AAAh, it was that word “honey” that you were screaming – it dawned on him.
He thought that I was yelling “money”
It takes me a moment to process this. Why on earth would I yell “money” at him? I am the woman least likely ever to be labelled a gold-digger, but even if I were – I wouldn’t be making my passion for money so obvious to the masses by shouting it out loud in the midst of a packed running event. Give me some credit, Emil.
He thought that I was yelling “money?” (as a question, as in “Am I currently in the money?”), as the first 6 finishers at the 42 k distance get monetary awards. At the time I was ranking 7th, – hence the negative wagging of his finger in response.
Thankfully I don’t have much time to spare on my husband thought patterns, as I have 10.5 k more to go. My close friend, the Wind, keeps going around, keeping up with my exact pace and exact opposite direction. However, I must admit, that this – along with my full bladder and my bleeding toe- seems to exhaust my list of physical discomforts.
I carry on with a steady pace, and I can’t help but think that I expected worse. Still, I remind myself that the proverbial wall was supposed to hit me at the 35th K and I was still at the 32nd. I obediently bow my head and wait for the infamous wall to hit me…. I’m ready to bite the bullet. I am halfway through 35th km though and I still feel like my usual self. Just another kilometer in my life.
Actually, some people hit the wall on the 36th k, I just remembered. Yet again, 36th km comes and goes and I carry on undisturbed. 38th K is a bit harder as it’s an uphill climb. In addition, my friend, the wind brought along some support – the hail. I don’t slow down my pace significantly. There is no weather condition that can impress me at this point.
My legs finally grow heavy at the last km and the pain kicks in, but the feeling is not worse than any 10 k trail I have been at, for instance. My left foot is cramped, but I will not give in, as I already see the final arch in front of me. The most coveted sight for any runner. I make it through the final line with my face twisted in pain.
My first marathon time is 3:27:21. Emil gives me a hug.
And for some reason (may be in my capacity of a person, who likes to shout “Money”, to the innocent bystanders during her 42km race), a money-themed song bursts gloriously in my head. You know, the one that goes like this:
Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world
Money, money, money
In the rich man’s world
Even though I am by no means fan of ABBA, it turns out this song found its way through to my brain for a reason. And for a good one, that is. Within my last 10 km segment, I have outpaced one of the girls and I finish 6th woman in my distance. This means I get to be on the podium and even win some money.
I take my swollen feet out of my shoes. I limp to the podium shoeless, only wearing my blood-smeared socks. After the award ceremony someone tells me to take off my socks ASAP, since the longer I leave my socks on, the more painful taking them off would be. I must have left my socks on for longer than recommended, as I literally rip my sock off my right foot. This makes fresh blood spring from my toe. I go back to my hotel barefoot. Wounded, but happy on the inside.
My satisfaction with my own result doesn’t last long. A few people tell me that given my half marathon PB ( 1 h 31 mins), I should be running full marathon for 3:15-3:20 tops.
Here are my Strava logs:
Therefore, my new marathon goal is sub 3:20.
I agree with Douglas Adams.
If 42 is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, simply because he finds the number to be “fun”, I have the answer to another 42-related question – “is it hard to run a marathon?”
No. Running 42 K is fun.
It all boils down to preparation. If you have a decent preparation – you will face no wall, if you run it faster than me (my average pace is 4:52 per km/appr.7:50 per mile).
It is now mid-July and I will soon start preparing for my next marathon, to be held in mid-September.
Keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned.