With so many athletes wanting to get back to exercise after having COVID-19, I wanted to share my own journey in case anything I try might just help someone else.

Chapter 1

Post COVID-19 - Frustrations, Comebacks, Frustrations

It had already been a long road back, and I wasn’t prepared to feel like I was starting all over again from scratch – especially after I had worked so hard to get back to some kind of form by October 2021. But first, there’s a little history to set the scene.

Since I set my sub-3 hour marathon in October 2017, my times at all distances have dropped off a cliff, and racing has been minimal.

Other than a couple of notable exceptions with second place victories in the Pairs category for Endure 24 in June of both 2018 and 2019, and a first place win in the Pairs category for White Star Running’s 12 hour Unicorn Frolic in July of 2019, I really haven’t done much in the way of decent racing.

The reasons for this are complicated and although I could complain for ever and a day about not enough time because of work, kids, exhaustion and all that stuff, ultimately I just needed to get back to running well again. After all, I know enough about it all to work out and plan what I could be doing to improve. But motivation is harder to come by than many of us would like to admit; isn’t this why the gym membership books are full but the gyms are not? Isn’t it also why most of the people I see out running are doing exactly the same as they were last year, and the year before, and the year before that… I also had fallen into that particular rut.

Unremarkable Running

So three years of unremarkable running ambled by, and we had all been thrown into a global pandemic that either increased our motivation to get out and run, or didn’t. For me, I just carried on ambling – directionless without any goals. Deep down I knew I wanted to beat my marathon PB, but as I was almost fifty years old and the clock keeps ticking. To add to my frustrations of a dive in motivation I suffered breathing issues following the win at the Unicorn Frolic in July of 2019.

Frolicking Around

The race day had been hot and the course was light trail but rock hard ground and dusty. When we found out we were in first place, there was no way on this earth I was ever going to give it up. As the day wore on, we became unsure of where second place were; whether they had given up or were still out on the course. This uncertainty made me want to push even harder to make sure we stayed at least one lap ahead. 

At the start/finish line, there was a bell you rang when you had enough. I was never going to ring that bell – certainly not until the full 12 hours were up anyway. As we sat exhausted by the start/finish line with less than half an hour to go, the tension was high. Had we done enough? It was 19:30, and I had already ran 36.3 miles (58.53 km)  in 6 hours and 15 minutes. As a pair, Rebecca and I had been taking it in turns to do laps since 08:00, and now the 12 hours were almost up we sat and waited.

I had run so hard over the day that I couldn’t feel my arms below my elbows, and couldn’t feel my hands. I had also lost a good portion of my hearing, replaced instead with the low hissing of white noise as my body had started to close the parts down it thought it didn’t need. The big question – would I have to do another lap? Could I do another lap?

The wait was agonising; no one seemed to know where the second place pair were. We knew one of them had given up a lap before, but where was the other runner? The seconds ticked away… slowly…

Even though I was warmly wrapped up in my changing robe, watching the clock with hopeful eyes, I was also willing to go out and do another lap of the 5.25 mile (8.49 km) course if I had to – even if it meant I had to crawl through the dusty stones and dry grass. This is the side of my competitiveness that comes out on these endurance events, much more so than trying to run an all-out effort at 5k or 10k. Endure 24 is the same – maybe I’m just built to do this. That’s why I love the marathon; it’s somewhere between the two: fast paced but long enough to require good endurance judgement without being ridiculously far.

The seconds ticked by… the numbers on the big digital clock flipped over. We were getting certain now that we had won, but I didn’t want to be over-confident. I wanted to wait until all of the time had run out. If the second place came across the line with even a few seconds to go, I was setting off. The rules are, as long as you start the lap before the 12 hours is up, you can finish it.

The last few seconds counted down, and to our relief second place were nowhere to be seen. We had done it! We had won, but it had been gruelling due to the hot, dry and dusty conditions. What was the price to pay for pushing so hard? Only time would tell…

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