December 4, 2020 | Marathon

Last week I ran a marathon.

It wasn't planned. I didn't train for it. I didn't sign up for any race. I didn't receive a medal. Or take a celebratory picture. I just went out and did it.

Somewhere throughout October, I found out that there was a half marathon here in Milan. So, I enrolled. I was feeling a bit stagnant and wanted some kind of fire in my belly again. I wanted to do something difficult.

A half marathon is 21km, more than twice my personal record. My longest run was 10k.

I knew it would be almost impossible to pull off, but I also knew that if I committed to it and had people around me running as well, I would be able to do.

The half marathon ended up getting cancelled due to our good friend, Covid.

So, I decided to run a half marathon, anyway, on my own.

Five minutes from the place I live in Milan, is a long canal, that spans for god-knows-how-many kilometers. It flows into other cities outside of Milan as well. So, at any given time, I can just go to the canal and start running. As far as I like.

It's also very quiet. No cars. No noise. Nothing. Just you and the water.

I decided that I'll give it a go on my own.

I had a steaming hot shower. Got dressed super well. Gloves. Hat. Turtle neck. Thick jumper. Tracksuit. Two pairs of socks. Running shoes.

My body was already warmed up and steaming. No need for a warm up.

I wear my Fitbit and I'm mentally prepared to run 21km. I knew that it would be hell, but I was ready.

My goal is to stay in the "cardio" zone, which my Fitbit tells me is below 170bpm, and just keep going. Left, right. Left, right. Until I reach 10.5km, then just turn around and return.

Boom. There you have it. 21km. A half marathon.

The way I pictured it this:

The hard part "mentally" would be to reach the 10.5km point. Because you can always say fuck it and cut your run short.

But it would be the easy part "physically", because I'd still be fresh.

The hard part "physically" would be to return. Because I'm tired.

But it would be the easy part "mentally", since I have no other option but to get back home!

Anyway, so I start running and hold myself back to stay in the cardio zone.

No mobile phone. No earphones. No music. No nothing. Just me and my internal dialog.

Concentrated on keeping my heart rate low, my body loose, and my spirit high.

I'm telling myself that it's gonna get "dark", and I know it.
I might experience hell for an hour or so, but it can only last so long.

I reach the 10.5k point, but I wasn't tired at all. What the fuck? Really?!

Should I turn back and complete the half marathon? Or go crazy and run a full marathon?

I think about it for a second, and said "fuck it", let's run a marathon.

Running a marathon is the gold standard of endurance and fitness. It's kind of a bucket list thing. Why not?

Running a marathon like this, completely untrained, out of the blue, would be epic.

If David Goggins can run 160km untrained, I can run a simple marathon.

I continue running. I actually exit Milan at this point, and reach another small town called Gaggiano. I drink a tiny bit of water at a fountain, but it's so cold that I can't actually drink it without my teeth hurting.

I'm still fresh, and at around 12km of my journey.

This is where things get a little messy.

There are no more lights on the canal now, and the designated lane for pedestrians, cyclists and runners ends. All you have is a very narrow road that goes as far as your eye can see.

There is a lake somewhere on my left, in the distance. For that reason, the mist is incredible. I can't even see 10 meters ahead. I'm not wearing my glasses either, and I have myopia.

A few cars zoom past me. I'm wearing all black. They clearly can't see me.

Left and right, all I see is fields and smell animal shit. I see the creepiest houses I've ever seen. They looked abandoned, but had lights inside.

I could also hear dogs barking. Sometimes in the distance from the left. Sometimes in the distance from the right. Sometimes from somewhere very close, but I can't see anything.

All I'm doing is concentrating on my breath and taking it one step at a time. Left. Right. Left. Right. Waiting for my fitbit to say 21km, so I can turn around and get the fuck away from this place.

At the 18th kilometer, a dog started barking, and it was somewhere super, super close to me. I couldn't see it. But I said fuck it, let's turn back.

The last thing I wanted was to be chased by fucking dogs, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, after having ran 20 kilometers.

I don't know if dogs are an issue here in Italy, but in Greece they are.

I hated that I turned around. It fucked up my plan. But that's how the real world works. Nothing goes according to plan.

I very quickly get back to that small town with the water fountain, Gaggiano.

But I fucked up. I ran too quickly to get away from that creepy place, and burnt out my legs.

"Shit.."

I was doing great, but now my legs were completely done.

Actually, kilometers 17-18-19 were my fastest, according to my Fitbit.

Now I'm at kilometer 21, trying to drink that freezing cold ass water again. I have to get going because it's cold as fuck and I'm getting cold.

I start stretching my hips, which felt insanely tight, and take a 3 minute break.

That was probably the second mistake I made, after running too fast. Stopping to stretch. I started running and my legs were heavy like I suddenly had concrete in my shoes and my legs were made out of a wet carpet.

"Fuck.."

In the span of 4 kilometers and a few bad decisions, I turned into a completely different person.

What follows now, is what I can only describe as a nightmare, but in real life.

I was about to enter a very dark place in my mind. And I knew it. And I accepted it. I was at the gates.

For the next two and a half hours, I was running like a zombie. Left. Right. That's all I was thinking about. One step at a time.

There was no more "cardio zone", or tracking my pace, or any bullshit like that. It was pure survival.

My lungs and heart rate were fine. I wasn't tired. But my legs betrayed me. I was forcing every single step. My arms were swinging and doing more work than my legs.

I don't have clear recollection of what I was thinking. I remember pumping myself up. Saying "easy work", or "I never stop". But other than that, I wasn't really thinking. When you focus on your breath so much, for so long, you actually stop thinking.

I was just checking my Fitbit and seeing how many kilometers were left. 

The only thought that comforted me was pretending that I had to run 60km, instead of 42km. That helped me for some reason. It set my mind to shut up and stop complaining.

Anyway, I don't want to tire you with minor details that aren't interesting.

I continued running. Hour after hour. I stopped to drink water one more time. I also stopped a few times to lie down and lift my legs, so that blood goes back to my thighs.

Something my Muay Thai coach used to do that to me in between rounds.

It worked. So, I did it a few times.

At some point, I reached at a place that I know is 5km away from my home. It's the place I reach when I run my 10k.

But I was still at kilometer 31 of my run. And my plan was to to be at kilometer 37, at this point. Because 37+5=42. Whereas 31+5=36. And the last thing I wanted is to run 6 extra kilometers while I'm so close to the comfort of my house.

Those dogs fucked up my whole plan.

This was the hardest part of the run. Both physically, but also mentally. Turning away from a very familiar place that I knew was so close to my home, and start running the other way again...

Another three kilometers. And then return. Six kilometers of pain.

It killed me. Every step hurt. I stopped to piss, and couldn't, because when I stood still standing up, my legs would hurt too much.

Those 6km were brutal. I lied down a few more times and stretched, while also trying to drink some water from another freezing cold fountain. Every time I went up or down a pavement, it hurt my whole body. From my feet, to my legs, to my back, to the inside of my neck.

I wanted to scream.

My upper back, traps and neck hurt as well. From all the arm swinging. Every time I raised my arm and turned my head to look at my fitbit, I would die inside.

People were walking and I couldn't even overtake them with ease. It was pathetic. I was running like a zombie.

Actually, a creepy guy was fast walking behind me and was even catching up to me. With the darkness and misty scene, it reminded me of some kind of horror movie.

But the horror story ends, and once I got to that beautiful, familiar place again, just five kilometers from my home, I was golden.

I caught a second wind. I came alive again. I KNEW the place. I knew that my run was nearly over. I did it!

Those last five kilometers were a breeze. I continued on the same pace, and actually sped up to finish the race in just under 4 and a half hours.

I ran a marathon! Without training!

I took some time to relax. Then, I got up. And felt even heavier...

I had to walk to my home now, which was like two kilometers away. I completely underestimated how hard it would be. It took me 45 minutes to get back home.

Every step shocked my whole body. From my foot. To my neck.

I lied down twice on benches, on the way home, again. I may be laughing while writing this now, but I wanted to cry back then. It was like a never ending torture...

I remember asking myself.

"Why?!"

"Why isn't this torture ending?!"

I get back home. I pray for the elevator to be on the ground floor. Luckily, it is. I wonder what I'd do if the elevator was broken or something. I live on the fifth floor. I didn't even want to think about it.

I look at the time. It's 23:45. I left the house at 18:30.

I tell my housemate that I just ran a marathon.

- Where? Who with? What competition? Where's your medal?

- None. I just went and ran 42km :)

- Why?

- Dunno. Just felt pumped today. Business is booming lately.

- Fucking freak.



Didn't sleep all night from the pain. Both of my knees were swollen and destroyed. I was scared that I might have blown my knees out. Who knows.

My feet were full of blisters.

My left ankle and left hip hurt.

My upper back so tight and painful that I couldn't even stand straight.

The next three days, I couldn't physically walk without touching with my arms a wall or furniture. I needed crutches, but didn't have any. I had to send my flat mate to shop for me.

On days 4, 5 and 6, I was walking super slowly, like an old grandma. I could go to the supermarket, and would drag race grandmas on the street, trying to overtake them. I hardly could. I was thinking how we take our youth for granted, and how awesome it is that we are young and strong.

Now, exactly one week later, I'm 95% recovered. I could run if I had to, but my right knee is still a bit swollen, so I won't.

Now that I had some time to think, reflect and write about it, here comes the inevitable question.

Was it worth it?

Fuck yes. Doing hard things is fun.


@alexwestco

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