Frankfurt: The Marathon that Broke me

2015-10-24 18.02.56After a two-month running break for medical reasons following the Paris Marathon, I resumed training in early July. Even with a lot of traveling in the summer, my training went fairly well. My goal was to simply break 5 hours in Frankfurt, something I had not yet managed to do during my first four marathons.

My marathon strategy was to start out a bit faster, leaving some margin for the inevitable slower second half. Still, I treated the first 5k as a long warm-up, trying to go very easy and take it more by feel than anything else. However, when I checked my 5k split, I realized that I was a bit too slow, and if I kept that pace for the entire time, I would take the full five hours to complete the course. So I picked up my pace and clocked in at the half in 2:23. After that point, I aimed to lose as little time as possible.

Between km 25 and 35, I struggled to keep up with myself. My body was holding up, but I felt that mentally I wasn’t strong enough. I struggled to not give up on my goal but I also didn’t want to push myself to the point of misery. I focused on one kilometer at a time and tried to keep them under 7 minutes each. After km 35, I was quite confident that I would break 5 hours whether I pushed hard or not.

At 40km, I mustered whatever strength was left in me and pushed forward. It felt like a tremendous effort and although the last kilometers turned out to be my fastest, the difference wasn’t remarkable. Of course, the last kilometer was insanely long but the crowd support was fantastic and really helped me to keep pushing forward. My legs were hurting so much I didn’t know how they would hold up once I stopped, but as long as they were working for me, I didn’t cave. Finally the turn, entrance, red carpet, final push, and DONE in 4:52! I stopped my watch and started walking. To my surprise, I felt really good at this point. I didn’t feel like collapsing like I did last time. I made my way through to the refreshment area, then collected my bag, took a shower, and got in line for a massage.

Then it started. The other people in the line became blurry. My friend Johanna appeared and I saw her, but told her I was getting dizzy. Thankfully, there was water available and I quickly drank two glasses. Within minutes it was my turn for a massage. All signs pointing to a migraine, I took the migraine medication that I always keep with me. Then I laid down on the table.

At that point, my vision became blurred with zigzagged lights. I tried to relax, but I really just wanted to sink into a different space, an unconsciousness that would rescue from my current reality. The massage was soon over and we managed to leave. I was so completely fatigued and was starting to get confused, so without Johanna I would have been lost trying to get home.

I spent the rest of the day in bed, in a dark room, head spinning, hurting, throbbing, nauseated, deeply discouraged. This hadn’t happened for so long, I really didn’t expect it. And it put a huge damper on the victory of the day. In those moments, I again asked myself if it is really worth it, if I should ever lace up my running shoes again, if presently there was a way to sink into the darkness.

Finally, at around 8pm, I was stable enough to eat the food that another friend had lovingly prepared and delivered. I was even able to talk for a bit before I gave into the fatigue and returned to bed. Shortly afterward, the head pain and accompanying nausea intensified again, stronger than before, and I spent the night vomiting. At around 5am, the worst was finally over and I was able to rest peacefully for a couple of hours before I had to get up.

The next two days were fuzzy. I was more functional, but my head was foggy, my vision was glazed over and I was so tired that everything took a lot of effort. Yet I had to travel back to Paris and resume teaching during these days. The ache in my legs from covering 42.195 km was manageable (except for stairs), but it was hard to rebound from the aftermath of the migraine, which was the most violent part of the whole experience.

All I need is a week or so to forget about this experience and then I’m sure I’ll be back. To anyone who suffers from migraines, I feel your pain. I have suffered from this for most of my life, with varied intensity and frequency. I hope that one day these experiences will be memories and no longer a reality. But for now, my doctor has ordered some time off for rest and recovery.