I’ve hit The Wall. It happens notoriously at mile 18. It’s an amazingly horrid feeling of ‘The End’ is upon us.
The first I time I experienced it was in my first marathon. It was like the Dementors had attacked me. The world looked grey. I wanted to cry. The world was shit. Life was shit. This race was shit. My legs wouldn’t move. They were shit. A runner collapsed next to me. Another guy was surrounded by ambulance men. I started to have the rather unnerving feeling that we were killing ourselves. This was a kamikaze mission. We were slowly dying. This was stupid (and shit). Why would you do this to yourself? I always knew the end would be painful but this was torture… I tried walk/running. No good; the walking just intensified the pain and meant that my intestinal discomfort now had a chance to come to the fore. Not good; we’re gonna have to end this, one way or another. My ipod had died. I wrestled with earphones and the damn thing, trying to get them into my pocket. I was very uncoordinated and this simple task was becoming extremely irritating, especially when I am supposed to be focussed on dying! This is an important moment! I am dying here!
Of course I finished; there were tears, bananas, photos and the most amazing high that surely has to be better than any drug ever invented.
I have since become fascinated by The Wall. I have hunted The Wall. There is no wall that can hide from me. I see your wall, and I raise you a higher wall. In fact, let’s make it a double, like those complicated show jumps that horses have to do, with a water feature in the middle. Let’s throw in some barbed wire. Electrified barbed wire!
Today’s wall snuck up on me. Surreptitiously it lay in waiting until after my run. Who knew a wall could be so devious? I had spent the weekend resurrecting my routine of back to back long runs, in preparation for another endurance run in a couple of weeks’ time. Yesterday I did marathon distance, and felt fairly ‘ok’ – as these things go (okay, I confess I had to sleep in the afternoon, but I know people who know people who have to sleep in the afternoon anyway, regardless of whether or not they have exercised). Today I ran for another 2 hours – I didn’t run with Strava or a GPS watch – but, really, in the grand scheme of things, does the distance matter that much, when the aim is practice running on tired legs? Anyway, I made it back upstairs and then BAM! I felt like shit. On reflection, I realised the foundations for The Wall had been laid for the last hour. You go for a run, you’ve got stuff on your mind, uncomfortable stuff, worse than the stone in your shoe. You turn up the music. You run faster. You run further. You see a hill in the distance – and you head straight for it, because the voice in your head will not shut up. No matter where you go, your own self follows you and comes along for the ride, dragging all the baggage with, like a school-leaver going to Ibiza for a week of partying. And then you arrive home, having tried to lose yourself on the run, only to find you have found your way back home.
Anyone who does a lot of running knows The Wall arrives when your body runs out of carbohydrates. All you need is something sugary and you’ll be right as rain. Tonight I seemed to lack the insight to know what I needed to do. That is the problem with The Wall – especially the devious ones – they can surround you so that you cannot see over the top. All I could see was the forest of problems, the work I’d put off during the last week, some personal stuff I had to work through, the long week that lay ahead, the challenges of tomorrow, the fact that I was tired and couldn’t concentrate on anything, the urge that I had to curl up into a little ball.
Food is often the first answer (although I have family members who say booze is the answer, but it’s practically a school night and I can’t hold my alcohol). I had also baked some stuff (although note to self: vegan baking does not work, not properly. There are certain laws that need to be obeyed with baking, and by cutting out the holy triad of butter, sugar and eggs, you’re onto a loser), which was sort of sugary, and sort of passable. Coupled with the ritual of coffee making and excellent banter with very darling friend, I was revived. I found the footholds, clawed my way to the top of the wall, and hopped over the other side.