Saturday, 29 June 2013

Uh oh...

Mel and I had a list of things to do before we turned 40. We probably started it when we were teenagers and it was more like things to do before you’re 25. Maybe it was just after we went to our first Neil Diamond concert.

Anyway, at some stage, along with climbing the highest peaks in every state in Australia (Mel), being rich enough to not have to choose which book to buy when you see three you like (me), running a marathon was added. I can’t remember the so many others on the list. I mean really, seeing Neil Diamond live had been a long awaited dream.

When we were in our 30s, after Mel had her first daughter, she rang me one day and asked if I would do it. This year.

I was probably hungover and guessed I’d missed some essential part of the conversation while I was trying to make a coffee or get the cure of blue Powerade into me. Maybe I was even having a cigarette to finish the pack I’d bought as a social smoker the night before.

‘Sorry,’ I asked her, ‘do what this year?’

‘Do it.’

I didn’t want to say but I wasn’t any more enlightened.

‘Run the marathon,’ she said, sounding a little incredulous that I hadn’t been waiting for this call, so helpfully she spelled it out, ‘Run the Melbourne marathon this year.’

'Oh. Okay.'

At school Mel and I were lapped running the 800 metres. We had some stuff to learn. We bought the training book her sister had used a couple of years before. We bought new sneakers. I’d never run more than 3km before.

One of the best pieces of advice I was given early - and of course I was given loads of ‘useful’ information, right up until the morning of the race, because for 4 months the training and recovery and food and sleep was all I talked about – was to decide that my only target was to finish the race and not have any time goal.


Which went well. Mostly. Except it was hard not to check your watch in the dark of a winter morning when everyone’s asleep and it’s drizzling and you have to make sure that it is actually 6am not 3.30am.

And then there’re all those clocks as you run around. Time’s everywhere but I tried not to look. Because quickly, as the distances started stepping up, there was something else more private and significant to worry about.

That uncomfortable sensation that starts in your lower belly and recedes when you do your mind games and visualise yourself smiling and striding out with gazelle-like ease. But then it strikes again and you think that if you don’t stop running there’s going to be an incident of the sort you haven’t had since you wore nappies.

I couldn’t really understand how all of the information I’d read and been told didn’t cover: YOU WILL NEED TO GO TO THE TOILET.

And just to be clear, I don’t mean the likes of if only I was a man and I could just pull over quickly, cause I’d be happy to stop and have a quick wee behind a tree myself, but I’m not talking about that sort of need.

And then while you’re thinking about it and running for a little bit it goes away. Because you’re focused on thinking about it instead of actually feeling it, you can get into a more philosophical rumination about things that become necessary at the most inappropriate times, and so for a little while you can think about those and the need recedes so you can keep running.

And that leads again to the question: why is it that this topic isn’t addressed openly? Anyone who’s travelled in third world countries and spoken with other travellers at any length usually gets onto bowel movements at some stage. Why hadn’t other runners warned me?

I’d read about nutrition, which tiptoed around the issue under the guise of digestion times. I’d been warned about losing toe nails and nipple chafing. I mean having someone I worked with but didn’t know very well caution me about my nipples felt pretty personal. Could he not have hinted that I’d want to work out my toilet needs as I was experimenting with whether to and what to eat before a long run?

I hate to think how I looked, pulling up sharp as though I’d done a hamstring, clenching my buttocks and holding it in for a bit. I needed to go to the toilet!

So I slowly jogged, pulled up, stopped still, walked, breathed yoga breaths and did my mantra: I am a marathoner, I am a marathoner, I’m proud of the training I am doing, I love hills, I am a marathoner. 

Finally I made it home and as I was going up the second flight of stairs to my apartment I had to double over and force a last hold – that final hurdle is always lethal. 

You don’t need any more details. Let’s just say I made it.

From then on I checked for public facilities when I plotted my training runs and I added some loo paper beside my jelly beans in my running belt. 

And recently, training with friends for the Berlin marathon, I was very quick to discuss the toilet issue with them.

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Written as submission for the Write To Run Retreat competition - comments welcome!

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