When it feels like all pieces of the puzzle are coming together, it creates an incredible feeling of confidence and excitement. That's how I felt about this years Jungfrau Marathon (JM), confident and excited because my puzzle pieces were finding their spot. Physically I have never felt better. Mentally I felt confident. Running wise I felt strong. On the day that all these pieces were meant to fall into place, they seemed not to fit.
The JM is dubbed one of the Worlds "most beautiful Marathons". Starting in Interlaken, it then winds up a 25km valley to Lauterbrunnen before the beginning of the ruthless 17km ascent all the way to the base of the Eiger (maybe not quite that far, but it sounds impressive all the same) before descending the last km to the finish line - Kleine Scheidegg.
This Marathon is literally in my backyard. I had trained on the course numerous times, with each run feeling stronger and more confident, making friends with the mountain instead of seeing it as an enemy. So really, what could possibly go wrong if everything was falling into place? This marathon taught me that a piece of the puzzle can be a misfit on that particular day, and that one misfit can change the whole picture.
Race morning arrived and I was filled with excitement, especially because my friend Shayne would be out there on course with me. There was an edge of apprehension however, because I had been given an elite startnumber, something I felt I couldn't live up to just yet, something I didn't feel deserving of, especially because it was the world long distance mountain running championships. I was determined to run my own race, and not be influenced by that red two digit number. As the startgun blasted I quickly realized that the number had sucked me in and I was running at a pace much faster thatn I was comfortable with. "I've got to stick with the front if I've already got this number", I kept hearing myself say. The initial stride that I found wasn't all that uncomfortable. I felt like my legs were working with me and I wasn't too strained aerobically. "Relax, Breathe, Focus" I told myself, but after 10km, only 10km (!!!) my legs started to come off. It felt like they no longer responded to the cues my brain was sendint them. I dropped pace. I dropped confidence. I dropped enjoyment. My legs didn't feel tired, not did I feel aerobically challenged, but the Tank was empty. I felt like I had no control over my body. Frustration engulfed my initial feeling of excitement and the run that was meant to set me apart from my previous achievements turned into agony.
As I was being reeled in by dozens of fellow runners, and I felt hopeless about doing anything about it, my morale plumeted. All I could think about was seeing my mum at the half way mark, making it there and then reassesing.
The thing is, the Puzzle isn't just made up of pieces of your own, the puzzle is also made up of pieces other people bring into it, their encouragement, belief and support. Once you feel like the picture isn't coming together on that day, you not only feel like you're letting yourself down, but you feel you're letting those people down who attribute a piece of the puzzle to complete the picture. Reality is that you're not letting those people down. They believe in you as a person primarily, then your athletic abilities. They are the people who define us as a person, not as an athlete or runner. We, as the person keep searching for something to be defined by, yet we fail to realize that we are already defined by the person we are.
Giving up seemed like such a tangible option, to simply drop out of the race, not to have to answer any questions and go and hide under a rock until all the disappointment disapated. What reason did I have to give up? Nothing hurt, I wasn't sick, I just simply couldn't get my body to move. There was no reason I couldn't reach the finish line, except for reasoning with my pride, even if it meant not breaking even with my expectation. A DNF beside my name though, would be worse, would be longer lasting and nothing more than an easy out. So on those grounds, dropping out quickly got dropped as an option. I decided to take a different approach, sit back and have fun, run with other people, chat to the volunteers and cheer people on who were having a better day than I was. I needed to turn that misfitting piece of the puzzle into on that would fit, to just slightly change the end product of the picture.
That is how I met Phillip, a guy that was hard to miss, with his tall, lean physique and the most attention drawing aspect of him was that he was running in sandals, Tarahumara style, shirtless and watchess. I pulled up beside him and first of all high fived for both running watchless. His words were "your heart sets the pace". Phillip wasn't having a good day either, and as me, resigned to the fact that making it to the finish line would be the goal of the day. Still fighting feelings of anger and disappointment, Phillip and I started talking about the essence of running, which isn't the racing, but the joy it brings and how the good days along with the not so good days create the fundamentals for a long lasting love story. We were partaking in a race, but we were doing what we love, that is winning in itself.
15km can pass quickly when your sharing passion and agony. 2km from the finishline Phillip cramped and I was left to make the final descent to the finishline solo. A whirlwind of emotions inveded me and I didn't know if I was happy, sad, angry or disappointed. Maybe just a little of everything.
The picture was complete. I made it to the finishline, althought the picture didn't quite reflect the desired image I had painted in my mind, it was still complete. The puzzle piece fit in the end, now its up to me how I look at that picture.