Warsaw Marathon Review

It starts at kilometre 15. I decide that I can wait, and keep running. But the pain becomes worse. I need to go. I hold off until the next toilets at kilometre 20 (seriously – race organisers, please put the toilets AFTER the distance markers. It’s a psychological thing). I burst through the door of the portaloo. It’s not pretty. I lose a lot of liquid in various ways rapidly. ‘Immodium,’ I think to myself, ‘next time, pack Immodium.’
That’s it. My race is over. 15 minutes later I stumble back out into the daylight, unsure if the race is still going on. Technically, I cross the half marathon mark at 1h53m (this is what I was talking about. My half-marathon time was great up until the toilet break).
I soldier on. I’m dehydrated now. My mouth is dry. My hands have a strange tingly sensation, as if the circulation has been cut off. I pass the marker for the 22nd KM. And I throw up. The rest of my stomach contents now litters the side of a Warsaw motorway. I dry retch. There is literally nothing left. Someone hands me a bottle of water. I don’t know who. I don’t even look up to say thank you.
I swallow as much as I can, then bring it back up too. It mixes with the puddle already at my feet, and I fear, somewhat irrationally, that other runners will begin to run through it. A swarm of other thoughts go through my head, none of them good. I take the smallest sip of water from the bottle and limp on. Only another 20km to go.
Kasia was right. I was too ill to run. I’d gone to bed at 4pm the day before the race with head cold and a slight fever, and I’d woken up not any better. But the adrenalin had kicked in, and I’d convinced myself that I was fine, that I wasn’t going to throw away six months of training. Do or die time.
Another kilometre passes. Another dry retch, another tiny mouthful of water. My throat is red raw now. My insides hurt as much as my outsides. My head pounds with every step. Another runner sees I’m in trouble, and in Polish, offers to help me to the medical assistance. I wave him off. I make a little running sign with my fingers. I will finish this. Any medical assistance would mean I’d probably be pulled from the race, and that wasn’t a chance I wanted to take. No choice, but to keep going.
At the 23km I down an energy gel. I burns my throat. I look at the packet. Ginger? Why in God’s name would you make it with ginger? I grab my other energy gel and suck that dry too, just to remove the first flavour. It’s not much better, and I gulp water trying to preserve the skin in my throat. I throw up everything. I spit and curse along, running at the slowest pace I have in years.
Runners pass me on all sides. Well-wishers cheers us on with a chorus of “Bravo! Bravo!” from the sidelines. A few motion to me to keep going, shouting in a language that I barely understand. They have no idea of the pain I am in.
I see a sign for kilometre 33, and I brighten briefly. Hope has returned to my world, until I notice something else. Runners. Runners running in the opposite direction. They are at kilometre 33, not I. Turns out that I’m only a couple of hundred meters from kilometre 25. Hope dances off into the distance, gleefully unaware of how cruel she can be. I keep going.
Every few kilometres, water bearers and banana givers thrust their wares upon me. They don’t understand why I shun them. I’m running on empty, caught in a vicious trap; I need to fuel my muscles, but my body is rejecting all fuel. I begin to cramp shortly after, around kilometre 28. I want to cry. I even have a cramp in my ankle. I didn’t even know that was possible. I laugh at the new sensation of pain.
And then suddenly, Kasia is calling me. At first I don’t understand. I wonder if I have collapsed or lost consciousness. Perhaps, I’ve even died. I give my head a little shake, blocking out the thoughts. I look up. Kasia is on the overpass I’d run across half an hour before. She’s calling to me, smiling and waving. I laugh and smile back. I then make a ‘no’ sign with my arms, waving them across each other, telling her I’m finished. For added emphasis, I draw my thumb across my own throat. She laughs, and keeps running.
I press on, every step is like a punch to the head. No choice, but to keep going. Hitting kilometre 33, I’m surprised to see runners still going past in the opposite direction. Not many, but they’re still there. I’ve fallen way behind, but I’m still going. Less than 10k to go.
My mind plays cruel tricks on me at this point. I know I can run 10k in 40 minutes. It tries to convince me I can do it now. I can’t. Every ray of light my brain conjures casts shadows darker and longer than I thought possible. Slowly, so slowly, the kilometres tumble.
I’m on the approach to the stadium, so suddenly it almost takes me by surprise. Knowing I’m so close now, I speed up. I’m passing people. The cramps fall away. I’m running on fresh legs, desperate to get to the finish line, deep within the stadium.
Through the entrance tunnel, and into the arena. Crowds line the sides of the track. They’re all shouting. The atmosphere is crazy. I speed up further, passing people left and right. As I hurtle towards the line, I catch a blue blur to my right. A quick turn of the head, like I’ve done so many times when running. Someone is racing me. I smile, and go turbo.
I’m full on sprinting now. The last fifty meters. Blue is left in my wake. He can’t keep up. The crowd are roaring. Cameras flash. Little kids are jumping and pointing. I cross the line, and look back. Blue crosses the line a couple of seconds later, but doesn’t acknowledge me. I smile again. I wait for a few minutes, savouring this small victory on a day that ended in defeat.
My time hardly matters now. It’s much closer to five hours than I ever wanted to be.
But I have run my first marathon. I’ve lost three kilos in the process, and every part of my body hates me, but I’ve earned my first medal.
I’ve already signed up for two and three.

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Apologies for not looking our best. I’m sure you understand.

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5 thoughts on “Warsaw Marathon Review

  1. I can’t believe you finished feeling the way you did. You are AMAZING! I’d be lying on the side of the road dying. It’s so nice that you already signed up for the next ones. Racing to the finish was a nice touch, too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How would you look your best? In fact, you look effing good, considering the sh*t you went through. I’ve never had to deal with a race where I couldn’t hold down my fuel, forget a marathon. You killed it by finishing it. You hopefully remember that it’s not the result, really, that matters, it’s the effort you took to not give up. That’s worth a lot.
    And we know you’re fast, a could have done better under different conditions.

    Liked by 1 person

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