Four hours and fifty-six minutes is the approximate time I spent wondering yesterday how to put my emotions into words. I changed my mind about 26 times and reached a grand total of zero conclusions, but perhaps that’s the beauty of it. Perhaps running a marathon has the unparalleled power of rendering even a garbler like me speechless.
It’s just too soaring. The grafting and expectations, followed by the most overwhelming sense of relief is enough to reduce a warrior to tears, so what chance to do I have? And when I finally crossed the finishing line, anything I had previously decided to put on paper seemed ridiculously inadequate and trivial.
In the end, Brighton ended up being so much more than a debut marathon. It was a weekend of families meeting, of revisiting the past - metaphorically and physically - and a celebration of friendship, love, recovery, health and life.
You may have read my blog post about my battles with depression and its ugly off-shoots, and yes, those wars are buried under oodles of happy memories and experiences, but yesterday marked yet another milestone in my voyage away from that past.
In a deeply satisfying way, I was able to give something back by raising money for the mental health charity Mind, proudly drenching their logo, printed on the front of my running shirt, in sweat and, a little later, tears. But I also felt like I was gifting something to myself. The honour of being able to run 26 (and a bit) miles, finishing with a smile, is a sort of prize for clearing all the hurdles – even the highest - with nothing but a few scratches and scars.
Don’t get me wrong, it was not all pretty, I didn't love every minute of it, and during one fleeting moment after hitting the dreaded Wall, I did contemplate stealing a small child’s push bike. But would I sign up for another? In a flash.
Last year, I never thought that my journey from sign-up to finish line would influence so many far-flung corners of my life. Of course I learned how to truly appreciate my body and all its physical needs, but my long training runs also served as oases of calm in my otherwise hectic life. It was after returning from one long run that I decided it was time to move on professionally, and it was after yet another that I knew I would accept an offer and quit my old job. Training helped to pin down what I want in life, namely to invest all my heart and soul in the most precious of relationships and friendships.
And speaking of friendships, my training yielded some of those too. My running mentor and, in some ways role model, has become very dear to me. I’ve met incredible people, who have demonstrated bravery, courage and strength, who have helped me reassess my own priorities in life and re-examine my own values.
And lastly, but for me certainly not least, training for a marathon has provided impetus and inspiration to write. Yes, I am a journalist and therefore writing is my profession – I have to write to earn a living, but there is a world of difference between stringing words together to create a compelling overview of a financial market, and doing so to share your thoughts and perhaps – if I’m lucky - even inspire emotion in others.
I’ve learned the world, built precious friendships and made decisions that have flipped my life by 180 degrees for the better. If there is a god of running, I’m sending him my heartfelt thanks here and now, for over the last twelve months, he’s worked overtime and taught me a lesson that will remain etched in my mind for good. 26 (and a bit miles) is so much more than just a marathon.