The run-up to the Reykjavík marathon was a bumpy ride for me. One day I dreamt about finishing the half marathon in less than 1h 50m. The next day I wondered whether I needed to pull out of the race due to muscle pain. In fact, during the race itself both thoughts came to mind.
Let’s go back a few months. In march I started running again after a long break. My goal was to get myself into a half marathon shape for the Reykjavík marathon. Also, since I had plenty of time, I decided to aim for a personal best.
The training started well, as I gradually increased my distance week by week. I did a personal best 10k race in July and everything seemed in place for a personal best 21k race in August.
Well, until about three weeks ago when I got a cramp in my left calf while casually walking down a flight of stairs. Since then I have not been able to run much due to muscle pain in my calves, but have managed to go on a few nice hikes. However, even if I gave my body generous periods of rest, I could not get rid of the muscle pain that came and went even if I did no exercise at all.
The day before the race I halfheartedly picked up my registration documents, not sure if it made any sense to run. On my way out, through the running equipment stalls, I decided to pick up a pair of calf support thingies. My argument was that if anything could get me through those 21 kilometers it had to be venio-muscular compression technology.
On the day of the race I casually jogged the 4 kilometers downtown to the starting line. I was pleasantly surprised by my legs. No hint of pain. I became very animated. Could it be that the calf support thingies really worked? So it seemed. So it seemed indeed and I took my place on the starting line among the runners aiming for a pace between 5:00 and 5:30. I was ready to run.
The first ten kilometers were great. We ran through the friendly residential areas of Vesturbærinn (the west town) and Seltjarnarnes (seal pond peninsula). There were many people in the streets, cheering, playing live music and having fun. My legs felt great. I ran the first 10k in 52 minutes. I felt great. Nothing could stop me. Except maybe perhaps the muscle pain that had been troubling me for the past weeks.
The thought of finishing the race in 1h and 50m was gently entertaining my mind when at the 11k mark I started feeling the unpleasantly familiar pain in my left calf. I decided to run further and see what happened. At the 12k mark it was still there with no signs of leaving. I considered my options. Should I pull out of the race? Should I ignore the pain and continue?
I remembered the advice from an experienced runner, saying that one should try to ignore pain up to some point. Beyond that point one should listen to the body and stop. Fair enough. But where was that point? At what point should one stop ignoring and start listening? When was pain too small to listen to? When was pain too great to ignore? I had no clue.
After some moments of contemplation I decided to ignore the pain and continue. I guessed that my body would give me a clear enough signal if I needed to listen. I decided to run as fast as I could, ignoring the pain as far as I could.
I ran the next 10k through the moderately animating industrial harbor area of Reykjavík. My pace dropped. It was a very weird sensation. My body had plenty of energy to run faster but my leg refused. As a result, I settled for a compromise, running at a pace between 5:20 and 6:00 depending on whether the mind or the leg had the upper hand.
I arrived at the 20k mark in one piece. I decided it was time to step up a gear. There was no risk of not being able to finish the race. I had been able to ignore the pain so far. I could ignore it a bit more. So I ran the last 1k+ bit as fast as my limping leg could carry me.
I crossed the finish line 1 hour 53 minutes and 49 seconds after I crossed the starting line. Despite the pain, it was a personal best for a half marathon. I was two seconds faster than when I ran my last street half marathon, almost three years ago. Not bad for a limping leg.
I guess this would be a nice place for some sort or a moral advice about training, running, pain and performance. However, I’m just a storyteller. I must refer you to the running experts for proper running advice.