Summer, a flight away
It was almost midnight on Friday when, together with my Swedish group from World’s Marathons, I stepped out of Larnaca airport in Cyprus. I could immediately feel the sea in the fresh, crisp air and was welcome by the unsettling feeling of arriving somewhere very far away. In the darkness of the night, during the coach transfer to Limassol, I could only guess what the buildings, the boulevards and the coast looked like.
When I decided to run my first marathon, it was more a wish than a goal. I had not foreseen the difficulty – nor the pleasure – to follow with daily regularity a strict training plan. I had not paid attention to the calendar and overlooked the fact that roads in Sweden being fully frozen during winter – with a temperature plunging below 15 degrees – I would have to spend most of the training period running on a treadmill. But here I was – in Limassol – far away from winter, in front of my dream and with all my hopes and fears to run a distance that my body had never experienced.
The night before
My nutrition and hydration plan, running gear, pace strategy… everything was ready and yet everything left me feeling so unprepared. I was still trembling at the thought of my own image waiting in the early morning on the marathon start line. In the loneliness of my hotel room, I was still hoping to hear some more advices from my experienced co-runners, something I might have missed and I would maybe regret later.
The Race Day
Sunday morning 5 am, I woke up to eat the plate of pasta I had ordered the previous night – still feeling like an intruder in my own dream. With every minute passing, doubt was taking over my impatience for the race to start. I had followed the Hansons marathon training plan and my longest run so far – it is a principle of this method – had been 27 km. Was the theory right? And wouldn´t these 15 extra km be an insurmountable hurdle for my legs? How will my body react to being freed and released running on summer roads after having been locked for months in the gym, training on a treadmill? I had thousands of questions turning in my head but I was trying to ignore them all and keep myself focused on the objective.
After the short ride to the start line in the beautiful and still sleepy Limassol Marina, we were all ready to start running our marathon dreams. Everything around was so beautiful, the Mediterranean sun was slowly showing its rays at the horizon, drawing a net of shadows over the sea and the huge working boats in the distance. But I could only think about those unknown and scary 42 km that I was about to start running in 30 minutes.
I had decided to mentally divide the distance into 8 blocks of 5k’s and to take my gels of carbohydrates every 45 min of the race. All this was rehearsed many times during my training and I was feeling safe.
Start with a smile
There was a cheerful mood among the crowd of runners at the start line, everybody was so excited and ready to run the coastal Limassol race !!! And YESSSSS it finally began… With a huge smile on my face I started to run :). The air was still fresh in the early morning but my legs didn’t feel light from the start. I was hoping that this will change during the race as it often happens during training when I start to feel well and fully free in my speed after the first 10k.
Even though everything felt right with my body, I still had difficulties to coordinate my breath with the movements. I was feeling as if I had to make too much effort to keep my marathon goal pace of 5 min/km. The air started to feel heavier and dusty, the flat roads seemed hilly to my legs and my eyes started to ignore what I love the most – the sea and its turquoise colors that from time to time were appearing in the distance. At the end of the first 10k, I lost the pacer for 3h30min marathon finish time and, before half the race, I lost the sympathetic and smiling 3h45min pacer from Italy who was encouraging me in my attempt to finish the marathon in less than 4 hours. My strategy was to not think at all about those 42kms but oppositely I could only think about them…
Hold on in the middle
When we reached the 21k mark, I was wondering how I would be able to run that distance all over again. My legs were not feeling worse than after the first 10k but the sun was shining stronger and stronger and I was afraid of the way my body would react later in the race. I soon stopped to count the 5k’s and I was concentrated only on the effort I needed to make from one water station to another.
I couldn’t have imagined the overwhelming feelings of closeness and comradeship when you cross familiar faces during a marathon race. It is as if their words or sometimes even whispers of support propel you kilometers further and give you wings when your legs seem to have abandoned you. Also I couldn’t have imagined that a complete stranger running by your side and impeccably following your pace can feel like an old friend.
… And finish with a smile !
I was approaching the km 31 and I started to convince myself that I am only running the last 10k of the usual route I take from the city park of Uppsala through the countryside and back to my home. I was constantly thirsty (the temperature was around 24 degrees) and I was only mechanically continuing to move my legs forward when I saw a bike and a smiling face with sunglasses, screaming – TAYOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! (What French people seem to scream when they start a great adventure together!). I couldn’t believe my eyes, I thought that I was over exhausted from the heat and I started to hallucinate and see known faces… But no, that was my husband and best friend – Henri – who somehow succeeded to get hold of a bike, to come and find me to encourage me when he understood I was struggling. At this point the streets outside Limassol were almost empty of spectators and words of encouragement were breaking the silence and were a great motivation to speed up and go faster.
The unexpected presence of Henri has demonstrated the saying that love moves mountains, his support and smile moved my legs when they were heaviest and most tired and made of the ending of my first marathon such a more pleasurable and memorable experience. I started once again to see the beautiful sea in front of me, I could feel the wind that was breaking the heat and was bringing to me the smell of the Mediterranean and of the blossomed orange trees. I suddenly started to feel better than after the first 10k of the race 🙂
Suddenly, I felt another warm presence by my side. It was my friend Jess who just finished her half marathon and who succeeded to spot me at km 38 to share a few kilometres of this beautiful race.
Very soon, the road reached the waterside and I was left alone for the last kilometre of my first marathon – launched by the support of so wonderful friends, amazed by the beauty of the coastline and moved by the perspective of crowning hard months of daily training, I felt like flying during these last strides – an immense smile on my face.
It was all like a dream but it was true and it was happening to me! I crossed the finish line with a time of 4h.07min and I was suddenly holding the shining Limassol marathon medal with a purple ribbon that I will never forget.
Packing (wonderful) memories
I will go back to Sweden with so much more than the marathon medal packed in my bag. I will bring back with me the friendly smiles and welcome of the Cypriot people, the nostalgic impression of a perfectly organized turquoise, costal race that everybody dreams to run, wonderful memories of love and achievements and the new attachment for a place that I didn’t know before but fell in love with at first sight.
Big Thanks to the World’s Marathons and the Limassol Marathon for making all this possible. I will be back next year !!!!!