It was in October of 2016 that I first toyed with the idea of running a marathon. At this time, the most I had ever run was 6km, a feat I considered commendable, outstanding in fact. It was obvious in the slightly superior, patronising way I told anyone who wanted to introduce me to a healthy diet or gym membership that I regularly ran 4-5 kilometres three days a week. All of that humble brag stopped in April 2016 after I lost my running shoes during a trip to Barbados, ending my running stint or exercise of any form. October 2016 was when I got new shoes and attempted to start running again. I did my first 7km by December. By January, I made progress and ran my first 10km. I was excited, 10 whole kilometres, however I knew it was still a long way from 42km and February was less than a month away. So I soft pedalled and decided that a half marathon was the next best thing.
On my last pre marathon run, two days before D-day, I managed to hit 15km. And even though I was completely burned out and still certain I could only manage half the race, I remember suggesting to myself that – just maybe I could finish.
The feeling I had on the morning of the marathon was like the feeling you get on your first day in a new school. You know what school generally feels like – conspicuous assembly hall, two storey building admin office, open area with uneven grass for sports, tuck shop etc but you cannot exactly tell what this school will be like for you. If break time is 11:30 as opposed to 11:10 in your former school, if you can bend the rules sometimes and wear grey socks instead of white, if students boldly tell teachers that their allotted period is over. A familiar unfamiliarity enveloped me. Many came as groups; running groups, fashion groups, charity groups, many others as couple’s, mother and daughter, boyfriend and girlfriend, trainer and athlete, there early enough to have made friends, friend’s who assisted in pinning number bibs and tags, who shared glucose drinks, who stretched and warmed up together. I was there alone. And even in the midst of a massive, already sweaty crowd, I felt a tad confused.
Thankfully, I spotted someone who I know from twitter. She had run the Lagos marathon and many others before. She did not know it but she was my guiding light. She set the tone for a slightly less nerve wracking race. Gave me pins for my bib. Suggested I stand with her group. Told me to pace myself, especially on the 3rd mainland bridge. The conversation I had with her while we waited at the starting line was the only one I had for the next 42 kilometres, except for the two word one I had with a young man of not more than 19, who wanted my phone number… in the middle of the endlessness that is the third mainland bridge. Had I not been conserving all the energy I had left, I would have asked him in plain Nigerian speak if his head was correct. But my only two words to him were Yes and No in addition to two head nods, before attempting to hop away from him, my sore feet unfortunately less cooperative.
I had a plan for finishing my half marathon without too much struggle. Run 7kilometres which I knew I could do fairly well, then walk 3km to complete 10. Drink some lucozade and water then repeat. And I did this, quite fairly despite the string of distractions on the bridge. People were screaming and wailing, calling Ambode’s name to rescue them, waving at a helicopter flying over for rescue like they do in the movies asking to be put in an ambulance, calling on God not to forsake them. It was a sight. Sometimes it was hilarious, other times I had no empathy.
It was at this point I began seriously contemplating if I wanted to run the full race. I decided I would wait till after descending the bridge completely to determine how much strength I had left, if any.
I did feel some momentous joy upon getting to the 21km mark just right after descending the third mainland bridge into Adeniji, but as opposed to a few stories I have read, I did not feel any sudden rush of adrenaline enough to pique my interest into doing the other half. I was tired and starting to get hungry. I had also run out of my Lucozade sport drink, but I kept moving. This was the point where many people began to flag down bikes or exit into the nearest bus stop to get themselves home. Many others who didn’t go home got into the long buses provided, and the crowd that was earlier a sea of mostly white t-shirts reduced drastically. The people left were leaning on each other, holding on to each other, getting doused from head to toe with water, thinking the exact same thought
“Why am I still here?”
On two occasions my glasses fell off, and I slightly regretted that they hadn’t fallen off at the starting point when there was a crowd. If someone had mistakingly crushed them, that would have been atleast a perfect disastrous reason to escape the race.
I bargained with myself to try and get to the Ikoyi-Lekki bridge which was another 11km away. If I made it there, I would end it. I would at least have exceeded my original goal for a half marathon, and that would be a commendable thing. So I jogged and hopped and walked and moved in whatever way I could get my legs to do, and slowly, I climbed into Osborne, took in the long stretch of road as far as my eyes could see, inhaled deeply, then began to question my own sanity.
The buses had now left. Who will carry me if I fainted?
How will they say I died if I die? Died running or ran to death?
Why does this road look like a perfect place for kidnappers? Let me jog up.
Why is Ambode on all the street posters?
Why does it smell like there’s goat poo here?
Are there goats here?
How far can goats walk before being tired?
How many kilometres is a goat marathon?
Will they recycle all these bottles on the floor?
Another bus passed to pick people up and I said No. I watched the bus roar past me, it’s exhaust scornfully blowing smoke at me and I told myself I was obviously very silly for saying no, for missing another opportunity. Some policemen who sat lazily under a bus stop hiding their pot bellied bodies from the sun called out to me angrily and told me to get on a bus. One told me with enough grimace he could plaster on his face that “Lekki is still veeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyy far oo.” I kept walking. Another, hoping to drive home the point called me a greedy Nigerian. Said I was stupidly not getting on a bus because of 25million naira that had already been won. The irony of a Nigerian police calling me greedy. I thought they were unenlightened, daft, but then, which Nigerian police doesn’t exhibit these traits too often so I walked away, desperate to get past their negativity and ignorance. Even if I was going to stop, I was going to do so atleast 1km away, not in front of these angry, bitter men.
All my life, I have never understood the saying that you can do anything your mind sets to do as much as I did on Saturday. For someone whose mind plays the horriblest trick on all the time, it is difficult to set your mind on anything in the first place, let alone get it done, but I did find that even though my knees had completely given up especially by the time I got to Falomo, the only reason I was able to make the entire race was because I told myself I could.
1 more kilometre I would say, and each time I got to the next one I would think it in my head again, 1 more kilometre. Just get to the next one. Can you get to the next one? See if you can get to the next one. Try.
Lekki did turn out to be veeeerrrrrrryyyyyyy far. The sun was in it’s full glory by this time, which made it worse. I did look back a few times to see if a bus was coming anytime soon to rescue me. There was none. I wobbled and wobbled then suddenly saw the Ikoyi -Lekki bridge suspenders high up, hiding behind a building. Again this made me happy but shot me no adrenaline whatsoever. I arrived the foot of the very familiar bridge, sat down for a minute and nearly lost it. I didn’t know whether to scream out or just keep it all in. I observed another set of people exiting. People got into already waiting cars or simply just crossed to the other side towards Banana Island. I wanted to be them so badly. I told the but-you-have-come-this-far-keep-going voice I was hearing in my head to shut up. It did, only after my legs managed to get up and begin climbing the bridge. Few meters into the bridge, I agreed that I had really come so far and I was going to do whatever it took to get to VI. And as though the devil was on cue to come and test me, two buses drove past me. Eko Atlantic, one driver called out but I shook my head and told him to go on. It wasn’t until about a minute later that I realised that both buses had picked nearly everyone that I was on the bridge with. I continued into Lekki phase 1, there was loud music blaring. I bumped my head to the music till I could no longer hear it.
It is the cutest thing to be able to seat in a car from Lekki phase 1 and say – oh I’m just quickly heading to Ozumba. Ozumba when jogging is as far as the east is from the west, and it was here that I nearly lost it again, almost at 1004 estate. I wanted to lie flat on the hot floor, or in a police car that was parked by the road. I may have been seeing double. Either that or 1004 estate has more than 10 buildings. My body was on auto pilot at this point, only it felt aimless. My brain had shut down completely. I could not even engage in the tiniest mental activity of following the route signs. A marathon official had to call for me to turn left because I was just going anywhere. Everything was difficult.
But for every kilometre, I added another.
Do one more then go, just one more. Ok make it a round figure. How can you stop at 33, what kind of odd number is that? Do one more, get to 34. Ok ok ok, hit 35. 35 is just perfect just one more. But how can you get to 35 and quit? A whole 35. Oya do 36, that’s how many years Jesus lived. Wait are you sure he wasn’t 37 when he died? Look just do 38 to be on the safe side. You can confirm when you get home.
I was basically just hopping through at this time, my well thought out 7km run and 3km walk plan had been flung down the bridge. The pain in my legs was so much, so excruciating, but nothing I did eased it – squatting, stretching, bending forward, Nothing. The pain was like a continous ring in my ear. I kept walking because even standing to lean on the side wall was too painful.
My body floated even in the stiff Lagos air. Then there was 39 and then 40 and then 41 and then finally 42.
I stood at 42 and stared blankly into the distance until colour slowly returned to all my senses. I smelled jollof somewhere and heard music from a distance. I saw that some people were fighting for certificate and felt the sweat on my body that was now sticky, and the sand that circled my ankle like a bracelet, my shoe lace that was coming undone. I touched the finish line banner, and then it dawned on me –
I had just completed a marathon. My legs hurt and it still felt like a ringing in my ear…but I had just completed a marathon. 42km done and dusted.
As I waited to get my certificate, I thought about my work as a writer. Since coming to terms with the idea that I am one, an argument I have had with friends, especially those in the creative industry is that Done is better than Good, a motion I have always vehemently opposed. Anything worth doing at all should be worth doing well, I always argued. No mid points. A strong reason I never send any work out until I feel it in my gut that it is good enough or has gone under the knife of people whose creative judgement I can trust.
However, as I waited there at the finish line upset already about the riotous way that medals and certificates were being handed out, frustrated that anything Nigerian must always end up uncontrolled and ungovernable, the two other thoughts that occurred to me was that I needed to write about how the organisers can put a better race together next year and protect incentives by ensuring that those who rode in buses didn’t get a finisher medal as it happened this year and that one official could not possibly be the only person handing out certificates to thousands of people. One would think that anyone with half a brain could think these things through, but alas.
The other thought that occurred to me was tough to swallow, but my brain slowly accepted the fact that sometimes, Done is better than Good.
POST MARATHON; I understood what Yoruba’s mean by the term “o re mi te nu te nu”
I was unable to open my mouth to eat anything until the next morning. I did not have the energy to actually open my mouth.
Ascending and descending the stairs was the biggest challenge for a few days. I still feel light movements in my knee when doing that.
The hunger that hit me the next morning was like no other.
I realised that I was badly badly sun burned. Used sun screen on the morning of the marathon but didn’t think to hold it with me.