Had you noticed the use of ‘did’ in the title? Past tense! YES, I DID A MARATHON!
It’s been over a week but I still remember it all so well. Here’s my final blog on my first marathon experience… just in time for my friends running the London and Southampton Marathons this Sunday.
Saturday 8 April: One day to go!
We rocked up in Brighton to collect our race numbers. I had three bags packed full of stuff for pre-, during and post-run, but managed to forget my phone charger and cap. Luckily I remembered everything else important like trainers, blister plasters and watch. The Event Village was busy and we queued for almost an hour to collect our race numbers whilst I felt more and more dubious about the whole thing. It was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon and people were drinking beers on the beach and I suddenly wished I wasn’t running in the morning. Lots of doubts crept in fuelled by maranoia – I wasn’t drinking enough water, I should be resting, I didn’t eat the right food… but soon it was time for the SRG ladies to take a selfie on the beach and go to our respective lodgings!
I spent the evening with my friend Laura who kindly cooked me a pasta dinner (I may have had a small glass of wine…) and put me up for the night. We watched Gogglebox, and I did some final prep pinning my race number on, attaching my timing chip and generally felt terrified.
I wanted to charge my watch but thought I had better plug my phone in all night (I managed to borrow a charger!) in case it decided to randomly turn itself off and fail to wake me up in time. Highly unlikely, but this is maranoia.
Sunday 9 April: Race day
I slept pretty well apart from waking up twice to check the time. Finally it was actually time to get up and I made a ridiculous mountain of porridge that I couldn’t even finish. I packed my race bag with flip flops, a change of clothes, water and some crisps. In hindsight I absolutely should have brought a portable phone charger as my battery was sapped by the end of the race.
It only took 10 mins to amble to the start in Preston Park but it was virtually impossible to find anyone in the crowds. I just about had time to hand over my bag and join the longest loo queue ever. I found Dan but we didn’t managed to find anyone else so we went through to the STARTING AREA! It’s a bit like when you decide to go through to passport control at the airport i.e. the point of no return. It was already really warm – the sun was beating down and then suddenly the first corral was off and we were ready to follow!
The first few miles flew by, as expected, and I clocked my 5km time around 26 minutes which I was pleased with. The first section went uphill but not for too long and it also went downhill which is always a bonus.
The next goal was 10km and we hit this around 55 minutes so again I was really pleased… although only a quarter of the total distance had been completed and I tried to stay positive. People were shouting my name which was amazing, and I tried to wave or smile at all well wishers although after a while it’s a bit like fan mail – you realise you can’t respond to everyone 😉 The route then went along the seafront and looped around towards Rottingdean and Ovingdean before coming back down where I knew my family would be at around 13 miles outside the Alzheimer’s Society cheer point. This kept me going. The lead motorbike passed us in the other direction with the elite runners in tow. It was getting warmer and there was no sea breeze but soon we’d done 10 miles and I was getting excited about seeing my own supporters! It was actually easier for me to spot them than for them to spot me. I saw my mum first, shouted and waved and then the moment had passed and I was on my way again.
The water stations were busy and most runners were chucking water over themselves and it was splashing everywhere which was actually very refreshing on bare skin. I was still amazed by the amount of support as we ran through residential roads – children handing out bowls of sweets, people offering water sprays, cups of water, orange slices and music blaring out. The live entertainment along the way included drummers and dancing to Ricky Martin and Girls Aloud – anything with a beat that distracts you is great!
I was counting every mile by now, but I wasn’t quite sure what would happen at 20 miles… would the ‘wall’ appear? Would I feel like the final six were just too much, and stop? At mile 16 I realised I still had another 10 to go and this seemed like a mountainous task so I quickly tried to forget the distance.
Part of the route I was not looking forward to loomed ahead – the power station – which was remote with barely any supporters. It felt like being out in Texas. The midday sun was sooo hot by then and people were walking, stopping, stretching, cramping up, throwing up, and I saw one man collapse. There were some hosepipes spraying cold water and I danced through these joyfully. Some runners were presenting themselves to the first aiders, and it was hard to keep going and maintain pace. I finally reached 20 miles at the three hour point and knew I had about an hour to go. Another hour in the sun felt like a death sentence. I was wondering why I was doing this never-ending race and then remembered all the amazing messages and donations on my sponsorship page for Alzheimer’s Society. I’d pledged to do this, and I would complete it. My legs kept threatening to stop so I had to try very hard to not let them. Still, I was grateful for no injuries or niggles and told myself to just keep going.
From this point on it became very much a mental battle switching between kilometres, miles, time and imagination to break up the distance. Something like this:
20 miles: 1 hour to go. Just imagine you’re starting a 10km run.
20.5 miles: About 9km still to go. Oh.
21 miles: Just five miles! You can make this in four hours! Some people have already finished!
21.3 miles: It’s going to be a long five miles.
21.6 miles: Almost four miles.
21.8 miles: Still almost four miles.
22 miles: Four miles to go! But I thought it was ‘only four miles’ ages ago!
22.1 miles: Stop looking at the bloody watch
22.5 miles: Aggghhh
22.8 miles: Almost a parkrun to go! Sort of.
23.1 miles: Someone shouts ‘just a parkrun to go’ – I manage a weak thumbs up
23.3 miles: Let’s try and ignore the watch for a whole mile
23.7 miles: Agggghh
24 miles: Two miles to go! You can do this! It’s just two miles. Two slow, little miles.
24.2 miles: Someone holds a banner saying ‘half a parkrun’ to go which sounds good but I think they are surely wrong. Have I started the second lap of Bedfont Lakes? I can’t work it out. Really need water.
24.6 miles: Where is the 25 mile marker?! People are shouting that I have it ‘in the bag’ – but the bag is so far away right now. I’m never doing this again.
25 miles: Yeeeees! One mile to go, but why won’t my legs go faster? I have 10 minutes to break 4 hours. My pace has gone over 10 minute miles. The four hour pacer has just overtaken me. OK, my new goal is to just finish without stopping. I’m never doing this again.
25.2 miles: Actually, it’s NOW one mile to go. Waaaaah
25.2 miles: I will see my family soon!
25.5 miles: Where are they?!
25.6 miles: There they are!
25.7 miles: This.is.so.hard. Never again – ever.
25.8 miles: Almost there. I won’t smash 4 hours but I am very close!
25.9 miles: Really almost there!
26 miles: How long is 0.2 miles?
26.08 miles: Seriously – how long is 0.2 miles!?
26.1 miles: The finish! the finish! Ooh am I on the big TV?
26.17 miles: Just keep running!
26.3 miles (4:02:11): OH MY GOD. Never again.
Half an hour later: Was it really that bad? I’m sure it wasn’t.
It’s a strange feeling once you finish. People stumble around in a bit of a haze trying to take photos, drink, eat, find their friends and family etc. In the days that followed I felt more and more amazed at what I had achieved. The pain only lasted a few days. The pride, as they say, lasts forever. I still can’t believe I have done it!
Would I do it again?
Watch this space!
I’d like to say thank you to everyone who helped me along my marathon journey including Ryan, my parents and Janet for giving me the time and encouragement to train and being there on the day along with Katie, Tom, Harry, Izzy and Emily (it meant the world), my wonderful friends, SRG buddies who actually put me up to this challenge in the first place, mapped out long runs, listened to my random ramblings and offered endless support and humour, my fellow Brighton heroes Dan, Steve, Mel, Helen, Egle and Nikki, my trans-Atlantic coach Rory who got me through the training plan with heaps of motivation, my parkrun “family” who are just amazing and also responsible for taking me from 5km to 42km, my generous sponsors, everyone ‘kudos’ing on Strava, Ian for his advice on strength and conditioning, Laura for her Brighton hospitality, my legs which did a sterling job (bravo, knees) and my brain which did an even better job at keeping everything going for the hardest four hours this year 🙂 So far I have raised £1.4k which is more than I ever imagined.
Good luck to all my friends running this weekend in London or elsewhere. I think the best way to summarise the marathon experience is a 20 mile race followed by a 10k that is just as hard as what you’ve just run. But despite all that, race day is definitely payday, and all the training will be 100% worth it.
VIDEO: ITV coverage – click image to play