The hardest part of my 26 miles & 352 metres journey, was actually making the decision to undertake it. Once taken, there would be no going back….I had never really wanted to extend my numerous half maras and multitude of 10k/5k events to this formidable distance.
Yet one mad day, early in 2013, following a random comment to a fellow Harrier about marathons, resulted in a change of heart.
Abingdon was a great first time mara to do, reasonably flat plus many others were signing up to do it.It supported many good local charities, so all in all a great opportunity to tag along with training…..I considered the idea carefully over the next few weeks and finally decided, what the hell – I’d give it a shot…I couldn’t foresee how on earth I was going to fit in a schedule, find the energy and more importantly stick to proper structored training, but I could only try…I believe I had mentioned to my partner that once the training started – no matter how bad the pain – only a bullet to the leg would stop me running it….A rather nasty horsefly bite during one of my long Southport runs felt pretty close to that.
There’s a danger of writing 26.2 exhausting pages about marathons but I will try to keep this to a 10k.
After choosing a plan that appeared on the thin edge of realistic, considering a 70mile round trip commute to work Mon/Fri, plus dreaded 5am starts each day , an old enemy of mine, namely shinsplints, kicked off in all of their painful glory. A couple of trail runs and a Coniston HM later one toe nail became so infected that I couldn’t get my Brooks trainers on and another turned black…. Threatening to go the same way… To top it all off, an ill-timed sprint at the end of the Chester half marathon, partially tore my right Achilles tendon.
The schedule ranged from 35m to 50 most weeks but Id regularly added on hills extra speed sessions and a few miles here and there which went above and beyond the plan.
No more sprinting for me ordered the physio. This new mara dream seemed doomed. Now 3 weeks behind on the schedule already, I was rapidly running out of time and the chance to build up my endurance … But then multiple rolls of kinesiology tape later and with more strapping than an Egyptian museum exhibit, I gave the schedule another determined attempt.
My body didn’t quite know what had hit it, as the weekly mileage rapidly cranked up. Hills, speed sessions, trail runs and track sessions, plus long runs around Southport and Pennington Flash with my ever supportive partner Mish, became the schedule norm…Plantar fasciitis became just the latest injury to join the long list and the soles and arches of my feet began to feel uncomfortably sore….But it was all holding together – just!
One particular dark 10mile run around Rivington, late one night, in heavy rain after work, will stay with me for quite a while. Leaning on my car to stretch, soaking wet and shivering on a deserted Anglezark bridge did make me question why I was putting myself through all of this.
But the weeks flew by and before I knew it week 10 had arrived. I was starting to have a distinctive love hate relationship with my trusty schedule. At times almost doubting its worthiness, as the pain and fatigue would regularly try to get the better of me each Wednesday and Thursday nights.
I actually looked forward to the long aerobic 20mile Sunday runs as the most enjoyable part of the training. An energy high diet with recovery drinks became the fuel of each day. Hours of research into cramping (Chester) nutrition and the importance of electrolytes started to make perfect sense. Before you could say “what the **** its HERE!!….Race day had arrived.
With at least 3 completion times in mind and one pace band attached , I shuffled to the start line with just a few minutes to go at the packed Tilsley Park track. A planned steady 8.30min mile pace for approximately the first 3 miles went perfectly .The loose plan from then on was to check the time at the half mara stage and then decide the next realistic pace and more precise target from there.It had all gone as planned.No problems with dehydration fatigue for the first 15 miles..I knew then, baring a complete disaster, that the original sub4 was almost certainly on..…As I maintained a steady pace with 6 miles to go I had the bright idea to do some dynamic stretching to loosen up the legs…Big mistake!….An immediate and severe cramp gripped my right quad like a vice, almost locking the knee in position too. The effortless stride had turned into a rather comical but painful hop.With less than 5 miles to go, was this it? The tons of practice runs and knowledge about dealing with such eventualities kicked in automatically…Increase cadence, relax muscles, slow the pace and grab more fluids at the first opportunity. The stadium grew closer and the cramp slightly eased. I knew this was going to be close. Sub 3.40 was looking almost within reach but falling at the final cramping hurdle was also still very much on the cards. If the cramp went worse again, I would have to stop and stretch .Although I didn’t feel as though I’d get the momentum going again if it came to such a sudden halt. Stopping had to be my very last resort….. Then the track appeared and the finish was almost there. I kept my pace and even started passing other runners on the track .Flashbacks of Chester and the tendon problem restrained me in the nick of time from trying a sprint finish .
Having seen no other Harriers during the race I crossed the line in 3.39.03 in a position of 327..I guessed that I had avoided the worsening cramp – Until that was, the muscle locking 15min wait on some steps at the side of the track, for what I presumed was for t-shirts, turned out to be for a cup of char.Most of which was spilt hobbling back down the dreaded stairs….Time and position became irrelevant as I waited in line.I had actually run a marathon!… I had come a long way from my multitude of 10ks.
A few hard lessons learnt and a time that I had trained properly and seriously for- achieved. My first marathon experience was well and truly all worthwhile and one I shall remember for a long time to come. I had wanted to look as relaxed and fluid at the end of running 26.2 miles, as when I had started.I think I just about managed this too.. I am not the greatest fan of medals but this one was most definitely earned.