It’s been six weeks since I ran the London Marathon, having won my place on Twitter during Christmas week last year (I know, lucky me!). It’s taken me a while to write about my experience, partly because I wasn’t happy with how it went and partly because I had lined up another marathon in the meantime.
My training for London went so well, building up my long runs gradually, heading out either on a Friday morning, post-school-run or before parkrun, finishing the last 5k up at Hilly Fields on a Saturday morning. I went into London feeling great, positive and happy that I had trained so well and had reached the start line without injury. Of course, when race day came it was much hotter than it had been in the run up, so I planned my hydration carefully, knowing how easily I cramp and so as not to drink too much and end up making myself ill! The atmosphere up on Blackheath was incredible and I headed to the start with my fellow club runners Sarah, who was running on a good-for-age place and Jen, who had a championship place.
The first few miles were just lovely, I soaked up the atmosphere, tried to slow myself down a bit (it’s so easy to get swept up by the enthusiasm of those around you) and even had a good chat with a fellow runner as we merged with the blue and red starts in Woolwich. Greenwich and Deptford approached and I knew I would start to see friends, so kept my focus and looked out for them and their amazing homemade banners. First up were some Hilly Fields friends, who had strolled down from Greenwhich Park after volunteering on the baggage trucks. Around the Cutty Sark and a surge of joy ran through me, over to Creek Road, where I heard my name and saw my boys.
A little further on I was lifted by the awesome sight of my GoodGym Lewisham runners, who were waving a beautiful banner, made by Lucy. Now to focus and keep my pace steady. A few unexpected cheers along the way and I neared the halfway mark and the prospect of Tower Bridge and its wall of sound. The support on this course was out of this world, I can’t thank my friends enough for the effort they put into encouraging me.
Throughout the race I had felt crowded and slightly jostled, not a feeling I enjoyed. I had been cut up, kicked and elbowed a few times and, as I approached a drinks station, I stood on a discarded water bottle, turning my ankle. This was around mile 12 and I found myself walking. It hurt, but I wasn’t injured, but this is where my mind went ‘switch’ and the thoughts became negative. Fast (or more like slow!) forward to Mudschute, Canary Wharf and thereabouts and I found myself shuffling, jogging, walking and generally having a crappy time. I saw Edward and Hector at around sixteen miles and had a little cry. I gave pathetic little waves to my friends and was lifted briefly by Ellie, who ran alongside me at around mile eighteen, giving me a little pep-talk.
This race showed me just how much endurance running is in the head. My body could do this, but my mind had decided to have a morning off. As I emerged from the hell that is Canary Wharf, I felt a lift as I mentally turned towards the finish. Yes, there were still many miles to go, but I was actually heading in the right direction! More friends, more hugs more ‘believe in yourself!’ advice and more plodding. I spotted the Hilly Fields banner on Lower Thames Street, so pledged to run and hug the boys and give them a big smile! Some good hard shaking and encouragement from coach Adrian and fellow club runner John and I was nearing the final few miles.
Passing the GoodGym support spot outside Somerset House got me moving again, as did a super cheer from Lisa. Big Ben looked ridiculously far away, but meant I was getting near the end and could plod down Birdcage Walk to take on the final stretch along The Mall. I gave a very heartfelt thank you to the woman who put my medal around my neck and hobbled towards the baggage trucks. This hadn’t been anything like I had imagined it would be in the months leading up to this day and I felt heavy and sad as I walked to Horseguards to meet the boys.
‘You got a PB Mum!’ said Hector, happily, confused that I wasn’t dancing for joy. Yes, I had got a PB (4 hours 41, so a few minutes), but it wasn’t the ‘right’ PB, not the PB I had hoped for. Try explaining this to an almost ten-year-old and to your supporters, who think you are amazing for even running a marathon!
In the week following the marathon, people congratulated me and said how well I had done and so on, but I wasn’t really feeling it, I wasn’t convinced. Edward suggested signing up to another marathon. I said October might be good, but he meant now, as soon as possible, to use the training I had done and to get over London (he knows me well!). I was in two minds about this, it seemed a bit risky trying to run a marathon during what should have been my recovery period and how on earth would I ‘train’ for it?! I signed up to a marathon that was fairly local (in Kent) and within a manageable timescale and worked out that I needed to rest mainly and do a few ‘longer’ runs to keep me ticking over.
Marathon Part Two
Last Saturday morning we jumped in a taxi (yes, it worked out to be the best way to get there!) very early and arrived promptly at the Cyclopark in Gravesend. This is a road cycling circuit, meaning my second marathon would consist of 21 laps, yes, laps. I really wasn’t sure how this would feel, would it drive me nuts, would I lose count, would I hate every second?! The race is small, with around 500 participants, many of whom seem to be part of the 100 Marathon Club circuit and many ultra and multiple marathon runners. I met up with my Hilly Fields friend Tinu, who was running her 67th marathon(!) and saw Ruth, who was running her 500th! Amazing! Registration was quick and easy (and super friendly) and I was delighted with my race number, featuring Pocahontas (who was buried locally 400 years ago) and my surname across the bottom. I was also pleased to find a box of wristbands, 20 of which I popped on my arm, to keep count of the laps.
A really special thing about this race is that you can set up your own aid station. So we opened up our camping table (which I shared with Tinu and another runner) and set out drinks bottles and gels, that we could collect as and when we needed them (we would pass this table on each lap). I quietly got on with my dynamic stretches and we headed to the start. You might expect this cycle circuit to be flat, but it’s not! We ran up towards the finish arch and started our first (shorter lap), soon coming through again, to discard our first wristband in a big bin. This is where the clouds were broken by a fork of lightning and the thunder rumbled, throwing down a huge but cooling shower. The forecast had been for scorching weather, so this was a welcome break from the heat.
My plan was to set out conservatively and to stick to a slower pace, enjoying the race and feeling in control. This is exactly what I did. for the whole marathon.
I listened to conversations around me, looked at the ground ahead (I had borrowed Edward’s running cap, to keep the sun off my head, but it turned out to be like blinkers, keeping me focussed!), smiling at well-wishers and JUST GETTING ON WITH IT! After a few laps, I had worked out where to push, where to hold back and noticed many people had a routine of walking up THE HILL then running the rest…I ran up that hill every time 🙂 I grabbed my drinks bottle from my ‘aid station’ and kept on keeping on. The marshal at the far end of the course was a continuous support point, he was just wonderful, cheering, commenting, calling me ‘Princess!’ and dancing around on the spot for the whole race.
So, I had only told Edward and Hector about this race and also my friends Siggy and Stephen. It had been weird keeping it from people and I felt a little awkward when people kept asking me ‘what next?’ I had to do it like this though, because I didn’t want any pressure at all. As time went on Siggy and Stephen appeared at the finish area, giving me encouraging cheers. My support crew sat at the camping table, having a picnic and passing me drinks and gels and moving around the course to give (gentle) encouragement. During training, I had often had ‘GI issues’, so was reassured by the presence of a line of loos each lap…which I did have to visit partway through (grrrr).
What I found good about the laps was that miles seemed to tick by quickly. I looked at my pace and counted down the laps, ignoring the miles largely, only looking every so often, so I knew when to take on fuel (after the rain, the sun came out and it was very hot). I felt relaxed as I passed the half-marathon mark and pleasantly surprised when I passed the twenty mile mark. I grabbed my phone and headphones and plugged in some motivational tunes for the last six miles, feeling a surge of energy. The wristband system worked well, as did having a commentator occasionally shouting out your name as you passed and telling you how many laps you had run. I was confused then, when I looked at my watch and thought I must have only one more lap to run, but was told I had two – cue dip in energy and spirits!
When I was sure I was on my last lap, I did a little ‘running man’ dance for my crew and danced around to the finish, a HUGE smile on my face. I hugged and high-fived as I showed off my ENORMOUS medal and gave a jump for joy when my Garmin told me I had run 26.2 miles in 4 hours 29 minutes and 15 seconds (the course measured long for me and my official time was 4.35, but I’m going to go with my watch 😉 ). We sat at the picnic tables outside the cafe and Edward handed me my favourite post-race refreshment, a bottle of Erdinger Alcoholfrei. So this is how finishing a marathon should feel!
What did I learn?
I definitely know now that big, crowded, noisy marathons might not be my thing! The support I felt around London Marathon was outstanding, but I was emotionally drained and unable to focus on what I needed to do. I learned that I can do this, knocking around fifteen minutes off my original marathon PB and feeling in control and comfortable. I learned that it’s OK to relax in marathon week and you don’t necessarily need to put life on hold to have a good race (I worked, ran and ate normally, even doing a fast track session on the Tuesday!). I learned that I can run around and around and around for hours and actually enjoy it and that I have amazing friends and family, who are not bothered by how fast I run, but (I think) get that I need to sometimes do these things for myself. Will I sign up for marathon number six? Probably, but I have a few other things lined up that I want to enjoy in the meantime.