It poured with rain for the journey down to Dorset yesterday morning after a thunderstorm the night before that left the air still hot, wet and muggy. In keeping with the traditional night-before-a-marathon I'd had approx. 4 hours sleep. I woke up at 4.30, we got up at 5.30, left the house at 6.30 and arrived at 7.45, 45 mins before the marathon was due to start.
Just under 800 people were due to run the marathon, with another 1200 doing the half which set off an hour after us. We managed to find our friends from the club who were also doing the race just as the rain stopped and the sun came out.
Everyone hastily pulled off their waterproofs and remembered they'd forgotten to put on any sun cream :o). There was an address from the town mayor and then, at 8.30, we were off, running out of the farm and onto the ancient streets of Dorchester.
It was already hot and muggy and there wasn't a huge amount of shade. Everyone was in good spirits, although we were all bemoaning the lack of rain which, ten minutes before, we'd all been feeling grumpy about. The course left Dorchester and went out into the surrounding countryside, which, being Dorset in May, was absolutely beautiful. Lots of green fields and woods, little chocolate-box villages, leafy hedgerows and banks bursting with flowers.
I was feeling good, relieved to have a nice, long run ahead of me (I've really missed those these past three weeks). Chatting to my fellow runners I discovered that many were, like me, running their first marathon. There was a super sense of camaraderie and excitement mixed with a healthy dose of respect and a bit of awe for what we were all doing.
Ten miles in I was keeping to the steady pace I'd set for myself (6 min/ kms) and fairly sure it was going to get easier as I went along. I am generally happier once I've got ten miles under my belt, and at the top of the hill (which I walked up, as did most of the people around me- it was boiling by now), there was M with our friend Jon and his little boy, (his wife was also running), ready to record the moment for posterity :o)
During my long training runs I'd practised refuelling and knew I needed to have a raspberry jam sandwich every 6 miles with the odd jelly baby thrown in for good measure. I'd had oats and coconut milk with chia seeds for breakfast on the way down and had managed to eat more carbs during the previous two days as my stomach settled down so I knew I'd had a good-ish amount of fuel before starting. At mile 12 I had my second sarnie...
And then round the corner I discovered a Love Station. White Star Races are famous for these, they are stocked with every kind of food goodie you can imagine, lots of food, sweets, soft drinks and the odd snifter of booze for those who need it, as well as volunteers in fantastic fancy dress who will give you a hug if you need one. It was a lovely touch and I appreciated all the care and understanding that had gone into it.
At the runners first aid course I did a few weeks ago we discussed the best ways of keeping cool during endurance runs in the heat. One of the best is to pour water over your head. I had my hydration vest on and had been sipping water through the tube from the first half mile in, so I knew I was well hydrated, but despite wearing the thinnest t-shirt I own, I was feeling very hot by now, so took advantage of the cups of water at the Love Station to throw one over the back of my neck. The ice cold cooling effect was immediate.That and the food I'd just eaten had a miraculous effect- within seconds the energy had come roaring back into my legs and I picked up the pace, knocking almost a minute off my km times for the next 2 kms and racing past lots of people. I knew it wouldn't last but didn't think it would undo me, so I decided to make the most of it and enjoy flying along feeling strong overtaking lots of people. Miles 14 and 15 flew by that way, with one guy jokingly asking what exactly it was that I'd had at the Love Station :o) before I came round a corner and saw the next hill, which I decided to conserve energy on by walking. It was in the shade which was bliss!
I got chatting to a couple of old boys here who told me they were running their 497th marathons that day. I asked them what the secret was and they said psychology. You need to be physically fit to run a marathon, they said, but the old adage that they are run 20% in the body and 80% in your head stands true.
Round the corner we were back into the full heat of the sun and a flattish road. I was trotting along quite happily when I heard a Hello! behind me and there was M, who was cycling round the outside of the course so he could pop up and see me in various places. He cycled along beside me for a while and it was lovely to have him there. I really appreciated it. I'm not sure there are many marathons where you can do that. It gave me a huge boost, especially when he told me how good I was looking (mile 16 by then) and that my pace was good and steady.
After a while, M zoomed on ahead and minutes later, at around mile 17, we came up through Tolpuddle past the famous Martyrs Tree. I didn't realise until we'd gone by, which was a shame because I'd been hoping we would run past it and would have taken a picture if I'd known! The support in the village was super with people gathered near the tree clapping and calling out encouragement...
And these two lovely chaps playing outside their house to lift the spirits of the runners. I called out thank you! as I ran past and they said it's to help you run faster!
We ran past Tolpuddle church...
And then along a long, tough, hot, straight stretch of main road. The sun came out again, it was really hot, there was no shade and the road just stretched on and on and on in an unbroken line ahead. It was my least favourite bit. 18 miles so you're physically beginning to feel it, but also hard mentally. You could see runners way up ahead in a long, snaking line, which didn't help. I began to feel my mind start to switch off as the aches in my hips grew more noticeable and the temptation to walk became stronger. M came up behind me again at that point and stayed with me for a bit, talking encouragingly before heading off to the next Love Station which he'd told me was at mile 20 and had music and lots of food. It sounded lovely, so I tried to focus on getting there, telling myself I could stop and rest for a bit there as a reward before pushing on through the final 6 miles.
I could feel my energy flagging, but everyone around me was in the same state. Miles 18-20 of a marathon can be tough mentally and physically. You've used up all your stored glycogen reserves and are running on only what you can eat. I knew I was due to have another sandwich but I just couldn't face it. Instead, I ate some jelly babies and continued to drink my water and also took my third electrolyte capsule. I fell in with Karen who was wearing a Miss Chatterbox top and told her how I was feeling. She said don't worry, I'm exactly the same way. We ran together for the next two miles, not saying much, just grimly aware that we were keeping one another going, keeping the pace steady but managing not to walk.
We ran through Puddletown at 19.5 miles where everyone was gathered at the pub, cheering and waving and calling out encouragement. It was brilliant. I grinned and called out my thanks, Karen telling me I sounded full of beans. It turned out she had run lots of marathons and it gave my confidence a huge boost at a tricky stage in the race that, when I told her this was my first, she didn't at first believe me.
Just after mile 20 we reached the Love Station in a farm yard. It was good one! There was a band playing, loads of people with buckets of water and sponges waiting to cool the runners down, tables loaded with food, cakes, sweets. There was water to drink as well as soft drinks and coke. I don't usually drink anything except water, but was seized with the need for a fruit drink and gratefully gulped down some berry squash followed by a cup of coke. They were lovely. I also had a cola bottle, my system greedily sucking up all that sugar and turning it into the glycogen I was obviously craving. Top Marks, White Star- no one does a refuelling station as well as you. It was perfect, and I don't say that lightly.
All week I had been resolutely resisting being drawn on what time I wanted to run the marathon in. No, I kept replying whenever anyone asked, I just want to get round. If I do it in under five hours I will be thrilled. If it takes me six and a half I will be just as pleased to have finished and done it. A marathon is a big deal in anyone's book, right? Time doesn't come into it, especially for your first.
But of course I am more competitive than that. Secretly, I was hoping I'd get round in under four and a half hours, which would be a much faster time than anything I'd done in training before, and with an extra six miles thrown in on top too. The median marathon completion time for women is 4:47.
Predicting a marathon time is not as simple as taking your 10k time, multiplying it by four and then adding on another two miles. Or by doubling your half marathon time (my best half time is 2:02 on roads). You get more and more tired as the distance clocks up, so you generally lose time in the latter stages as you slow down. There are formulas that help predict what you can do, they take your half time and add on a percentage, allowing for the cumulative effect of the distance, but they don't take into account elevation gain or weather or surface. It was hot and it was very hilly.
When I looked at my watch at the 20 mile Love Station, I realised I'd done twenty miles in 3.20. I knew the final six would take me longer than an hour. I was tired; it was baking hot and there was a stonking great hill at mile 22/ 23 to climb up in the final bits of the race, as well as a general incline leading up to it, and those can sap your legs more than the steep hills do. All those things would slow me down. But still...
I made sure I stopped at the Love Station for a good few minutes, to refuel, chat to M and Jon, and to quietly gather my thoughts for the final push. You'l hear it said that a marathon is really two races: the first 20 miles and the last 6. And I was about to head off into unknown territory, something that I'd been thinking about all week. The furthest I'd run before was a little over 20 miles and I had no idea how I'd do in the final 6. Experienced distance runner friends had been telling me that the final six miles of a marathon was psychological get the pacing right and you'll be fine, they'd all said. Well, I was about to find out.
As I set off again I was very conscious that this was it- the final push. I dismissed the twenty miles I'd just run from my thoughts and told myself that I was just out to run a 10k. Easy.
The next three miles were pretty good: I kept up my pace, even pushed it on a bit. But by mile 23 I was tiring and there was the big hill up ahead. I ran up half of it, the decided there was nothing to be gained by exhausting myself further when I'd still got three miles to go. So I walked, and got chatting to Ian who was walking behind me and about to embark on a marathon adventure- running five marathons in five days. You can see in the photo below how knackered I was by that point, and how big the hill is as it stretches away behind us!
It turned out that meeting Ian was the best thing I could have done at that stage. We rounded the corner and there was his buddy, Mark, lying on the floor casually implying he'd been waiting for Ian for so long he'd had time for a nap. It made me laugh, and the three of us ran the final three miles together. They really kept me going. If I'd been on my own I suspect I would have walked, as it was I had reached a stage where is was easier and less painful to keep running. Walking had become uncomfortable.
So we ran and chatted and they lifted my confidence by telling me how my being able to chat as I was in the final three miles of a marathon showed I'd got my training and pace bang-on. I told them it was my first marathon and they didn't believe me!
As we came down the hill towards the finish I knew I was going to beat the 4.30 time I'd been secretly longing to do. I couldn't believe it!
Right, you've got it in you to sprint, Ian and Mark told me, knowing how much I wanted to go under 4.30 because I'd told them as we approached mile 25, so we're going to sprint the last 100 metres, right? Go!
And they were off. Mark zoomed off ahead and I told Ian to go on too, not wanting to slow him down, but he wouldn't leave me. Nope, we're gonna do this together, he said, and then he told me we could pick up the pace again and get past the guy in front who was about to cross the line before us.
Somehow, we did it. We overtook the guy in front and crossed the line in 4:25. I couldn't quite believe it and looked round for M, but couldn't see him in the press of people. We were given our medals and t-shirts and I took a selfie of the lovely fellas- complete strangers, although we've since met up on Strava - who helped me get through those last three tough miles and helped me get in under the time I'd quietly set for myself. Proving yet again what a selfless, supportive and good humoured bunch runners are. Thanks, guys!
I was feeling sick and a bit weird by this point- the cumulative effect of having stopped quite suddenly after running 26.2 miles for 4.25 hours in the heat, and having sprinted the final 100 metres. I leaned on the railings until the nausea subsided, then realised I was on the verge of bursting into tears. I looked round for M and saw him, looking for me, so I cut through the finisher's funnel, straight into an enormous hug from my husband while I sobbed on his shoulder!
The people around us were looking at me with understanding. It's a really, really emotional thing completing your first marathon. It took me about five minutes to get myself back under control. M had a huge bunch of flowers (stocks- lovely) for me and was also clutching a big red balloon that said "1" on it- a present from Brenda, marathon and ultra-runner extraordinaire, all round amazing woman and buddy from my running club, who has mentored me through this entire process, been on the end of an email for the last six months whenever I've needed her with explanations, thoughts, suggestions, wisdom, encouragement, humour. I owe her a lot.
By then I was absolutely desperate for a can of coke! Again, I rarely drink it in real life, but the sugar and caffeine were obviously needed and so M went to find me one and boy, did it taste good! The it was time for some photos, and M kept telling me how well I'd done and that he couldn't believe I was still on my feet and not flaked out on the ground.
We made our way back to the car, me ecstatic at how it had gone and over the moon about my time, so much faster than I'd dared dream. L had suggested I set up a WhatsApp group for the day so I could tell friends and family how I'd done without typing the message several times, so while M put the bike back on the car I sat on the grass (very welcome by then!) and sent the I've done it! message. The phone then went mad for the next hour with replies, which made me smile hugely :o)
As we were driving out, an RRR friend who was doing the half said did you see Brenda? She was waiting for you with an enormous bunch of balloons at the finish.
So we parked up and went to find her, meeting her just as she was coming back into the car park. Ah, she said when she saw me, giving me a hug and wrapping string with several brightly coloured Number 1 balloons round my neck, The pupil is no more! My work here is done!
I didn't sleep in the car on the way home and I wasn't hungry. I felt slightly sick from all the sugar but it didn't last long. Back at home, once I'd unbent stiff legs out of the car and hobbled up the path to the front door, I had to have a photo with someone else who has been instrumental in me completing this marathon- my training buddy and constant running companion. I honestly don't think I would have done what I did yesterday were it not for Pop accompanying me so enthusiastically through ice, wind, rain, snow, sleet and burning heat over all those miles for the past five months. She earnt the medal every bit as much as I did.
I'd also like to say thank you to all of you for your encouragement, your emails, texts and blog comments. I did think of you all when it got tough yesterday and imagined you cheering me on. It helped. And of course M, who I really wouldn't have done yesterday without. And I suppose also that t-shirt mix-up at the Southampton 10k a year ago April which started all this when they accidentally gave me a well done! you've run 26.2 miles! shirt. I feel I can at last wear it.
|With Brenda afterwards|
|The course! It looks a long old way on paper :o)|
|The all-important medal|
Post-marathon supper in the garden- M's sausage pie with broccoli and carrots and an ice cold beer. Perfection!
It's done! Hooray! Now on to the next one.....Can't wait!
Hope you're all well and enjoying the bank holiday.