The life of a runner, mother, radiopharmacist and vicar's wife – that's me!
When you take on the challenge of a marathon, it’s always good to be prepared – put in the groundwork, the miles on the road, know your nutrition strategy and basically be prepared. Forget all that! I just went and entered a trail marathon with 5,500 ft of ascent which takes place in just three weeks time and I haven’t exactly done the training!!!
Call me crazy but it was just that a friend was doing it (I think that she is almost as unprepared as I am) and I thought it sounded like fun, in a weird kind of way. The race is the Excalibur Marathon which takes place on 21st May and is in the Clwydian Range in North Wales.
It was only after that I’d entered it that I wondered how on earth I was actually going to complete it. I realised that up until 2 weeks ago, I hadn’t actually run 10 miles in one go for a very long time, and certainly not this year and I’d entered a marathon in 3 weeks time.
At least I did actually run 15 miles last weekend and I’d already planned to attempt 20 this weekend, I was heading in the right direction at least but it isn’t exactly ideal preparation. I think that I just thought it would be good training for the ‘proper’ marathon that I have entered at the end of September but it was only after I’d entered when I actually read the details on the website that I realised what I’d let myself in for.
To give you an idea of how tough this race is likely to be, the winning men’s time is around 3.45 and that’s from sub 3 hour marathon runners. I think, realistically, in spite of having run 3.07.24 for a marathon, if I finish in less than 5 hours then I will have done very well.
It also occurred to me that they might expect you to carry some stuff with you on this marathon, like a map or some water or something. So I consulted the website. These are the things that I have to take with me: full waterproofs, a map, compass, whistle, hat, gloves and bottle/cup. I figured that I ought to see what it was like carrying all this stuff. I have quite a good running backpack but I felt that it was a bit big for those items so I decided to try out my ‘bum bag’. I’ve used it before and it is pretty comfortable.
I stuffed all the items required into the bag (except the compass and the whistle, which I’m rather hoping that Mr. Amazon will be bringing me before the race date) but including my iPhone (it’s almost like a compass after all) and set off from Thurstaston on the Wirral Way in the direction of West Kirby.
It was awful. This bag is comfortable when it’s got a few items in it but is terrible when stuffed full. It hardly bends at all when it is full so it like a hard board against your back which sways wildly around as you run. It was like having a small child kicking me in the small of the back with every stride. In addition, every time I moved my arms, they hit the water bottles on the sides because they were sticking out more than normal. In the end, I had to adjust my arm action but then my shoulder began to ache.
Luckily, it is only 2.7 miles to West Kirby where I planned to turn around so only 5.4 miles until I returned to the car, discarded one of the drinks bottles, my coat, the map and my gloves, and set off again with a much more comfortable pack. It was good to know that there was no way that this pack was going to be suitable for the race and I’ve ordered a smaller version of the other running pack that I own. I hope that it arrives in time for me to give it a bit of a practice run.
I think I was pretty tired when I set off. My work has been really busy and there is too much to think (and worry) about so I haven’t had the quality of sleep that I would have liked over the past couple of weeks. Plus, on Friday night, I was excited about the race that I’d just entered so, again, I didn’t sleep so well. It’s interesting what effect this has on the running, and also on my ability to do maths.
I wanted to run 20 miles and I’d done 5.4 to West Kirby and back to the car . All I had to do was to work out how many miles I had left to do to make 20, divide it by 2 and then add it to 5.4 in order to work out at what point I needed to turn around and head back to the car. For some unknown reason (I mean, I did get an A grade at A-level maths), I decided that the turnaround point would be 12.9 miles. This left me puzzled on the way back when I realised that I was going to have run 20 miles and still not be back at the car. But I’ve got ahead of myself.
Things were a lot better without the bag kicking me in the back. I tried to be quite conservative in the running, somewhere close to 9 min per mile would have been just fine. I did feel tired but usually it is just my legs that feel tired rather than that general tired feeling that I was feeling. The legs were actually fine, and this was encouraging.
The other thing that I really wanted to try out was my trail shoes. I’ve only worn them once before and that time I only ran 4 miles. How would they be for 20? Would I end up with blisters? Shin splints? An unknown niggle?
As it turned out, they were fine. The fact that I didn’t really notice them means that they were perfect. I was also glad to have them on because, although the Wirral Way is a pretty good path for walking/cycling, there were some quite muddy sections with all the recent rain. The grip on these shoes is pretty good and there was no danger of me slipping even through some of the muddier puddles.
I went further along the Wirral Way than I have ever been before. There were also far fewer people than I’ve encountered before, probably because the weather was pretty rubbish. However, I didn’t get rained on for the entire route (or perhaps I was just too tired to notice).
I felt fairly rubbish around about half way and wondered what on earth I was thinking of by entering a stupid marathon in a few weeks time, especially since the route was almost completely flat whereas the marathon route is anything but. However, once I was heading back home and with the “Christians in Sport” podcast in my ears (highly recommend listening even if you aren’t a Christian as it is a fascinating insight in to the minds of top sportsmen and women) I began to feel a bit more optimistic that I would be able to complete the marathon, even if it was up and down a few mountains.
My second 10 miles was a couple of minutes faster than the first 10 miles (although that bum bag did slow me down a bit at the beginning) but I went through the slightly downhill miles 15 and 16 at 8.14 pace and still finished strong despite running an extra 0.4 miles that I hadn’t planned to do. The overall pace worked out to be a somewhat reasonable 8.43 minutes per mile.
I’ve been trying to get my kids to eat a bit more healthily. My eldest son (who made these fruit caterpillars) eats a lot of fruit but he is very bad at drinking. He basically refuses to drink anything that isn’t sweet and unhealthy. I’ve tried several strategies to get him to drink more (healthily) but all have failed. Often, on the way home from school, he is thirsty and so to save me having to keep going to the shop, I decided to buy a fridge pack of coke cans and put them in the back of my car. I felt a bit aggrieved to do this, knowing how unhealthy the stuff is, but it’s a balance between a hydrated child and a slightly unhealthy child. I have never been so happy with my poor parenting as I was after finishing those 20 (well 20.4) miles yesterday. I was so thirsty and I’d run out of water but I had about 8 cans of coke in the back of my car. Oh, the bliss of having something refreshing to drink!
Afterwards, I was absolutely shattered. It was like I’d run a proper marathon. I think that it was more my overall level of tiredness combining with the tiredness of the run that left me just wanting to lie down for the rest of the day.
Actually, my legs are OK (although my Achilles is a bit tight) and I ran another 10 miles (admittedly fairly slowly at 10 min per mile) on the treadmill today. I deliberately took it easy though, partly because of the Achilles and partly because I didn’t need to go any faster. It shows that I am capable of running the distance as that is 37 miles over the past 3 days so I feel a bit more confident that I might be able to finish this race in 3 weeks time. I plan to run another 20 miles in the hills next Saturday and then that will be it for long runs until the race.
What I learnt was: the bum bag is not going to work and I need a proper backpack (which I’ve ordered), the shoes are just fine, I need to take more food with me and preferably something that it easier to eat (I took some flapjack, which was good but was a bit difficult to eat with a dry mouth), if I can’t add up properly after running 5 miles then I might struggle to read a map at 20 miles (this is a slight worry and I hope I don’t get lost), I need to take it pretty easy at the start or I won’t make it to the end but I can cope with this type of pace/effort (well, it will be a lot slower on the hills), I need to make sure that I sleep soundly over the next couple of weeks, I need to take lots of easy to eat food to eat at the end of the race and a set of warm clothes as I was absolutely freezing yesterday in my sweaty running tops.
I’m now really excited about this race, just the challenge of completing it. It will be so different from any other race I’ve run. Normally I’m going for a time or a position but this time I will be running for the ‘fun’ of it and to complete the challenge. Can’t wait.