The life of a runner, mother, radiopharmacist and vicar's wife – that's me!
I wouldn’t have actually set foot on the start line of the Nottingham Marathon had it not been for the fact that I was raising money for the R Charity, a charity set up by the hospital where I work (The Royal Liverpool Hospital – hence the R for Royal!) to raise money to buy specialist equipment for the hospital.
I work in Radiopharmacy and I need a lot of specialist equipment to make new diagnostic tracers especially to diagnose cancer and to make some radioactive therapies to treat cancer. It all costs money and I’m fairly passionate about my work so I was keen to help. I was rather less keen to run the marathon though!
The Build Up
Back in May, with 4-5 months to go, training was going fairly well. My friend, Anne, decided to enter this crazy marathon (the Excalibur marathon) in the hills of North Wales as practice for the Saunders Lakeland Marathon in July so I decided to join her. On very little actual marathon training, we completed it and Anne even went and won the whole thing!!
I went on holiday the following weekend but by half way through the week I had developed a really high temperature and was confined to bed. I really was pretty ill and I still suspect that I might have had glandular fever. It took me at least a month to recover and start light training again.
However, I wasn’t really well until the beginning of August, with 8 weeks to go before the marathon and having lost 2 months of training. Every long run was a nightmare. I was so slow and I just wanted to stop and lie down or better still go home and have a nice cup of tea. I’d previously been worrying about what time I might do but now I was worrying about whether I would actually be able to finish.
I felt so under prepared going into this race with few quality sessions and even fewer long runs. My longest run was a miserable 20 miles round Sefton Park about 3 weeks before the marathon. Things were pretty dire.
When I entered the marathon months and months ago, I thought I could probably do 3 hours 15 min. I’d done that time before and with a good few months of training it wasn’t unrealistic. In those few weeks before the marathon I doubted that I would finish under 4 hr or perhaps at all. All my runs in training had been slow and I hadn’t even been able to run 20 miles without thinking that I might die.
So, I had to come up with some sort of plan. I decided that, since a lot of my runs had been around the 8:30-8:45 per mile pace, I would try to stick with the 3 hr 45 min pacer (running 8:35 per mile) and see how I got on. I thought I might be able to keep with him for 18-20 miles but I was sure that I would then slow down and maybe even have to walk. I couldn’t see a scenario where I wouldn’t feel absolutely terrible in the last 5-6 miles. After all, in every other marathon I have ever done, I’ve felt terrible in the last 5-6 miles, and that was when I was fit!
I also had a plan for what I’d eat during the race. I’ve tried gels before – they made me feel distinctly nauseous; jelly babies are OK but they are a bit difficult to carry and aren’t that easy to eat; jam sandwich – worth a try but would get rather squashed; Mars bars – seemed to do the job during the Excalibur marathon so I’d give that a go.
I located the man with the 3:45 flag and latched onto him. It must have been fairly annoying for him because I kept bumping into him. In training, I’d always thought it was Anne’s fault that she kept bumping into me but it seems that I’m the common denominator so it is probably my fault!
The first few miles were very up and down. We had to walk up the hill past the Castle because it was too narrow for everybody to get through. That really messed up our mile splits. A few more hills between 3-4 miles and then the rest was fairly flat.
The pacer decided to go for a wee at about 3 miles so I ended up running on my own. By 6 miles he still hadn’t caught up but I was back on the right pace with an average of 8:35 per mile. I was also desperate for a wee and was glad to find the portaloo just after the 6 mile mark.
How long can it take to do a wee?!! I reckon I need to do some training to wee faster because it took me a full 50 seconds in that toilet. When I came out I looked to see if I could see the pacer. He was way off in the distance. Luckily, the next mile was fairly downhill and I managed to catch up again by 8 miles.
In the old days it was plastic cups and there was a real knack to getting a cup without spilling the entire contents before it got to your mouth and then there was the trouble of actually drinking some water without drowning. Then it was bottles, with sports caps (usually) and they were pretty good but were hazardous for people running behind when they were dropped on the floor. Now they have these collapsible plastic pouches. There’s a little red tab on the top which you pull off and then you have to squeeze out the water.
At the first water station I managed to squeeze the pouch as I collected it and got an earful of water. The second time I could hardly get any water out and spent more energy trying to suck/squeeze than I was spending running. At the third one, I decided to give the pouch a good squeeze to get it going before I tried to drink any water. As I squeezed it, a fountain of water came shooting out completely soaking the poor volunteer who was handing out the water!
Half way and onwards
The pacer was really good and he kept us enthused and on pace. After 14 miles we could see the leading runners coming back towards us approaching the 18 mile mark. The pacer said that the aim was to feel the same on the way back as we did now. I thought that was somewhat unlikely as previously I have begun my decline around 17-18 miles and had been unable to keep up the pace that I set out to do.
After 16-17 miles it started to rain a bit and it was getting windy. The pacer told us that it was going to be pretty windy between 21-24 miles. This news did not fill me with joy.
Running is partly physical and partly psychological. In some of those miles between 14 and 16, I had been behind the pacer. Of course, nobody runs completely evenly, so when he sped up a little I suddenly began to worry that I would fall off the back of the group. I thought I might have to walk and that I wouldn’t ever finish. Also, the back of my legs were beginning to stiffen up, which wasn’t helping the mind games.
I wondered if my legs would feel a bit better if I sped up a bit and stretched them out a little. So, going round Colwick Country Park, I went on a bit ahead. It was a bit windy but another from the group that had been running with the 3:45 pacer also went ahead so I just tucked in behind him to protect me from the wind. We started to move away from the rest of the group and there came a point where I could no longer hear them chattering to each other.
When we got to that point at around 18 miles that we had passed earlier, I found that I didn’t actually feel any worse than I had done going the other way. In fact, I felt fairly strong and so I pushed on a little. Those 3 miles after I left the pacer were pretty much the best of the whole race. I felt strong and I felt confident, I couldn’t believe that I was still going OK this far into the race. I might actually finish!
I had decided to take 3 snack sized Mars Bars with me. I wondered if they would melt in the little bag round my waist but they seemed to be OK, probably because it wasn’t that warm a day. I had the first after 5 miles then another around 11 miles and the third at about 18 miles. By the time I got to the 18 mile Mars Bar it was beginning to melt. I ate about half of it but the rest was a bit of a chocolaty mess so I just put the whole thing in my mouth. This was a mistake. I could neither chew it or actually breath. I had to wait while some of the chocolate melted before I could even begin to chew the thing, meanwhile having to take every breath through my nose alone. Having got round 18 miles I wondered if I might drown in Mars Bar. I’ll know next time that little bites are best!
However, despite my inability to eat half a Mars Bar in one mouthful, I think that the fueling strategy was fairly successful as I felt better through those last miles than I have ever done before. Maybe it was because I wasn’t going as fast but previously in marathons I have got to around 22-23 miles and vowed never to ever run a marathon again. This time, in spite of the wind, I was actually running fairly well – and overtaking people.
Nothing beats overtaking people to build up confidence. With the psychological element of running being so important in those last few miles, this was fantastic. I knew that I would be able to finish and I knew that I would be able to finish in a reasonable time.
I was 243rd overall, 17th female and 3rd in the W45 category.
There’s still time to sponsor me if you want, here’s the link:
Thanks to all who have supported me and sponsored me. Special thanks to Anne and Penny for dragging me round several long runs. Also thanks to the pacer Matt who did a great job and to my mum for popping up all over the course to cheer me on.