Yesterday morning I was queuing at the checkout in Tesco when it suddenly dawned on me – this time last week I was running a marathon. It somehow didn’t seem real (and I’m still not sure which one of these activities was preferable on a Sunday morning) but I do have an exceptionally large medal (and a badge) to prove that yes, I am a marathoner.
Being a bit nervous about these things, we had nipped down to Folkestone on the Saturday to say hello to Kat and Jools, and to give me chance to recce the aid station. I had heard rumours about the SVN aid stations, but seeing it in all its magnificent carbohydrate-laden glory made me feel a lot better for the following day. What made me feel slightly more concerned as I battled across shingle in a ridiculously strong headwind, was the prospect of running in a ridiculously strong headwind. I had been warned that it wasn’t going to be easy and Kat had given me the sage advice that sometimes its quicker to power-walk in those conditions.
After a week of poor sleep thanks to Mini-Ginge, I had been blessed with a decent night on the Friday, only to spend Saturday night sharing a single bed with the little monkey. I swear I was only going to lie down with him for 5 minutes, but the next thing I knew, it was 5am and I was being poked in the face while he demanded “go downstairs mummy”. Downstairs, we shared some porridge and watched CBeebies while I refused to put my kit on because that would make it all a bit too real.
We made it down to Dymchurch sea front in plenty of time to sort out my registration, say hello to people we knew, meet some crazy marathoners on their way to the 100 club and listen to the pre-race briefing (in summary, run as fast as you can to get it over with before the wind gets really bad and don’t run too far because you might get shot). I set off on the first shorter lap with some lovely company in the form of Kat and Hels, and I enjoyed the novelty of running with actual people (these days I am mostly a solo runner and do sometimes miss having a bit of a natter while I run). The way out felt fine, we turned round at the big rock and it was at that point we realised just how windy the 50% of the race was going to be.
After the short lap, it was just (ha) a question of five more loops up to the firing range at the end of the sea wall. On each way out we felt fantastic, at times being pushed along by the wind, we would reach the turnaround point and as we turned, it immediately felt as if we were running into a brick wall. My first five miles were pretty steady, but looking at my stats you can see a clear difference between my outs and backs with at least a minute/mile difference in my pace. As predicted, it only got worse as the race went on and it was reassuring to see other ‘proper’ marathon runners (albeit some of them on marathon 5 in 5 days, the crazy fools) having a bit of a strategic walk into the wind.
My strategy for the headwind sections wandered a bit throughout the race. Starting with a planned, “I’ll run 6 minutes then walk 1 minute”, it lurched to things like “I’ll just run to the martello tower” to “the martello tower is actually much further away than it seems, maybe I’ll just run to this bin” (I did this at least twice) to the final lap (when I conceded listening to a bit of music) when I decided to run one song and walk the next, to my final offering of “I don’t care how much I walk, as long as I run for a bit of every song”. In contrast, my outward running was pretty steady and I even managed my fastest mile at mile 19. Clearly this was an accident.
Having followed my Magic Plan (which deserves a blog post of its own) since the end of August, the longest long run I had done was ten miles.I know that this seems odd and is partly why I haven’t blogged much about my training – I had confidence in the plan, but it was a wobbly sort of confidence and I didn’t want anyone to accidentally jiggle it. When I hit ten miles in the race, I just thought, “I’ve not done this distance for a while”. After 13 miles, “I’ve not done this distance for over three years”. After 15 miles, “oooh, this is new, I’ve not done this before”. Between 15 and 20 miles “Thank god I didn’t have to do this for fun on a Sunday afternoon”. At 20 miles “Bloody hell, I’ve run 20 miles”. Andat 25 miles, I raised my arms above my head and actually whooped.
Although the laps got a bit repetitive, it actually made the race feel really friendly and inclusive (as I suspect most of the SVN events are). Instead of seeing the gazelles at the front just set off, or be passed by them on their way back to racking up a time that would be half the length of mine, you were constantly passing them. And you know what? They were bloody lovely. I have never had so many “well dones”, thumbs up and general cheery words of encouragement in my life. I especially loved the chap who just raised his hand in silent greeting every time our paths crossed. I was less enamoured of being told “good work little lady”, but at 21 miles I was too knackered to be narked and was happy to take any praise whatsoever.
The loops also meant I could keep in touch with my fellow running friends. Helen kept me company for the first half, I caught up with Kat every time I stopped at the aid station and I took great joy in watching Jools, Rachel and Louise start bunched up together and then jostle for the lead before Rachel peeled off (looking amazing) and finished as first female! I also had the pleasure of taking a walking break to say hello to my aunt and uncle and their dogs and of course, seeing Ginge and Mini-Ginge (who apparently was sulking about not being allowed to go swimming in the sea) every 5 miles at the aid station. It was also incredibly lovely to have a surprise appearance from Cathy and Shaun (who saw me showing off on one of my running bits) on my penultimate lap. All of this helped me hugely.
At the penultimate lap, I did think “I wish that this was my last one. Do I have to do another? Can I not come back tomorrow to finish off?”. I wobbled a bit on my last run out, so at the turnaround, I finally decided to fish out my ipod for the last few miles. Set to shuffle, the first track that played was I’m Shipping Up To Boston, an, ahem, jolly and motivating type of tune that made me yell “OH YES!” before checking around me to make sure that no one had heard, because I didn’t actually say “oh”, it had twice as many letters and rhymed with “duck” (sorry mum) . Even though I hated those last two and a bit miles, I was jubilant in the knowledge that I was very likely to be finishing my first marathon in one piece.
With the finish line in sight, I had enough in the tank to put a bit of effort into a sort of a trot and was cheered over the finish by my own welcome party. This bit felt great and I was grinning like a loon. 5 hours and 33 minutes, not a record-breaking time by any stretch of the imagination, but a PB for me.
Apparently I looked pretty strong and smiley throughout. This was my aim, so in that respect I can say “mission accomplished” and for 24 hours I basked in the glory of being a marathon runner. The next day I felt ok (although the first descent downstairs was particularly interesting, especially as Mini-Ginge decided that he no longer made his own way downstairs and would rather be carried) with only a little bit of chafing on my back and a blister on my weird little toe. I’m quite grateful for this, but it was also a bit of an anticlimax.
After years of saying that I would never do a marathon, I have done one. Will I do another one? I’ll see you in October…