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Run, run, run, run, ruuuuunnnnn

April 16, 2014

I gone and did a marathon! It was horrible. I’m still waiting for the euphoria. It’s been two days now.

Here are some thoughts on my first only marathon.

 

Preparation is good. But don’t sabotage yourself at the last minute

Nerves do funny things to people. I tend to lose things. Around 20 minutes before the marathon started I realised that I didn’t, any longer, have my Garmin GPS watch with me. I had had it about 5 minutes before. I asked two women to hold my place in the infinite toilet queue and ran back to the baggage van to see if it was there. I couldn’t get my bag back, nor did I see the watch anywhere near where I’d been. I rejoined the queue, panicky, deciding that of all the things I needed to do, going to the loo was top priority. After that, I ran to the info booth and listened amazed as a woman said that they had had a watch handed in. My watch! How heartwarming that one of thousands of people getting ready to run over 26 miles could be bothered to find my watch and hand it in. Thank you mystery marathoner!

I sat down for a bit, you know, to get in the zone, and then joined the sea of vested people in pen 6 of the red start.

 

It feels how it feels. And that’s not always good

I was calm at the start, and excited, but it mainly felt surreal. The first couple of miles went fine, although I was slower than I wanted to be – probably making me the only person in the world to start a marathon not fast enough. It was a good feeling to be in and among crowds, but it did make it hard to manoeuvre, especially at drink stations. The most lethal aspect seemed to be the bowling of bottles by runners who had had enough. Several times I did comedy cartoon skating on discarded water bottles. The Lucozade Sport bottles, thanks to their rubbery seals, turned into sticky orange mines when trodden on. Runners accidentally detonated sports drink on each other. Children in the crowds created mountains of bottles to leap on and explode.

I enjoyed the jelly baby at each mile, and split the race up into the 5-mile chunks between gels. Things were ok. I felt a bit wheezy/coughy and had pains down both sides of my abdomen. I still have finger marks on the right side where I was digging my fingers in. I carried on towards Tower Bridge, buoyed by seeing a friend at mile 6 and the prospect of seeing my family on the bridge. I did see them and it was excellent, but even as I ran on to the bridge looking for them, part of my brain was saying “this is meant to be a really good bit”.

 

Disappointment can be a massive demotivation

I don’t know what happened at mile 16. I don’t think it was “the wall” (which I don’t believe in), although I heard one man say to another behind me “I guess this is what they call the wall”. There was a hill here, which felt hard, but something else went awry. I think my spirit broke.

I hadn’t been keeping up with the pace I’d wanted, although my miles had been fairly even and not too bad. Something pinged in my head, which essentially meant that I felt like I didn’t want to go on anymore. I’ve never bailed on a training run, nor started walking, but I was fully prepared at this point to assume the foetal position and let St John Ambulance scoop me up.

Thankfully though, I am stubborn and proud. I couldn’t and wouldn’t let myself not finish. People had paid money to sponsor me and I was committed. I created an emergency mantra, something along the lines of “if it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be a marathon”. Then it was me and the mantra, for the next 10 miles.

 

Meeting myself coming back…

The big loop at Tower Bridge wasn’t too bad. On the outward bit, it was encouraging to see that it was still the fast runners coming the other way towards 21M. The loop was long, hot and difficult, but there were people lining almost all the route.

It is funny how familiar some people become over the course of a marathon. One of the women who saved my spot in the toilet queue ran up beside me around mile 3 and said that she was really pleased I’d got my watch back. The two hospice runners I’d babbled at on the start line appeared near me a couple of times over the race. Seeing people with t-shirts saying things like “16 months cancer-free” was pretty motivating. Seeing a man in a lime green mankini (and a sequinned thong presumably to cover his, err, modesty) had the opposite effect.

As the miles counted down I felt that I was dropping further and further back, so would pick people overtaking me to try and keep up with. I was determined not to be overtaken by a lady dressed a Pink Lady apple. At one point, a couple of 4.15 pacers bobbed into view, and I tried to keep them in sight. Canary Wharf is a bit of a blur. I remember congestion, a stuffy tunnel fill of pissing men and (poor guys) a drumming group, and Lucozade Sport, nectar from the sky that perked me up (placebo or otherwise). From 22 onwards, I was just determined to finish and not walk. I kept going but it was not fun. The Mall welcomed a scowling and red-faced me, who started to become almost irritated by people’s encouragement. The final few miles should have felt great, but it was all a bit numb. When a soldier said “One k to go”, I was so cross. By the time I made it over the line, I was looking forward to doing anything except marathon.

Just as I clicked off the Garmin and my foot fell on to the bouncy red timing mat, a man to the left of me buckled and stumbled towards the rails on the left, then back towards me. I tried to catch him (imagine the strength I could muster). Thankfully two officials came and helped him away.

I walked, robot-style, to get my bag and on to meeting area H.

 

Crack-whore chic

A lovely volunteer from the charity I was running for led me back to the reception, carrying my bag as I swayed and shivered towards Westminster. I felt kind of sick and spacey, but as various forms of carbohydrate (the world’s saltiest pasta, cherry coke, orange juice) found their way into my pale, pallid meat sack I started to feel less dissociated. The salt from the sweat on my cheeks provided a unique ‘seaside’ angle to my look. My twin and I stood in the toilets and she said we looked like the before and after mugshots of one of those publicity campaigns about crystal meth (I’ve always said she’s too hard on herself). All things considered, I had a lovely afternoon seeing various friends and relatives. A pint and a half in a craft beer pub were restorative, as was a giant curry.

It was only when I finally showered that night, some 9 disgusting hours after finishing, that I could properly examine the physical evidence of the marathon. Feet were pretty much fine. Even my regular big-toe blisters were under control. I had a big red mark where my bra rubbed under the centre, and the weird scratch/rub on my right-hand side where I’d been gripping my waist so hard . The worst was the sunburn. Two epaulettes of burn marked the sleeve length of my vest and a deep red v marked my neck, creating what is apparently the internationally recognised symbol for a person who carries sunblock with them but then for some reason doesn’t actually bother to apply it. I also had a very red nose and cheeks.

 

What have we learned?

  • Suncream. It doesn’t work by osmosis from your kit bag 😦
  • More Vaseline
  • It was nice to stay at my sister’s and be waited on the night before
  • I didn’t need to use the loo en route. Hooray!
  • The loops I sewed on my trousers did hold gels!
  • More carbs before the start?
  • You will be jittery and an idiot before you begin. Try to control for this as much as possible
  • People are nice
  • Things will change during a race and you need to have mantras ready to go
  • It’s always going to feel hard – that’s the point. But sometimes it might be less hard than others (really? I’m not sure even I believe that, and I’m the one who typed it)
  • Lucozade Sport was a good thing.
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