It has been done. I did a marathon! I think I’ll never do it again but I am very glad I did it. It went really well!
I was nervous two days in advance. I was still nervous the day before. I packed my bag, making sure to take my time! Once in Manchester I would have to make do with what I had brought. I had nervous thoughts of only finding one sock. Or no shoes. Or something like that.
I drove up, and got to the hotel. I had paid dearly for that room, but probably more because it was marathon weekend than because of the glamorous area! It was rather run down. I knew it was a stone’s throw away from the home stadium of Machester United, and that enterprise wasn’t famous for its poverty, but by the looks of it, there was little trickle down effect! The area was festooned with bare plots of land. Some rows of takeaway restaurants and hairdressers were, unglamorous as they were, the highlight of the neighbourhood. Some of the hotel itself was boarded up. Oh well. I figured I’d be fine! I checked in, and got to my room. Looked fine! A bit many football-related ornaments, but well, I could leave with that. There was just one proper draw-back; the website of the hotel had claimed it was a hotel, restaurant and bar. I didn’t want to have any hassle so I had decided to eat in the restaurant. Unfortunately, it was only open in the afternoon. Oh dear. But the receptionist mentioned some venues around. A pub, a steak house, and some takeaways. Good.
I don't normally sleep under such decoration
I decided to go for a small walk; I wanted to check out the start and finish. And once that would be sorted I’d go and find something to eat. The former went well; I effortlessly found the approach I was advised to take (as a slowest category starter). It was soon clear too where the start would be. And the general area of the finish was easy too, and though a gate I got a glimpse of the race village; the area behind the finish. The latter was harder; the steakhouse seemed absent, the pub didn’t serve food at this hour either, so I had to get some takeaway. I went for a promising looking Chinese. I was a bit nervous about eating something wrong. I took the food back to my room. It was nice! Thanks, Chinese! And I went to bed early.
A lonely stadium
The next morning I woke early-ish. Time to get ready! Kit on, coffee and breakfast (brought in from Wales; I wanted to eat my usual pre-race food) into system, luggage into bags. I went outside to check the temperature; cold! I decided to put the number on my leg, and start wearing my bad weather kit. Shirt, jumper, windstopper. The latter two would have to go somewhere along the way; I was running for Cancer Research UK and was therefore wearing the concomitant shirt. It would have to be visible!
At ~8:20, after a last visit to the bathroom (I don’t like having to go during a race) I checked out. That was sorted in seconds. Oh, OK! I sat in my car for a bit; no need to stand around at the start and get cold, and get sore feet. Bad timing. But what can you do. Rather that than the check-out taking a while and me having to stress. At 8:40 I made my way to the start. Unfortunately, I could tell I would have to go to the toilet rather soon. First timing error made! I decided to stand by the 4:30 pacemaker; it seemed a reasonable time to aim for. Not easy to guess the first time around! I chatted a bit with fellow runners, and then it was time.
At the start
I started plodding. I surely didn’t want to start too fast! That kills you later on. It was busy, but not too bad. And we were first sent through this area with a fair amount of bleakness, but also some remnants of a greater, Victorian past. The first few miles flew past. I got warm. Then, at about four miles, I saw a row of portaloos. I decided to go relieve myself, and take my jumper off (the windstopper had gone at the start). Efficiency! And onwards. I was soon back near the pacemaker.
The first 10k went by smoothly. I checked my time at every mile board; I was doing just under 10 minutes per mile. That would be good for a 4:20 time; good for me! And it felt nice a good pace. After 10k I was in such a strong rhythm I left the pacemaker and went on on my own. The next 10k went by smoothly too. I was happy in my rhythm, and was nicely alternating between enjoying the entertainment along the way (most of which improvised) and dreaming along with the music from my iPod. There were quite some people who had come up with something to distract us; two ladies dancing to a big boombox, a chap with a drum of sorts, whatnot! Very nice.
Some piece of art I quite liked
Crossing the Mersey after 6.5 miles; it's not quite what it looks like in Liverpool!
On the Mersey Bridge
I was glad to hit the midway point. It always feels nice to know most is over. It feels you run away from the finish the first half, and towards it the second half, and therefore the second half, although harder, is much more satisfying. I could feel the 20k in my legs, but was still running comfortably. And I knew I had now reached uncharted territory; I had run much further. But never in a race. I started to notice one difference; I wasn’t getting hungry! Maybe my body was too busy to think about such things. But you need lots of calories to run that far. I had a gel.
I by then struggled to keep up my usual front-foot gait. Oh well, I never expected to last the full 42 km like that. Maybe giving up halfway was a bit early, but what can you do. My calves would soon start feeling a bit better!
It was nice to see the 14 mile sign and the 15 mile sign. It was getting a bit hard, but still easily bearable. 16 miles. Around that time I was running on a stretch of road where the race went both ways. I somehow had the idea I was looking at the frontrunners. They didn’t look very fast! Many were walking. And then I suddenly recognised a landmark along the road. Heck no, we were the frontrunners! I was looking at people who had 7 miles more than me in front of them. That explained their looks, and made me feel a lot further along. A bit weird; I could see from the mile signs how far I was, but the mind works in funny ways.
17 miles. I decided to have a second gel. It seemed long overdue, rationally speaking! But I still wasn’t hungry and it took me a while to polish it off. 18 miles. 19 miles. And then the magical 20 miles point appeared out of nowhere! That was a milestone; I had never run further than this. And being out of my teens felt good. I was still going strong! My speed seemed constant, even though I had stopped checking it, and I was overtaking people; all was well considering circumstances.
21 miles. I was starting to worry a bit. Can you really run that far just on a Weetabix breakfast and two gels? These things are only 114 kcal. I feared I’d hit the wall. Only 5 miles to go, but 5 miles is a lot if your blood sugar level is too low! I decided to stop and dig out an energy bar. It would slow me down, but it might be worth it. When I slowed down to do just that I noticed I was very light in the head. I figured it wouldn’t be hard to imagine me fainting with the end in sight! Better avoided. That bar was eaten.
Late in the race, with a half-consumed gel in my hand
When it had vanished I sped up again. This doesn’t speak for itself! But I managed. And soon there was 22 miles. Ooh. I was in a bit of a trance. Still worrying about my light-headedness, but still going. And then there was 23 miles! Only 3 to go! My heart jumped up. It was hard to keep going, but well, what you do is just plod on. And there was 24 miles! Yay! Almost there!
The people along the route knew that too. I think many of us looked zonked. Many shouted us on; almost there! Hang on! Along the entire way there were spectators, in some areas more than elsewhere, but they were great. Offering us jelly babies, cheering us on, having signs (such as “you are all amazing! Especially YOU!” or “run like you stole something!” or even “my mascara runs faster than you! Haha just kidding!”) and, in case of small children, wanting high-fives (I got lots!).
I hadn’t seen the 25 mile sign, but there were already people with signs like “big smile! The last mile!” Even though I was a bit zombified I was sceptical about that one.And I ended up never seeing the 25 mile sign, but I DID see the CRUK supporters (remember I was raising money for them and running i na CRUK shirt) and I seems to remember there would be standing at 25 miles. It was hard! But I knew I was near. A man in a Grim Reaper suit with a sign “the end is nigh!” made me laugh. And then I saw the stadium.
If you view this pic full size you'll just be able to see the three lattice work blobbies of the stadium on the horizon
I sped up! Now it all seemed feasible! I could see the end! That helps. Unfortunately, it is a rather large building, and you can see it from rather far away. When I saw it I thought a 4 hr time was still feasible. When I suddenly got a sense of perspective I knew it wasn’t going to happen. No problem, that would be a ludicrous time anyway. But I kept my pace up, overtaking many struggling people. And then I could see the finish. I sped up even more! And was so happy to cross that line! A few minutes past the 4hr mark. Good. And pretty much as soon as I crossed the finish, the sun came out, for the first time.
Relief and triumph!
The last meter...
I struggled to get out. The place was clogged with spectators! Couldn’t they make way? We ALL had been on our feet an awful long time! Can they just let us out? Apparently not. After this energy spending spree I wasn’t in my most tolerant of moods, and the rude non-runners pushing and shoving and getting in your way made me very grumpy. Luckily I soon was out of the crowds. I put the jumper and windstopper back on (the sun seemed to be finish only) and walked to my car. Very slowly! And I got my official time by text. 04:03:32! Not bad at all! Basking in glory but tottering on exhausted legs I got to the car. I dumped my stuff and was off.
Trying to get out!
My route back took me along the race route for almost a kilometre. It was nice to be sitting on my arse and look at where I had been running such a short time ago! And then I was out of Manchester.
The drive went fine. I was feeling OK. I did notice my left leg was getting a bit stiff (the one working the gas had a lot more to do!) but I could still safely drive. But when I parked on my drive and troed to get out I didn’t show my most elegant side. I limped to the boot and emptied it. I ran the bath, unpacked, got the bath paraphernalia ready, proudly announced my time on Facebook, and got ready to get in. It was too hot! And the cold tap didn’t give any water! I dumped some in which had been drawn from other taps. And got in as soon as it was just bearable. It would cool down by itself!
I drank a litre of tea and some sandwiches. That was better. But not by much. I wasn’t feeling to good. After a while I realised I was overheating. I got out of the bath and lay down in a cool room. I felt absolutely awful! But I cooled down. And after a while I felt better. Daft! A marathon doesn’t break me but a bath does. When I had a normal temperature again I pottered around a bit more. Checked the tote bag, discovered a lot more blisters (the only blood blister had so far attracted all the attention), did some more unpacking, hung out my smelly kit, made another pot of tea. And with that second pot of tea I went back to the bath. Now it was a nice temperature! That was better. I just relaxed a bit. And then decided it had been enough.
How a long race always ends
I phoned my mum and then had dinner. I wanted to be in bed early this day! Even though strangely enough, I wasn’t half as tired as after the last Half Marathon. Maybe running fast wears you out a lot more than running far! These things one learns!