In around February 2013 I started a “bucket list” of things to do, and I wanted to try and do as many of them as I could as soon as possible. One of those things I added was to run a marathon. At this time I never thought I’d actually do it – I hadn’t even been doing any running. At the end of September 2013 I started the “Couch to 5K” program and continued up to 10K by Christmas.
If you’re not interested in my training for the marathon and just want to see my race report, I’d recommend scrolling down now to the Leicester Marathon logo.
As I mentioned in previous blog posts, it went downhill for a while following a month off for an Antarctic expedition and then trying to pick up training again too quickly resulted in a sprained ankle which was taking it’s time to heal. Even at the time of the Lincoln 10K I still had issues with my ankle, but in the weeks that followed I’d started working my way up to 13 miles ready for trying a Half Marathon.
Since March I’d been toying with the idea of doing the Leicester Marathon, but I’d held off entering it. One of the two reasons was that I wasn’t sure if I could be ready for a Marathon by October. A friend raised a good point though, if it got to the day of the Marathon and I felt I wasn’t ready, I didn’t have to do it. Though I had no intention of backing out – if I felt I couldn’t do it I knew I’d still try anyway and would see how far I could get before being unable to continue.
As you may have read from my previous blog posts about races, I had gradually started increasing the number of miles I was doing, but did not know about “cut back” weeks. During my run on May 4th I started to get an ache in my knee but stupidly carried on for another 9 miles before stopping. This made it impossible to run on for a few weeks which did not help with training.
Once my knee was starting to feel better I started to run twice a week at a slower than normal pace and tried a couple of parkruns. By the time of the second one my knee held out for the entire run without giving me any issues or discomfort. Fortunately this was at a point when I had 16 weeks left until the marathon and I came across the Bupa “Beginner Marathon” training plan. As I’d already run 10K races and have run half marathon distance before, then technically I should probably have been using the intermediate plan (I was told as much when I was talking in a running shop whilst having gait analysis done), but coming off the back of an injury I didn’t want to overdo it too soon.
For the first two weeks it was a fairly relaxed schedule and even fit in okay with being on holiday during the second week. It was nice that week to be able to do some easy runs and a long run along the beach. The intensity of the training plan then started to pick up and during the fourth week it introduced my first ever speed training session. After this first session I though speed training was the worst thing ever – anyone who has done speed training will understand why. For this session I’d done a 10 minute warmup, then did 8 lots of 2 minute fast (5-6 min/miles) intervals and 7 lots of 2 minute slow (8-10 min/miles) intervals. This was then followed by a 10 minute cool down. I found that doing 5 minute miles was too fast for the intervals and each subsequent interval was on average slower. This was a good learning experience though for future speed work.
After 8 weeks into training I then did the BADGERS Atherstone 10K race, and my knee was once again playing up. On the day of the race it more or less behaved itself, but for the weeks that followed I had to cut back on the training a little. I removed the speed training from the training plan and started missing a number of the runs during the week. The week after doing the Robin Hood Half Marathon I did a 21.3 mile training run in New York followed by a full day of some serious walking to try and cram in some tourism. This left me barely able to go up or down stairs for the rest of the week.
With the Marathon in sight it was finally time to start tapering. The practice of tapering is where from 3 weeks before the big day you begin to reduce your runs. The first week of tapering was almost non-existent which resulted in me doing a recovery run in the rain along the Hudson River, and then the day after doing a 14 mile run around Central Park (I was still in New York at this time). For the second and third weeks I dropped my runs down to three, and dropped the speed.
For the last week I did a short 30 minute run slower than the pace I intended on maintaining during the Marathon, and then one last 20 minute jog a couple of days before the big day. It didn’t help that I was on the verge of getting a cold for most of the week, and towards the end of the week my knee started to ache.
Although the Leicester Marathon is my local race I couldn’t take public transportation to get there – the busses near me didn’t start running until after the race was scheduled to start. This left me with no choice but to drive in, so I decided I’d go early to try and get a decent parking spot. As it turned out I got there around 2 hours early and because of how cold it was waiting around I decided I’d wear an extra layer over my t-shirt (though was still cold!).
For the starting pens you get to choose which one you want to be in, so optimistically I decided I stand half way between the 4 hour and 3 hour 30 minutes pens. My hope was that if I could do 21 miles in 3 hours I’d be able to do a full Marathon in under 4, preferably around 3hr45. I think this was a decision that may have had a negative impact later on.
For the first 6 miles it was very crowded, but as soon as we hit the water station at mile 6 the people doing the half marathon went their own way leaving us to carry on heading away from the city. Up until this point I don’t really remember a great deal about what I was thinking, or how the race was going – I was just running; it felt comfortable. What I do remember though was that to try and avoid slowing down too much I kept going to the outside of the group.
Once we’d split away the numbers dropped incredibly – there were no longer masses of people in front of me and I felt I could now start to think about where I was running. To start with my strategy was to pick a runner in the distance and decide that I’d try and catch up with them by a particular mile marker and for a long time this seemed to work. Some of the routes we took seemed a little odd, such as the narrow alleyways that were only wide enough for one person but it got me to see parts of Leicester I’d never seen before.
By the 10th mile I’d stopped picking runners to catch up with and was running behind another runner, and stayed running behind him for quite some time (probably until around mile 16). I’d managed up until now to not take on any water, so as we hit the water station at mile 12 I decided to slow down for some, but made a bit of a mess of it. The water was being handed out in plastic cups and I lost the majority of mine before I’d even taken a sip. On the bright side though mile 12 was the first mile where I’d planned to eat a jelly baby to keep energy levels up, and this then went on for every mile up until mile 25.
At around the 12.5 mile point something a little odd happened – we crossed a level crossing, and one of the marshals commented a train would be crossing it in around 5 minutes. My initial thought was that I was glad I was not 5 minutes behind, and then those thoughts quickly turned to thinking how unlucky some of them will be to have to stop for the train. Whether anyone did have to stop though I don’t know, but we had to cross the railway line a second time a little later at around 15 miles. The marshalling for this event was brilliant though, possibly the best I’ve ever seen.
For the next few miles they seemed to blend into one another, but at mile 18 I decided to try the water station again. This time I slowed to a walk so that the water wouldn’t splash around out of the cup as I ran. I think this may have been another mistake as up until then no matter how much I wanted to walk, I hadn’t. This was like giving in, and accepting I couldn’t run a marathon. From this point on I ended up taking regular walking breaks, knowing that this was having a seriously negative impact on what my finish time would be.
It wasn’t long after this (I’m not entirely sure when now), but as we were going through Watermead Park alongside the King Lear lake I’d not long had another walking break and literally minutes after I’d started off again a cyclist decided to weave in and out of the runners. I had to dart to one side to avoid being hit and rolled my ankle a little. This then provided enough discomfort to last for a few miles, by which time the thoughts of how disappointed I was in having to walk made me completely forget about the ankle.
If my memory is right, just after mile 21 we started descending down a hill from which we could see our first glimpse of the buildings at the University of Leicester. They seemed so far away, almost impossibly so, and I couldn’t imagine actually reaching them. My hopes for a great time had already been shattered, but I didn’t want to miss out on the chance for a sub-4 hour marathon – my original goal. I tried, I really did, to keep going and to make the running sections as long as possible but I couldn’t help but slow to a walk. Not long after this I made sure one of my walking breaks coincided with arriving at a water station so I could gulp down another cup of water.
By mile 22 my thighs were aching, every step I took I could feel them. Every time I tried to run, the muscles just tightened and I thought there was a real possibility I wouldn’t be finishing this race. Somehow I carried on, though my pace had slowed so much, and I felt ashamed at how badly it felt was doing. I wanted to have a look on Twitter, and to tweet that I wanted to give up, but my phone had locked itself and wouldn’t let me unlock it for 5 minutes (I have no idea why). Sometime between mile 23 and 24 we’d passed the Space Centre, an area I was familiar with, and went through Abbey Park (which I’d run through previously for Leicester’s Big 10K).
As we left Abbey Park I passed the mile marker for mile 24, I’d never run this far before and I knew I only has 2.2 miles to go. I had to do it, I couldn’t give up now, but it was so difficult. My legs didn’t want to let me do it though, and I continued with the regular walking breaks despite not wanting to. The route then continued through the subway and into the city centre going up Butt Close Lane (I’d not seen this before and did snigger a little as I passed it – yes, I’m that immature). This led us into the main shopping area and I didn’t want people to see me walking, so I tried and tried to keep on running. Just as I was about ready to slow to a walk again despite this, a friend from Twitter who had just done the Half cheered me on at a time when I needed it. For the first time in miles I kept going despite wanting to slow down, though this only lasted for about half a mile as just after passing mile 25. I then had my remaining jelly babies and hoped I could then carry on running until the end.
I hate to admit it, but I couldn’t manage to. Running up hill along New Walk I resorted to walking twice, but tried to keep these breaks as short as possible. Once we had crossed University Road I’d decided this was it, I had to ignore my legs and use up some of the energy I had left. From just before the mile marker for mile 26 I started running alongside another runner and we were neck and neck all the way until the photographer near the finish line. As we approached he looked at the camera and then swung his hands out in front of my face. I slowed down, and then feeling a little “miffed” by this I decided that I’d go for a sprint finish and ended up overtaking him and a couple of other runners before I crossed the line.
I walked straight to the tent for small tees, collected the finishers goodie bag and just carried on walking. Once I was passed the majority of people I sat down against the railing behind the St. John’s Ambulance area. I couldn’t believe I’d actually done it, though at the same time I felt so disappointed in myself for letting my head take over and allowing me to walk. Throughout the 16 weeks of training I made sure every run was with the aim to run for the whole 26.2 miles. I failed. Yet at the same time I did finish, and I did get a sub-4 hour time. I had run a marathon. There was no one to talk to about it though.
In the goodie bag there was a technical finishers tee, a finishers medal (which I didn’t even look at until I got home), a banana, a cereal bar, a strawberry sweet, a packet of crisps and a bottle of water. I continued to sit for a while, knowing I should really be walking it off, but instead sat and ate the banana and emptied the bottle of water. Whilst consuming these I tweeted one sentence “I actually did it” and noticed I’d had a lot of tweets sent me over the past few hours, but didn’t feel like I had the energy to read them. Once done I then hobbled across Victoria Park and back to my car.
Once I got home the first thing I did was soak in the bath – it felt such a relief to be motionless for a while. The next task was to then take on some more calories – according to Runkeeper I’d burnt over 3,000 calories. Oddly though, I was hungry but didn’t feel like I could eat – I still forced myself to eat a packet of crisps, a beef sandwich and a raspberry doughnut though. Over the hours that followed my appetite came back and I found myself more than making up for what I’d burnt. In this time I also caught up on the great support from people on Twitter.
I sincerely thank each and every person who tweeted me with support before, during, and after the marathon. It meant a lot to know that. I’m also incredibly appreciative of the support of one of my good friends (and former colleague), who whilst not being able to run herself this time, was also incredibly supportive over Twitter. It’s times like this I find the #ukrunchat community to be one of the most amazing things on Twitter.
According to my watch I finished in 3:54:34. The official result though was a 3:58:04 gun time, and 3:54:30 chip time. This left me in position 216 out of 586 marathon runners (in the top 37%). I may have been disappointed with this, but it’s left me with a target to break. Next time I do a marathon it will be the Virgin Money London Marathon in 2015 and my hope is that I can improve my time enough to get 3 hours 30 minutes. There are things I can improve on. Hopefully by the time April comes I’ll be able to run the whole marathon without any walking breaks.