It’s taken me 5 weeks to bring myself to write this post. It’s been absurd at times, but it boils down to the fact that I felt like once I wrote the post, it really was all over and after 20 weeks of training and everything that goes with running your first marathon I just wasn’t ready to let go.
Let’s get the obvious questions out of the way.
Time : 6:04:42 chip / 5:24:17 watch time
I was never going for ‘a time’ so I’m not disappointing in this. I’m just astonished I managed to run for this many hours. There were a few stops to be explained below which accounts for the chip/watch time differences.
Am I doing another?
Now I’m going to start from the beginning.
We headed down to Brighton on the Saturday morning and stayed at the Hilton Hotel, a last minute upgrade from the Travel Lodge after our experience before the Bath Half . After visiting the expo and chatting with some fellow runners we had a lovely day shopping, eating, wandering along the beach and in the hotel spa. I was definitely excited but felt rather relaxed, I think because I wasn’t aiming for a specific finish time I was a lot calmer and didn’t suffer from any nerves.
After a good nights sleep we ambled along to the start line. I spent 40 minutes queuing for the toilet and was still in line when the race started, so I missed a little of the count down hype, which wasn’t ideal but meant I remained very calm.
I set off at a very easy pace, reminding myself I had 26 miles ahead of me. Mile 1-2 I felt good. It was definitely sunnier and hotter than the weather had predicted and being prone to sunstroke I was being hyper vigilant with taking on fluids. I saw Alex at Mile 2, a quick high five and I continued weaving through the streets of Central Brighton. The course in the early stages looped round on itself so I also managed to see Alex at Mile 3 and 5. I was definitely ready for some of my strawberry laces by then.
One of my favourite moments was around Mile 5.5, we had just conquered the only real hill and after descent we turned a corner and the sea was in front of us glimmering in the sun. It was beautiful. I absolutely love running by the water and this definitely pulled me through during some tougher moments.
*Photocredit @cisforcharlotte – I was so happy to find this photo post race.
Mile 6 saw the difficulties start. I had taken on more water than I would have liked because of the heat and needed the toilet. There was a slightly cruel flaw in the course around Mile 7/8 because you saw runners coming back on the other side of the road having turned around at what looked like a round a bout. In fact you veered off to the left of the round about and headed out and back for a further mile. The only thing stopping this from being wholey disheartening was the beautiful scenery and an 85 year old man I met who was on his 81st marathon.
I managed to hold on for a few miles without attending to my bladder but by Mile 10 I had to stop, having located a portaloo I then also had to queue, I forgot to stop my watch on my first stop but there were at least four people in front of me so I estimated I was there at least five minutes queuing alone. Once I got into the portaloo a whole other issue reared its head. Diarrhea. Ive gone through my pre-race routine and thought about what could have caused this a hundred times. I can only put it down to having broken the number one cardinal rule. Never ever ever do anything new on race day and that includes trying different flavoured gels, even if they are of the same brand you have had before.Exiting the portaloo I apologised to the person next in the queue and shuffled off. The time stood in the queue and then in the portaloo had not done my legs any favours. They suddenly felt very heavy and I had at least 16 miles to go.
Mile 11 was a glorious downhill stretch which saw the legs ease up a little and Mile 12 saw us head back onto the main stretch of Brighton Sea Front. I hit the half way point and the crowds were roaring. I felt very tired considering I was only at the half way point. There was no doubt in my mind that mentally I had the strength to finish but I was worried about the state of my body physically at this stage. I knew I was going to see Alex again at the half way point and my family were planning to arrive around the time I made it to half way. The halfway point with “The Panda made me do it” crossing was absolutely rammed with spectators and it was extremely noisy with every one cheering, despite this miraculously I managed to pick out my sister frantically waving and shouting my name from across the other side of the course stood along side my parents. Seeing them really brought home just how crazy me attempting to run a marathon seemed. They knew me and they knew I had never been a runner or expressed any interested in running ever and yet here I was running a marathon and they were there to support me on this crazy endeavor and that fueled me on.
The runners on the other side of the road were already coming thick and fast at the 26 Mile point. Half of me felt a little despondent that I still had so far to go but equally I saw people with severely pained expressions and I vividly remember a man keeling over and vomiting before medics rushed to his assistance. I vowed that I would plod on and finish in one piece regardless of the time it took. I was expecting to see Alex soon after I had spotted my family but as I stumbled on I couldn’t spot him. At that point it really hit me, all that I had read in fellow marathon runner’s blog posts about seeing friends and family along the course. I was really was so disappointed, it had been a hard 8 miles since I last saw him and I felt a little crushed. I trundled on, trying to bounce of the energy from the crowd, failing slightly and mainly looking at my feet, but then I happened to glance up and there he was strawberry laces in hand having done the sensible thing and moved slightly on from the dense crowds. I stopped for at least a minute, maybe two, not caring about my time it was a precious few moments that spurred me on for the miles to come.
I was still on a high chomping on my strawberry laces when unexpectedly I saw a sign I recognised – “This is a lot of work for a free banana” held by the lovely Sasha who ran to give me a massive hug; about to run her first marathon herself in a week’s time she fully understood the enormity of the day. And so I happily plodded on through Miles 14 and 15.
Mile 16 we turned away from the sea front and headed into residential streets. The residents were having street parties and seemed to be making an occasion of the marathon but the traffic of runners was thinning and I felt distinctly lonely. I spotted Clare on the other side of the course about 2 miles ahead of me and this provided me with a temporary surge of encouragement but I was also experiencing increasing stomach pains and a sense of urgency to locate a portaloo. Mile 16 as a very very very long mile. I felt horrid. I was in pain, my body felt like a lump of concrete and was desperate to avoid a ‘Paula’ situation. I employed a run/walk strategy with random lamposts, traffic lights, trees and pretty much any object I could identify what was now a rather blurred perspective.
There was a portaloo at 17.5 and never have I been so pleased to see one. I don’t know exactly how long I spent inside, but it felt like a very long time. Looking back on my running watch data Mile 17 took 27 minutes. I’m certain that the majority of this was spent in the portaloo. As I sat there in the horrid sweaty box, only ever made bearable if you’ve had a decent amount to drink at a festival, I was questioning my life choices. Why was I doing this, what was I trying to prove, to myself, to any one else, why did I not just stop rather than put my self through nine more miles of discomfort. One thing that came to mind was that I haddn’t come this far, through the wind and rain of winter training, the long runs, hauling my family to Brighton and 17 miles, to quit at this stage. This really was the lowest point of the race.
I stepped out of the portaloo with a sense of relieve. Apologies for how graphic this may sound, but there was nothing left inside me that could threaten to make a violent exit. I knew that the residential part of the course would be coming to an end soon and my family were waiting a Mile 18, as was the return to the sea front. I stopped for a minute or so to talk with them, shared my woes of the portaloo incident and was grateful for a lucazade hit. From that point I knew I had 8 miles until I saw them again by which time it would be all over. Never ever underestimate the boost of seeing your personal cheer squad, all the energy drinks and gels in the world can’t compare to that feeling when you are struggling on marathon day.
Miles 18-20 I plodded and plodded and mainly stared at my feet but importantly I didn’t hit the wall. I was super slow. We are talking a pace of 15 min miles and it felt like I was making slow progress. I approached the start a two mile stretch out and back to an industrial estate. This is where every one warned things would get horrid, really horrid but given what I had felt at Miles 16/17 I was feeling pretty positive. I spotted Clare again who gave me a knowing look and I recall shouting out how much I *bleeping* hated this but once again a familiar face spurred me on. It was a slight uphill trundle and if I had power walked I would have probably ended up going a little faster but I managed a slow forward motion.
Having gone round the hairpin and legitimately the least scenic part of a race course ever I had the sea to my right and knew that once I completed this part of the return I was on the home stretch. Approaching Mile 24 I saw a lady handing out jelly babies and it was set in my head that popping a few would see me on the final stretch. Then to my horror a man in front of me reached out to grab one, only to knock the whole tub out of the lady’s hand onto the floor. I was devastated and my face must have shown it because the lady quickly whipped out a new bag and handed me the whole packet. Not going to lie I totally would have scooped several off the floor at this stage.
Armed with my bag of jelly babies I powered on shoveling them into my mouth at an alarming rate. I spotted a fellow runner who looked like he needed a good old jelly baby and promptly passed the baton. Passing several rows of beach huts the spectators were more frequent and I was showered with words of encouragement. Mile 25 approached and I knew that I could make it to the finish without needing another drink. Time to ditch the bottle. All of a sudden I became irrationally attached to my lucazade stained sticky bottle. It had been with me from the start and I didn’t want us to part ways in the final stretch. But then again did I want this bottle in pictures as I crossed the finish line. Mile 25 of a marathon and these were the thoughts occupying my brain.
I chucked the bottle and in doing so I let go of the notion I was to remain sensible about this race, to go at an easy pace, to remain hydrated and fuelled and I went for it. Really really went for it. I ran my fastest mile of the whole marathon and it felt glorious. The crowds were thick and people were roaring in support. I was soaking up all the energy and for the first time all day my heart was pounding, I was breathless and I felt like I was flying. It was the best mile of my life.
Eventually I saw that finish line and I gave it everything I had left, those last few seconds when you realise you are about to become a marathoner are magical. I crossed the finish line and was in utter shock. Unexpectantly, I didn’t cry as I’ve heard so many do and thought I would, I was just astounded, I had just run a marathon. Me, a marathoner!
I was utterly amazed. I didn’t care it had taken me over 6 hours, I was a marathoner and as I bowed my head to have that precious medal placed around my neck, I choked up saying thank you to the volunteer. I few hot tears sprang from my eyes but honestly I was too de-hydrated to cry properly. I stumbled forward, having my official finishers’ photograph taken, and eventually came out onto the beach, where I was met by Alex, a mini bottle of bubbles in hand. I’m not sure this post really does the day justice, I could go on and on it detail about the day because I really did experience every single possible emotional. It is a day that will go down in my life history of big achievements and perhaps why I have been so reluctant to let go.