Two days ago I successfully completed my second-ever full marathon, on a hot spring bank holiday Monday in Milton Keynes. Even though the adrenalin has worn off by now and all that is left as a reminder are my very sore muscles, I am still feeling on a high, as if I had been drugged. Marathon running does have rather pleasant side-effects, too. In this blog entry, I am looking to capture some key moments and share some learnings…
The first thing I want to point out is that purely just getting there felt like I had accomplished half of my mission for the day. Thankfully, I have a habit of arriving mega-early everywhere, because on this occasion the predicted 1 hour ETA turned into a 1 hour 40 minute quest due to the sat nav getting confused in central MK, road closures and complete lack of race signposting. Even though I still had about an hour before the race when I finally arrived into my pre-booked parking spot by the Stadium, I felt very anxious and was not sure if I was able to stay focused on my run in that state of mind.
However, I was determined not to let the poor journey ruin my day, though. After consuming a hearty protein bar as a second breakfast, I mingled with the crowd of runners which was getting bigger and bigger every minute. The stadium was already buzzing with hundreds of people, some of them sporting their costumes for the fun run. Spotting a guy with a bright pink tutu skirt and the matching pink fairly wings instantly put me into a more relaxed mood! In the meantime, the temperature was climbing upwards steadily, making me wonder if I can actually get through this race without fainting! (I came really close to that when I did the Burnham Beeches half marathon last summer).
I lined up in the starting pen, trying to strategically place myself into the shade of the banners and taller runners, thinking that starting the race with a non-fried brain will give me a definite advantage. In the final moments before the mayor sounded the horn to signal the start, I closed my eyes and visualised myself crossing the finish line, feeling very tired but very proud of my accomplishment. At this stage, I was entertaining a cautious and blurry 4 hour finish time in my mind. I felt a bit sad that this time I was going to run alone and without the supporting presence of my friends but I quickly realised that I was not alone at all – in fact, I was in the splendid company of over 3,000 fellow runners gathered from all corners of the country to run the city’s second ever Marathon! Even though I was not entirely happy with the amount of training I had managed to put into this race, I pushed aside all the ‘woulda/coulda/shoulda’ thoughts and instead gave myself a virtual pat on the shoulder for the amount of work I DID manage to put in and I let myself be taken over by the excitement in the air. I also felt very lucky as I knew last year’s race was hit by torrential rain, but this year, after a bleak start of the spring season, we were being treated to glorious sunshine at last!
Even though I had already tasted the ‘joys’ of a marathon before, my first thought after crossing the start line instinctively was ‘Oh, my God, I AM going to run a marathon…Here we go again!’ After the initial shock wore off, I settled into a comfortable pace and started to enjoy the sunshine and the occasional breeze. Even though I felt I was running at my target race pace, my Garmin was showing a slightly faster ‘current pace’ reading than I was used to seeing during my training runs. I think it may have been showing a different reading due to the fact that in the initial part of the race there were no trees and trees can distort the GPS reading. For this reason, I think it is always good to learn to ‘feel’ your pace and rely on ‘average lap pace’ to get a better idea of the intensity.
Still on fresh legs…
I must say the route was lovely – a pleasant surprise as I have always had the impression that MK was a concrete jungle, a sad collection of office blocks and shopping centres. I could see that a lot of planning had gone into designing those geometrically perfect woodland trails, lakesides, parks and other landscaped areas, and for these very reasons MK seems to be a real paradise for runners. And it’s completely flat! I have to say, whilst thousands of us were pounding the hot pavements, there were lots of spectators and supporters as well on the day. Two people even made the effort to shout out my name in encouragement which was printed on my race number (a really great idea!), one being the broadcaster of the radio station! This gave me a great energy boost.
My other favourite moments were: random guy sprinkling cold water at runners from his garden hosepipe at the side of the pavement; a sign saying ‘smile if you are not wearing any underwear today’, a group of guys offering lube whilst giggling by the side of the road (for sore nipples, hopefully?), wishing a fellow runner ‘happy birthday’ (clearly stating the special occasion on the back of his T-shirt – I mean, what is a better way to celebrate?).
I am quite happy with my fuelling strategy: for my first brekkie at home I had my fool-proof porridge with banana and honey and a cup of strong coffee; upon arrival (about 2 hours later), I had a pre-workout protein bar with some water. I consumed a bottle of Lucozade in the first half of the race and another bottle of Gatorade sports drink in the second half. I drank water mainly when I gulped down my gels: the first one at 18k, the second one at 27k and the last one (this one included caffeine as well) at 37k. During training I found it is best to go with as little gel as possible as they can easily upset my tummy if I have them too soon after each other or too much. With the drinking, I followed the general rule of ‘drink to thirst’. In some pictures you can see me running with two bottles – a bottle of water to sprinkle on my head to prevent myself from overheating and a sugary sports drink to fuel myself. Fortunately, I stayed sharp enough during the race not to accidentally swap them! I do not easily discard things I pick up from the fuelling stations as you can never know when you need these the most, so I do not mind carrying a little extra in my hands for a while in return for the feeling of security – as illustrated below:
Miraculously, I did not need a loo stop at all, despite feeling my stomach was full of butterflies at the beginning of the race. Yay!
I plugged in my music on the final 12k, knowing I would need the extra push from there onwards. I actually felt quite entertained without music for most part of the race. In training, I only ran as far as 26k (and only once!), the rest was unfamiliar territory. Surprisingly, the biggest struggle on the final stretch of the race was not caused by any niggling pain in my body – the real monster was the heat. In fact, I felt I was in a remarkably good condition. I think that taking the final week before the race very easy and therefore being able to run on ‘fresh legs’ helped massively. I found that the best way to taper down is not by cutting the intensity of training but the volume. Just seeing a few runners having collapsed of heat exhaustion (being unaccustomed to running in these conditions) and being administered to by the medical team was quite demoralising, fearing I might be the next one lying by the pavement like that.
I had two particularly bad moments. I knew they would come and I was prepared for these. In times like these, the best way to get out of the rut is to have a little talk with yourself. Acknowledge that you are having a strop. Allow yourself to indulge in feeling sorry for yourself – but only for a little while. Then press that imaginary stop button and just get on with it. Next trick up my sleeve – administering some high energy music at the right time. Bimbo Jones’ Club Mix version of Rita Ora’s ‘Light Your Fire’ song twice in a row at top volume definitely injected a bit more life into me. As well as the cheering spectator lady who ordered me to ‘dig a bit deeper than that’ when I started walking on a hilly stretch with legs turned into jelly and my lungs melting, in the final 2 miles. When I finally caught the glimpse of the Stadium with the promise of finishing this ordeal soon, I got my second wind. In fact, all of a sudden, my main concern became to look good for the finish line photos so I threw away everything from my hands and freed myself from the tentacles of my iPod. (Vanity clearly was a sure sign that I was going to survive this challenge!)
The Stadium was echoing from the cheers of the spectators and I managed a broad smile knowing I was going to come very close to my target finish time. I pushed through the finish line at 4 hours 5 mins, with my hands held high, feeling extremely relieved, exhausted, and overwhelmed by the adrenaline rush at the same time. I proudly bent my head to take my medal and found my way to the dark and cool depths of the stadium’s changing/baggage arena. It felt like arriving into an oasis – dark, cool and airy. I stretched gently, then the edible contents of my goody bag disappeared quickly whilst I was sitting on the cool ground to recover, listening to some soft music on my iPod. At the end of the day, I had a long drive ahead so it was not over yet.
I am really enjoying this but could someone please move that finish line a bit closer??
I wasn’t posing for this, really…
I came, I saw, I finished!
A helper said to me whilst walking past ‘Well done, lady!’ and some other runners shared in my joy of finishing, one of them even remembering seeing me in the race. It amazes me how easily sharing in the same experience can break down the barriers in this ‘stiff upper lip’ nation, bringing everyone closer together. It is so great to be part of this big community who feeds on the same passion and can truly understand what drives me to nearly kill myself running 42kms.
All in all, it has been an amazing experience and has given me so much emotional energy and a great confidence boost. Preparing for and running a Marathon requires so much time, commitment, discipline and sometimes sacrifice. But in the end, it is SO worth it.
My official stats are (taken from the event website):
|Position overall||669 of 2045|
|Position female||78 of 509|
|Position Senior female||45 of 288|
|Per km.||5:50 min/km|