So this week I’m celebrating the completion of my first marathon by starting a new running blog. This first post is about my marathon experience in North Dorset but if you want to find out a little more about the thinking behind the new site then you’ll find that on this page.
This year the North Dorset Village Marathon coincided with International Star Wars Day. My choice to participate had nothing to do with Star Wars but there was a guy dressed in full Darth Vader costume taking part to act as a reminder that it was indeed May 4th. I think I may have beaten Lord Vader across the line so if nothing else, this run serves as another win for me and my Jedi friends. The main reason for taking part was to finally address my lack of an officially recorded marathon time since covering the distance in more of a relaxed way for my last two birthday celebrations. I entered this same race last year but due to illness a week or two beforehand was unable to take part. This year I was determined to get to the start (and finish) line. Training this year started very well, completely fell apart in the middle (due to injury) and then picked up again only 3 weeks before the race. It turned out that as expected the middle bit where things fell apart was probably the most important bit which you shouldn’t miss. Oops.
You’ll see from the pace chart below that I ran my first marathon the hard way. When I say hard, what I mean is stupid! I ran the first 9 miles at a pace that I couldn’t possibly sustain with my lack of long mile training. At mile 10 I stopped to walk at a water point and munch on a energy bar. The next couple of miles to the half way point got steadily slower and harder. When my pace dropped I started to lose all confidence in my running abilities and doubt crept in. Pain followed. The halfway point in a marathon is not the most sensible place to mentally and physically fall apart. You still have a heck of a lot of miles left to cover. I had to walk often, miles 14 to 18 were tortuous and I was about ready to quit. If my cheering squad (Chloe and Robyn) had been around between those miles I would have jumped in the back of the car and begged to go home.
Luckily though, in a short moment of clarity at mile 18 I glanced at my GPS watch and realised that due to my pace in those early miles I could possibly still reach mile 20 before the 3 hour mark even after the walking sections I had taken. This meant if I could pull together a 6.2 mile run (10km) at this point at a slow pace I could possibly still finish the marathon in just under 4 hours. 10km is a distance that I often run (usually several times a week). Even though my body felt battered and my mind broken it strangely seemed to accept that another 10km was possible even though seconds beforehand the idea of one kilometre had me near to tears. The brain is a fragile and fickle beast (well mine is). I dug deep and managed to get to mile 20 pretty much in time.
Chloe and Robyn appeared at the last relay point just before mile 20. Their support always gives me a boost and this time was no different. I’m a lucky guy to have these two ladies in my life who believe in me and after a few encouraging words and a squeeze of my hand I was set. I didn’t care how much I was hurting I wasn’t about to start letting them down. I’m aware it all sounds a bit twee but it’s short moments like this when I remember how much I’ve achieved since I started running and how different I’ve become. Chloe and Robyn often remind me of these things at just the right moment. My 17.5 stone previous shell couldn’t run to catch a bus 3 years beforehand. I’d come some distance to get to the start line and was not about to let a silly further 10 kilometres stop me getting to the finish in a time I would be happy with. The last 10km continued to feel brutal but a mix of running, walking and swearing saw me reduce the distance with every step. I eventually crossed the line in 3:55:30, mostly just glad it was all over.
I guess if I’m honest and training had gone really well, my goal was to complete the marathon in around 3:35-3:45. Even though training had been far from perfect I don’t think I fully accepted that this time wasn’t achievable before the event started. This, coupled with my poor execution of a race plan have left me feeling a little bit annoyed with myself and my performance. Silly but true. My two backup ambitions were always completing the distance in one piece and ideally under 4 hours (my original goal from last year). I did still achieve both of these and neither one of these are small or easy tasks. A sub 4 marathon is still a great achievement for most people and with better training and learning from this experience I’m pretty sure I can get closer to my goal time on my next outing. Yes, at the time it was hard and painful. Yes, it made me miserable but a few days later and I’m already sure it won’t be the last time I’ll run 26.2 miles. The only question is when?