Tuesday 22 April 2014

Blackpool Marathon – 6th April 2014

My journey of 26.2 miles


After 18 weeks of training, trying out refuelling and rehydrating strategies and practising holding my bladder on longer runs, Chris and I finally set off for Blackpool the day before the race.  I had been giddy for a month and during the two week tapering phase I was buzzing and bouncing off the walls and struggling to concentrate on anything other than getting out there and getting on with it.

We had a nice peaceful evening only wandering as far as the nearest pub for my final carb-loading meal of the day.  I should say ‘meals’, because I ordered a pasta dish, which was very nice, but didn't fill me.  I got Chris to order me a Jacket potato, and then felt the need to explain why I was having 2 dinners to the guy who brought the food!  

Back at the hotel, I carried on hydrating,  put my name on the back and front of my vest, got the rest of my kit ready, lined up my breakfast for the morning and had a very early night.

Unexpected Nerves

In the morning, we left the hotel as late as possbile so that I could do the 18 toilet visits! On the way down to Race HQ, which was only a ten minute walk from our hotel, I was afflicted with a sudden bout of nerves.  This is not like me at all. I’m normally excited, and it was the same today, but accompanied by nervousness and some doubt.  I remembered my last long training run, which was a real struggle; I wondered if I’d eaten enough; I worried about whether I’d go the wrong way when the half-marathoners peeled off to the finish line and I needed to go round again. Chris was brilliant.  He’s been listening to me building up to this for months, and when the nerves hit, he had all the right things to say to me and repeated back all the advice I've received from Caistor Running Club, reminded me how hard I've trained, how I've been really careful about diet and that I'm in the best possible shape to complete this.  As I took my place with everyone behind the start line, I felt much better and eager to go.

There was a marathon and a half marathon starting at the same time. The marathon was two laps of the half-marathon course . There were about 2000 entrants altogether, mostly doing the half. Less than 400 did the full marathon.

At the start - so innocent and excited!
Start like the tortoise.

 I was careful to set off really steady, because it's too easy to get carried along with the crowd and then struggle later. I didn't even put any music on for the first few miles. I just took in my surroundings and chatted to other runners. After 3 miles I shifted to what Sue and I call 'my plod' ...a pace I feel I can sustain for a long time and still talk. I felt relaxed and happy. I had a band round my wrist with names of family and friends written next to each mile. This was a tip given to me by my sports massage therapist to help me through the miles. I thought about each person as I entered their mile and it really helped to keep me going.

Mile 8 is where I was really settled in to a lovely pace...this always happens at about 6, 7 or 8 miles...I get my robot legs on! I had one earphone in with good bouncy tracks that would keep me trotting along at a nice steady pace and nothing that would make me rush and tire early: Madness, Status Quo,  It’s All gone Pete Tong Soundtrack, The Jam, Daft Punk and some tracks from “101 running songs”..  I only used one earphone because I wanted to chat with other people and hear their stories. 
This was somewhere between mile 6 and 7 .... I'm just getting nicely into my 'plod'
Wearing a sign on my back saying “Fran – 1st Marathon”, meant that I got a lot of encouragement from more experienced runners and many shared the story of their first marathon.   It was also gratifying that on 2 occasions, I chatted to people who had done lots of marathons, who said to me, "ok, I’ll let you crack on; you're going a bit quicker than I want to go!"  Little things like that helped psychologically. 

Bye bye half marathoners.

As I approached the halfway point, there were plenty of marshals shouting, “race split ahead”, and there was clear signing as to which way half and full marathoners should go.  I was in quite a big group of people at that point and when it came to the split, they all peeled off right to head for the finish line, and I was suddenly in loads of space, on my own, and it started raining, which at that point was refreshing.  A quick check round revealed the nearest person in front of me was about 100 yards ahead.  I hardly dare look behind because if I was last, I didn't want to know about it!  I eventually braved it and took a peek.  I was encouraged to see plenty of people behind me.

Something for those who like synchronicity:   my play list was on shuffle. As I finished mile 13 and started my second lap, the track playing was Daft Punk's One More Time. It made me smile some more.  Shortly after that, I was hearing Daft Punk again “Harder, Better, Faster, Stonger”, which made me think of how hard I’ve worked to become better, stronger, and faster at running.

The beginning of the second half was very strange.  I’d gone from having lots of people to chat to, to a much more sparse field with only brief opportunities to talk to others when anyone caught up with me or when I caught up with someone else.

A slight disappointment had been not seeing Chris at the half-way point.  Whenever I’ve run half marathons, I’ve saved a draft text to send Chris a mile from the end (so I only have to touch one button to send it).  I’d done the same to tell him I’d reached the half way point, but the signal was really poor and by the time the text sent, it was too late.  By mile 15 I’d managed to send a quick text saying “missed you. Crap signal” which gave him  time to regroup and find another point that he’d see me.

Here’s my favourite photo (left) .... around mile 14 to 15 – the official photographer caught me just as I was putting my phone away.  I was soaked to the skin, but running comfortably and feeling really happy.  I ran down past the Blackpool Tower, The Pleasure Beach and more pubs than you could shake a stick at, then it was a u-turn at the Golden Mile (for the second time) and pass the photographer again on the way back.  By then, I was so wet that my name on paper on my front and back were disintegrating!

I faired really well up to about 19 miles....Chris got a photo at that point and I'm smiling and sort of half running, half bopping (Status Quo, The Wanderer playing through my ear phones – both in at that point, because there was rarely anyone to talk to by now, so spread out were we) and I don’t
Mile 19 and feeling in good shape.
remember, but apparently I shouted out "I'm feeling good". I know I felt on quite a high at that point, despite being aware that the ‘ex-bad foot’ was giving me some pain and I had a sore left toe.  I had tubi-grip support around my wrist as it’s a convenient way to carry gels. I considered stopping and putting it on my ankle, but decided against it.  For one thing, I’d lose momentum and for another, I was worried a marshal might say I had to pull out if I looked injured!

Mile 20 was good, and was my fastest mile of the race.  It stopped raining for a while and Sue's name was on my wrist band at mile 20 so her pep talk was ringing in my ears, “20 - that’s my birthday, and I’m a Leo, so you better bounce that mile like a Lion”. It helped that I had a back wind and there was a downward slope along the prom, so I was able to get a wiggle on and run a 9:04 minute mile – my average pace was 9:58.

To boldly go where no Fran has gone before

At finishing mile 21, my mind registered that this is the farthest I've ever run so it was new territory. But I remembered what Kath at Caistor Running Club said....when you're past mile 21, it’s just a normal evening club run distance to bang on the end, and you know you can do that. This took me through that mile ok.

At mile 22, I turned back along a very open part of the sea front into a really strong headwind.  It was also raining again. The rain earlier was quite pleasant, but with the wind, it was now quite cold. I'd run this windy stretch on the first lap and it wasn't too bad. But with fatigue setting in and the wind now stronger (not just my perception...confirmed by the race officials and commentary) it was pretty unpleasant.  Everyone I could see was struggling and we were just running really slowly with our heads down.  Now no one was speaking to each other, just exchanging sympathetic glances. From there to about 25 and a half miles I was thinking, "what the hell I'm doing?" (except my language was a little more colourful). I switched the music off because the wind was so loud I couldn’t hear a thing.  I just focused on the people on my wrist list (which I’d had to remove and carry in my hand as it was getting soggy) and the Alzheimer's Society, for whom I was fundraising*.  Chris asked me afterwards if at any point I thought I wouldn't finish. Absolutely not! Only death or an official pulling me out would have stopped me. I have to say, even when I was really slow in those last miles, I was still gradually passing people. Everyone else was cream-crackered too”

* My Just Giving Page for the Alzheimer’s Society will remain open until the 6th July 2014.  If you are inspired to donate, please CLICK HERE.  Alternatively, you can text CRAZ51 £1 / £3 / £5 / £10 to 70070.  Only costs the amount you donate plus your normal cost of a text and you will get a text back asking you for a couple of details to enable gift aid, which turns every £1 into £1.25.

Finish like a hare

At 25 and a half miles, there's another u-turn to the top promenade. I hadn't run this bit in lap 1 because we continued straight on to the next lap. As I approached the U turn, it dawned on me that it was a flipping (substitute whatever word you think I actually used) steep slope up to the top prom. I was gutted and thinking, "you are kidding me." I thought it would finish me off. However, as I turned up the slope I realised that the rain had stopped and the wind had dried me out, and what's more, that the wind was behind me, pushing me up the slope.  
The red arrow points to me as I picked up speed; the green arrows point to the runners overtook! SmugFucker or what?

When I reached the top, I could see the finish line less than half a mile away. I have no idea how, but I picked up the pace, back to my normal plod. Now I could hear the commentary and see and hear the spectators cheering the finishers in. About 50 metres from the finish I just changed up another gear without even thinking about it and pulled a sprint finish out of the bag, overtaking 2 runners only about 10 metres before the finish!

At the finish, running my socks off!
Immediate elation mixed with exhaustion. I collected my free bottle of water, goodie bag and medal in zombie mode and then stood like a well behaved lost child waiting for Chris to come and find me, which he did, very promptly.  Runner’s brain was in full flight and I couldn’t string a sentence together for quite a while.  Luckily, Chris is used to this and can more or less grasp my meaning from odd words and fragments of sentences!  It really helps to have good solid support at the end of the race. He quickly handed me my hoody and jogging pants to put on to hold off the post-run chills and made sure I drank a good quantity of fluids straight away, and reminded me to stretch.

I completed in 4 hours 21 minutes 24 seconds, which was way beyond my expectations and a very respectable time for a first marathon. I am over the moon. It is the hardest thing I've done in my life (including giving birth), but SO gratifying. 

So that's my first marathon. :-)

Recovery - or - We run so that we can eat more cake! 

We went back to the hotel and I just wrapped myself in a big blanket, drank loads of water and made a few caffeine  (from energy gels) fuelled phone calls to family and friends. I couldn't even make myself get in the shower until 3 hours later!  
My best friends know me so well and had each given me something to be opened only after I completed the race.  Cake!  Fantastic!  One modelled on my own running shoes from Sue, the other featuring stars from Cheryl.  Caistor Running Club's official motto is "We Run for Fun", but the more popular unofficial motto is, "we run so that we can eat more cake!"

I eventually managed to drag myself into the shower so that we could go out to eat. At last, I could eat whatever I fancied and not prioritise running fuel.  So it was a dirty deep fried Wetherspoon's sharer platter, followed by chicken and ribs and chips!  After tea and 3 pints of lager  I'd had enough. I was asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow and didn't know a thing until 6.30 the next morning when I was woken by a flock of seagulls outside sounding like they were having a domestic dispute.

We spent the next day in Blackpool having a look around, and  there wasn't anywhere I didn't ache!  The walking around was very, very slow! We went to Wetherspoons for a pint and a cheap and cheerful lunch.  The only drawback was that the loos were down some stairs.  As I got onto the second step down, lowering myself gently and holding tightly to the banister, I heard a voice saying, “excuse me love”.  It was an elderly gentleman sitting at a table near the steps. “Go round there love, if you’re not too good on your feet,” he said, pointing to the disabled loo, on the same level!  OMG!  I’m not one to take advantage, and my first thought was, “no, I couldn't.” But that was quickly replaced by, “actually, yes, I am in pain and these steps are killing me.” So I thanked the gentleman and did what  I had to do!

Le Tower De Blackpool

Some members of CRC were running the Paris Marathon on the same day, so, as a nod to them, I obviously had to don a beret and onions and have my picture taken with the Faux-Eiffel Tower behind me.

Respect the Distance.

That’s what they say about 26.2 miles, isn't it, and they are right. Sometimes, 26.2 miles can seem a long way in a car, let alone running it.

But if you’re a runner, you can probably train to run a marathon.  In 2011, I could barely run 5k (3.1 miles) and now I've run a 26.2 miles.  It’s not easy.  The training and the distance itself is hard work.  But it is big and it is clever.  

Look after your nutrition, remember your warm ups and stretches, consider sports massage, get plenty of support and advice from more experienced runners and / or from your local running club.  Go for it.  

I've never felt more proud of a medal and I've never felt Smugger than this. 

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