After I ran the London Marathon two years ago, I was disappointed with my time, and I vowed that I would beat it at this race. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t – I’d trained a lot more and was a better runner. I felt quietly confident.
Two weeks before the race I tripped and sprained my ankle. It swelled up and was very sore to walk on, with a big black bruise below the ligament. For the first couple of days I had to take a lot of painkillers and ibuprofen gel, but gentle walking as soon as possible made it a bit better. I managed four runs before the marathon, none of which were very satisfactory. My confidence dropped away a little.
On the Friday before the race I had my first ever migraine and had to go home from work as I couldn’t see anything, couldn’t remember any of my colleagues names and thought I might throw up everywhere. I wasn’t sure what the word “confidence” meant any more.
I decided to do the marathon anyway, and headed to Halstead in Essex on Saturday afternoon. We stayed in a pub, in a wonky-floored room with big wooden beams. The room had two beds so one was commandeered for all my kit. I had some visual problems again on Saturday night but slept well anyway.
On Sunday morning I woke up, showered and got myself together. I ate a banana and a bagel with almond butter, and downed a coffee. I covered myself in sunblock and walked over to Halstead Leisure Centre, race HQ. I got my number, had a final toilet stop and queued up with the other runners. There were about 500 of us and the sun was beating down.
“I’m not supposed to say this”, said Matt. “But it’s going to be really hot!!”
He wished me luck and I listened to the final countdown with trepidation. We began the start-line shuffle and soon we were off. The course went out the leisure centre car park (where I tried to wave nonchalantly at Matt but got cut up by another runner) and turned left, down a hill and out of the village.
We turned onto a small road and up the first hill, towards the fields. It wasn’t steep, definitely undulating rather than killer. Coming down the hill was a classic car, although they were at a standstill as the narrow lane wasn’t wide enough for a few hundred runners plus a car. There were a surprising number of classic cars out – more than one would have been a surprise in itself I suppose, but there were five or six.
It was very, very warm and just before 5km there was the first water station. I necked a cup of water and carried on through the village of Pebmarsh. There were lots of people cheering who’d driven out there (clearly friends/family) but also locals out cheering. A farmer had driven out to the edge of his field and was watching from a good vantage point, relaxing in the sunshine.
The scenery was stunning, and I genuinely enjoyed looking at the yellow fields of oilseed rape, the rolling hills and occasional animals. We went past a llama farm and there were also horses and cows, and birds circling lazily in the air. It was also quite fun to watch the snake of people ahead – every time there was any shade on the road, all the runners would head to that side of the road, and luckily the cars were few and far between.
By the 10km water station my right foot was cramping really badly, I guess because my ankle felt weak and my foot was trying to protect it. The strapping around my foot didn’t help. I started making bargains with myself to keep myself going but by about 15km I was yelping a bit when I ran and also when I walked, and I really didn’t think I could go on. I spoke to a man who was walking, who said he was going to drop out. “What’s the point in doing yourself a long term injury?” he said. I knew he was right but I also knew I’d feel like a total failure for giving in.
The marshals were all friendly and supportive. “Looking great!” said one, with a slightly sceptical look on his face. “At least you’re not sat on the sofa at home, anyway.”
Matt had said he’d be cheering at about 17km, but when I didn’t see him immediately I was upset and may have sworn a bit under my breath (okay, maybe a lot). For the last few kilometres I’d been thinking how if I *was* going to drop out then this would be the place to do it as at least we’d be together. My foot was really hurting a lot and I didn’t want to keep going as it would just get worse. And now I couldn’t see him – I didn’t know what to do. But there he was, on the other side of a water station, trying to take a picture of me.
I stopped and told him I was quitting. I took my shoe, sock, bandaging off and let my swollen foot out. I couldn’t move my toes, even staring at them. I drank some water and let Matt eat the last of my energy chews (he’d already started on the jelly beans I’d been saving for later in the race). It felt quite surreal.
My mum showed up and we jumped in the car and drove back to the leisure centre. We came up behind the first place runner and I wound the window down so I could lean out and cheer him. He didn’t seem to appreciate it but I like to think he gained some extra speed to get away from the hecklers in the car.
I had a shower, returned my timing chip, ate an ice cream and limped around. Matt went to the football and mum and I hung around in Braintree, eating scones in the sunshine and laughing at just how Essex it all was.
I am trying hard to think of the positives but it’s a struggle.
- It’s weird not feeling at all tired post-marathon when I expected to.
- It’s odd to leave a race without a medal.
- It’s horrible feeling that you’ve let yourself/other people down.
- It’s really strange thinking how I still haven’t run a marathon since London, and does this mean I was a better runner then than now?
(Will I ever run another marathon?)