Halstead & Essex Marathon 2016 – DNF

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?)


Marathon training – week 12

Monday: went for a swim as I still can’t run. Turns out that I do remember how to swim, but I haven’t improved in either speed or style. Bruising is looking pretty grim.

Tuesday: I slept without having my ankle strapped up and regretted it as it swelled up again. On went another bandage!

Wednesday: I decided to see what running was like and went for a jog before work. Having strapping on my ankle helps but I can definitely feel the sprain. 2.1km.

Thursday: no running, no nothing.

Friday: I thought my ankle might be feeling a lot better but I wrenched it getting out of bed. It’s not better. Bought some gels in preparation for next week’s marathon though, MEGALOLS.

Saturday: went for a little run around the park, which was sloooooow and involved a lot of footcramp but thankfully not that much ankle pain. Woop! 7.3km

Sunday: we went for a walk in Kent, 15.6km from Borough Green to Sevenoaks, via Ightham Mote, the Greensand Way and Knole Park. The sun was out, we wore shorts, we stopped for cake twice – perfect day. When we got back, I jokingly asked Matt if he wanted to go for a run. He said yes and we quickly got changed before he changed his mind! We set off and for the first 400m he was cocky and wanted to run fast, before he asked if we could slow down. We got into the park and ran up the hill, Matt not feeling so good now. On the downhill he started sprinting and carried on along the flat. This lasted another minute or so before he ground to a halt at 2.5km and we had to walk the rest of the way home. I was still really proud of him though!

Total: 11.9km – pretty awful but could have been worse. I did a swim, which counts for miles, right?!

Marathon training – week 10

Monday: no running.

Tuesday: ran to work not feeling all that good. 4.6km.

Wednesday: my right calf started feeling tight yesterday and is no better today, but no worse. I set out for work feeling a bit tentative but it was fine and other than being very hot I enjoyed my commute much more than yesterday. 5km. The run home was less fun as I was pretty tired. 4.6km

Thursday: no running, and I ate a kebab. A KEBAB!!

Friday: no running.

Saturday: I was staying at my friend’s house in Berkhamsted, and went for a run before we headed out for a day walking. The fields behind the town were really muddy and at one point I surfed down a hill, to the amusement of a woman out walking her dog. I have no idea how I stayed upright! I was glad I’d packed my trail shoes as even when I went down to the canal tow path it was muddy. On the way back to the house I went along a street that had signs up saying that 14 cats had been killed by speeding motorists last year and I thought that it seemed like an unbelievably high number for a street of around 50 houses. Adjacent to the street is the west coast main line. I wonder if that has any impact… 7.8km (followed by another 7km walking).

Sunday: I meant to go out early but I didn’t feel good. Once I started feeling better I procrastinated for so long that it was 5pm by the time I went out. I did a few loops of the parks and my stomach wasn’t feeling great so I made use of the loos in Dulwich Park before heading up to Crystal Palace. I hadn’t eaten, apart from breakfast, so I felt absolutely awful and my hands were incredibly cold. I tried to eat some jelly beans but my right hand especially didn’t work at all. By the time I made it home I was a bit of a mess. It took 10 minutes to open the front door as my hands couldn’t do it. Once in, I lay on the floor and Matt had to feed me water and take my shoes off and run me a bath as I was white as a sheet and really cold. After the bath my stomach felt even worse and I spent a lot of time on the toilet. I ended up having to take the next day off work as my stomach was still so unsettled. Unhappy days and I’m now really worried about my lack of long runs in the run up to this marathon. 23.7km
Total: 45.7km

Marathon training – week 9

Monday – no running

Tuesday – ran to work, managing to take the skin off my arm again (from the friction burn from the race on Sunday). It’s now definitely shorts weather, which is nice (though maybe not for everyone who has to see my legs). 4.7km. After work I ran along the river to Tower Bridge, where there was a photography exhibition on at the Scoop. The exhibition was great (though I got a little chilly checking out the photos in just shorts and tshirt) but running along the southbank is a pain in the arse – so many tourists, some of whom were definitely getting in the way deliberately. 5.4km

Wednesday – no running.

Thursday – ran to work, nothing much to report except my good luck with the work shower has come to an end and I had to wait 10 mins to have a shower once I got to the office. 5.1km.

Friday – at a wedding in Lancashire, no running.

Saturday – managed to fit in a morning run in the Ribble Valley. I ran in one direction for 15 mins until I hit the main road, then realised that if I ran along the main road for a minute I could turn right and head back along Lovely Hall Lane, which sounded lovely indeed, so I did that. Lovely Hall Lane was actually quite steep and I only realised when I got to the top that there was a nice path just alongside the road, instead of running in the road. Oh well. Saw a Dalmatian and a man high fived me a couple of minutes from home. 5.4km.

Sunday – by this point we were in Kendal, and I’d planned out a 30km run consisting of three loops from Kendal, up to Oxenholme, up to the Helm and over, down to Natland, back into Kendal and so on. The weather forecast was for wet, cold weather so I’d packed accordingly. Instead it was really warm and I was very uncomfortable in tights and long sleeves! On my first loop I popped into the sports centre to use the loo (fortuitous timing!) and on the second loop I managed to meet Matt in town to get the house key and some much needed water. Time was getting away from me (should have gone out earlier!) and I had no food or water so I called it a day after two loops. This was my biggest ever elevation on a run, though, at 246m, and I would have enjoyed doing more, if various factors had been different.
Total: 41km (first weekend without a race since mid February!)

Marathon training – week 8

Monday – after cutting short my Sunday run, I wanted to get in a nice long Bank Holiday run, but a bad night’s sleep and residual gusty winds from Storm Katie put paid to it. I really wasn’t in the mood, but ran up College Road listening to a podcast about the history of knitting, then along Crystal Palace Parade (where I gracefully side-stepped a discarded condom), then slowly did a few more hills and went home, not before being slapped on the leg by an empty coke can in a gust of wind. 12.2km.

Tuesday – no running.

Wednesday – no running, horrible headache

Thursday – no running as I had a friend to stay

Friday – woke up to a beautiful frosty morning and ran to work in the cold, fresh sunshine. Ah, spring! 5.1km.

Saturday – Dulwich parkrun with Neil, for the first time in ages! We’d arranged during the week that we’d run at 5 min/km and set off at about 5:10 min/km. The first km was fine and we were chatting a bit, the 2nd km I chatted less, by the 3rd I felt like I was hanging on, the 4th km I fell apart with my pace dropping to 5:41/km and on the final km I was just counting down the steps until we were done. It felt very hard and yet was almost 30 seconds slower than when I did this exact parkrun a few weeks ago, and I’m pretty disappointed about it. It was, however, great to hang out with Neil, and it was lovely and sunny, so I shouldn’t be too annoyed. 5km.

Sunday – another race, this time the Kingston Breakfast Run. I had a pretty upset stomach and as a result it was a challenging day! Race report here. 26km.

Total: 48.3km

Marathon training – week 7

Monday – no running

Tuesday – after the disaster that was my last try with a running club, my friend suggested that I come along to his running group. He runs with Run Dem Crew, a fairly high-profile group that I’ve always thought wasn’t really for me (too enthusiastic, maybe, for my misanthropic self, or just too cool). I turned up in Shoreditch feeling a bit apprehensive, especially when I found out that there was going to be lots of cheering and clapping beforehand. But actually, this bit was great, we cheered all the people who’d raced at the weekend, and there were some lovely race stories. Then we went out for a run. I joined the Greyhound group and we ran along at a very chilled pace, made even more chilled by having to stop at lights every 100 metres. We ran down to St Paul’s, then over the Millennium Bridge (“sprint if you want to!” Came a shout, so I did, but I was one of only a few) and along the Southbank to Leake Street, just behind the London Eye. Then we ran back, again with a sprint over the Millennium Bridge, and more traffic lights as we wound our way back to Shoreditch. People were very friendly and I enjoyed chatting and it was nice running along with someone else leading the way. The downsides are the location (Shoreditch isn’t convenient for work or home), having to run on busy roads/stop for traffic and a lingering feeling that I’m not cool enough. They said I can come back next week. 10km.

Wednesday – ate some cake, ran to a brewery, felt the beginnings of heartburn, ate a pizza, ran back from the brewery, had to take heartburn tablets. 3.7km.

Thursday – no running

Friday – no running

Saturday – did parkrun for the first time in ages. I ran over to Brockwell Lido and hung around feeling cold, but spurred on by the promise of mini eggs at the finish line, we set off. I find it hard to pace myself at this parkrun, but when I got to 4km and was done with the hills I tried to do some maths and work out how long it might take to finish but couldn’t figure it out so just ran, and managed to beat my time on this course by 45 seconds. Yes, still slow, but it was a little confidence boost that I can actually do it. 8.1km

Sunday – we went for a cycle during the day and had been lucky to avoid the showers, and I knew that I wouldn’t be so lucky with my run. It was very windy when I set out, and when I got to the top of Crystal Palace it started raining. I ended up sheltering in the doorway of a church for a minute at the top of Lordship Lane, and cut the whole run short as it was dark (turns out the clocks changing does not mean magic light!), wet and cold. 13km.

Total: 34.8km

Marathon training – week 6

Monday – thought about trying out the recovery run thing again but settled for cycling and then half an hour of yoga.

Tuesday – spent some time with the foam roller before running to work (5.1km). My big toe is bruised and my legs felt pretty tired from Sunday.

Wednesday – thought about running in the evening but didn’t.

Thursday – planned to run home from an all-day meeting over in Hackney but had laptop and papers with me so decided not to as my back is already really sore.

Friday – ran home from Peckham Rye, via Canonbie Road. Canonbie is the silliest, steepest road I know. At first it’s about 7% – then it turns a corner and it’s something stupid like 14%. Not a chance. The other side is even steeper, around 20%. It’s like a wall. Afterwards I went through Dulwich Park (where I stopped to use the loo) and Brockwell Park at dusk. It’s so nice when it’s light enough to go through the parks (they’re locked after dark). 9.2km.

Saturday – I planned to do Parkrun with a friend but it got cancelled and I was too lazy to go on my own so had a lie in instead. Later on I went for a little jaunt to double check on my shoes. It was just dark enough that I felt anxious about the crappy condition of the pavements, but eventually I got into it and ran up one of the “hills” near me, and it was way easier than I thought it would be. Needed a wee so had to cut it short. 3.7km.

Sunday – a friend of a friend had to drop out of the Hampton Palace Half Marathon and I was asked if I wanted the place. Sure, I said. Three half marathons in four weeks, why not. I woke up with hip pain and it didn’t get any better during the race. 21.1km.

Total: 39.1km