A 26 year old Nat toes the start line of her first road marathon with her mums old Casio watch and one energy gel stuffed into her pocket.. this would be the day that my confidence gets the better of me and I finally learn that bonking is not just psychological!
It’s true what they say about respecting the marathon distance.
Setting the scene
Before I get into the nitty gritty of how the race turned from amazing to agonizing in about 3 seconds, I feel I should give you some background information about me to set the scene.
I have always been overconfident which is a trait I get from my Dad. Both my Mum and Dad were keen runners and weightlifters competing at amateur levels. My Dad would take me out running with him in my early teens, he would do loops to double back to me as I couldn’t keep up. Until the loops started getting smaller and smaller, eventually after a few years I would need to loop back for him! (sorry Dad)
My parents have encouraged me to try every sport possible and I have been able to compete in swimming, gymnastics, football and running. For me no other sport has compared to the feeling of a great run or a great race. Winning trophies in football comes close but that has more of a team success feeling, whereas after a race you know that the performance was completely down to you.
So the scene is set, an over confident girl who likes to try everything and has been told all her life that there is nothing she cannot do, heads to Brighton with her parents and boyfriend in tow.
The night before
I decided that staying in a hotel right on the seafront would be fun and I looked for the one which had a nice bar so that we could have a drink after the race without having to walk far. I did not do my research well enough; I didn’t realise the hotel we booked had a nightclub attached to it! I also didn’t book the meal the night before the race, I thought we would be able to just stroll into a nice Italian restaurant for some pasta for dinner. Brighton was heaving and every restaurant was fully booked! After hours of walking around trying to find somewhere decent to eat we settled for a Wagamamas and I had a katsu chicken curry.
The hotel was noisy and I didn’t get much sleep but I woke up on race day feeling excited and confident. I had put the training in and this was my first road marathon. I had said to myself I would be happy with anything under 4 hours as my training runs indicated I could make it in that time.
I made my way to the start line and I had put myself in the 3:30 or under group. I think I did this thinking if I stayed with these runners and then dropped a bit near the end I would still be under 4 hours. Off we went, the course starts with a rather steep hill round a field at the start, and then comes down hill towards the seafront and town. I felt strong up the first hill and the adrenaline was boosting me along. I went out at a 7.4 minute mile pace for that first mile which is far too fast!.. mistake number one. I didn’t have a running watch at the time so all I had to go by was the time on the casio I was wearing and just looking at the mile markers.
I came down the hill towards the seafront and saw my family and boyfriend cheering. I smiled for the pictures and my mum was holding an energy gel out asking if I needed it. ‘No thanks Mum!’ of course I didn’t need an energy gel I felt great!.. mistake number two- you should sip an energy gel BEFORE you think you need it. Not when you feel awful as this will be too late.
Along the seafront I went, still maintaining my 7.3-7.4 min miling pace and overtaking a few runners which spurred me on. I tucked in behind a group of male runners as we turned the corner and headed back along the seafront approaching the 10 mile mark.
At mile 13 I saw my family again all cheering and I happily zoomed past with a big smile on my face. I looked up at the halfway timer and thought wow I am doing well! I looked down at my watch for probably only the second time during the race and it showed 1 hour 39 minutes. Fantastic! I thought- I’ll finish this well within 4 hours.
Hitting the wall
Then at mile 14 it happened. Mile 14 of the course takes you away from the fun seafront and around some streets. As soon as I got onto that street it literally felt like I had ran into a wall. I went from long bouncing strides to a shuffle, all those people I had past along the seafront went running by me. I must have looked about to collapse because runners were asking me if I was alright as they went by.
I shuffled whilst grunting in exhaustion towards some cute looking children who had come outside their houses with food items for the runners, and to cheer everyone on. The little boy who I shuffled towards looked a bit scared as I took the banana from his hand, but I made sure to grunt a big loud ‘Thank you so much’. I’m sure that banana saved my whole race as a few bites in my brain started feeling a bit normal again. I grabbed the unopened gel from my pocket and ate some of that too. My heart was breaking at how bad I felt, because in my mind I was thinking that there is still no way I am quitting this, but I knew if all I could do was shuffle my time would end up well over 4 hours.
I started to be able to up my strides from a shuffle to a jog. This gave me a buzz as I thought yes, thank god I will not be shuffling the whole way. Then amazingly, at around mile 19 the 3 hour 30 minutes pacer went by me! Even though I still felt absolutely awful, seeing that balloon attached to the pacer bob by with 3:30 on it made me think that under 4 hours is still in reach.
As I came back onto the seafront for mile 23 I saw my family and boyfriend again. This time I was not smiling and waving, my boyfriend looked a bit worried and asked me if I was okay. I did a little head wobble to indicate no, I’m not really okay, but I had to keep going. My average pace for the second half of the race was 9 min miles. I made it across the finish line in 3 hours 42 minutes and 32 seconds. I was over the moon. All the pain went away when my family found me at the finish line and I ate all the snacks from the goodie bag immediately.
So that’s how my first road marathon went and I made some mistakes I will never make again! The lessons I learnt are as follows;
1. PACE YOURSELF WOMAN. Be sensible and plan what you are going to do.
2. Take on some nutrition earlier. Sip a gel before halfway.
3. Plan the dinner for the night before! Get some proper carbs in.
But the most important lesson that has stuck with me from that race is a good one;
- However hard things get and however bad things feel IT WILL PASS, JUST KEEP GOING.
I believe that in life and racing. Every time I feel down or in pain during a race I remember this time when all I could do was shuffle. But I kept going and the rewarding feeling when I crossed that finish line was indescribable. With every little success we have the belief in ourselves grows and that is why I love running races.
Hope you have enjoyed reading that as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Enjoy some pics from the race below and see if you can spot the times I felt great and the times I felt awful!