You know you’re having a bad race when someone running in flip flops overtakes you. Then a runner in a mankini. You get the gist.
Funny, because I’d taken training for this race a lot more seriously than for previous marathons. Following a proper plan, putting in numerous 20+ mile training runs, incorporating regular interval and tempo runs. I even shunned alcohol for the final two weeks before the race, although this decision was probably borne more out of superstition than logic. These may sound like normal things to do when training for a marathon. I only mention them because for my previous four marathons, I must confess I’d never ran more than 16 miles in training. I even ran a personal best time the week after drinking my body weight in free alcohol at a friend’s wedding and spending the next day in bed with a stinking hangover.
So this time I felt like I’d nailed the pre-race prep. Come race day, conditions were perfect. The sun was out and the blustery wind had dropped. My pre-race nerves had almost dissipated come Friday evening when I visited the expo. I even managed to avoid buying any new running gear (bar some bargain Clif shot blocks). I was finally getting excited about race day. After some pre-race baking, bike cleaning and nail-painting (in that order) to keep myself distracted on Saturday, I couldn’t have felt more ready.
Making my way to the start area on race morning in the glorious sunshine, I felt as ready as you can ever feel when about to embark on 26.2 miles. Chatting to a fellow runner in my start pen, I barely noticed the clock tick over to 10:00 and the muffled start horn sound.
For the first six miles of the race the course was busy and I was swept along by other runners. The seven minute-mile pace I was aiming for felt comfortable and I fell into a rhythm, both physically and mentally.
But by mile nine, I felt a dull ache in my thighs. Nothing as serious as an injury, just the onset of fatigue. It felt too early for that and I mentally consoled myself. You’ve done 23 mile runs in training! You can do this. Then I spotted my husband, who’d started the race in a different start area, about 20 metres ahead of me. I tried to call out to him but he didn’t hear.
With hindsight, this was where the mental cracks started to open and self-doubt set in. Knowing I still had over 15 miles to run, alone. Forcing down water and energy gels in an attempt to fuel my body just resulted in a nauseous feeling in my stomach. I chanted, “dig deep” over and over in my head. But as I saw the 3:15 pace maker pass me around the 19 mile mark, I knew that not only had my race goal slipped away, a PB seemed unlikely too.
I promised myself I wouldn’t dwell on the negatives. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with my time and performance. That I didn’t break down when I met my husband on the finish line. I wanted to put on a brave face, but emotions got the better of me.
Because there are so many positives to be drawn from the day. The race organisation was faultless and the privilege of taking part cannot be put into words. The atmosphere was incredible and the wall of sound created by supporters was indescribable. I only wish I could individually thank everyone that came out to cheer on runners, not to mention the volunteers that made the race possible. I am also incredibly grateful to friends and family for their patience and support in the lead up to the marathon and on race day (especially my Mum for standing guard when I had to lie down on the pub floor under a fruit machine, post-race, when the nausea resurged unexpectedly!).
It also helped give me perspective on what running is really about. It reminded me that it is a distance to be respected. It is a massive undertaking and an incredible achievement just to finish a marathon.
So a huge well done to everyone that ran the London Marathon yesterday. I really hope it was everything you wanted it to be.