My first full marathon – Eden project
Sunday 16th October 2016
Me as a runner
I’m a natural runner. By that I mean I have the ideal build and I really enjoy it. So in some ways, with the growing trend for people doing marathons and triathlons, it’s surprising it’s taken me until now to do one.
One of the reasons is the very fact that I enjoy running so much. The concept of a marathon and so many people’s stories seem to involve hard work, overriding the environment and the messages from your body, and pushing through something. When I go out running I love to give myself the freedom to walk part of the run (especially when it’s a particularly beautiful morning) or even stop and sit for a while. The places I’m lucky enough to train in provide plenty of temptation!
I try to stay connected with how I’m feeling, how my body is feeling and my surroundings – a type of meditation if you like. Every time I find I’m not noticing or enjoying my surroundings (a kind of tunnel vision) I ease back a little. I don’t time my runs, use an App, monitor my heart rate or listen to motivational music. A bit of a ‘purist’.
Then I decided to enter this marathon. Another midlife crisis? The pessimist in me? – I’m nearing 60 and might not want or be able to soon (despite there being a wealth of older running role models!).
I chose this marathon because three years earlier I had run the half marathon at Eden, along with my stepdaughter Hetty and her boyfriend Bailey, and had thoroughly enjoyed it. Tough, hilly, but beautiful landscape and views, much of it on tracks and paths (rather than all on roads) and relatively small. And for some reason I decided I wanted to do it in under four hours – no idea why.
So, four months before the date, I started timing my runs and using an App and pushing myself at times that I wouldn’t have previously.
Hetty and Bailey decided to do the half marathon again, and so with Sally as our “support crew” we all drove to Cornwall in the early hours of Sunday morning. It was a beautiful day, perfect for running (except perhaps for a strong wind).
At 9:30 am the starting gun exploded and we were off!
As I said my target was to do the run in four hours. I had managed to keep to the equivalent of a four hour marathon pace in many of my training runs – but only up to 16 miles. My last run was 21.5 miles at a slower pace than needed. And the marathon would have a lot more off-road sections. So I really wasn’t sure whether my four hours was possible.
I managed to keep the first 2 to 4 miles at what I thought was a reasonably slow pace (it’s so easy to get caught up with the excitement of the race and many first timers go off much too fast). Heading through beautiful scenery: running through golden-turning woods, along the banks of small rivers and then up onto high crests overlooking the wide, bright scenery of South West Cornwall and all its hills.
At 10 miles I started struggling – and as the inevitable thoughts began running round my head I remembered Sally’s coaching before I began “they are only thoughts”.
On the day of my last 21.5 mile run we (Sally) were looking after Joshua – our 10 month old grandson. I finished my run and stood outside the bay windows of our front living room looking in on Sally and Joshua playing inside on the floor. Eventually Joshua noticed me – his face lit up in a lovely wide smile – then he pulled himself up over Sally’s leg, unsteadily standing … and raised his hands above his head with an even wider, open mouth smile!
Over the course of the run I brought this wonderful memory to mind many, many times, and each time it lifted my spirits enormously and filled me with joy! Oh the unconditional love of a child – what a gift!
Almost halfway round I looked at my watch – 11 o’clock! 1½ hours! My mind was foggy and I struggled between the thoughts of “I can’t believe I’m running so fast – this is amazing! I’m going to smash my time of four hours!” and “I’m running too fast – no wonder I’m finding it hard – I need to slow down”.
20 minutes later I looked at my watch again – 11 o’clock !!?? It took me a good few seconds to realise that my watch had stopped – oops. I actually laughed out loud as my head said … “oh-oh – here come a load of thoughts!”.
Checking my phone I realised I was actually on pace for four hours – IF I could keep up the same for the second half … oh.
By now I was overtaking runners who were flagging, and being able to use others to catch up to, drop into an almost restful place behind for 10-20 minutes and then move past them onto the next. Long periods of running on my own.
Two thirds of the way round the going got tougher. One section of climbing up to a tor (beautiful, but!) and running along a narrow path fill of thick, slippery mud and long stretches of shallow water.
Every time the terrain changed – from downhill to uphill or vice versa searing pain shot through my legs – fortunately it never lasted more than a few strides as the different muscles that were suddenly called into play settled in. I felt empty at this stage and yet somehow, each time I saw someone in front my legs responded with something.
And then I was at 20 miles – 6 more to go – the hardest. I was in the ‘tunnel vision’ I mentioned before. The memory of Joshua reaching up to me wasn’t working anymore. And the only other runners I passed looked like they were really struggling. It was interminable. And, I had no idea whether I was going to achieve my target of under four hours. I think I spent 3 miles trying to work out how much distance and time I had left and how to work it all out – grey, cloudy calculations drunkenly running round my head. All I knew is that it was going to be very close – maybe possible – maybe already out of reach. Fuck it. Whatever time, I was close to my target and that felt good ( … as well as a little niggling thought, of course 😉
Finally I saw the domes of the Eden project below me. And only a few short minutes left. I saw a runner in front of me. I sped up, downhill – but he, dishearteningly, just drew further and further away from me.
And then I was there amongst people and barriers and the finish line ahead! And there was Sally in the crowd! I looked back round briefly and then back and I couldn’t see her anymore! – where was she?!! I so wanted to hug her for all the support and encouragement and love and understanding she’d given me over the past months. Where was she? How could I have lost her in those two or three paces?!
And then there she was again, with Hetty and Bailey, and two friends, Stu and Liz – and, for God’s sake!, there was Emily … with Joshua!!! I ran over and held him – as his little face broke into that lovely familiar smile. Seemed like I held him for ages – the video tells otherwise! 🙂
And my time?
Check out the video – you’ll see it there (it’s very short!)
(and thanks to Stu for videoing it!)