It’s now Thursday and the emotion and soreness from Sunday’s Windermere marathon are beginning to fade. It was only my second marathon but on both occasions I have been surprised by the emotional rollercoaster before, during and after. The anxiety, doubts and maranoia beforehand. The anticipation of the pre race briefing and start line. The constant inner battle during the race. The utter relief at the finish. The analysis and regrets afterward. Up and down much like the undulating course.
It was a tough race on a course that I completely underestimated. I had dreams of beating my first marathon time set in Chester last October of 3:36:06. I trained well, a few minor illness bumps along the way, but I was disciplined and committed. I ran the 2 ‘worst’ hills on the course in training but I was naive and didn’t consider just how hard it was going to be, just how much the ascents and descents would zap my energy and just how tough it would be over the distance. It was also a lot hotter and more humid than expected (I had 26.2 miles to think up the excuses)!
I started out well and managed to run constantly around the 8 minute mile mark. I even managed mile 8, containing the worst climb on the course in 8:39. I reached the halfway point just ahead of schedule in 1:44:52 but it was after that point that the problems began. Previous runners had spoken of the difficulty of the 3rd quarter, it’s a tough slog that is constantly up and down from Fellfoot Park until Bowness on Windermere. I kept plodding losing a bit of time as I began to doubt and to tire. I was still managing to maintain a pace between 8:30 and 9 minute miles. As I approached 19 miles my old nemesis of stomach cramps reared it’s ugly head. I really need to get to the bottom of what is causing them! The downhills were especially uncomfortable as my insides churned. I was reduced to a walk/run, hoping and praying that something would help. I had psychologically lost it by that point and it took everything within me to not burst into tears and give up when I next saw my family.
I managed to shake off any thoughts of quitting. I had started so I was going to finish and I was going to finish in under 4 hours! I had already seen my gold target of 3:30 and my silver target of 3:45 disappear. The bronze target of sub 4 hours was going nowhere! I was losing around 2 minutes a mile but I calculated that if I kept going at around 10 minute miles I would make it to the finish under the 4 hour target. I played cat and mouse with so many other runners who were struggling. Thankfully the last section of the course is the easiest with no major surprises or difficult sections. The closer I got to the finish the more I rallied. The driveway (which is uphill) was a welcome sight and I was able to encourage another struggling runner to make one final push with me to the finish. He did finish ahead of me but I’ll forgive him as we had a moment whilst grabbing water and bananas.
I didn’t know what to do when I’d crossed the finish line. I felt sick and didn’t know whether to feed or hydrate and settled for a lie down. It took a while, some food and drink before I returned to normality. In the immediate aftermath of the race I was disappointed with myself for not pushing harder and getting nowhere near my official target. Perspective was needed and with that came the sense of achievement and the realisation of what I’d achieved. This was a very different challenge to my first Marathon in Chester as as such required different targets. My finish time of 3:53:50 placed me in the top 200 of 1300 runners such is the difficulty of the course. Too often I obsess so much on time that I lose sight of the fact that I ran 26.2miles and that in itself, regardless of time, is an epic achievement. It was only 2 years ago that I was 4 stone heavier and unable to run a mile! Back then a marathon at any speed was an unreachable dream, something others did, not me.
Time now to recover before starting my next Marathon training block for Chester in October. It’s also time to think about the next challenge and to work seriously on nutrition and hydration. Who knew something so challenging could be so addictive!? I only wish I’d found running sooner.