Throughout my training journey I was so excited at the thought of being able to sit down and write this post, but in reality it’s taken me over 2 weeks to be ready to start putting pen to paper… or fingers to keypad.
After finishing the race I went into a sort of “OK, it’s done, now let’s not think about it ever again” phase, so writing a race report really didn’t feel too appealing. I don’t know whether it’s normal to build a bubble around such a big achievement or if it’s because I was pretty disappointed with my result, but either way for the last couple of weeks I haven’t really wanted to put the day into words and reflect too much over what went wrong. But, after lots of kind words and encouragement, I realised how silly it is to be disappointed and I am so pleased and proud to have made it to the finish line at all!
I’m also so thrilled to have raised £520 for Macmillan Cancer Support and want to say a huge thank you to everyone who sponsored me – it really does mean so much.
The taper and build up
I’d heard so many people talk about how awful tapering was before a marathon, but until I went through the process myself I didn’t believe the hype. From the outside tapering looks like a lot of fun, with maximum eating and minimum training, but in reality it’s the opposite of fun and I didn’t enjoy it at all. I’ve already written a post on the Taper Terrors, which pretty much covers all the thoughts which crossed my mind in those couple of weeks before the race, but the main one which sticks out was not knowing how much to run (and also feeling horrible stiff and heavy when I did).
I also had some really bad luck leading up to race day, including…
- Putting my back out 10 days before the race
- Catching the office flu, which meant sleeping for 16 hours a night and lying horizontal all day
- Wearing new shoes and rubbing the skin on my heels and side of my feet totally raw 5 days before race day – a rookie mistake and one which is never to be repeated again
All in all, not a great lead up! The only thing which perked me up was going through my plan the night before, and setting out all of my kit for the require flatlay shot
Despite the odds, come race day these issues had pretty much righted themselves, but a week of illness had definitely taken the wind out of my sails and I was less than prepared for the race, both physically and mentally. I’d also spent about £50 on Ibuprofen, plasters and Compeed at this point. Not cool.
I followed the instructions on the event website down to a tee, which recommended arriving at 8am to register. This meant a 5.30am wake-up in London to make our way to Euston before jumping on a train to MK Central and another taxi to the MK Stadium. We ended up at the stadium way too early, before it had even opened, and had already registered and collected everything by 8.10am, which meant almost 2 hours of hanging around before the start, which wasn’t ideal, but at least I didn’t need to panic about missing the start and not being able to nip to the loo first.
I had already resigned myself to the fact that my ‘A goal’ time was horribly out of reach which, although disappointing, definitely helped me to relax on race morning. The last thing I needed was to be focusing on a set time when I was already worried that I wouldn’t even be able to make 10km.
I had predicted my finishing time between 3hr45 and 4hr30, so at 9.30am I made my way towards the Blue Zone, along with the other runners hoping to reach their sub 4/4.30 goal. Although the rest of the race was pretty well organised, the main problem which I had at this stage and throughout the race was not being able to find the pacers. I’d hoped that I would be able to set off just behind the 4hr pacer to help keep a steady pace for the first few miles until I found my rhythm but, alas, they just weren’t anywhere to be seen (although conveniently came haring past me at about the 22 mile stage).
I had told myself again and again not to go off too fast, having heard many a story about the slower you run the faster you finish and my boyfriend had also reminded me of this key point just before I left him to head to the start. He had also conveniently checked out the race profile on the MK website (why, why, why didn’t I do this before?!), which showed a relatively flat course with a nice downhill a couple of miles in and so suggested that when I got to that downhill to just let my legs carry me forwards and not to try and hold back. Off I went.
So, I set off with a fairly set plan in my head, confident that I had a fairly flat course ahead of me and to concentrate on getting to that first downhill. This was all well and good, except for the fact that within the first few km I had already gone up and down more times than I could count and had no idea if I had already got to the downhill bit that I’d been looking forward to. This also meant that every time I got to an incline I thought to myself “oh, well it must just be one more” and so was trying to keep at my target pace even though I was travelling against gravity.
I should also point out at this stage that I had trained almost entirely for a flat course, with only a few hill sessions over the past 4 months. In hindsight this was really silly – even if it had been a flat course, hill training would have added invaluable strength to my legs over those 26.2 miles. This is what is the race profile taken from my Garmin… not exactly flat.
Despite the hills, my pace remained pretty steady up until 19km (between 5:20/km and 6:00/km depending on the incline) with a short 30 walk at 13km to get rid of a stitch. I got to 13.1 miles in 2:00:27 which I was happy with, but I knew in my heart and legs that I didn’t have what was required to keep up that pace. The constant hills had left me exhausted and at this point I couldn’t imagine doing the whole thing all over again, something which was so frustrating, considering I had managed the 32km training run a few weeks before with considerable ease.
I had to walk and call my boyfriend to tell him I was struggling and I cried as soon as I heard him answer. I explained what had happened and he suggested walking for a bit until I had enough energy to carry on, which was a strategy I took up for pretty much the end of the race, along with another tearful call at 32km.
The spread out course makes it difficult for anyone without a car to find a spot to cheer on their loved ones, but I was so pleasantly surprised to find the constant cheering and encouragement came from the residents of each of the little communities we passed through. Luckily I’d remembered to stick my name on to my t-shirt, choosing ‘Olive’ instead of any of my other nicknames, knowing that this was the one which would make me happiest to hear people shout. It really did the trick and although I was exhausted I managed a smile and a thumbs up for every single person who shouted my name, feeling like I was taking a piece of their energy with me to the finish line.
By 34km I was at the point where I could barely run at all: my knees were protesting heavily, my hips felt like they had been dislocated and the pain in my glutes was unlike anything I’ve ever felt. Just when I was at my lowest point a wonderful man called Mark came along and offered to get me through to the finish. He wasn’t looking for a time and just wanted to help me get through to the end. We mixed a few jogs with fast walking and the chatting definitely distracted me from the full body pain.
Once we got over the horrible hill at 38km I knew that we were near the home straight. I decided it would be best to save all of my energy for a big finish, so 38-41km was a consistent walk. As the stadium came back into sight I started a gentle jog, knowing that once we got there there was still another 300m or so around the track.
The feeling of running through the tunnel into the stadium was indiscernible and I was so overwhelmed by the cheering and knowing how close I was to the finish that I immediately burst into tears, not helped by seeing my boyfriend for the first time in 26 miles shouting my name from the stands. After a lap of the stadium the finish line was finally in sight, which was all I needed to spur me on for a sprint finish, even overtaking a couple of people on the way.
The relief of crossing the finish line is a feeling I will never forget and even reflecting on it now makes me feel emotional. Regardless of the time, bad luck, hills and pain I got through it and can now proudly call myself a marathoner. I don’t think I even looked at my watch for a good half an hour after finishing, but when I did it was showing me 4:44:33 and an average pace of 6:44/km. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t disappointed, but it was a lot faster than I had expected when I was really struggling at 21km.
At mile 26 I swore I would never be running another marathon again and by 4pm I was already planning my next one. My only prerequisite? A fast, flat course and weekly hill training!