Sunday, 24 March 2013

I'm a marathon runner

It’s official - I’m a marathon runner! Yes, I did it! It was the toughest thing imaginable, but I ran the entire 26.2 miles. They say a marathon only starts at mile 20 and that’s certainly true - the last six miles last Saturday were hell on earth. 
But the sheer joy and elation of crossing the line just can’t be explained. I’ve been trying to think of words all weekend to describe how I felt when - five hours, four minutes and 45 seconds after starting - I ran through the finish at the back of the Ashe Memorial Hall.
Happiness, sadness, relief, pride - every emotion you can think of, all mixed together.
And there were tears.
I crossed that finishing line in spectacular fashion, collapsing in a heap and crying like a baby. But I couldn’t control it. I think the entire finish was overwhelming - I’d  pushed myself to the limit for over five hours, and when I saw the finish, I just broke down. 
The months of hard work, the early morning runs, the alcohol ban, the healthy eating, the missed weekends out with friends because of training - and most of all the mental strength needed just to make myself finish - all combined to overwhelm me, and I couldn’t stop crying. 
Truthfully, I think I started to cry at mile 22, after I separated from the group and I had to fight to continue. 
That’s something you learn on the way: a marathon is more about making yourself believe you can do it than the actual run itself. 
Crossing the line is still a bit of a blur. I collapsed, cried, got up and composed myself, and then was on such a high I don’t know who I talked to.
But it was absolutely wonderful to see all the ‘Born to Run’ members there - mainly because at least they knew what we had just been through. 
Since then, we’ve talked and talked about the ups and downs of the day, the good parts and the bad, and many of us are disappointed or upset that we didn’t do as well as we’d hoped. 
But I think maybe we’re being too hard on ourselves. We’re marathon runners now. It doesn’t matter whether we walked or ran or crawled the 26.2 miles - we did it!
When I began training last November, I had only ever run six miles. Now I can run 26.2 miles. The official time sheet doesn’t lie: I did it in 5.04.45, to be exact. 
I’d hoped to be home in about five hours, so happy days! And I managed to make the entire distance without walking and of it,  although how, I’ll never know. I literally gritted my teeth from mile 21, balled my hands into two fists, and drew on all my willpower to get through. It was the toughest thing ever. I never even knew I had it in me to dig that deep.
Lining up at that start line had been amazing - I felt great, the crowds were all there to cheer us on - and believe me, that really helped. It still means so much to us that everyone came out to see and support us.  
The first few miles are a bit of a blur, mainly because you feel like a star with everyone shouting for you!
The first six miles to Ardfert weren’t that bad. The Born to Run club stuck together, and that got us through. 
It actually took a while to settle in to the run with the nerves but once we hit Ardfert, we knew the route so well that it felt just like a training run. 
There is a lot to be said for knowing the route, as it doesn’t seem as long, so thankfully as far as the Oyster Tavern was familiar territory.  
Barrow Hill was actually not too bad, in fairness. It’s short and sweet, and our pacers were a great support along the way. 
There were up and downs along the way, of course. Around mile 12 and 13, I was wrecked, but I got over that tiredness with Jaffa cakes and jelly beans, and the music coming into Fenit at mile 14 and 15 spurred us on for another while.
I actually was fine again until I hit the Oyster Tavern in The Spa, although the hills coming up towards there were hard. 
The stretch from Fenit to the Oyster Tavern was not as bad as I feared although I’m not sure I remember it all. 
I began to struggle coming towards the Oyster, but by the time I turned off to The Kerries I had lost the pacer, and that was where I started to get into real difficulty. 
I think this was probably what set me back most. I was on my own and I thought I was way behind. 
From the turn into The Kerries until we turned left into Lohercannon was torture -  so long and boring, and by the time I reached the tax office I felt like I had been running for days. 
Knockmoyle was awful, and all the way to the Lough gates was even worse, but running along the Canal was like running in No Man’s Land. There was nobody anywhere! 
This section was the longest and loneliest run of my life. I nearly felt like jumping in just to end the marathon - but of course I had to finish. I literally had my hands balled into fists chanting to myself while crying. 
I had hit the infamous ‘wall’ at mile 21. And it nearly finished me. 
But in between the tears, I had to psych myself up one more time to keep going, focusing on every step to make myself run.
At one stage, I was nearly hyper-ventilating and I thought I couldn’t continue. But I kept talking to myself to make it through. 
There were people along the route cheering us on, and it was absolutely fantastic of them, but at one point I wanted to kill them all! Had they any idea of the pain I was in? 
I thought I must be at least an hour behind the five hour pacer, and that really got to me then. 
I was too afraid to look at my watch in case it was six or seven hours, so I just kept pushing myself until the end. 
Actually, at one stage thought I was lost, which was why when we turned into James Street and the Brandon, it was a massive relief to see people and know the end was in sight. 
And when I saw 5.05 on the clock, I thought the clock must be wrong. Surely I had been running longer? It certainly felt that way.  
Now, days later, I still can’t remember much of what happened on the day. And I know I can never have a first marathon again, which is so disappointing! I already envy all those who’ll be starting out again next August as first-timers. 
I can still remember my first 10 miles, my half marathon, the 16 miles, the 18 miles and the 21 miles. I’m actually jealous of anyone starting out for the first time! 
But you know what? Even though Saturday was the toughest thing I’ve ever done, physically and mentally, I’d do it all over again in a flash.
That’s how good it was. That’s how good it felt to finish.
When I was coming down the canal I swore I wouldn’t do it again, but two days after finishing the marathon, I was already looking for a new challenge. I’ve always told the truth in my blog and I will admit at times it was torture - but it’s all worth it.
The past few days I have been reflecting on the whole process from last November to now and I am finding it hard to believe I’m here. 
It has been a long journey, but despite all the difficulties I wouldn’t change it. Someone told me to enjoy my first marathon, as I’d never have another first one, and they’re right, which is actually really upsetting. 
Everyone keeps asking if I’m elated, and to be honest I thought I would be on more of a high. But I think the downer is probably because I’m sad it’s all over. 
But I would urge anyone thinking of doing the marathon to get out and try it. 
Yes, it’s is going to be tough, and yes there will be pain. But nothing in life is easy. 
Marcus Howlett told me it would change my life, and I laughed at him. I thought he was half-mad. But he was right. Training for - and then doing - a marathon is life-changing. I’m fitter, more confident, I’ve made great friends, and I have a new outlook in life. 
And I know my marathon-running days are only beginning and I am even considering a triathlon.
I also want to say a quick thanks to everyone who have read my blog over the past few months. It meant so much when people came up to say they loved my blog, and I hope that it will encourage people to do a marathon.
Last, but certainly not least, thanks to the ‘Born to Run Marathon Club, which helped me cross that finish line.
And of course to Marcus Howlett and Jim McNeice, who encouraged me to get involved, and here I am - a marathon runner!

Monday, 11 March 2013

The end is in sight

I’m getting kind of nervous now as the big day comes close. I can’t believe it’s finally here. I’ve lived and breathed the marathon since last November, so it is very strange that it is coming to an end. 
My whole life has been about the marathon and in one way I’m glad the finishing line is in sight, as I am tired from it all. But at the same time, I’m very sad it’s come to an end. 
I honestly think I have the post-marathon blues even before it’s over! 
I didn’t ever think I’d be saying that when I started last November. I’m not even sure that I thought I would be here, and certainly not as dedicated to training. I’ve rarely missed one, and even fitted in a run when I couldn’t meet the group. 
It will, of course, be nice to be able to go out for a night when I want to, but truthfully I’m not all that excited. 
I have to admit that I have loved training and I’m really delighted to be running my first ever marathon. I still have trouble believing I am going to run 26.2 miles but apparently I am. 
I really am advocating taking up running - even if it is just shorter distances. It is great for getting fit, you can eat what you want when you’re training, and most importantly, there is great sense of achievement. 
Everyone I meet says that they can’t do a marathon - but if I can do it, then anybody can: all you have to do is train. 
One of my final long runs was 12 miles and to truthfully it seemed quite short - a far cry from the first 12 miles I did, according to my diary. I can still remember struggling my way through and wondering if I’d ever do it. 
I actually did this twelve on the same route as my first one at Christmas, and the difference was unreal.
In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that I’m much fitter. I would have struggled more previously but I feel faster and stronger now. Actually I have noticed my thighs and legs are indeed muscular. I’m still trying to decide if that is good or bad but it’s probably a sign of fitness at least! 
This week is only three four milers and one five miles, and my very last long run of eight miles on Saturday. 
No more getting up at 6am! This is at the reasonable time of 9am  but in fact I think I will miss the routine of my early morning run. 
I didn’t think I’d ever say that. I still remember getting up at 8am one morning in the beginning for a run and nearly dying of shock. Before this, I never got out of bed on Saturday before 10 or 11am, but I’ve been getting up at 6am pretty much since Christmas to go training. 
God, my life has changed.  
With the countdown officially now I am trying to follow all the rules - eat lots of carbohydrates, drink plenty of water and rest - to be ready for March 16th. 
And I keep dreaming I’m going to get lost on the marathon route. I’ve already had this dream at least three times in the past week. 
I actually dreamt that I was running along doing well, when someone came up to me and asked what I was doing. 
When I said the marathon they told I should have turned the other way and I was miles from the finish line. 
I hope it’s just a dream and that I don’t get lost. To be fair, my sense of direction is pretty poor, so this dream has merit! 
Well there are only days to go now, so I must do it nerves and all, but hopefully training will stand to me and I will cross that finish line on March 16th.