Adventure Running

Marathon (Wo)Man

Sunday 14 April was a momentous day for me. It was the day I ran a real life actual marathon. All 26.2 miles of it!

I was lucky enough to be running with my very own personal trainer, nutritionist and cheer-squad – in the form of Alex! Although he hadn’t done much running training (whereas I had done LOTS) he had decided to run too and would be there by my side the whole time. Phew! (And bless!)

Royal Pavilion
Elite runners at the Royal Pavilion

Alex and I had stayed in Brighton the night before, so on the big day we got up, ate some porridge, put on our charity running vests (Fight for Sight for me; Prostate Cancer UK for Alex),¬† and walked over to Preston Park for the start of the race. Almost as soon as we got there we bumped into my sister’s friend Jon who was also running – a massive coincidence when you consider there were 10,000 runners milling around!

We managed to time everything to perfection so that even after Alex checked our bag and I had a final toilet stop, we still got to the front of our corral. This meant we started right behind the 4:30 pacers, which was to prove critical for the rest of the run!

At 9.10am on the dot the moment I had been waiting for with a mixture of dread and excitement for months on end was finally here – we were crossing the start line and I was running a marathon!

For ages we stayed really close to the 4:30 pacers. It felt like I was running much faster than usual (which is a scary feeling when you have so many miles to cover!), but I went with it, spurred on by the thought that a finish time under my initial goal of 4:45 might actually be possible…

Sheila and Clive
Sheila and Clive running in 2011

We looped around the centre of Brighton for a bit, before heading down to the seafront and running east towards Ovingdean – up hill most of the way! At this point some of the elite athletes were passing us going in the opposite direction. Frustrating though it was knowing that they were so much further ahead, it was also very inspiring.

Around mile 9 we finally turned around and starting heading back west along the seafront. I don’t remember much about miles 9 to 12, except that we saw the oldest pair running together, Clive and Sheila Harburn, who were 70 and 74 years old! And we also saw some fire fighters who were running together carrying a ridiculously heavy ladder. Amazing stuff.

Mile 13 was a special one for many reasons. Not only did it mark the half way point of the run, but it was also the place where I saw (and heard!) my friends Kelly, Sian, Emily and Lucy, who had come down to cheer me on! And I also saw the Fight for Sight cheering station, which provided a helpful reminder as to why I was running at all. Unfortunately I didn’t see my parents, who were cheering me on somewhere near the Hilton, but knowing they were nearby still had a very positive effect on me! And amazingly, it was also around this time that the elite men were passing us on their way to the finish line (already!)

Me at mile 13
Me at mile 13

Next we left the seafront and veered inland a bit. It felt very bustly here, and even though we lost the 4:30 pacers, I was helped along by the sound of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 blasting from some speakers! There were loads of people lining the streets here, with little children handing out jelly babies and high fives to every passing runner. But next we were entering the part of the race we’d been warned to dread – the Portslade industrial estate section around mile 20, also known as the Saucony Road to Hell! Everyone had said this was the worst part of the race, because it’s out on a limb so there aren’t many spectators, plus it’s around this point that many runners start to hit The Wall…

But miraculously it wasn’t too bad! The organisers had made a real effort to get some crowds there, plus there were loads of Scope supporters cheering everyone on, and a steel band! In no time at all we were leaving industrial zone for the seafront again (sounds a bit like the Crystal Maze!). The sun was out, the end was almost in sight, and this time I did see my parents, which was brilliant!

Emma in Brighton
Emma – Brighton Marathon finisher!

The final couple of miles went by in a blur. I remember having a realisation as we passed some brightly coloured beach huts that I had run over 23 miles and hadn’t actually hit The Wall! This had to be down to Alex, who had kept me hydrated, energized and motivated the whole time. Without him, it would have been a very different experience!

By now the finish line was visible and the crowds were going wild! I attempted a little sprint for the last few hundred metres, but in reality I don’t think I actually moved any faster at all! Crossing the finish line was one of the best moments of my whole life. I felt so happy and emotional, and so grateful to Alex for keeping me going and helping me reach a time I never thought I’d achieve – 4 hours and 35 minutes.

Now I can sit back and relax knowing I’ve achieved a massive ambition – I ran a marathon before my 30th birthday in a time I feel proud of. And I actually enjoyed the experience!

(Never again though!)

Running Travel/holiday

Why this isn’t a running blog

Finish certificate
Half marathon finish certificate

Last October I ran my first half marathon, which was amazing enough on its own given how much I dislike running! But about a week before the race I did something even more crazy – I signed up to run the Brighton Marathon in April 2013.

I had thought about writing a marathon training blog, as it’s something I’ve seen lots of other runners do so their friends can follow their progress. But it soon became apparent that every single blog post would say something along the lines of this:

Went for a run. Hated every minute of it. Legs were sore.

And who would want to read that 4 or 5 times a week for the duration of a 16 week marathon training schedule? The answer is no one!

But I did do something fairly interesting during my marathon training – I went to Portugal on a marathon training camp! And handily they also had a duathlon training camp, so Alex could come with me and cycle to his heart’s content!

A rare moment of sunshine
A rare moment of sunshine

So on 21 March we headed off to Faro with one bike and one suitcase full of lycra! It turned out that the Algarve was experiencing more rain than ever before, but at least it was warmer than the unseasonably cold London we had left behind.

On our first afternoon we met our coaches for the week: Mike Gratton, who won the London Marathon in 1983 and since founded his own running company, 2:09 Events; and Phoebe and Nick from RunningWithUs, who I’d already come across a couple of times at Brighton Marathon training events. Without further ado we went for a 5 mile run down a dirt track towards the beach, passing countless other runners along the way (some of whom seemed pretty good!)

Saturday was the day for our long run, and unfortunately it poured with rain the whole time. Luckily I was running with a new friend called Kathy who was training for London, and we found a good pace and kept each other’s spirits up! I was aiming for 20 miles which would have been my furthest ever run, but in the end I called it a day at 18 miles – soaked through and aching all over!

A tired Alex from cycling
A tired Alex from cycling

Alex was also having a pretty exhausting time of it. He was cycling miles and miles every day, often up some seriously steep hills. He’d be gone for hours, whereas my running training tended to only last an hour in the morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon. So I kept myself entertained by sunbathing (during the brief times when it wasn’t raining!) and doing sessions like pilates, yoga and core work. While Alex was cycling I also went on some day trips with the other runners. One of them was to a Nike factory store, where I treated myself to a new head band! And on another trip with Kathy I discovered something that I probably should have already known, or at least been able to guess – that Port comes from Portugal!

Most of the runs passed without event, except for the climax of the week – the cross country competition. Everyone on the training camp got involved in this ‘handicap race’, with the slowest runners starting first and the fastest runners starting last, with the aim that somehow everything would end up balancing out. The slowest runner was 79 (but he looked more like 90, bless him), so he started off a good half an hour before everyone else. Needless to say I was one of the next slowest runners! Everything was fine at first, until my leg cramped going up a steep hill half way through the first lap. I’ve never really run cross country before so it’s probably not surprising that my body objected to the experience, but the leg cramp was so painful that I was in tears! At that moment Alex came by (having already caught me up despite starting much later!), and he stopped to see how I was. He then ran with me for the rest of the course, meaning he ended up finishing last – much to the surprise of the 79 year old who was expecting to be the slowest even with his 30 minute head-start!

I returned home from the training camp feeling exhausted but pleased that I had met so many other runners and learnt some new skills to help me during my marathon – which was now just over 2 weeks away…