I arrived with a friend of mine Laura. She is a fast runner. This was her first marathon since she did London in 2002. My approach was to run it in 3 hours 41 minutes. All the things I had read by top athletes said to think positive, visualise the goal and it would be thus. I had run Kilomathon from Nottingham to Derby a month earlier and found it tough, and I remember saying to Laura “everyone seems to be taking this very seriously , don’t they?” As half of the entrants took part in a mass exercise to a radio DJ ahead of the race. The organisers announced also that because of the ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano, some entrants had been unable to reach us, but they had allowed some other stranded runners to join the inaugural Brighton Marathon.
The race was a few minutes late starting and I remember having to take a wee against the back of a portaloo before being helped by the other runners back into the enclosure. Soon we were off with a shuffle and then eventually a run and then a stop. For the first mile or so, it was clear that some people had over estimated their athletic prowess and had predicted vastly over optimistic finishing times. I weaves through all these slow coaches and eventually found my rhythm. The first stretches were slightly undulating and I was keen to keep to the equivalent of 8 minute miles ( I was still working in km back then). I started to struggle at around 8 miles. I slowed it down a little and walked some of the inclines. I managed to go through the half marathon point on marine parade at just 1 hour 55 minutes. I felt that I was going reasonably well, and that I was clearly on for a sub 4 hour marathon if not my original goal of 3 hours 41 minutes.
Eventually I hit mile 16. Desperately had to run into a portaloo and do some business. I picked up again a few minutes later and I was tracking my current pace on my Garmin. I was going slower. I put more coal on the fire. I was still going slower. The more effort I was putting in, the slower I was actually going. I then realised that I was feeling ravenously hungry. I snatched jelly babies from well meaning supporters along the route, remembering to be grateful and thankful to each of them, and I took biscuits and chocolates and shot blocks from the aid tables.
But it was all too late. I had depleted my energy reserves and I could not top them back up quickly enough. Clearly the food poisoning that I had earlier in the week had done more damage than I thought, and my pacing and my view of my overall fitness was delusional. Maybe everyone had been right to say that it was impossible to do a marathon with no real training and only hitting 16 miles as a long run?
I ploughed on. My legs felt like lead. They wouldn’t move. They were so heavy. I was happy to see Susie at around 18 miles (I almost didn’t – she had run off to get an ice cream and only just made it back – I had to scream at her to take the lens cap off the camera to grab a photo of me).
After that brief standing break I felt it almost impossible to get moving again. I got chatting briefly to another guy who motioned with his finger at a glint in the distance. He said “see that… It’s a power station…. We have to run there and back and then still do a few miles to finish.” I refused to believe him. The power station was so far away and we only had 8 miles to finish. It couldn’t be possible. A few miles later I could barely move at all. I ran between pillars of a fence and then walked a section. I kept repeating it. A chap ran past on a switch back and he offered his hand and some magic powers. I took a high five from him. I don’t know what was in those magic powers but they worked. A little.
What followed was a painful, low energy, death march on a desolate bit of course down to the power station and then back along the promenade. The crowds grew once we were on the promenade and they all offered their shouts of encouragement and support. I just wanted to walk but the crowds wouldn’t let me. My stomach was in spasms of cramp. I dived into a public toilet and sat down for 10 minutes. I was unable to make anything happen. I felt sick. I didn’t know that I could complete the marathon. I felt like I was staring death in the face. Seriously. I had never felt so bad in my life.
But I had to move on. I got up. My stomach still contorting my in pain. I shuffled on down the promenade. Again the crowds could sense my pain.
I remember at various points I was encouraged on by other runners and the public. It is amazing how much it helps – especially when a fellow runner can see you struggling. I found it hard not to run for a few minutes after each encounter. I also realised why people were shouting names like Dave – these were heavily felttiped onto runner’s tops. I also saw a few stigmata like marks on some of the runners I passed. Clearly the result of nipple rub. Who forgot the Vaseline or tit tape? Yes. I did. But to be fair – it was Canterbury HALF marathon. It was a hot day. It was hilly. And I was feeling a bit chubby on the day.
I got overtaken by a toilet. I think it was representing a water aid charity. That’s not important. But I did feel a little silly getting loo’d! I also got overtaken by an Elvis in full rhinestone outfit, and a firefighter with full breathing apparatus.
Eventually i passed the 24 mile marker and that gave my brain a message that it was just a small round the block run. I went for it. Maybe it was the delayed reaction of my body to all that sugar.
I managed a sprint at the end and finished under the gantry. I managed 4 hours 41 minutes.
I had no idea where that extra hour came in. No idea at all. Still. I had finished my first marathon ever. Without training.
I wondered where the emotions would come into it. I had read and heard from friends that they had cried at the end of completing a marathon.
I felt nothing. I was pleased to finish. To get my medal. To get my t shirt. To get my fill of water and bananas. Acid then to get the hell out of there back to the bed and breakfast.
I met up with Susie. Found that I couldn’t walk up steps. And then realised that our room for the night was on the top floor and there was not lift. That’s a tip for you….. Make sure you are on the ground floor or your overnight accommodation comes with the added bonus of a lift.
The next morning I came down dressed in my finishers t-shirt and feeling very proud. It took me a while to get down the several flights of stairs but I felt like a real winner. Albeit one who still had to explain an extra hour to everyone I met and that I had had food poisoning, I had hit the wall, that I was overtaken by Elvis and a Toilet and that despite all that I had still come in the top half of all finishers.