So the big one has been and gone. It feels like I’ve been waiting for this race to come around forever. I booked it in early September 2015 a few weeks after my first marathon, which hadn’t gone according to plan and I was trying to get back on the horse again. But within a few weeks of booking that I ‘d signed up to the Phoenix Riverside Marathon, then ran a full marathon in training (which went a lot better than my first race at the distance), and then ran the Phoenix race in September in a spritely(-ish) new PB time.
And within a few weeks of running there I picked up my injury over Christmas and have been moaning ever since; about the good ol’days when my knee/hip didn’t hurt, I had a full head of hair and could remember things without having to write them on post-it notes. After finally sorting the problem (erm maybe) Roadrunner for me then was the start of a new golden era of running, where I wasn’t stuck indoors waiting for my body to pull itself together and stop being a plonker…
The night before the race was a bit tense in our house; we had been to Gravesend Cyclopark that night to collect our running numbers and wristbands (to count off the 21 laps we would have in front of us) and look at the steeper than expected slope that we would have to climb at the end of each lap (21 times. Did I mentioned that?). Claire was running this as her first marathon so was understandably a bit nervous. I was bricking it as I was worried about my knee/hip, my lack of training and that hill we would have to climb up every lap (21 times you know). That brought back memories of my first marathon where high winds and a cliff-like hill (that had to be climbed 8 times) had broken me. I always get nervous before a race but all the uncertainty made me worse then usual.
After a fitful night’s sleep we were up nice and early to eat and hydrate, have my customary three toilet visit pre-race ritual and get a lift from Claire’s dad to the race. That meant we arrived in good time to set ourselves up on the course. That involved creating our own bespoke drinks station on the course, made from a camping chair, cool bag full of sugar and salt, and rucksacks full of unnecessary clothes and accessories. The food we brought was to go alongside the provision the lovely organisers would provide on the course, but it was great to have your own stuff in easy reach and reassuring for slightly frazzled minds. It also meant we got caught in the first rain of the morning as we set up camp, but that’s why you bring a hat and black bags to cover your stuff.
After the usual queuing to get to the loo (fellow runners; please tell people when the urinals are free while you wait to use the cubicles!) we watched everyone else mill about (some dressed as horses and cavemen) and tried to stay calm. Claire’s nerves had increased, so I tried to be reassuring and remind her of the key things (slow and steady, remember to eat and drink, don’t fall over) but I was mostly talking inane rubbish to cover my own nerves and was trying to not start a full blown babbling breakdown. With a few minutes to go we joined the throngs at the starting area and failed to hear any of the pre-race announcements or instructions, which appeared to be shouted through a loo roll holder by someone in need of a good sneeze.
With a few brief words of encouragement for each other the race started and we set off for the first ‘mini lap’ before hitting the first of 20 full laps of the cyclopark. Claire, quite wisely, likes to set an A, B or C goal for each race to give herself a number of targets to hit. Pre-race my thoughts were to cover the distance, not break anything and enjoy it. But I needed something a bit more concrete to work around so decided on; A) get in under 4 hours, B) beat my first marathon time of 4:02:29 or C) not die. I duly set off at 9 minute mile pace, as that would give a few minutes to spare for pit stops and walk breaks etc. With the first mini lap done the field was nicely strung out and there was lots of room on the wide tarmac course to get into a rhythm.
The nature of the laps meant you got to see lots of people going past on the other side of the course and so I duly kept an eye out for Claire, and was able to see her lots of times and shout and waving hysterically and act like a loon. The laps also meant I could ditch my top at our little station and take on a quick drink. I probably didn’t need that though as within a few laps I had to pee urgently, so I ducked into the urinals at the toilet station and pee’d in urgent, concentrated silence with some uncomfortably close fellow runners before sprinting off again in the a weird version of an F1 pit stop (engine noises optional).
I had found a good rhythm after a few laps and had worked out where to accelerate to take advantage of the down hills and where to gear down so as to not overcook things on the slope up past the aid station and start/finish line. Claire’s mum had just missed the start but was there for the end of the first lap near race HQ, and she stayed for the whole race (bless her) and it was nice to have someone to wave at and try and make jokes with as I trundled past and gave even more of a rhythm to the race. My mind kept trying to think about how I was going to hold together and getting under 4 hours, but I tried to calm myself and focus on what I was doing and not look past that mile or lap.
I’m not sure when, I think it was about 6 or 7 laps in, but I decided to ditch my hat as it was making my head hot. 2oo meteres further along however the heavens opened and it poured down for a good 20-30 minutes. Lovely. It was good for keeping us cool but not for my face, and fears of Joggers’ Nipple increased dramatically. Luckily that didn’t arise (and I’m thankful to the running gods for that). Possibly with the onset of wet conditions though my groin/hip started to get sore. Fortunately it wasn’t my knee, but was a new sensation of tightness and pulling that I hadn’t had before. It was soreness rather than pain however at this stage so I just tried to ignore it, and it didn’t seem to affect my pace as I stuck to 8:40ish miles despite the odd stop.
I kept an eye out for Claire and shouted encouragement whenever I saw her, which was a little boost and distraction every time (I was probably just annoying her). I kept on chugging along and picked up some SIS energy bars along the way to keep my energy up and added some electrolyte drink to that from my drinks station and water from the aid station every so often and the occasional stretch. The slope was still runnable, but was getting more noticeable after each lap. As we ran the marshals did a great job of offering encouragement, and supplies. The race also had a ‘Backwards Runner’, Matt, who was running the course in reverse. He was there to offer encouragement and keep an eye out for any issues that might occur away from the sight of marshals. He did an awesome job of clapping and shouting everyone on (and I mean everyone), all whilst running his own marathon and more! I also saw Jon Moreton who was running at Roadrunner, who I meet at my first marathon. He’s a Rebel Runner, and running 12 marathons in 12 months and was on number 7 at the Cyclopark. It was good to see him and was another boost to have someone else to say hello to.
At about the half way mark I was feeling quite good in terms of my breathing and legs, but my groin was getting progressively sorer, particularly after the climb at the end of each lap. I also went past Claire around then and she seemed a bit down and said she felt a bit ropey. I told her to eat and drink something and just keep going, and took on some more food myself. At the bottom of the course I went past the ‘music section’ where speakers were blaring out music for our entertainment. They had already played a lot of Bowie, but as I got there this time they were playing ‘Heroes’ and it immediately made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I immediately felt energised and my motivation suddenly picked up. I could do this, I just needed to stay strong. The pep talk seemed to work as the next 5 laps or so (7ish miles) seemed to fly by, and at a good pace. Claire also seemed to be over her bad patch and more determined than ever to get to the finish.
Lap after lap went by and I got used to seeing the same people lapping me, and passing the same set of people myself. The rain was gone and the clouds began to lift, and the sun decided to turn up. The start/finish line was well attended by supporters who kindly shouted encouragement and picked out names off of our running numbers, and Claire’s mum was still gamely clapping us on despite the rain, wind and now increasing strong sun. It was far from monotonous with all the distractions, but the climb at the end of the lap was frankly beginning to get on my tits.
I think it was the growing heat alongside my lack of training that made things go a bit wobbly at the 20 mile mark. I felt my legs start to weaken a bit with hitting the wall and my breathing started to increase, and my groin was now starting to burn. Thankfully I was expecting the inevitable slump and was quite calm, in fact I was quite pleased with how well I had run to that point on half the training I wanted to do. I took on a caffeinated energy gel and some extra strong electrolyte drink (prepared just for that situation) and just told myself to keep moving forward and get through to the other side. My pace did decrease from here on in but not drastically so (to over 9:00 minute mile pace) and that was with having to walk the steepest 50 yard section of the hill at the end of each lap as it was just burning my legs and not any faster than a powerwalk.
I was frantically trying to figure out how many laps I had left as I sensed myself beginning to slow down (there were screens at end of each lap that displayed how many you had done, but my addled brain and the fact that your name moved down the list as others crossed the timing mats behind you meant I couldn’t always keep a check on it). I hadn’t used the band system offered because it would have given me something else to worry about so was going off my watch, which with a few laps to go and much laboured thought on my part pointed to the course being a bit long. It was probably a combination of my Garmin not being able to cope with some of the tight turns we were making, but also the extra ground covered going round runners and heading off to the loo and our drinks station etc. Either way my legs were getting close to cramping and my groin was now aflame, and I could feel my form start to disintegrate. I resolved not to panic and just kept my legs moving and tried to be gentle on the down hills and inclines, so as to not send anything into meltdown.
My watch had me pass the marathon distance about a third of the way into my final lap (just as I went past the loos; nice) in around 3:53. But that didn’t mean anything, I wanted an official finish time of under 4 hours so needed to get a wriggle on. I gingerly picked the pace up and tried to stay relaxed at the same time, running all the way up the git of a hill to the finish. Fortuitously Claire was finishing a lap in front of me and as I came up the hill she shouted me on and I put everything into the final 200m or so to the finish just off to the side of the main course. I somehow managed a 8:30 mile to finish (which wasn’t bad with that hill and wonky legs). I crossed the line for an official time of 3:59:19. I’d done it!
I was knackered and a bit wobbly on my feet at the finish, but was able to scream at Claire to keep going, get my timing chip off and collect my race goodies without falling over or vomiting on any passers-by. I then lined up to get my truly awesome medal and a free beer, before getting a free finishers photo of my funny looking face being all smug and flushed. It was in a bit of daze to be honest but just being able to stand about brought some relief. I caught up with Judy who was still there, now focusing all her support on Claire and I trundled round to our drinks station to get some fluid and food and put some spare clothes and sun cream on.
I alternated then between eating everything we had in our cool bag, cheering on other runners and chatting with Judy. I also shouted encouragement to Claire and passed her sugar and drinks,
a visor for the sun that was now burning happily away and a spare watch to replace her dying one. Claire has written her own blog about how her race went (it’s much better written and funnier than this) but I got to see a lot of her race. She worked really hard to keep going when things got rough, and then ploughed on and kept churning out of the miles. It was her first marathon and her training had taken her to 20 miles, but she kept going through that mark and if anything looked stronger and more relaxed late in the race. It might have been the relief that she was going to finish, and well before the 6 hour cut-off she was worried about (for the record I always thought she would do it), but she finished very strongly and looked and said she felt capable of more! She did awesome and it was fantastic to see her cross the finish line, to see the relief and the pride in what she had done. It was lovely that she could share that with her mum and her dad too (who had come back just in time to see her finish and kindly get us home). There may have been some tears and light body-poppin’…
All in all, it was a good morning’s work. The race was great; a lovely atmosphere, well organised and marshalled, a fantastic medal, with lots of nice extras (like the free photos, buff and beer given at the finish). I would definitely recommend to others, with the proviso that it might be worth preparing for that hill in your training! There’s actually a sister run, the Kent Coyote Marathon, which takes place at the Cyclopark in mid-September but with the race run in the other direction. I tempted, by the medal if nothing else, but think I will try now and get my body sorted first (properly) and then make plans after. Me and Claire have the Harvel 5 run tomorrow (I can’t remember why we booked it), but are both treating this as a very glamorous recovery run rather than a race as we still feel a bit knackered. It should be good though, as we’ve enjoyed it the last few years and two of our friends are doing it as their first ever race.
Anyway I will bore you with that another time, better get back to pretending to work! Thanks for listening. Adam 🙂