Posts Tagged With: confidence

Hathersage Turtle or Hathersage Hurt? Run it, walk it, love it! Hurtling through the peaks.

Digested read: Last saturday, I hurtled round Hathersage.  I say ‘hurtled’ but what I actually mean is I walked, but for 20 miles (ish), and you know what, it was lovely!  Corker of an event with fabulous views and the option of eating your body weight in cake (vegan options available).  Pathologically friendly organisers, cheery marshals, good parking, guaranteed sunshine* and you can either run or walk depending on your preferences – though you do need to decide in advance.  What’s not to like?  Fun** guaranteed!  Miss it, miss out.  You have been warned.

*maybe not that

**type two fun also available

HH shot

Saturday 19th May 2018 will be immortalised in history due to event memorabilia.  Quite right too, mementos of special events are to be treasured.  I went home after this one with one of these:

Whilst I’d be the first to concede orange isn’t really my colour, I still consider this vestment infinitely more wearable than the alternative event’s souvenir clothing options.

royal wedding swimwear

Apart from anything else, I don’t know where you’d be able to pin your race number?  There is a bikini option available as well to be fair, but I doubt that it would provide the same level of support as a proper sports bra, so that’s a definite ‘no’ from me.  I’m sure the merchandise marketers will be devastated to hear this.  Still, I care little for their feelings, I knew where I’d rather be.

So, on this auspicious day t’was the Hathersage Hurtle.  It’s only the second time this even has taken place, so I reckon I can be forgiven for being a bit vague about what I’d signed up for in advance.  I signed up for it back in February sometime, blooming ages ago, without particularly concentrating.  In the way that many of us do sign up for events in the midst of winter, fondly imagining by the time they come round we will have trained to a peak of fitness that was previously beyond our wildest imaginings.  ‘Oh that’s ages away’ I must have thought, ‘I’ll have smashed the London marathon   by then’ I must have elaborated, ‘recovered from it too!  Yep, go me and a 20 mile trail run with 2,500 foot of ascent.  What could possibly go wrong? It need hold no fear for me.‘  What actually happened was I completely forgot I entered.  I did get around London, but it was very hot, and afterwards my shins were very ouchy (which for the record might not be an official medical term, but most certainly should be).  Consequently, I’d only really done a parkrun in the weeks that followed, and then when I vaguely registered that I had entered this Hathersage Turtle thingamajig, I initially fondly imagined it would be just a nice little trail trot round some picturesque paths somewhere, 4 miles tops.  I nearly had heart failure when a bit of research told me that I’d actually signed up for this:

The Hathersage Hurtle is an exciting new event in the Hope Valleycovering 20 miles and 2,500 feet of ascent, a challenging course that you can run or walk. It will start and finish in Hathersage with walkers setting off before a mass start for the runners at 10am. There will behot drinks available at the start and lovely home-baked cakes at the finish.

Ooops.  Then again, there was a walking option.  I decided running wasn’t really on the cards for me, ouchy shins and all,  so got in touch with the organisers, who for the record are absolutely lovely.  Well the one who wrote to me was, I suppose I should treat that as illustrative evidence not necessarily conclusive proof that they all are.  … anyway, she basically told me that London was all well and good, but this event would have better views and more cake, plus, no problem with joining the walkers if I wished. Hurrah, that’s what I’d do then.  Plus, I’d get my t-shirt.  That’s the thing about knowing which events to sign up to, it helps if you have sufficient insight to understand what motivates you. Failing that, it helps if the organisers use their skill and judgement to lay on the most populist lowest common denominator to draw participants in, which increasingly – I’m glad to say – has been shown to be cake.   The only downside of all this was that the event takes place on a Saturday, so that would mean sacrificing parkrun, but hey ho, parkrun is here to stay, and I can get my fix again next week.  Bring it on.

The day dawned, glorious sunshine.  It was going to be a scorcher.  It was a bit weird going to a run event as a walker, but good weird.  Zero pressure, in fact, I was a bit too chilled about it, and on the morning suddenly realised I’d not packed up my running belt.   I had no idea about water stations, or kit.  I was expecting it to be hot out there, but equally, it’s exposed and conditions can change quickly.  At woodrun on Thursday, where I joined runners for coffee without having done the run bit first, we were talking about risks on the fells.  Only a couple of weeks ago a Polish runner died doing a recce for the Bob Graham, despite being an experienced runner who’d set off with a companion, but they’d got separated.  I wasn’t expecting this scenario to unfold on Stanage Edge, but I did think it was only fair to respect the kit requirements. So I filled up my water bottles, stuck in some naked bars, dug out a whistle, and dredged out my windproof jacket just in case.  So equipped I headed off in time to register ahead of the 8.00 a.m. walking start.

Oh wow.  Even the drive over to Hathersage lifted my spirits. It was just breath-taking scenery along the way.  What with all my London Marathon training (have I mentioned at all that I did that this year?  Oh I have.  Really?)  I’ve been concentrating on flatter routes, specifically the Monsal Trail.  I’ve missed being out in the peaks proper.  Yes, it’s a challenge dragging my weary carcass up them there hills, but the views that reward you are truly spectacular.  Not going to lie though, it is a lot easier driving up to the high points than it is making your way up on foot.  This was just taken en route to the meet up point:

off to hathersage hurtle

I got a bit lost on the way, as the instructions had only given a grid reference, and not a post code.  I used the sat nav and the postcode S32 1BA  to get to the David Mellor Cutlery Factory instead, and arrived just about 7.15.  – the event HQ was just adjacent.  There were people milling about in high viz and a huge orange banner up proclaiming the event. The car park was in a field, still occupied by cows.  Some marshals shooed them gently to the other end of the field, and then opened the gate to let me in –  I was the first person to park up.  The cows just ignored us, which was good. There have been a series of recent attacks on runners and walkers by cattle turned out in the Limb Valley which has made me a bit wary.  I know they are protective of their young, but it’s not a great mix having aggressive cattle grazing where footpaths pass through. Still, no point in fretting about leg three of the Round Sheffield Run just yet, plenty of time for that later…  These bovines were fine and dandy.

cattle companions in car park field

I sat in the car faffing for a bit, and soon a few other early birds rocked up.  The two next to me were brandishing nordic walking poles, and they were clearly quite a boon, as they powered by me later on when the event was underway.  After a bit I crossed over the road to register.

over the road to sign in

There were lots of marshals to assist you over the road.  There wasn’t much traffic.  I wistfully wished they’d had proper lollipop sticks for the occasion, but alas, that was too much to hope for.  Maybe an innovation for next year. Not because it’s actually necessary, but because the notion pleases me.  I’m thinking more giant actual lollipops a la Willie Wonker, rather than the traditional ‘lollipop lady’ offering, but either would do.

This event was incredibly well organised.  There was an army of pathologically friendly marshals and helpers to get you registered. This involved having your name ticked off an alphabetical list, and being issued with a wrist band with inbuilt dibber oojamaflip.  Then you could go to another marshal, who was responsible for issuing of t-shirts to those who had pre-ordered them.  There were loads though, so you could buy one if you wanted to afterwards.  The shirts weren’t technical, but they were unique.  The back having been designed by a presumably local, child.  ‘Keep running’ indeed!

It was all very efficient.  There was a women’s changing room, and presumably a men’s too somewhere.  There was no officially supervised bag drop, but you could leave your stuff in the changing area which I did.  It didn’t look like anyone else had, but to be fair the car park was so near, if you were worried, you could have easily left things in your vehicle if you’d driven or been driven by your chauffeur if you are the sort of runner who has staff.  Though I suppose logically, if in the latter category, your staff would watch your bag anyway?  I don’t know.  Look, just stop fretting about the bag issue, it was fine. There were also portaloos for those of us who require a precautionary pee, and with the walkers as there was a leisurely starting window (you could head off anytime between 8.00 and 9.00) there were no queues at this stage either which was a first.  Later I think for the runners there was more of the traditional queuing.  However, I always think that’s a grand opportunity to make new friends via idle running chit-chat, and part of the traditional build up to any event.

PS traditional loo queue

Putting on my number was a bit of a trauma.  They were ENORMOUS.  Trying to find a space to accommodate it what with my running belt and my jacket round my waist as well was a challenge.  A few people, with higher IQs than me, thought to fold it down to size and my walking buddy for the day pinned it on her shorts, that was smart.  I have no idea why they were so spectacularly super-sized, perhaps they are still experimenting with what is to be their USP for this event.  Last year I understand it was a vintage tractor display en route in the form of the Annual Castlegate Tractor Run, but they weren’t able to pull that off again this year for some reason.  I think seeing all those machines chugging by would have been splendid, but apparently it was less so for runners trying to manoeuvre around them.  Light weights!  Part of the joy of trail running is the encounters with the unexpected surely…

All sorted eventually, I figured I might as well head off at 8.00, which is when the walkers were officially allowed to start.  By happy coincidence another injured smiley was also walking, so we agreed to pootle round together, by which I obviously mean ‘stride out purposefully’. I was a bit worried I’d hijacked her planned contemplative walk, but she seemed not to mind, and it was good fun having company on the way round.  Walking this distance is very different from running it though. Apart from the very obvious ‘not being required to run’ element, the interactions along the way are different.  When I run, I tend to find I strike up brief conversations with other similarly paced runners as we sort of leap-frog each other on the way round.  (Just to be clear, I mean metaphorically as in shifting our positions relative to one another, not literally as in seeking a competitive advantage by bounding over their bent backs).  This means that, in theory at least, you should never be stuck with a runner or they with you other than by choice.  You can strategically sprint off, or, if that is beyond your physical capabilities, drop back and let them stream ahead to allow a tactful parting of the ways.  Walking is different, because once you are with a walker of a similar pace, you are likely to stay with them throughout, depending on either your luck or judgement, you may find yourself in for a very long day.

Another friendly marshal (honestly, friendly marshals were ten a penny at this event, and that’s not even counting the cake wielding ones we encountered en route) mustered the walkers that were ready for off, and we after being dibbed out (which I nearly forgot to do which would have been a catastrophe as it’s a well-known fact that if you didn’t dib it didn’t happen) we were led across the road again and waved off on our way.

It was a very sedate start.  Maybe because of this, I completely forgot to turn my tomtom on, until about a mile in, which was irritating, as it is another well-known fact that if a run/walk isn’t on Strava then it didn’t happen either.  Oops.  Walkers sort of drifted off whenever they wanted, which is quite unlike the mass start the runners had later.  The photos for that looked fab!

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It felt really odd walking.  To be honest, initially I felt a bit of a fraud wearing a race number ‘just’ to walk.  However, I got over that pretty quickly.  It was really nice to just be able to walk and enjoy the views.  Being amongst walkers was a very different experience.  Many seem to do a lot of these long distance walking challenges and were kitted out with walking boots and backpacks as opposed to our rather lightweight running gear.  Some had come from quite far afield to attend. I’m sure someone said they’d come from Wales, but maybe I imagined that.  People did most definitely stride out.  Some had donned their orange tee-shirts.  There were a fair few couples holding hands.  Well, I’m assuming they were couples, maybe they’d just got on really well after bumping into one another at registration and were just going to see how it went from there.

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It was rather sweet, the amount of unashamed hand holding going on, don’t tend to see that at running events, unless it’s a trail race and a running club member has paused to try to haul a fellow runner out of a bog say, but that’s not really the same. Also, I think we all know that the first reaction to seeing a fellow runner face plant into a bog is to laugh and point and then maybe take a photo or two before proffering a hand of support.  It’s what we runners expect, it’s fine, all part of the fun.  You must have seen the belly laughs that go on when runners fall in the rivers at the Trunce say?  They look like they are laughing and pointing, but they are doing so supportively and with affection.  Honestly.

supportive laughter at the trunce

As always, I had no idea where we were.  I did print off a map, but honestly, it wasn’t all that detailed, though  it gave a general idea of the places we’d pass through.

HH map

Having a map with me was all very well, but I hadn’t brought my prescription glasses with me, so it was more cosmetic than practical assistance.  Not to worry though, I basically outsourced navigation.  By keeping other walkers in sight, we didn’t really have to navigate as such at all.  There were marshals at key junctions, and on the rare occasions where we didn’t have anyone to follow because we’d stopped for a natter with marshals and lost sight of others ahead say, there were red and white ties to follow.  I gather a few people did do unplanned detours, but one of those was due to someone deliberately laying a false trail.  I’ve got caught out by that at my first ever fell race.  Came in behind the sweeper at the Wingerworth Wobble!  Oops.  It happens.  As a walker finding your way was fine, as a runner if you ended up on your own I’d say it was still probably fine.  Which is good enough, you only really need to worry if you are in the lead I reckon, which has never happened in my universe.

It was a hot, hot day.  This route is definitely lovely, but somehow achieves what should logically be impossible, it appears to be almost all uphill.  True to terrain, we therefore immediately started onward and upward.  I was very relieved not to be running.  We were heading out just after 8.00 and it was already pretty warm, by the time runners left at 10.00 ish it would be a lot less fun in soaring temperatures.  For we walkers though, this was ace.  We could stop and admire the view, we could take pictures.  Excellent.

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Although we were but walking, we didn’t miss out on the official photographer.  As my running buddy observed we tried to finesse our shot with mixed success, resulting in an image that was both hideous and awesome – I think that is fitting, as this is what much of running feels like to me as well.  Others did rather better at nailing their race photo poses.  I consider our effort to be very much work in progress.  Can you guess which is which of these two offerings?  One features more experienced photo posers, the other me and my Smiley compatriot…

I know – easy to tell the shots apart really because of the Smiley Vest!  Outed.  You get the idea though.

So we headed out, and we basically walked and talked.  Topics of conversation were many and varied.  Of particular interest to you as a fellow runner dear reader, was the one about missing toenails. I’ve never lost a toenail through running.  I don’t care that apparently it doesn’t really hurt.  The very idea horrifies me.  However, I had a rare moment of insight on our walk.  Maybe I don’t lose toenails, because the arthritis in my feet means my toes don’t bend and flex properly. Thus, they can’t rub against my shoes the way ‘normal’ feet do.  I wonder if this is true, or Lucy Logic, a phrase which encompasses things I believe to be true based on my subjective experience.  Theoretically, I understand that these things may not be, but I will hang onto these views until I receive absolute evidence to the contrary.  I believe most people have their own variants of this outlook, irrespective of whether or not they choose to ‘fess up to it.  Another Lucy Logic view, I may yet be sucked into a vortex of my own self-perpetuating logic if this continues.  Well, you have to go somehow.

It was so nice to be out and about, and without the angstyness of trying to run when the body protests.  Our nordic walking friends powered past us at one point, despite being delayed at the start because one of them had left their dibber in the car.  They were a good advert for trying these.  I’m beginning to wonder if I ought to start to experiment with the now I have ouchy shins and a new pained knee to match.

PS way to do it

To be perfectly honest, for me the main difference between walking at an event and running at an event, is that I got to do all the things I normally do: pause to admire the view; stop to chat to marshals; stop to take photos; stop because I’m tired; chit-chat to passers-by; chit-chat to other runners; stop because I’m having a drink – you get the idea – but whereas when in a running event I feel bad because I ‘shouldn’t’  do these things, when you are walking it’s considered completely legitimate.  It’s basically a pass to enjoy yourself, and not feel like every step taken at a walk marks you out as a failure as a runner and therefore as a human being.

We got official stops too. Like when we got dibbed by marshals.

All the marshals were fantastic.  Soooooooooooo friendly and encouraging. Granted, it probably helped that it was a gloriously sunny day, but I do think that either they were a product of some captive breeding programme whereby they’d been selectively chosen for friendly temperaments, or at the very least they all went through some sort of vigorous recruitment programme to check they could do jovial small talk, clapping, cheering, congenial laughter and directional pointing.  Basically, all those I met would be great as marshals at junior parkrun, and I can give no greater compliment or vote of confidence in their skills than that.  Thank you all.

They were indeed stationed at strategic points, let the records show extra blue arrows were in place to assist with navigation. These were a bit like the red arrows, only with less ability to fly and a bit quieter, but otherwise indistinguishable.  Despite this large blue arrow, and the presence of two smiley marshals, me and my Smiley compatriot did try to head off down the hill and had to be called back and waved down the narrow path in the right direction.  A good example of user error to be fair.  It’s obvious now, but I could well imagine romping on down that hill had the marshals not been in place, despite the clear marking!  I’m glad we were put back on track, because this particular shaded path led to the first feed station.  It was indeed laden with more cakes than you could shake a stick at.  Carefully labelled, and with vegan options too.  From memory there were also bananas and of course, lots of water.  It was amazing, like turning up at the cake table at a school fete.  Loads of options.  Granted, a bit more tray bake (think brownies and flapjacks) rather than multi-tiered iced ones, but certainly a few with sprinkles on top.  You had to resist the temptation to consume your body weight in cake before moving on.  I’ve never seen so much.  Extraordinary.  Top work Hathersage Hurtle bakers.

Taking note of some curious features en route, we walked and talked on.  The next surprise was a check point with a Smiley in situ.  She’d pretty much put together a bespoke pack of goodies.  We could pick and choose – there were crisps there was fruit.  We lingered and ate satsumas. Well, probably not actual satsumas, but some sort of sweet citrus fruit that was lovely.  There was also a really nice dog.  Took time to say hello to s/he too.

I didn’t really know where we were, but fortunately my walking mate was game to get out the map periodically, peruse it and report back to me.  Is it bad that I giggled at the news we’d just been (in) Shatton at one point?  Yep, probably, but hey ho, I’d never heard of it.  We wandered over a bridge, some lovely marshals helped direct us over a road and waved us on, and then, oh good!  More going up hill!

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Honestly, because it was 20 miles, it’s all a bit of a blur. Don’t really know where I was when various photos were taken, but I do know that it all went quickly.   There were some official ones of me and my buddy – photos were made available for free on the Hathersage Hurtle Facebook page after the event, and they were good too, not necessarily flattering of course, that would be too much to hope for, but taken by professionals who’d given up their time to do so, and some other injured runners who’d been out supporting on the way round and also captured the occasion.  I love that.  I love reliving events by browsing all the photos after the event.  It’s probably a runners equivalent of watching daytime TV, but feels more justifiable somehow. Lucy Logic I daresay.  This snap shows the number issue though, I could have learned from my partner had I but realised it at the time!  Also, check out our jazz hands.  I know, epic.

ZA jazz hands

We were on a road section, going up hill when some of the lead runners started to storm past us.  A few had the grace to look like they were really digging deep, but others looked fresh as anything, with lovely relaxed form as if they’d only just started out.  I like watching faster runners, I don’t often get a chance to do so.  We stopped to clap them on their way, and the overwhelming majority thanked us or at least nodded acknowledgement, it was all very friendly.  One thing I did notice though, is how few of the runners I recognised.  Normally there are many familiar faces from Sheffield parkruns or local races, but this event, maybe because of its distance, or maybe because it’s relatively new, or maybe because it’s a bit further out (not much though really) seemed to draw on a different area. There was good contingent of Porter Valley Plodders, a few Smilies of course, inevitably some Striders, but lots of other club represented that I didn’t recognise. Barnsley Harriers were there too.  This club is well-known for being lovely.  It’s a Lucy Logic thing again, but definitely FACT.  There were a lot of runners not wearing club vests too, which was rather refreshing actually.  I tried to snap some photos of runners flying past.  They aren’t great, the photos I mean, not the runners, the runners were all exceedingly great,  but I was showing willing.

After what seemed like near endless hot tarmac, we finally got to head out onto the moors and via a feed station positively groaning with cake, on and up to the first of the edges.

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It was blooming lovely.  I felt a bit sorry for the actual ‘proper’ runners who had no time to linger and debate which of the many and varied items of confectionery they wished to indulge in.  I also felt quite excited, because this part of the route is so spectacular.  Again, because we were walking not running, instead of feeling the pressure of a hill, it was just the challenge of going up in the knowledge that you’d be rewarded with stunning views ahead.  What’s more, as walkers we’d be able to stop and admire them. Runners, even if they stopped, probably wouldn’t be able to see as their eyes would be stinging with the sweat that’s run off their fevered brows, and the exertion would have had their eyes bulging out of their sockets as well, so they’d have to shove them back in again before they could even begin to focus. I’ve decided I’m quite a convert to this walking malarkey, way less stressful!  Some people opted to sit at the side of the roads to cheer runners by.  I’m not sure if they actually knew participants, or were just soaking up the mood in the sun. Either is possible, both desirable.

So finally we were up top.  How gorgeous was that!

We were just calculating when the first Smiley runners should be coming through, right on cue, one appeared.  We distracted her to the point she stopped, but she was fairly sprinting until we interrupted.  Go Smiley!

Other runners started coming through fast and furious.  It’s a fantastic run route on Stanage Edge, it made me realise I really must make the effort to get out and explore it again.  It’s technical enough to be fun boulder hoping without being terrifying, this can be a tricky balance in seeking trail routes hereabout in my experience.

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It was extra fun when we espied people we knew, and even more fun, when I got one doing a star jump en route.  Result!  She’s not known as a running super star in these parts for nothing!

super star

Excellent and effortless fell running technique there.

Onward we went, and eventually a bit of down to get to Burbage Bridge.  Here there was an unofficial water station as some enterprising marshals had got out an extra-large water bottle to draw on.  It was most welcome.  This was back on familiar ground, so the miles passed quickly.  It felt to me like we were nearly home, though to be honest we weren’t really.

So you emerge the far end of the path, cross a road, and then into some welcome shade skirting the Longshaw Estate and taking in Padley Gorge.  Astonishingly, I’ve never actually done this path before.  It was pretty heaving with picnickers and families splashing about in the water.  It was green and glorious.  I hope the litter got taken away afterwards though, there have been some grim posts showing the litter left after hot days in our local beauty spots.  Sad but true.  For me, one of the best things about the Hathersage Turtle – as I’ve decided to call the walk option, is that I began to appreciate how various parts of the area link up. I’ve done separate smash and grab walks from say Burbage, or Longshaw, or even Hathersage, but hadn’t appreciated how close they all are to each other.  It was most educational.  It was also astonishingly picturesque.

Stunning as it was, and nice as you might think it would be to go downhill, the mottled light effect through the trees, coupled with the gnarly tree roots, made for ankle breaking territory.  Although some did come through pretty fast, rather more reeled it back a bit.  We did see one runner take a tumble, though they seemed to get up again, not just a Chumbawamba tribute act but a way of living.  Gorgeous out though.

Out again onto road, then off again past an abandoned, but very beautiful stone building.

Nope, can’t remember what it was called, even though there was a sign, and I made a conscious effort to try to remember.  Can anyone explain why I can recall in infinite details moments of excruciating embarrassment at primary school, but can’t tell you what this mahoosive stone building is that I saw but a couple of days ago?  Actually, maybe don’t explain why, I might not like what you have to say.

Anyways, past there, with its fine door, and then into more woodland, with the end of bluebells carpeting the floor, and sploshes of a beautiful white woodland flower interspersed amongst them.    This route takes in everything.  We emerged into a field with some fairly nonplussed looking sheep. I think the expression was nonplussed, to be honest I find sheep expressions quite hard to read.  They can be quite enigmatic, don’t you agree?

Pretty much the end in sight now!  We saw one runner seated with a foil blanket round them, she looked OK, but obviously wasn’t carrying on.  A marshal/ medic was sitting alongside murmuring soothing words, so no extra help was needed.  Just a bit of road, and suddenly we were back where we’d started, having had a lovely time walking round in one ginormous 20 mile(ish) – slightly under in fact – circle. This is a lot more fun and a lot less pointless than I am perhaps making it sound!  I paused to say hello to a run director from junior parkrun who was there supporting her partner, go him.  Also, took the opportunity for a Boris hello, because you can’t not really.  The thing is, I don’t consider myself a ‘dog’ person as such, but I do know one or two canines I hold in high esteem.  Obviously Tilly is top dog, but Boris is a fine pooch too.  Not just puppy love.

Hilariously, as we entered the football field event HQ, we did a sort of emergency stop at the lined red and white taped finish funnel.  I don’t know what was going through our minds, but I think it was because we were walking not running, it didn’t feel right to go into it, so we got thoroughly confused about where to finish and ended up wandering over to the run director/ finish timer, who was mortified to have missed us coming in… erm, think I might know how that happened.  Gutted to have missed out on a sprint finish.  Oh well, there’s always next year…

All done, there were lots of options.  More cake, in case you weren’t already caked out as well as flaked out.  Tea/ coffee for participants, water, obviously, ice cream for sale.  Also there were burgers, including veggie options and even beer!  It was lovely and sunny, and it had a sort of festival feel.  It was lovely.  I had water, and coffee and then bought an ice cream, and we sat and watched other runners coming in.  We were wandering where our smiley runner friends were, as we’d expected them to overtake us on the way round, but they never showed.  On the plus side though, this meant we got to cheer them in.  Hurrah!  One scooped up one of her offspring for an emotional run in, isn’t that lovely?

DSCF2629

They came in looking really strong!  They’d clearly romped round effortlessly!

Only they hadn’t.  Debrief people, debrief!

Long story short, the heat had taken its toll.   Still, lessons were learned, maybe don’t try electrolytes for the first time on race day, and also, it’s true, sometimes you will feel better after throwing up your entire stomach contents on Stanage Edge, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best idea to press on.  I think it was tough out there.  I empathised.  London marathon (did I mention I did that at all? Oh I did already?  OK) was crazily hot with no water for miles and miles, and that did mightily impact on the fun quotient of the day.  Even so, they got round, but I sensed a sentiment of ‘unfinished business’ for some.  The thing about running is, well you know, it’s complicated.  We were unanimous in our praise for organisation, friendly marshals, stunning locations.  Think with the heat though, the walkers had type one fun and the runners would be experiencing type two.  It happens.  Lots of smiley faces in the post run chill zone though.  Happy people.

It was nice sitting and chatting, and watching the runners come in.   At one point the run director came over to check out everyone was OK and was sharing thoughts about the day.  Apparently they got a bit caught out with the dibbers, because they hadn’t anticipated that some of the people who headed out with the walkers were intending to run/walk, and so they got to the first check point ahead of when expected and before the marshals were in place.  I can completely understand that.  The run director was most accommodating about this, and I got the impression they might even add this in as an option for next year which, from a selfish point of view would be great.  This is quite a tough course, very tough, I don’t know that I’d ever be fit enough to properly run it, so a nice chilled run/walk option would be grand. Having said that, the 7 hour cut off time is generous.  Walking it with my Smiley walk and talk buddy took about 6 hours 20 and we were pretty leisurely to be fair.  Mind you, there’s always that angst in my head anyway, what if I don’t make the cut off.  Leaves me fretting.  Oh course elevation and route hang on, it’s here.  For the record, that’s a lot of climb.

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There was an extra loud cheer for the final finisher, and also a rather fine alpkit spot prize!  The third finishing female got an ice-cream, this top was way better!

And that was that, event over.

So, in conclusion, this was a fantastically friendly, well organised and welcoming event.  It was a tough course for runners, but surely worth the effort to take on the challenge of such spectacular routes.  Personally, I was pleased I went for the walking option, and would thoroughly recommend it.  It meant I got to take part despite my ouchy shins, so avoiding for the most part that fate worse than death, the Fear Of Missing Out.  However, no question the runners look a bit more impressive in the photos, flying across the gritstone, mustering for the mass start and whooping through the finish.  And it felt weird.  So I would recommend it, like I said, but next time I’d love to try running – though if it was as hot as this year again then maybe not so much…

For some reason, I think this event went a bit under the radar.  It could handle more entrants, and was so friendly and relaxed delivering also in bucket loads with both views and cake.  In the case of the cake quite literally.  There was no reminder email sent out, which might possibly have contributed to what seemed to me to be more than the usual number of DNS (no shows), but who knows.  It is a long way, but the walk option makes it doable for a wider range of people.  And walking was still a challenge. It is still a long way and with a lot of up.  I found to my cost that my residual fitness levels post the marathon were not as high as I might have wished.  Definitely some stiffness the next day, but also that warm glow of satisfaction for having got out and done it, plus I had a good night’s sleep for the first time in months.  Can’t put a price on that!

So time to depart, the sun still shining and the mood still high!  First to park and one of last two to leave.  I do like to get my monies worth at an event clearly.

DSCF2665

Oh you want to know the results. Yawn, why are people always so interested in these I wonder.  For me it really isn’t about the times, it is about the experience, the people you meet, the micro adventures en route and for this event in particular the astonishing views, super friendly volunteers and astounding quantities of cake!  But if you do want to know – maybe to encourage you that this is an inclusive event that embraces the super-speedy at one end of the continuum but celebrates the slow and steadies at the other just as enthusiastically, the Hathersage Hurtle 2018 Results are here.  Though to be on the safe side, I reckon they are more likely to exist in perpetuity on the Hathersage Hurtle’s own website, so maybe check in there too.  Even so, blooming impressive runner to finish in first place with 2 hours 21 minutes 34 seconds, and bravo to the final finisher walker who got their monies worth for time on the trails in 7 hours, 10 minutes and 38 seconds.  What’s more, there was still cake left at the finish line for them too.  So maybe, if you are thinking about it, this will encourage you to sign up and take to the trails.  See what their banner slogan is?  Walk it, run it, love it!  This means you!

PS run it walk it

Thanks to the amazing photographers who turned out on mass to supply loads of high quality and atmospheric photos which you can find under the relevant Hathersage Hurtle albums on the Hathersage Hurtle Facebook page. Thanks to (drum roll of support and expectation followed by sleeve rolling up because there are quite a few to acknowledge)  by Phil Sproson Photography,   Peak photography project Chris Nowell, Zaf Ali and everyone else who turned out with a camera, and shared their images with such excellence and grace.  Love a good race photo, love a bad one too in fact, they are always a great way to relive events afterwards! I say that,  but I’m not gonna lie, there are one or two that make me feel like I shouldn’t really venture out in daylight again ever, because it’s just too humiliating to be seen in public. But that’s ok, not long til the summer equinox, and thereafter it’s a well known fact that the nights are drawing in. See you again when the clocks change.   I’ll look forward to it.

Thanks everyone, who put in the hard work to make it so!  Really hope this gets to be an annual fixture, I’m sure it will, the runes look good…

Same time, same place next year?  Would recommend.  Be there, or miss out massively, which is the worst feeling in the world ever.  This could be you…

So I headed home, and then just as my heart was lifted by the glory of the landscape ahead of me, it was crushed by the sight of not just litter but three, yes THREE discarded BBQ kits by the road side. It makes me so mad.  I stopped to clear them up, well, they weren’t going to miraculously disappear otherwise, and it made me feel like I earned my Runners Against Rubbish badge (always a worry).

Why do people do this, and what is it with the fire thing.  Especially heartbreaking given how we now know that fires all over the place have killed amphibians, ground nesting birds, all sorts.  So depressing.  What’s worse is that some fires have been started deliberately, though leaving one of these BBQ trays behind – let alone using them in the first place – seems criminally negligent to me.  Check out the Longshaw Estate post about the impact of fire on the landscape and weep.

Gawd, I hate people sometimes, I really do.  The damage we do.

Still, let’s not end on a downer.  I don’t hate the Hathersage Hurtle people!  Au contraire, they were collectively and individually lovely.  This was a grand event, and whether you would be going for the Hathersage Turtle option at a more measured pace, or the Hathersage Hurt which requires you to hurl yourself ever upwards to get round as fast as you can, you are sure of a great adventure.  Plus, there will definitely be views and cake, I think should cover the most frequently asked questions.

Keep an eye on the Hathersage Hurtle facebook page for more information, so as soon as we have a date you can save the day.

Fun will be  had, I promise.  It might of course be type two fun, but none the worse for that I’m sure!

See you there!

🙂

 

 

Categories: off road, race, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Now what? Hurtling on past the post marathon blues.

Digested read: since running the London Marathon I’ve been feeling a bit down, and a bit ‘ouchy’ in the shins.  I’ve only run once and demoralisation has set in.  However, panic not, I believe I’ve turned a corner, thanks to the cheery disposition of the Hathersage Hurtle organisers who offer up a distance walk, stunning views and cake.  It’s going to be just fine.

Everything-is-going-to-be-fine-in-the-end

Can’t believe that’s really one of Oscar Wilde’s quotes?  I mean, I do quite like it, but it’s not as pithy and lyrical as you might expect.  Ah well, I’ll still take it, it’s working for me.

Did I mention at all that  I ran the London Marathon last month?  Oh I did?  Are you sure?  Are you not just making an educated deduction because I still have the imprint of the medal in the side of my face from where I lay on it whilst sleeping?  Oh.

Turns out you can only trade on the London experience for so long.  Also, and this wasn’t part of the plan, post London I did feel a bit flat (not on the stomach area unfortunately, more sort of mentally).  There is a lot written about ‘post marathon blues‘ so it is a known thing, but as with many ‘known things’ sometimes you have to experience it for yourself in order to properly understand and empathise with what it might mean on an individual level.  Don’t worry, I’m sufficiently self-aware to realise how incredibly annoying, pretentious and self-indulgent that statement sounds, ‘nobody understands blah de blah‘ but also insufficiently adept as self-censorship to delete that statement.  I suppose it’s just that whilst some clichés stand others didn’t, so processing the whole London Marathon adventure is quite challenging, well it is for me anyway.

Firstly, for me at least, it was all so far outside my previous experience of anything else I’ve ever done, once back home in Sheffield, it is a bit like it never happened.  Like I’ve been returned from being abducted by aliens, and now I’m back and I’m trying to explain to people that I really and truly was snatched away and transported back, but even my closest friends are looking at me somewhat quizzically, and frankly I’m beginning to doubt it happened myself.  I mean, if I was a cow, then my abduction by aliens would be more plausible, as we all know the first thing extraterrestrials in their UFOs do when hovering over remote American farmsteads is beam up cattle with their tractor beams.  People though, harder to believe…

So too with running a marathon, it was really such an improbable thing for me to do, I can’t honestly imagine how it happened.  Nor can I imagine going off and doing another one, not yet anyway.  How people do back to back marathons or like the amazing Ben do 401 marathons in 401 days I can’t begin to imagine.  And dear reader, I have a pretty vivid imagination, so that just goes to show how hard it must be! He’s set up the 401 foundation now by the way, that’s splendid!  The upshot is, that it really is as if it never happened.  It was too unlikely, it was too surreal, I must have imagined the whole thing.

Another issue for me, is that – and shhh, don’t tell – my experience of London was ‘complicated’.  For sure it was ‘amazing’, ‘once in a lifetime’, ‘extraordinary personal challenge’ pick and mix your own clichés.  However, it was also massively over-shadowed by the lack of water throughout the route.  That, coupled with the heat, really shifted my experience.  I was quite spooked by dehydration, mile after mile with no water wasn’t good, and for the record, it was not only between miles 7-11 (water stations 8-10 equates to five miles) it was for many miles in the second half of the route too that instead of oasis deserted water stations were mirages in the desert of hot tarmac roads.  I really tried to remain positive, but it played on  my mind and knocked my confidence.  I mean if the London Marathon can run out of water, it could happen anywhere couldn’t it? This, and the fact that after the event I heard of horror stories of injured runners who did not finish (DNF) and of people who did finish, but then spent up to two hours in first aid tents after collapsing, being laid down and covered in ice whilst medics tried to rehydrate them and stabilise their heart rhythms.  To be honest, it does rather detract from the ‘isn’t this fun‘ and overall euphoric vibe I’d been anticipating.

depression ahead

Post marathon blues is also, in my case at least, tied up with having to face up to all those problems, decisions and life-choices that I’d postponed addressing thinking they’d be somehow more  manageable post the marathon, as in ‘I’ll worry about that after London’.  So now without the distraction/ focus of marathon training I need to somehow morph into  being a proper grown up, get a job, lose weight, overcome my many and varied social inadequacies, read more books, dive back into social interactions, get properly fit, whatever.  Disappointingly, taking part in a marathon, even if you complete it, does not subsequently imbue you with superhuman skills of capability, self-belief, will-power and decisiveness.  Nor does it lead you to radiate personal charisma that ensures you will never again experience social inadequacy, alienation or personal rejection.  And as if all that wasn’t disappointing enough, furthermore, it doesn’t transform the socio-political context in which we operate.   The world is still in turmoil, Trump is still president, plastic still pollutes the seas, Brexit is still happening and I still can’t find a job and my roof still leaks.  That was not what I ordered.  What snake oil is this, the notion that running a marathon will change your life?  Why haven’t I properly metamorphosed into a better version of myself?  What was that all about if I still have to be me? 😦 Crap deal.

People aren’t even that interested in the bling, and it’s harder than  you might think to lever ‘I just did the London marathon’ into every conversation ever so casually.  Example, getting on bus ‘how much is it to the city centre?  I don’t normally catch the bus, I normally walk, but as I ran the London marathon (yesterday, last week, last month) I’m giving my legs a break‘ whatever.  Not everyone is interested in running!  What!  Still, it could be worse I suppose.  At least most people in the UK have heard of the London marathon.  I’ve been reading a book Your pace or mine,  an enjoyable account of the many runs undertaken by the author, a self-proclaimed back-of-the-pack runner.  Her numerous marathon adventures are awesome, but she is from South Africa originally.  The archetypal race there is apparently  The Comrades Marathon  a gruelling 56 miles ultra marathon with a brutally enforced cut off time of 12 hours.   Thus, this is the only race  her non-running south African compatriots have heard of.  As a consequence, if you tell a South African you run, and they are not a runner themselves, their likely next question would be ‘have you run Comrades then?’ the implication being if you haven’t, you aren’t really a runner.   That would be depressing!  At least in the UK the London marathon is significantly more achievable – if you can find a way to get a place that is of course… and if you tell non runners you have done it there is usually a flicker of recognition that this constitutes an achievement, I need to hang on to that.

your pace or mine

Another challenge, for me at least, is what next and when to start running again.  I wasn’t especially stiff after London, but I did have what I’m calling ‘ouchy shins’.  I’m not sure if this is an actual medical term, but it should be.  Anyway, I’ve done loads of googling ailments and so I’m practically medically qualified now.  At the very least I can diagnose every patient/ prospective patient in an episode of Holby City by 5 minutes in.  I digress (how unusual) but I am particularly proud of having once correctly diagnosed an ectopic pregnancy practically before the opening titles had finished in an episode of Casualty many years ago. I was watching this in the presence of a senior hospital consultant who scoffed my diagnosis based on his boring years of training, experience and medical expertise (yawn).  But people, the story line proved I was right!  Fortunately, he was a haematologist so his inability to second guess the plot lines of an episode of Casualty probably wouldn’t lead to catastrophic consequences in his day-to-day work.  Probably.  I never asked.  Sometimes it’s just tactful not to isn’t it?

Where was I?  Oh yes, so basically both my shins felt really tender a couple of days after the marathon and I’ve not really had that before. Well only once, as the aftermath of an ill-judged sports massage I had about 3 weeks ahead of London.  That knocked out my last long run as I limping so much.  Who knew you had massageable connective tissue/ muscle on the front of your shins.  Or maybe you don’t and that’s why they hurt so much.  Anyways, the point is, I’m paranoid about stress fractures/ shin splints, and it made me/ makes me, quite nervous about running again.  You’d think, well I did, that successfully completing a marathon would lead to me brimming over with confidence, secure that at last, I might actually be able to call myself an actual runner.  Not so. If anything I feel even more fraudulent than before.  The conditions on the day were so random, excellent athletes ended up with DNF,  Somehow though I did finish, but many of us probably didn’t have the race we trained for.  It makes me wonder just how much success in these running endeavours is all down to luck.  I think you can ‘make your own luck’ up to the point, by doing the training say, but unquestionably luck will play a part on the day, and the nature of luck is that it is just that. Luck.  Random. It isn’t fair.   It breaks my heart to think of the DNFs I know who deserved a different outcome, and the did not starts DNSs too.  As I say, it’s complicated.  I don’t think I was any more deserving of a finish medal than many who did not get round on the day, maybe I just got lucky?

Terrified of exacerbating a pending injury, I just didn’t run at all for a couple of weeks.  One week I joined the tail walker at my local parkrun. That was an interesting experience, being at the back of the field on what I think was the biggest turn out ever at Sheffield Hallam parkrun 805 runners.  Most who passed us (erm, everyone else taking part) shouted encouragement ‘well done’ kind of things.  I actually thought at first they must be referring to me having completed the London marathon, and then I realised that in fact I am not the centre of the known universe and so they would not be in possession of this fact, they were just being encouraging and nice, which is what most parkrunners are.  The tail walker was also needing to walk post injury, so we just walked round chattering the whole way.  I felt I made a new friend.  Loads of my Smiley Paces running club buddies were out in force, completing the unfinished couple of miles of the London marathon my fellow marathoner wasn’t able to, by running parkrun in solidarity with her.  She’d crashed out at the 40km mark.  As I was still out there walking I missed the team photo of this gathering, but aren’t they splendid!  A loveliness of smilies indeed!

loveliness of smilies

The following Saturday, I volunteered as barcode scribe at parkrun.  I like volunteering, you see events from a different perspective, and see the whole continuum or participants as well.  In this role I had to manually write down the numbers of people whose barcodes fail to scan.  This is a fab job in that you get a double whammy of kudos being in possession of both a hi-vis AND a clipboard.  You do also get some grief from people who insist they have always been able to have their number written down from their mobile phone before.  Erm, don’t think so.  I am generally very averse to any kind of confrontation and will capitulate in almost every situation to avoid the hassle of an argument.   However, I feel strongly about this, parkrunners are grown ups, it’s one rule, it’s not much to ask you to bring along a printed barcode, and if you are a regular runner you will know this,  I’m a volunteer so nope, I’m not making an exception, especially not if you are going to get all insistent and arsey about it.  I will happily take time to explain things to newbies, congratulate them on having taken part, encourage them to come back, tell them how to work out their time and generally enthuse, but I still enforce the rule.  With a parkrun as big as Sheffield Hallam you can really appreciate it’s importance.  Of the 800 or so runners, only a handful did complain but I soon had huge queues of people needing their number written down as the scanners were playing up in bright sunshine. If you relented on the no barcode, not time, no exceptions rule, you’d spend all weekend manually writing down results and then the poor results processors would have to do likewise.  Not OK.   Beckton parkrun did a post about why the no barcode, no result, no exception rule applies, that I think is good.  parkrun have recently revamped the parkrun code by the way, so with this relaunch the few rules are once again clearly stated.

parkrun code

I still think the directive around dogs is confusing.  What are you supposed to do if you don’t have a dog?  Fortunately this policy isn’t rigorously enforced locally.  Mind you, if ever it were to be, I have a dog in mind…  Form a queue people, form a queue!

my fantasy running buddy

So then week three on from London, I did my first run.  Also at parkrun. Again, my local one was really busy, so busy, that there were actual bottle necks at several points on the course so I had to walk some sections, which was good, as it completely removed the pressure or temptation to run.  There was good news and bad news.  Amazingly, my lungs and legs generally felt fine, I don’t seem to have lost the ability to put one foot in front of another. My womb still didn’t fall out, and although I was definitely ‘steady’ I was actually a bit faster than the last parkrun I did pre marathon, which is truly bizarre.  However, the less good news is that a photo of me running gives me no room for delusion in respect of how much weight I’ve put on, wearing a t-shirt and not wearing a giraffe means my stomach has nowhere to hide.  Also, my shins are still tender.  Not absolutely terrible by any means, but enough that I think I do need to be a bit careful.  Losing weight would help, some strength and conditioning and general cross training is well overdue also.  Hmm.

So I was/ am feeling a bit directionless and clueless, I ought to be doing more, but I am scared of injury, and feeling a bit overwhelmed because it is like starting over with a new goal.  Then something popped up on Facebook that looked familiar.  A reminder about the Hathersage Hurtle.  What’s that then?  That sounded familiar, have I entered it?  I did a bit of rummaging around in my inbox (not a euphemism) and it seems I have indeed.  It’s next Saturday.  Blooming heck, I’m not even running again yet.  Oh well, I thought, it’ll probably be a nice gentle local trail race, it will be fun!  Perfect for getting back into it.  Not so, it’s twenty miles!  TWENTY MILES FFS!  And with significant elevation – well, not by Sheffield standards, but definitely by London ones, which is where my focus has been. What was I thinking? Well, actually, I know exactly what I was thinking!  I entered back in February, in the depths of winter, probably from the sanctuary of being under a duvet.  I was fondly imagining a future whereby at this point in time I’d have completed the marathon, had time to recover and be at my running peak in terms of both capability and confidence. I’d fly round.  How wonderful it would be to return to the joys of the peaks after the tyranny of the roads whilst training for London.  I never learn.  Can’t do this, it’s crazy.  I dug around for details and found it was a pricey one to enter £24 and there’s a technical tee at the end. Well, obviously that was a game changer, even with some uncertainty about the medal situation.

A bit more ferreting around, and I discovered there is actually a walk option as well as the run. Hmm, they do exactly the same route, but head out between one and two hours earlier.  I emailed the organisers to find out what the cut off time was for the runners and whether I could swap.

Oh my gawd. What a lovely email I got back.  So welcoming and reassuring.  It massively helped me to refocus:

Well done on the marathon. What an achievement. The Hurtle will be quite a different experience – better views and more cake for a start!  We’ve got quite relaxed cut offs. Final cut off for everyone is 5pm so that gives you a total of 7 hours to get round as a runner. Walkers can set off between 8 and 9am so that gives you an extra hour or two.  We don’t want you to feel under any pressure as our main aim is for people to have a great day. Let me know what you decide to do.

This is why I run!  Beautiful views, friendly runners and bonus cake!  I mean London has it’s merits, but is actually the worst trail run ever.  Views from the trails and cake, that’s what running is all about.  Yomping fest here we come!

mile 4 (6)

Suddenly, I felt relieved.  I have decided to drop back to join the walkers. My shins aren’t quite right, but I’ve so missed the gorgeous trails round and about, I miss the camaraderie of running out on the moors with my mates.  Training for London was relentless and lonely at times.  I missed running against the stunning backdrop of the moors and peaks – I had to focus instead on roads and flattish trails.  I can get back out into the peak district proper now.  With respect to my running buddies, I’m still too slow to keep up with them, but by starting earlier with the walkers I should have no pressure.  I’m hoping this will also remove the navigation issue as if I start at the back of the walkers I can follow them to start with, and then as runners start to overtake I can follow them too.  This gives me a sporting chance of seeing people I know en route, as they will speed pass me, instead of me just trailing behind them the whole way round, watching them disappear over the hills and far away before I’ve even fathomed out how to handle my dibber.   Arriving at the finish at dusk with no cake left and the Smiley paces group photo long since taken.  This could work.  I need to get over my weird psychological block about running again, and I think a long, beautiful walk with heaving feed stations, friendly marshals and a technical tee at the end is just the job!  What’s wrong with hope over experience dear reader?  The alternative is I’d never do anything ever again.  The heather might not be out just yet, but it’s still going to be awesome!

I think the route also covers a lot of the same terrain as the Dig Deep Ultra which is my next big goal, so good to have a bit of a recce of sections of that too.  What could possibly…

hathersage hurtle

So in terms of my experience of the post-marathon blues – which I think is what this post is sort of about, and it’s not just a rambling stream of consciousness, directionless nonsense at all – I think it’s attributable partly to a lack of direction and partly a sense of anti-climax.  Plus, anyone’s body would take a pounding, let alone my post fifty offering, so it’s not surprising I’m maybe feeling a bit battered. And I do need to somehow get my life back on track, but it was always thus, it’s just the goal of getting round London legitimised my procrastination for a few months, but it didn’t make any problems go away, how could it?

To end with positives I think I offer up two:

Positive number one: the absolutely best bit about running events in general (the ones I pick anyway) and the London marathon in particular is that supporters, random strangers who don’t even know you, when they cheer you on, are genuinely offering up unconditional, positive regard.  Usually you have to pay counsellors or psychologists or whatever  an absolute fortune at an hourly rate to give you that. And even then it will probably be given somewhat dead pan and po faced, they don’t generally wave golden pom poms at you and leap in the air in appreciation of your efforts.   In running, people will cheer you euphorically not based on your potential achievement, or any personal characteristics, or even innate worthiness – they can’t they have no idea who you are, so they are cheering you unconditionally just because you are out there giving it a go!  There is no other context in life I can think of where you get that.  This is why junior parkrun is also especially joyful.  It’s a celebration of the best in people, a temporary vision of utopia that demonstrates life is just so much better if we are kind to each other and buoy each other up rather than bring each other down.  A reminder there are more good people in the world than not, and there is not just room for diversity and laughter in the world, but also life is so much the better for it. Simple.  Cheering on others without cynicism, and unconditionally not only brings joys to others, but will leave you giddy with feelgood joy yourself.  Promise.

The second big positive: there is life after the marathon.  Just pick another goal, anything, but better if it’s one that taps into whatever it is that makes running fun.  I feel so much more upbeat now I can head out again into the hills. When I first started this running blog, such as it is, it was partly to recognise that whilst I have many and manifest limitations that might get in the way of me ever becoming a ‘proper’ runner, there was nothing to stop me enjoying doing it badly, and even celebrating that.  The whole parkrun philosophy, of just participating in my own way, not worrying too much about other people’s goals or expectations.  And you know what, that philosophy has allowed me to meet some amazing people, discover some extraordinary places, take on some unimaginable challenges and who’d have believed it, somehow progressed from having to breathe into a paper bag to calm myself before daring to turn up at my first parkrun, to completing the London marathon!  Strange, but true.

If my old PE teacher could see me know eh?  Hah!

It’s not finishing a marathon that is the hardest thing, it’s having the courage to sign up for it in the first place.  Honestly, with many of the challenges I’ve taken on I haven’t absolutely believed I could do them, but I have most fervently believed there is only one way to find out.  After all, how will I ever know my limits if I don’t test them.

she believed she could

Also, yomping the hills is fun. Whatever challenge appeals, for what it’s worth, I think it’s important to remember that for me at least, running is supposed to be fun.  How does the saying go?

Run often, run long, but never outrun your joy of running.

Easy as.

You’re welcome.

Now go find your trainers, or if you can’t run just now, go look at a favourite bit of running bling or a photo of your favourite running location and imagine yourself out there doing a virtual run.  This is what I’m going to try to do.  Saturday’s Hathersage Hurtle might be a walk rather than a run, but it’s still a step on the way to getting back on track literally as well as metaphorically, because ultimately that’s all a run is, one foot in front of another.  And increasingly the accepted wisdom is long walks can be a helpful part of a running fitness programme too.  That gets my vote.

So see you out on them there hills.

🙂

nice out

Categories: motivation, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. London Marathon 2018 done and dusted. #SpiritOfLondon

Digested read:  did it.

done it

Brace yourself.  It’s a long one.  Then again, if running a marathon is considered a test of endurance, I see no reason why reading about it shouldn’t also be a test of resolve.  You can always scroll down to be fair, whereas it’s a lot harder to fast forward on the roads of London, so be gracious before your judge me too harshly!  All the same maybe fuel yourself before settling down to read this, and make sure you stay hydrated, or you’ll be wobbly and light headed before you even reach the half way marker.  You have been warned.  If you choose to read on and then get bored or annoyed, then you are at the very least guilty of contributory negligence.  Much as if you go for a recovery run when your toenails are black, blistered and bruised and then find they all fall off.  You will get no sympathy or truck from me.  So we are clear about all that then?  Good.  I thank you.

So here I am, out the other side. Stormed it!  Sort of, I maybe wasn’t quite the storm the warrior claimed, but was tenacious enough to make it round.  Somewhat shell-shocked.  It’s so hard to process all that has happened over the last 48 hours, or whatever it is.  It feels unreal.  I think that must be why they give you a medal at the end, so you can remind yourself it all really happened. Unfortunately in my official photo you can’t see my medal as I was too disoriented to hold it up, don’t panic though, there are plenty of other photos so you can relive the experience with me whether you want to or not!

There are already a plethora of London Marathon accounts out there, it’s a cliché but it’s true nevertheless that each of the 40,000 or so of us at the start would have had our own unique experiences.  Don’t worry, if you meet any of the other runners they’ll tell you about their marathon run in their own words too.  Aren’t you lucky?  This is the thing about running marathons.  Apparently 1% of the population have run a marathon now, no idea where that figure comes from, but I daresay it’s no more made up than the Lehman Brothers accounts and considerably less likely to lead to catastrophic collapse in the global economy, so let’s just go with that.  1% of the population is actually quite a lot of people, and all but one of them will tell you about it at length whether or not you have the slightest interest in their, sorry ‘our‘ endeavour.  There is only one person in history who has run a marathon without telling anyone and even then her friends felt compelled to remark on this so you’d still have got to hear about it.  Arguably, in the future, one of the most compelling reasons to run a marathon – apart from to prove your womb won’t fall out on the way round – is to enable yourself to get a word in edge ways when you encounter other people who have.   I think the belief your womb will fall out if you run too far mainly applies to men, but whatever.  It’s a thought, can’t beat ’em, join em. That’s the way it goes.

ran and didnt tell

If for whatever reason you don’t want to run a marathon, but would like to get those who have to shut up about it, here follows in microscopic detail my memory of my marathon adventure such as it was.  Truthfully it’s all a bit of a blur, some of the details are foggy, the chronology will be all over the place, but that will only add authenticity if you choose to tell my story as your own.

First things first.  I’d set my alarm for 5.00 a.m..  In fact I got a text from Virgin London Marathon at 5.02 anyway, so clearly early starts are the order of the day.  I was sweating already in the humid hotel room. It reminded me of when I was working in Cambodia, you know it’s going to be hot, hot, hot.  No question. The text said:

Today’s forecast is for hot weather with possible wet conditions early on. Temperatures may rise to 23C.  Adapt your goal, slow down& listen to your body.  Drink when thirsty. Take only one bottle at water stations & remember to Drink, Douse, Drain, Drop.  Good luck & enjoy the #SpiritOfLondon

Two things.  The temperature actually got to 24.1C (75.3F) –  recorded in St James’s Park, the Met Office said.  Also, why oh why did they tell runners to drain their bottles?  That’s rhetorical by the way, I know it was to assist with recycling, but when I was scrabbling around in the gutter trying to find any water left anywhere I was inwardly cursing that directive.  More of that later.

I was up, had a shower. Not going to lie, pretty gutted at the temperatures in prospect, but also feeling fatalistic in a positive way (is that a contradiction in terms). I suppose I mean it was like waking up on exam day.   You are at the point it’s now or never, you can either rail against the world screaming futilely into the wind at the injustice of the extreme heat of the event after training in the extreme cold, snow and ice, or accept it is what it is, and you have to get on with it.  In a way, it was a relief. I  wasn’t really believing it, but I told myself this heat would remove all expectations on me running wise, at least if it was a ‘record-breaking marathon’ because of this I’d get to be a record breaking marathoner by association, and anyway que sera sera.

I had a shower, and my first big triumph of the morning was – and I make no apologies for too much information because any fellow runner will know how much this can soothe both body and soul – a successful and significant poo!  Don’t be shy people, there are whole articles dedicated to perfecting this art of ;how to poop before a race’. Please note, I do however apologise for the use of the word ‘poop’ in the headline for the article, but that’s American journalism for you.  Hurrah, that was my first pre race angst vanquished.  They say don’t make any sudden changes to your diet in the run up to event days, but a big pasta meal recommended for carb loading the night before was to me exactly that. I knew I’d need the energy stores, but I’d been worried it would just sit there, like I’d swallowed a rock, weighing me down.  Instead, result! This was a good omen.

I put on my running kit straight away.  I went for vest only – on the top I mean, obvs I wore leggings and trainers and socks and runderwear knickers and an industrial sports bra as well – but before donning any garment, I squelched almost a whole tube of factor 50, once only application, water-resistant sunscreen everywhere that might be exposed. Arms, neck, arm pits, face, nose, ears, everywhere.  My skin hasn’t seen the sun all year, and is so white it might even reflect sunlight back to the sky and reverse global warming, but I wasn’t taking the risk.   I also put body glide on my inner arms, and legs – though I’ve never previously rubbed there but I thought I may as well.  I’ve also got another anti-chafing product, lanacane which I think is amazing, but it is expensive and I seem to get through loads of it, but I used that under my boobs because I know from bitter experience that needs special attention. I filled my two water bottles on my ultimate direction running belt with water and dissolved electrolytes in them.  THANK GOODNESS!  Other runners were going to rely just on the water on course, but I’d decided I’d drink the water en route, and then in the later stages drink my electrolyte laden water to stop me cramping or getting dehydration related salt imbalance.  I put in far more naked bars than I could possibly consume, and added in as an after thought some straight glucose tablets – again these turned out to be a life safer.

Down to breakfast.  The hotel was serving from 5.30, I’d imagined it would be a reduced offering for runners, but in fact a full buffet was out. That was hard.  Normally the opportunist in me would have made merry and cavorted with abandon amongst the hash browns, scrambled eggs and croissants.  However, I was disciplined, I stuck to my game plan of just a cup of horrible coffee – it wasn’t my plan that the coffee would be horrible, it just was – and some porridge. The porridge was not good.  It was nothing like the porridge I make myself.  It was mostly milk, with the odd porridge oat floating in it as a possible choking hazard.  I would have had it much thicker and packed with seeds and things.  I was worried I wouldn’t have had quite enough fuel, so I broke with my plan and had a banana as well.  I figured it would be a good 5 hours before I even crossed the start line, so probably not too high risk, though I have suffered before eating bananas too close to or mid event at the Round Sheffield Run.  On a more positive note, I was quickly joined by other runners.  One was from Denmark I think, and a veteran marathoner.  Another first time marathoner who has been a poster girl for the British Heart Foundation as she has a pace maker and spent many, many months in hospital having multiple surgeries, so the BBC are following her round.  Then there was another runner, more of my ilk. Got a ballot place and knew she had to do it, so here she was.  We were a mixed bunch, but excitedly chatting together about the day ahead. Another runner joined us…. with two tags on her shoes!  Immediate panic, why had she got two tags? Were we supposed to have two tags too? Turns out she was an elite runner taking part in some championship or other, she even had a striped back to her number.  I was too relieved that I was properly equipped to notice her name or number, but her physique suggested a professional, or near enough, athlete was walking amongst us.

We scampered to our respective hotel rooms for final teeth cleaning and trainer donning, and more poo stops, poo two from me, could things get any better in terms of pre race protocols?  I drank loads of water and put a litre or so in one to take with me to the start.  I do drink loads anyway, especially when I was sweating this much at 7.00 a.m..

A coach was going from the hotel to the start.  Some preferred to go planned routes via tube, but I wanted to make as few decisions as possible and stay off my feet so opted for that.   I waited outside with my other new best friends in our marathon gear, feeling somewhat self-conscious about both my upper arms and Geronimo, but also sort of enjoying the unlikely continuum of runners we collectively represented.  The sun was bright, and there was a breeze, it felt almost tropical.  It was a gorgeous morning, just not one you’d want before say having to run a marathon.  We got someone to take a photo. The first photo was into direct sunlight, so we got another facing the other way, just because.  Aren’t we lovely?

The coach pulled up just after 7.00 a.m. and set off promptly at 7.15.  Our elite runner was asking earlier whether we trusted the coach to come. Apparently a friend of hers at the Boston marathon got a package coach and it got lost en route to the start, for hours.  Not sure if the runner even made the off.  I had complete confidence in the organisation of the London marathon though, because this was before Watergate, and anyway, there was so long before start I figured even if it broke down there’s still be time to clamber on a tube and get to Blackheath.

The coach trip was quite exciting. Coach trips, whilst they always make me feel a bit queasy also have that sense of anticipation as you are being transported to a new destination.  Even more so when you are surrounded by other awesome runners.  I was feeling a bit nervy, but mainly just wanted to get there. It was amazing being driven through the streets of London, extraordinary landmarks all around.  At one point someone pointed out the start and parts of the route – oh my, it looked a long, long way.  The charity runners were comparing details of post race arrangements.  Both of the two I was near said their hospitality finished at 5.00 p.m, when realistically, particularly considering they might not even cross the start until 11.00 they would probably still be out on course. One had queried the wisdom of this, being a new runner and recognising her goal was to get round before cut off and was told that the hospitality was for friends and family too. ‘But I expect my friends and family to be out on course supporting me not quaffing free coffee at the charity’s expense‘ was her point.  I thought it was interesting that they did finish so early, particularly with charity places where you might expect people who were/are not natural runners, but passionately wish to support a cause for personal reasons to be well represented amongst their marathoners.  Some runners had also had to raise huge sums, those in ear shot had achieved this, but I’d have found that hugely pressurised.  I only found out recently that apparently charities pay a significant premium for their race places, and risk losing a lot of money if they misjudge who their share their places with – it is hard not to see an element of cynicism in how that plays out…  that discussion though is for another time.

We were deposited at Blackheath about an hour or so later.  Just as we got to the common I espied a whole load of the rhino fancy dress costumes all laid out on the side of the road. They are HUGE.  We disgorged from the coach, and immediately were amongst throngs of runners, streaming across wet grass towards the respective starts. If you are thinking of doing London and worried about the logistics of finding your way around don’t be. There were huge signs up everywhere indicating the respective start areas for red, blue and elite.

this is real

The grass was soaking wet with dew, and I remembered belatedly vaguely that Martin Yelling had advised having plastic bags to put over your trainers at the start so you don’t get wet feet from the off. To be honest, the sun was so strong it was pretty clear we’d dry up soon anyway.  There was also quite a breeze.  Perfect for eating ice creams in the shade sort of weather! I joined the migration pack of runners to the blue start, my eyes popping out on stalks at the spectacle all around.

Finally, I made it under the blue inflatable arch into the collecting ring. It reminded me very much of a festival, albeit a rather healthy lifestyle one.  There was lots of space, and music playing.  A huge screen relayed messages of support to runners, and some coverage of the marathon from different areas of the course.  There were loads of toilet cubicles, the famous female urinals, that didn’t have queues but I didn’t fancy using for the first time pre event.  There were instructions in our goody bags from the expo but frankly they’d left me none the wiser, and I didn’t fancy embarking on my marathon adventure with both me and Geronimo doused in my own pee.  Also, I wasn’t entirely trusting my digestive tract at this point in time either, and let’s not entertain the idea of that calamity before set off.

It was HOT. There was no shade. I have never been more grateful for an impulse buy of my cap, and the addition of my tomtom sunglasses.  I got them as a freebie at a Vitality 10k at Chatsworth earlier in the year.  They might not be flattering, but they are effective, they sit proud of your face so you don’t get rubbing and sweat on your cheeks and air can circulate.  Plus they are slightly turned down at the ends so wont fall off.  I’d never run in either before, but both were completely brilliant on the day – apart from not being especially photogenic, but then neither was I, so who cares.  I scanned my kit bag and decided I didn’t really need any of it other than sunblock and water so deposited it at the baggage drop so as not to have to worry about that again.  The baggage drop people were great, asking me to check I’d not left critical things and posing indulgently for photos.  The guy on the lorry was attached by a hook and wire to the vehicle, it wasn’t clear if this was to stop him escaping for the purpose of my health and safety and for the protection of the general public, or to stop him falling for the purpose of his own health and safety. He didn’t look like a wild axe murder, but I understand most wild axe murderers never do. Good bye kit bag.

I went for a wander around.  It was so tempting to just go exploring, and I did for a bit, then thought that was probably unwise as it was so hot and it was all time on my legs and it would be 2 hours before I crossed the start.  Even so, it was extraordinary soaking it all up.  A few people asked for selfies with Geronimo which was cool.  There were hardly any people in fancy dress that I saw at that stage, though chilled groups hung out on reflective sheets.  Any scrap of shade be it by a toilet or bin was crowded with runners desperately trying to avoid the sun.

I was a bit worried that I’d not quite reached all my bits that were susceptible to sunburn.  I didn’t really want to ask another runner, I don’t know quite why, people were friendly, but it was all overwhelming. Instead I drank my water and headed to the first aid station.  They were functional rather than welcoming, but the woman I asked did help.  To be fair she was distracted by her walkie-talkie.  Gist of the conversation as that a runner had fallen somewhere outside the elite start pen and was asking for first aid assistance.  However the person concerned was saying they still intended to run.  The senior first aider was insisting that if they wanted to run, then they needed to present in person at the first aid tent which was only 200 or so metres away if that. I  could sort of see her point.  If the person concerned couldn’t manage that, they clearly weren’t going to manage 26.2 miles were they?

I found a patch of shade and got chatting to loads of people really.  Experienced marathoners shared top tips, with others we just traded nervous energy.  I was hoping I’d see a familiar face, or at least a running club top that I recognised from Sheffield.  In fact, the only close encounter I had, was whilst I was in the loo queue.  A welcome shout and embrace from a friendly Dark Peak Runner – I can’t tell you how heartening that was.  Plus he is a seriously awesome runner, the London marathon is amazing like that, that people like me who try hard but are never going to set the world alight with our athletic prowess can participate alongside hardcore runners like he.  So thank you my friend, best hug of the day.  Actually, maybe second best, the hug at the end just after the finish line from a kindred from way back was better, but that’s a high standard to have to meet!

dark peak hero

In the waiting area there were heaps of official photographers taking snaps.  They were less in evidence on the course, but I had a fair few shots taken at this point, in all of which I look flabby and rather posed, which is probably an accurate representation of my outward manifestation unfortunately.

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Then the big screen started showing the various starts.  In the pre event information we’d been warned that it could take up to 45 minutes to cross the start, but even so the loo queues were now absolutely monumental.  I decided to join one.  10 o’clock came and went, but I was in pen 8, the final one.  The good news was that this gave me the confidence to hang on in the queue whilst others abandoned it wrestling with twin worries of full bladders and blind panic.  The less good news was by the time I’d relieved myself I was literally at the very back of the starters.  This did cause me some problems as although I’d be the first to acknowledge I’m slow, I was behind people who weren’t planning on running at all, and that did hamper me increasingly round the route, although I suppose you get the morale boost of over-taking many, it is hard work to do so.  I did an extra half mile at least just weaving around en route.

loo queue

It was clear nothing was moving anywhere, so I sat about a bit, then went to see what the fuss was and discovered the lung costumes.  These were extraordinary creations, light weight they ought to have been perfect for running in, except that unfortunately there was quite a strong breeze which would be a nightmare.  There was one man and the other turned out to be being worn by Katie Price, so there was a little media flurry around her.  I looked on with another runner who was hilarious and who I subsequently ran with for part of the course, if by ‘running with’ you mean ‘we took it in turns to over take each other’.  She gave a running commentary on the shenanigans, as Katie Price was crawling about on the ground apparently trying to put on her timing tag which was a not insignificant challenge wearing a fancy dress lung.  Earlier in the day, one of the people on the coach said that when they went to pick up their number Katie Price was next to them at the same cubicle.  She was at the wrong stand but couldn’t seem to grasp this and in the end the steward gave up trying to redirect her to the correct desk and instead went off to retrieve her pack for her. I’m torn, because I do rather enjoy that anecdote as reinforcing a certain stereotype and I do believe it to be true – it’s not something you’d make up.  On the other hand I can identify with the runners fog that descends at the expo and sometimes the dismissal of Katie Price’s achievements has a smack of misogyny.  Fair play to her, trying to run a marathon in a lung, I’m not a fan of hers especially, but that’s stepping up to a challenge, and she has completed marathons before, so it wouldn’t be fair to assume it is just a vanity project for her – though is suspect some of her endeavours may be.

Finally, about 10.45, it looked like our pen was about to be moved forwards.  I was so far at the back of the line up I wasn’t even in the pen.  The plus side of this was that I avoided the claustrophobia of being rammed up against other runners for a motionless 45 minutes, and instead had been able to amble about gawping at lung costumes and fraternising with other runners.  The down side was that this was a great many runners I’d need to pass later on.  Oh well, que sera.

The start line is weird.  We were sort of marched through the seven, now empty, pens ahead of us.  It was then I began to feel quite emotional, this was suddenly actually about to happen.  The various red-jacketed marshals who’d been staffing baggage lorries and directing runners were now free of their duties so lined the railings clapping us towards the start.  So much good will, it’s bizarre objectively, I mean on one level it is just a run which is ultimately futile, after all, we now know for sure that whilst a 5km run might add 30 minutes to your life it remains a net loss given that it can take 40 minutes to achieve by the time you’ve faffed about.  However, on another level it is this incredible coming together for a shared purpose, and people willing each other to achieve.  You know what, the London Marathon is basically one enormous parkrun on acid.  Maybe a parkrun celebrating its birthday, but essentially that.   We passed pens where you could discard clothing – thin pickings this year, nobody was wearing extra layers to keep warm at the start this year.  Worth knowing if you are running another year though. The clothing gets picked through by charities who wash and reuse where possible.

The anticipation was really building.  I struck up conversations with other runners, including a marathon veteran fancy dresser. His advice, pick a side and stay close to the crowd, smile and engage with them and you’ll get their support.  If you see someone in more spectacular fancy dress or with a more emotive back story, put space between you.  Again, and again the advice was ‘just enjoy it, soak it all up’.

Finally the start was in sight you could hear the commentary.  Oh.  My.  Gawd!

nearly across the start (2)

Oh, and those balloons I saw earlier – they were marking the start! Who knew?

hot air balloons at start

You my dear reader will know I make it a rule never to commence running until I have a foot on the starting mat, but the excitement was tangible. When the arch of the start came into view many around me broke into a full on sprint.  You can really see why the repeated advice is ‘don’t go off too fast!’ it’s oh so tempting.  Finally my foot was on the timing mat.  It was unreal.  ‘I’ve done it, I’ve done it, I’ve crossed the start of the London marathon!’ up until the heat wave, I was always quietly confident that if I made it to this point of the marathon, I’d make it to the end.  I was so excited, but also a bit apprehensive ‘please don’t let me blow it, please don’t let me blow it‘, I was thinking to myself.  On the right was the grandstand, probably packed with the great and the good but I didn’t really care about that, on my left was the band of the horse guards!  Stupidly, even though I’d seen them on the large screen TV I had absolutely no idea they were playing at the start. Astonishingly, as I’m not particularly into pomp and ceremony, I found that really moving.  There is a sense of being part of a significant national occasion, yeah, yeah as a bit part, but even so, it was a remarkable wave of emotion.  Then there was a bank of photographers, snapping us marathon runners (get me, marathon runner now) as we passed.  I wanted to freeze frame the moment on the back of my eye, I’ve never experienced anything quite like it, and after all that waiting around, despite the heat, it was fantastic to actually be running the streets of London.   I can’t find a single shot with the horse guards playing, all the photos are facing towards the grandstand, still, here are the wheelchairs screaming out the starting hatch.  Impressive.

start line

Edit – found one picture in an article ‘running on empty’ which includes lots of dispiriting shots of collapsed runners, but also one of the bank behind the mass start lead runners.  It gives you the gist…

start band

There was support right from the start, so many images, so much enthusiasm. It’s hard as I sort of wanted to take each and every moment in, but also wanted to keep moving, get properly underway and put some miles behind me.  I was very aware it was already nearly 11.00 o’clock, the heat was going to get increasingly oppressive and I didn’t know how I was going to cope with that.  I was however thinking of friends of mine who didn’t make the start, or had missed out on the ballot, and sort of locked down a promise to myself that I would do my darndest to get around this, and be sensible about listening to my body to give myself the best chance of doing so.

The first mile went past quickly, I decided I’d try to take a photo at each mile marker, to help me recall the event.  It honestly is such a blur.  This is an official photo of the mass starters at the one mile mark – it was a little less crowded when I went through!  Even now, looking back at these photos, I find it really hard to believe I was actually there.  It’s so bizarre.  At the risk of increasing the levels of irritation at my account you are probably already suffering, I can honestly confirm taking part in London seems to me to be a unique experience.  It makes it hard to process and recall, the memories are there, but elusive, trying to shape them is like trying to pick up mercury with a fork, although possibly less hazardous.  Mercury is dangerous stuff.  Stay safe people, stay safe.

first mile mark

Even though I’d consciously been slow, my first mile was a lot faster than I intended.  I felt tickety boo, yep, swept up in the occasion no doubt, but strong, hydrated, my sun hat was doing its job, my sunglasses remaining in situ, I just decided to slow a bit and try to find the trot, trot, plod, plod rhythm that I finally discovered on my last few long runs and stick to it as long as I could.  What I laughingly refer to as my training plan was, well, let’s say ‘idiosyncratic’, but oh my, I’m glad that I prioritized my long runs over everything else, if I hadn’t I would never have worked out spontaneously what that steady pace was and been able to recognise it.  The heat was building, but I knew my legs and lungs could do the distance, everything else was going to be race day management.  Not easy in unknown conditions, but not impossible either.  I tried to remember all the advice I’ve been given about coping with the first few miles of the marathon.  Pacing, all about pacing.

Mile two.

Trot, trot, feeling fine.  This was through the residential outskirts of London.  There was little shade, and it was quite quiet compared with the crowds later on, but there was still support and encouragement from marshals.  One called out when there was a little trio of portaloos for any desperate for a pit stop.  I was still a bit shell-shocked, I was aware of other runners, but it wasn’t especially chatty at this point, people were sort of trying to slot into their pace I suppose.

One particular highlight though were the humping volunteers.  I think they were a scout troop, equipped with warning signs they worked in pairs standing either side of the road at every speed hump just shouting out ‘hump’ constantly, to warn oncoming runners of the hazard. This struck me at the time as quite comical, honestly, road runners are delicate flowers!  Many miles later on though I stomped down too hard after an unseen bump and really felt it, I wished the designated humping marshals were present then!

humping marshals

Mile three.

Mile three stood out because another runner took my camera off me to take some action shots of me running.  He threatened offered to do a video but I talked him down from that rash move.  Not only because I suspect had I actually watched any footage subsequently, that would definitely have brought me face to face with an unedited version of my aesthetic awfulness whilst in running motion that would mean I’d never run again, but also because it would have drained my camera battery. I’d need some power for the finishing flourish!  The photos aren’t great, but they are authentic. At the end of mile three was the first water station.  This delivered early promise, lots of water, and volunteers holding it out.  I had drunk a good litre just in the waiting area at the start (bottles were available there and I’d taken extra with me) so I felt OK, but drank anyway.  The bottles being given out were quite dinky 250 ml ones I think.

Mile 4

I was excited going into the fourth mile.  It was at this stage in the course the blue start and red start merged, so you get a sense again of how enormous the event is.  Also, I knew at the end of this mile, all being well, I had a reasonable chance of seeing my first familiar faces en route.  And, I hadn’t yet keeled over and died, and that was one parkrun down already!  Things were looking good.  The supporting crowds were more in evidence and I was enjoying the different signs spectators were displaying.  I hijacked one ‘go Lucy’ as my own, I think that was fair game, and loved the creativity on show.

Not the most salubrious of surroundings, and quite exposed to the ever hotter sun, but still a good atmosphere.  My watch was bleeping slightly ahead of each mile marker, which was great, because it meant I knew to look out for my personal cheer squad.  My Erstwhile Flatmate and her dearly beloved daughter and sign maker extraordinaire, who had so handily relocated to London just last week, to find their new house right on the London route.  I looked about and THEY WERE THERE!  What’s more, they had a personal sign just for me!  It even had a likeness of Geronimo on it.  This was completely brilliant.  If ever you support a runner at a marathon, or indeed any race, I can promise you, you will bestow a joy you can’t imagine on your runner of choice.  It was fantastic to see familiar cheering faces.  It also made the experience seem real for the first time. Like and external validation that I was really doing this.  Plus, once hugs were exchanged and photos taken, it meant the tracking app was doing its stuff and so there was a reasonable chance I might even see others amongst the crowd as I went round  – though I did set my expectations pretty low about that, I thought better to be pleasantly surprised if I did see people rather than carry the burden of crushing disappointment if I didn’t.  It’s harder than you might think to sport people when running and no doubt for spectators to espy their runners too.

MIle 4 vision of loveliness

Buoyed up by the sight of my personal cheer team, I rushed on through the mile four arch with a new spring in my step, feeling hot, but positive.

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Into mile 5.

This is the point where things settled down.  I was amongst similarly paced runners.  There was a bit of gentle leap-frogging of other participants as we passed and repassed each other.  I had a bit of a chat with a guy in an old British military uniform who was running the whole thing with a back pack containing loud speakers blasting out various uplifting military tunes like the dam busters theme.  He was friendly.  Asked if I’d practised in my fancy dress – I had – he hadn’t. His view was it was going to chafe on the day whatever, so why put yourself through that discomfort twice.  One guy was holding a structure with an old-fashioned honky horn attached,  offering ‘free honks’ which I took advantage of.  We had another water station – the amount of discarded bottles was a bit terrifying.  I wasn’t desperate, but was a bit perplexed that there didn’t seem to be any water available.  Some volunteers seemed to be picking through the debris looking for bottles with some water left in.  I had a momentary wave of anxiety.  It seemed a bit off that a water station would have been drunk dry already, but I pushed that to the back of my mind. This is the London marathon, they’ll be on it. I’m not even thirsty yet and anyway there’s water every mile they said, so just rock on. It was somewhere around the mile 5 arch I took advantage of some portaloos with no queue for a quick pee, that was my only pit stop and a good call.

Mile 6

For me, this was one of the best miles of the day.  It wasn’t yet too hot, support was building and I felt strong and was actively enjoying myself.  I started to soak it all up a bit more, there was Dave the Samaritan’s phone box, one of my new buddies from the hotel breezed by looking strong.  Point of information, she’d nipped into Toni & Guy the day before somewhere in London to get her hair plaited up so it was out of the way for the marathon. They’d done it for free as she was a charity runner AND she got an upgrade on the train from Manchester.  She must have a particularly winning way about her, I got no such privileges, but I did still soak up a lot of spirit of London good will.

Best bit of this section FREE ICE LOLLIES.  Obviously when you are drilled with the warning ‘don’t do anything new on race day’ that can’t possibly apply to taking sweets from strangers or mean you would run on by a line of women waving cooling ice lollies in your eye line.  I took full advantage of that and walked for a bit. Some people high up in flats alongside the route started screaming at ‘giraffe woman’ and I waved back, we went under some sort of flyover and there was a full steel band playing in the shade, it noisy beats echoing round the concrete cavern.  I found a woman with a giraffe and requested a selfie – she looked bemused.  Maybe she doesn’t quite buy into the giraffe kindred thing?  I was feeling the heat now, well it was moving into hottest part of the day, noon ish or so if I’d hit the 10k mark, it takes me a bit over an hour to run 10k and I’d crossed the start about 10.50 a.m. I thought.  There was a rhino-suited runner keeping on putting one foot in front of another though, no idea how he was coping.  Everywhere there were high-fiving crowds, people shouting your name and punching the air screaming how amazing and awesome we all were.  Imagine the most enthusiastic junior parkrun marshals ever, cloned, multiplied and ten deep on either side of the road the whole way round.  Well the enthusiasm levels and joyfulness were akin to that.  Others in the crowds picnicked by the road side, toasting your efforts as you passed or just simply soaking up the sun and the spectacle from outside their houses.

mile 6 done.

Into mile 7.

This was a corker!  Lots of highlights.  Unexpectedly I saw – or more accurately was seen by – a full on Smiley Support team.  Complete with massively enthusiastic(ish) off spring and bespoke Smiley Paces support signage.  Again, completely brilliant, more so for being unexpected. I’d known they were down supporting another speedier runner from Steel City Striders, but because I was going to be so far behind them I honestly had zero expectation they’d still be hanging around to cheer me on afterwards.  It was just great, a real lift.  Then I unexpectedly arrived at the Cutty Sark.  I was trying to remember what this meant in terms of breaking down the distance.  Martin Yelling in one of his pep talks, described using the London landmarks to break down the run.  It is a truly amazing sight, the glorious sunshine that was making running hard, did create a spectacular backdrop to the shape of the ship.  This wasn’t a  massively congested area for spectators either, I think it would be a good place to spot runners from the comfort of a balcony bar.

A little later on another fabulous treat in the form of one of my London Marathon Superstars support-group. Armed with an encouraging smile and lots of haribos she gave me a hug and a shove, and soon I was off again.  ‘This is brilliant!’

Mile 8

At this point, things started to unravel a bit, I reached another water station that had no water.  I’ve really tried to ‘park’ my fury at this, because my experience of London was at least half the water stations had nothing left by the time I reached them.  I can cope with the idea that this was because of unprecedented heat, and that the logistics meant it wasn’t possible to restock quickly enough to cater for all runners. What does enrage me though it the official statement that declared they were aware of water running out at stations 8 – 10 as if they were the only one’s affected.  NOT SO!  I struggled to get water almost the whole way round.  I found only one snuck in reference on the telegraph news page that stated ‘They later said: “We have supplied additional water from our contingency stocks to water stations 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 23.”  My recollection is water was missing before mile 8 as well.  Not good.  Some comments on twitter in response to the London Marathon tweet on the day support my contention I was not alone in finding the route a desert at times.  Soooooo disappointing.  No idea how karaoke man – at the risk of stating the obvious, a guy who sang enthusiastic karaoke all the way round – survived with his vocal chords in tact!

I sort of did a mental calculation, I wasn’t dehydrated yet, I was carrying some water albeit with electrolytes in it that I’d intended to have later on in the course, but it meant it wasn’t game over.  I asked at the water stations if there was water ahead, but the response was vague.  To be fair, these stations were staffed by volunteers who didn’t have any overview of what was happening. I actually felt a bit sorry for them, there must have been thousands of thirsty runners behind me, and it was getting even hotter, particularly with glare back up from the road.

There were more sights and sounds to distract me from the water issue. The Wolverhampton bobsleigh team, two minnie mouse women from Sheffield who later got 15 minutes of fame helping a fellow runner across the finish who’d fractured her leg.

Then there was the first of the walk through showers.  These are actually quite discretely located by the side of the road, so you can choose whether or not to avail yourself of them.  I did.

A bit further on, the fire station had set up much more impressive cooling showers.  If you are really shallow, you might have imagined these cooling heroes would look like this:

fire fighter

The reality is way hotter people.  It was fantastic to see them out in force, soaking it all up, and giving runners and spectators alike a welcome soaking.  Rainbows and everything,  Fantastic.  It was joyful too, like when you see kids running through fountains in public spaces.  We don’t always get a chance to do that once over the age of 10!  I might have swallowed a bit of London Thames water though, I wasn’t quite so enamoured of that!

So, some definite highs.  However, then I got to a third water station with no water.  I could feel myself panicking.

Mile 9

I was starting to think that might be it now for the rest of the course.  Also, the more consecutive water stations there were without water, the more the following one was likely to be fallen on. These blooming water stations were less oases in a desert and more mirages.  A guy in a van had 6 water bottles wrapped up, I joined the queue in time to get one – only for another runner to snatch it away!  I was quite shocked.   What followed though was a moment of clarity.  I was determined to this thing.  I did have some agency here, I still had the water I was carrying, and I didn’t want to be one of those people who blamed others or circumstance for not getting round. This was not game over, but I did need to think.  I also needed to eat, but I couldn’t because I was getting too thirsty and dry mouthed to cope with any naked bars.  I sort of mentally went through my options and decided to work my way out of this. I’d done the Sheffield half marathon dehydrated, that was horrible too, but I did it.  I’d also done that awful 17 miler feeling sick and hungry early on in training.  This was where the mental challenge came in.  My legs and lungs could do this, I just had to work out how.  I stopped, decided to walk and drink my electrolyte laden water.  I couldn’t manage my naked bars, but I had some of my glucose tablets instead, and that revived me.  I made a very conscious decision that I was going to finish this, or at the very least, wasn’t going to give up with anticipatory defeat before I really could no longer put one foot in front of another.

It was galling to see so many emptied bottles.  There was not a drop left in any of them. Some children had cottoned on to what was happening and were scrabbling about trying to find traces and pour them all together to create sips of water to hand out.  however, I think the advice early on to drink, douse, drain and drop meant very few bottles had any liquid left in them.  I saw the official record attempt for armour power walking.  I told myself I was OK, it wasn’t game over yet, I’d just need to be resourceful.  Spirit of London and all that.  See what happens.

Mile 10 and 11

Still no water.  Four consecutive stations.  I began to despair if there was ever going to be water again.  I begged a sip from a first aid station, but they literally just gave me enough to wet my mouth.  Outside a pub a guy was standing with a circular tray of cups of water so I had that, and then a little later on a woman beside the road had brought a jug out.  Her children I think, had scavenged some discarded cups from somewhere and was filling them up as best she could, I tried not to think about how dirty they were I was just grateful for the liquid. Then another runner ahead of me was holding a bottle out.  ‘Are you seriously offering that?’ I asked. He was, he’d been into a shop to buy some, this was sparkling water but I didn’t care, I drank about half and then passed it on to another desperate runner.  It’s a tough one, I am sorry I wasted time and energy on this marathon of all marathons searching for water.  However, the fact it wasn’t there did bring out the best in people, it gave me more interactions with spectators and runners, and added perhaps to making this a very memorable event.  I think had I ended up as a DNF because of it I’d be taking a different line, and I was actually quite scared at points.  Maybe it’s good to be reminded that we should value clean water as a scarce and precious resource, it’s so easy to take it for granted, even though I have witnessed first hand how hard it is for communities who don’t have this ‘luxury’ in Cambodia and elsewhere.  At the end of the day this run is/was an indulgence, and lack of water is exceptional not a daily struggle in the UK.

Mile 12

 

Mile 12- 13 including tower bridge

I can’t quite remember when we finally got water again, I think it was somewhere along mile 13.  I do know I was so desperate for it I just gulped it down, but stocks didn’t look that plentiful.  It was galling that the massive Buxton water cheer point didn’t even have supplies!  Even so, at some point, I must have got water because I remember being relieved, and able to enjoy the next bit which coming towards the half way point was a highlight.  Tower Bridge!

This was an emotional moment, realising I’d made the half way near as dammit.  Plus, it’s so iconic.  You channel across the bridge and try to take it all in. It is architecturally stunning ,and it’s such a privilege to cross it as a pedestrian.  I wasn’t alone in stopping to take photos I’m sure!

I went over, and then remembered it isn’t quite the half way point after all.  Also, if you look to your left, you can see on the other side of the road, the faster runners streaming along towards the homeward stretch as you pass then going out, as they are heading back.  That is psychologically tough I suppose.  However, the plus side is that it’s quite fun watching other runners.  Alarmingly though, many of them looked absolutely terrible, stumbling about and collapsing by the wayside.  I’d seen a few fallen runners going round, but not with the density as was apparent now. It does seem that the ‘stronger’ runners who push themselves more, collapse more suddenly and more heavily, and it is quite distressing to observe.

However, the course lay out meant that spectators had two opportunities to spot any runners they were looking out for. This led to a highlight of the day for me.  No offence to my own supporters, but the prize for the loudest roar of support I hear all day goes to the East End Road Runners, who went into an ecstatic frenzy of shouting and purple pompom waving at the sight of one of their compatriots even though he was on the opposite side of the road at the time.  It was epic!  I couldn’t not stop to take a shot of them all in action, it might not be the best of photos, but it was an inspirational moment along the course.  That’s why I had to stop and snap it…

Go yogi go east end road runners

and you know what?  They snapped right back!  Go them.  Go us!  Mutual awesomeness all around!

east end runner celebrity sighting

Then through the 13 mile archway and on to mile 14, taking in the half way mark at last.  I have a strange logic when running.  Once I get to the half way point of any run, I feel like well, with every step I’ve got less far to go than I’ve already run, so I know I’ll be fine. This is illogical of course, you still have another half marathon to go, but it gave me a lift to get to this point.

Mile 14 and beyond.

It gets a bit vague here, which you are probably quite relieved about.  Things that do stand out in my mind though were NO BLOODY WATER.  Again, empty water stations for mile after mile.  Some had given up any pretence of having ever had water and were completely abandoned.  It was demoralising.  I was pretty sure I’d make it now, but it was going to be really tough, and again I consciously slowed.

One thing though, I don’t know if it was because it was hot, or because of the lack of water, or because it always happens at marathons, but from about the half way point, I found because I started so far back, almost everyone around me was walking for the last third of the marathon or so.  This mean that I had to constantly over take people, and as I was in a minority in wanting to keep trotting on, albeit slowly, it was hard to stay motivated and physically tiring to weave through the crowd.  It hadn’t been such an issue in the early stages, but it became an issue later on.  Next time (laughs and coughs to self) I’d try and start in a pen a bit further forward so I was alongside others aiming to keep on running.  Easier said than done though…

Sights worthy of note included:  well lubricated-latex gloved St John’s Ambulance staff all along the route.  They weren’t offering impromptu manual prostate tests to runners as part of a public health campaign despite appearances to the contrary. Rather, they were  proffering Vaseline to any runner in need.  They were everywhere.  It ceased to be remarkable after the first few miles!

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Mile 15 – into the tunnels

I am on record as someone who lurves running in tunnels.  So these were fab.  There were two subterranean sections on the course.  It was such a relief to enter the cool of being underground.  The next day a runner a bit faster than me said that when she went into this underground world it was like entering a post-apocalyptic world.  People taking advantage of the shade suddenly were collapsing with exhaustion against the cool concrete walls.  Like the battered survivors from a zombie attack of victims of an air raid who’d struggled to the tunnels for shelter, but had no notion of whether or not they would survive the night, or indeed, what horrors might be unfolding above them unseen.  One of the unexpected bonuses of being a slower runner, was that by the time I got to this point, most of the carcasses had been removed, so it was less disquieting to pass through.  Normally I like to run through tunnels as fast as I can, but on this occasion I thought discretion was the better part of valour, and walked through to try to cool off.

 

Mile 16 – emerging the tunnels

Mile 17 – Grenfell Tower firefighters

I found myself alongside the Grenfell Tower Fire Fighters running pretty much in full kit I was with them for quite a while.  That was moving. Whilst at many other points on the route fancy dress wearers were rewarded with whoops, and shouts and encouraging name calling, for large stretches these firefighters  were flanked by a standing ovation as the crowds applauded them every step of the way.  It was an extraordinary spectacle. They were really nice guys actually, constantly asking other runners if they were all right. With hindsight, I wish I’d engaged with them a bit more. What they have seen and had to deal with is beyond imagining.  From a selfish perspective though, it was hard running alongside them, because whatever effort I put in seemed insignificant by comparison, you are always going to come off worst if you compare yourself to a superhero.  I enjoyed watching how the crowd engaged with them for a while, and then when they paused at one of the fire stations I peeled ahead of them.

It must have been beyond extraordinary to watch them cross the line together at the end though.

grenfell finish

End of mile 17 – supporters en route

I was tiring again by the end of mile 17.  I must have had water again by now, but I felt exhausted by the heat, and erratic hydration had really messed up my fuelling as well as my drinking.  I started to walk.  To be fair, I ran considerably more of the marathon than I expected.  Very slowly it’s true, but it gave me some confidence that I can indeed run a lot further than my innate tendency to stop would have you believe.  Even during the event I found myself questioning how different a run it might have been if the water had been available when promised and the temperatures even fractionally more benign.  I don’t think though that I’m entirely sold on road marathons, but I do have a curiosity about what else might be achievable for me, if I committed to the correct preparation…  At breakfast one of my hotel buddies was instantly my friend when she ‘fessed up to putting on weight during marathon training – I honestly thought it was just me!  And no, it isn’t muscle, my waist bands say otherwise.  The irony of having to wait until after the marathon to get fit is not lost on me, I just didn’t see how dieting for weight loss would fit with trying to carb up in the final few weeks of marathon training.  First world problems I know….  However, I do think if I lost a bit of weight, now I know I can do the distance, I could probably improve my times a bit, I’ll never be exactly speedy, but I do think I’m capable of a faster finish time for a marathon that the one that was achieveable at London on this day.

walking onwards

and then, just as I was thinking how nice it would be to see some smiley support right now, look what appeared as a vision of loveliness in front of me.   To be fair, the photos make it look as if Geronimo saw then first.  It was great!

I gabbled on to them about lack of water and just generic nonsense.  They offered some, but actually I was rehydrated by now and although clearly in possession of runner’s fog, was doing OK.  Their hugs and sporting display of Sheffield running tops from Dark Peak and Smiley Paces running clubs gave me the necessary boost to power on.  My it was hot though.  Nearly there.  I told them I thought water situation was OK now…. it wasn’t.

Mile 18 – nope, can’t remember any salient details,  but into mile 19 and another bonus sighting of a London Marathon superstar, which was fantastic.  She was still brandishing haribos, and possibly snacking on them if the photo is anything to go by.  Well, there are plenty of terrible photos of me from today, it is in the interests of balance if I include unflattering snaps of other people too!

Very soon water stations were dry all over again.  I couldn’t believe it.  Not even staffed any more!  That was better than the false promises earlier on, also, the weather was beginning to cool, there was a breeze coming and it clouded over a bit.

Mile 20 – nearly home,  the highlight of this mile was most definitely getting a cheese sandwich.  That was somehow just what I wanted.  I was sick of my glucose tablets and sweet stuff.  Thanks to this woman for her foresight and generosity!  There were egg mayonnaise sandwiches too, but they were a much less appealing prospect.

Mile 21

Mile 22 – 23 -24

I do like it when spectators make an effort!  The crowds were thinning, but the air was cooling.  Those still watching roared appreciation at any acknowledgement.  I think I wasn’t alone in feeling my increasingly half-hearted loping didn’t really merit such appreciative adulation, but I was taking all on offer all the same.

I kept a watchful eye for the realbuzz team of virtual supporters who were near a garage after the 22.5 mark or thereabouts.  Didn’t see them, I was late though, unthinkable though it may seem, possibly the spectators got bored of standing around cheering before I was done with running.  I know.  Bizarre!

Under the bowels of canary wharf there was music being channelled through speakers and a moving light show with #spiritofLondon displayed on the walls.

Amazingly, my London marathon buddy was here too.  I feel I may have miscounted somehow, but anyway, she took a photo of me so she must have been here, I think it is framed deliberately as an act of vengeance for the photo I took of her earlier.  I think that’s fair!  We can have an understanding about it.

canary wharf

It was great to see her, but it was not all good news.  I was asking her about how she was getting on with tracking our other London Marathon superstars.   Turns out two of the four of us were safely back, I had the end in sight, but one of our number, my fellow smiley pacer, who had been really, really strong suddenly collapsed with a suspected hip stress fracture around the 40km mark, she was morphined and blue lit off to hospital.  I was stunned.  If you’d had to say in advance which of us would have the most realistic chance of getting round you’d have laughed at being asked to state the blindingly obvious in advance and pointed to her – possibly with a slightly apologetic glance in my direction which I’d return with a look of acceptance and understanding.  It was really a no-brainer.  This news shook me a bit, it just shows, even with the best of preparation, training and fitness you need to have luck on your side.  It seemed unfair if I got round when she hadn’t. I also had a moment of thinking hang on, I’ve not finished yet, and had to compose myself a bit to remind myself I was most unlikely to do a face plant into the river at this stage, and even if I did, surely at this stage only an alien abduction should stop me crawling home.  Smiley supporters at home though watched the tracker with horror as I crept up on the other Smiley and eventually over took her.  What was going on?

Mile 25 on

Pleasingly, I did know I had one more supporter to look out for.  Last year I volunteered on a Shelter cheerstation on the embankment and made a new buddy who would be there again this year and had promised to look out for me even though I’d be a long time coming round.

I romped on.  I’d slightly forgotten where the cheerstation was, and vanity meant I really wanted to be actually running when spotted, so I did run, slowly, but consistently, until eventually to my absolute delight she was there!  Hurrah!  So exciting.  It might not have been much of a run, but it was my run, and forward motion at least.

When I’d been imagining running this thing, I’d visualised this moment.  I knew, well, thought I knew, that once I was here, nothing was going to stop me finishing.  It really wasn’t far.  I couldn’t believe it.  I actually felt fine.  It hadn’t been brilliant with Watergate and all, but the #spiritoflondon part, that was cool.  The next stand out moment was int he final stages, the crowd was pretty thin now, but there was a family leaning against a low wall, and the woman shouted across ‘giraffe lady!  We’ve been tracking you!’  How bizarre, I went across and gave high fives and romped on.

Finally, the endgame. The bit you imagine from the telly.  Oh my gawd.  It felt surreal.  Because I was slow, it wasn’t crowded, and the way it’s set up it suddenly quietens. Although it isn’t very far in distance this is a contemplative moment.  I was thinking of the people who hadn’t made the start, my fellow smiley who didn’t make the finish.  I was also wondering what would happen at the end.  I wasn’t completely confident there’d be anyone to meet me because London is chaotic and it’s a big ask for friends to wait in that heat and crowds for hours and hours because you will be wrecked and over-emotional from completely self-inflicted causes.  You could forgive non-running friends for querying ‘well if it’s going to upset you so much and make you ill with fatigue why don’t you just not do it them?‘  Fortunately, my friends are better than that, running or otherwise.

There had been hardly any official photographers along the route – well not that I saw anyway, but there were lots scattered in the end stages.  It remains to be seen what their photos are like.  I did some high-five sweeps on the way in and tried to enjoy the moment whilst simultaneously knowing the euphoria of completion would all too soon become bemused anti-climax.  Blooming endorphins, they wear off fast!  The great advantage of being a slower runner, is that by the time I’d got to this part of the course the crowds had been well trained to proffer up high fives almost instinctively as you come through. Consequently it looks like I have an adoring fan base – and it felt a bit like that too – even though it is just yet another example of the #spiritoflondon and perhaps the kindness of strangers.  Go all of us!

I finally crossed the line.  It was weird, beyond the finish arch I couldn’t see anyone doing finish photos so I sort of shuffled over.  Top Tip if you run.  Charge across arms outstretched you will be caught the other side and your photo will be so much the better for it than my shambling effort.  I think I peaked too soon.

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You have to keep walking before you get your medal.  That’s nice, the marshals giving medals out also dispense hugs and take photos.  Multi-tasking!

got the medal

I then posed for an official finish photo – which I might add in later depending on how mortifying I find it to be once seen.

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and then made a dazed trek towards the baggage area and had snippets of chat with others, I’d run with.   One guy said he’d been trying to catch me for miles as he didn’t want to be beaten by the giraffe ‘but fair play to you, couldn’t catch you‘.  This pleased me.  I also coincided with the East End Road Runner with his personal purple cheer squad and told him I’d try to get him the photos I’d taken en route over to him somehow.  he was most gracious.  Everyone I meet running is fantastic, it must bring out the best in people, or maybe only lovely people do it, hard to know which is cause and which is effect.

One of the baggage marshals wanted a photo with Geronimo and me because her daughter loves giraffes, that was nice.  You can’t get lost, signs direct you towards the meet and greet area.  It’s like airports.  You think it’s going to be daunting to navigate because the area is so huge, but ultimately you just traipse along behind everyone else, and if in doubt there were huge signs telling you were to go, and loads of helpful staff to point you the right way and offer reassurance and tell you how awesome you are.  That last bit is nothing like my experience of air travel by the way. Staff at airports routinely subject you to ridicule, discomfort and humiliation, and I’ve never once been given a medal let alone an upgrade, just so you know.

I headed down to the meet and greet.  The advice for main pack runners is to agree to meet at a less popular letter x or z or something, but I just went for L as I thought, rightly, by the time I made it to the rendezvous point most people would have dispersed.  As I was investigating my goody bag and digging liquids out of my kit pack another runner appeared alongside.  Her daughter also loves giraffes, though her daughter was a grown up. So we paused and nattered and I gave her top tips about how to source a giraffe just like Geronimo and we took photos together and then, I heard a scream from the sidelines.  Oh my gawd.  My kindred.  A former work colleague from years back with whom I bonded in adversity was at the side.  She’d come all the way from Leicester to cheer me round.  We’d not seen each other en route, but she found me at the end.  We had an emotional and shell-shocked reunion. It was a bit bizarre, because 18 years ago when we worked together she was the athlete and gym bunny, I did cycle as transport and that was about it.  Again, of the two of us, she was the one who was most likely to do the marathon.  A massive fan of athletics she has a real interest in the sport and the elite women runners in particular.  It was just the hug I needed.  Also, because she is very sporty, she was one of the very few people who wouldn’t recoil at my sweaty, salty and increasingly stinky state. That’s true friendship for you people, right there!

It worked out well, because it also meant we got to spend some time catching up before we got to the rendezvous where other friends joined us.  I say ‘catching up’ but obviously what I really mean is I gabbled some sort of narcissistic self-serving gibberish all about me, and my marathon, and what I’d done in a high-speed monologue, and showed an alarming disregard for her experiences of the day.  Oh well, hopefully forgivable in the circumstances.  She also brought me exactly what I’d requested, a huge family pack of McCoy crinkle cut salt and vinegar crisps, which I pretty much inhaled, in between talking at her.

Whilst we waited at the letter L the woman and family who had earlier shouted ‘giraffe lady’ joined us.  By coincidence the person they were there to support was meeting them at the same letter.  She explained I was approximately the same speed as their runner, and the children were enjoying looking out for my giraffe – they’d actually seen me four times on the way round using the tracker.  That was so strange, it never occurred to me that random people would track me, it was nice though.  More photos.   I was even asked if I would like some prosecco, which I would have, very much, but decided against as it would have been a really terrible idea to follow through with!

After a bit, we were joined by my cheer squad from mile 4.  They were brilliant, bringing sign and logistical certainty with them.  More photos, obviously, but they decided after all not to be photographed wearing medals as ‘it just doesn’t feel right‘ OK then. Check out the graphics on that sign though people, quality work.  On closer inspection, I can’t help noticing it looks as if Geronimo dumped me before the finish arch.  Then again, to be fair, she did strictly speaking cross the line before me, though I obviously prefer to see our achievement as a team effort…

house moving cheer squad london marathon 2018

and then, just when I thought it was impossible to feel any more supported, my London marathon superstar buddy turned up exactly as promised for post race debrief.

and finally with BFF marathon running buddy

I felt truly blessed.  I think what made it special was feeling like the whole city wanted you to succeed in this endeavour and would do whatever it took to help to get you round.  Then, at the end, my friends turned out for me, just when I needed them most, and that’s awesome too.  We are not as alone in the world as sometimes it seems.  Eventually my kindred and my marathon superstar buddies went off to catch their respective trains whilst my erstwhile flatmate and daughter escorted me back to the hotel which was much appreciated and much needed. I just couldn’t think straight, and it was so nice not to have to try to work out where the nearest tube was, or worry about rummaging in my bag to find my room key.   They even whipped out a spare oyster card for me, anticipating I’d not have thought of that.  Reader, I didn’t need one!  One of the coolest things about marathon day as a participant, is that on the sight of your number the barriers at tube stations part for you as if by magic.  Smiling underground staff give you the thumbs up and wave you through as if you are a goddarn celebrity!  It’s pretty awesome. This system worked fine.  One runner who no longer had his number on was a bit worried about being turned away, but was able to blag it with his finish medal.  On arrival at Gloucester Street I had a momentary panic it wouldn’t work as I didn’t immediately spot a staff member around.  I had visions of being made to walk right back to the embankment and being made to start all over again – but it was fine, a laughing official waved me through. Phew.

Once at the hotel, in the highest act of friendship of all, they left me so I could collapse under a shower and go to bed which is all I was fit for.  The hotel had left this in my room though:

Bravo

It was very tempting, but again I resisted, indulging instead in electrolyte laden water, whilst gazing at my medal (which was rather heavy to be honest) in stunned disbelief.  I also browsed through the results to check out which of my fellow runners had made it to the end. Shout out to Cathy Bishop – we didn’t meet, but yay, saw you did it!  We rock.

What the hell happened today?  Nope, can’t really make sense that at all.  Strava tells me this happened:

London marathon strava route

and if you want more detail, there are loads of course maps in sections and as a whole picture on the spectator info section of the London Marathon website here.

Some final thoughts:

Hot runners?  I certainly was, I am a bit disappointed my hot running photo didn’t quite turn out like Sophie Raworth’s at the marathon des sables. I tell myself that even though begrudgingly I concede she ran a tad further than me, she did have the advantage of knowing in advance that she’d have to battle with the heat on the way round.  If I’d been able to do some training somewhere hot so I could acclimatised I’m sure I’d have romped round looking similarly effortless.  (Cough), can you tell which is me?

Oh, in case you care, here is the link to the 2018 results so you can endlessly search random people and see how they fared at the Virgin Money London Marathon 2018 . To save time the Radio Times has helpfully put together a guide to celebrity finishers.  Though in my world, all of us who put in the training – whether or not we made the start line let alone the end, are London Marathon Superstars!

There were loads of marriage proposals en route too, so that’s getting old hat now – no wonder one had to propose wearing a dinosaur suit to up the ante a bit again!  I saw him en route, brave man, as if running a marathon and running a marathon in a dinosaur suit weren’t quite stressful enough eh?  Oh she said yes by the way.

Oh, and there were a shed load of people who still made their Guinness World Record attempts, for the fastest marathon in whatever get up – which is extra impressive in the heat – though, alas I fear even more wouldn’t have done what they set out to achieve.  The stilts one is particularly hard to imagine – how did they get any water at water stations I wonder. Did they have a winch system?  The BBC article about the world record breakers had some fab pics of the Guinness ones, but remember dear reader, all of us who ran on Sunday are record-breaking marathoners, because we took part in the hottest London Marathon on record. Thus, I stake my claim to being not just a marathoner (go me) but a record-breaking one at that.  Yay!

_100991540_michellefrostfastestmarathononstilts

I can truthfully report that running the London Marathon is indeed an amazing experience, the crowds do carry you round. The other runners are extraordinary, and it is all emotional. Everything you have heard about the event is true.  You should wear your name on your vest, you will come to rely on the kindness of strangers, and you will see and hear things you never dreamt of.  The problem is it is so outside ‘normality’ it feels surreal. I swear, now I’m back home were it not for the comforting presence of the medal to stare at I’d think I’d imagined the whole thing.  It’s so unlikely a thing for me to have done, and so outside my other running experiences. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to do it, and slightly shell-shocked that I actually did.

So today, two days later, I can report that I feel surprisingly ‘fine’.  Zero chafing, one minor blister on my little toe, which I always get on a run longer than a half marathon for some reason, and isn’t that bad anyway. I’m a bit stiff, but by no means crippled, though I’m not planning on running for a while and venturing downstairs is not done with the graceful seamless progress and lightness of foot I might wish.  I just really hope my bannisters are pretty securely fixed.   My main aftermath was the next day feeling really wobbly and faint, in fact I did have an anxious moment on the train ride home when I thought I might pass out. I’m sure that’s to do with getting so dehydrated yesterday.  I had electrolytes and just went to bed when I got in and now I feel tired, rather than wiped out.  Also, just for the record, my womb didn’t fall out, not even once, or not that I noticed anyway, so that’s good.

Accepted wisdom about when to run again after a marathon suggests I’m in the clear for doing nothing for about a week, so that’s my plan.  Bit of walking and I’d like to get to parkrun on Saturday, though if I’m being completely honest, that’s partly so I can accidentally on purpose wear my marathon finishers t-shirt  in a ‘oh this old thing, no idea I’d put that on‘ sort of way.   Of course my parkrunning buddies will see straight through me, but you know what.  I don’t care!  I’ll never have just completed my first marathon again though will I? So that will have to be my moment.  I’d wear the medal too if I thought I’d get away with it… maybe at junior parkrun, I might need it as proof if I’m trying to blag a marathon wristband from the RD!  Besides, ultimately, what is the point of running a marathon, if not to bestow temporary bragging rights at least.  I will feel sheepish in the presence of those who ran in half the time it took me to get round, and mindful in the company of those who either did not start or did not finish, but I’m proud of my achievement all the same. Yes, I had some luck on the day, but I did put the training in too, so I like to think I gave that luck the best chance it could to deliver on the day.

So there you go, I ran a marathon and wrote all about it so you don’t have to. But you know what, I really think you should.

Go on. I’m the most unlikley marathon runner in the world, it might be more achieveable than you think, but you do have to watch out for those curve balls.  Luck plays a part for sure, but it’s true what they say if you put in the miles in training it is apparently not impossible, but the mental challenge is very real.

Ballot opens next week.  Just saying….

For all my London Marathon related posts see here

Flor all my marathon training related posts see here

I bought a photo bundle in advance.  I did get loads of photos, most of which are excruciating, but they are still good to have.  You get a load of gallery images too, which is fun, or not, depending on whether or not you have participated in the event yourself, or just been made to endure it by someone you previously thought to be your loved one, but have now gone off quite a lot because actually, them talking about shoe choices, long run challenges and nutrition angst is really boring unless  you are either planning on running a marathon yourself, or have already done so.  Sorry about that*.

 

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*not really though

Post script:

So now we know there was one fatality at the London marathon 2018.  A young man, it seems so desperately sad.  Matt Campbell collapsed at the 22.6 mile mark, and now there is a movement to finish his missing 3.7 miles as a sort of tribute to him, and to donate to his charity of choice as well.  He was only 29 for pities sake.  You have to respect the marathon distance.  Fatalities are actually pretty rare, though I suppose as the first one was Pheidippides himself, the original marathon runner, the warning is there.  News like this brings you up short (pun unintended).  Why him?  Why anyone? What a waste.  #finishformatt

Matt Campbell finish for matt

Whilst not suggesting the two situations are equivalent, we Smiley Paces people are going to run to finish our fellow Smiley’s marathon as well, by turning out in force at Sheffield parkruns, and likewise donating to the charity she was supporting by getting sponsorship for her run.  These are small gestures, but a way to offer some solidarity to those who DNF.

It seems that whatever your level of prior fitness or preparation, you can’t really take a challenge of this distance for granted.  You need to train, you need to prepare, you need to listen to your body and you need to be lucky too.  Or failing that, at the very least not unlucky on the day.  Events can certainly unfold in  unexpected and unwanted ways, that’s what makes the challenge worth taking on…  His death is truly sad, all those who DNF I’m gutted for them, would it put me off tackling another one, honestly, not really.  I can think of worse ways to go…

 

Categories: marathon, motivation, race, road, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

What was I thinking? The road to London marathon 2018. Expo and the challenge hots up….

Digested read:  I’m in London, it’s Saturday night, tomorrow is the London marathon and the past couple of days have been an emotional roller coaster.  I’m scared of the heat, I’m overwhelmed with the challenge ahead, but I’m grateful for the support that’s got me to this place, grateful for the opportunity and although I really doubt myself right now, I’m also determined to give this my very best shot.  Tomorrow tea time will come whether I get round or not.  It’s just one foot in front of the other after all, how hard can it be?  Eek.

London bound.  Geronimo decided to stick with the daisies.

DSCF2020

The day before the morning after.  I’m writing this on marathon eve, Saturday 21st April 2018.  This time tomorrow I’ll know it I thought I could and did …. or not.  Eek

I am going to write this post, but I haven’t decided yet whether or not to actually publish it, as it may just be an indulgent pity party which you dear reader, do not deserve to be subjected to.  On the other hand, the reading  of this is not compulsory.  Also, I suppose it’s just possible that all I’m experiencing is completely normal self-doubting angst, the apex of maranoia, that many marathoners forget all about after the event and so those of us going through it imagine we are the only ones hitting this level of anguish and despair.  I will say one thing though, however events unfold, I’m still glad to have made it to this point, and I would be devastated if now something were to happen that meant I couldn’t run. As has been said before, by me very often after events and experiences that were less than joyful contemporaneously, ‘I’m not sure I enjoyed myself, but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it.’ Maybe this pre-performance angst is just part of the whole London marathon circus.  It happens hot weather has given me a particular focus on which to hang my many and multitudinous anxieties, but if we didn’t have the predicted heat wave and warnings of ‘the hottest London Marathon on record’ then I’d probably find something else to worry about.  Sock choice, or unflattering photos, or wetting myself with excitement or crapping myself through fear.  I still have all those worries for the record, it’s just they are way down the list of things that make me want to curl up in a foetal position and sob.  Right now it’s the heat.  Oh my gawd, this London heat.  Aaaargh.

Still, not all bad.  I’ve always aspired to looking hot whilst running, maybe tomorrow will be my moment?  I live in hope.

The journey to London began yesterday. I’d always planned to go down to the Expo on Friday to avoid the madness of a Saturday in London the day before an event as daunting as my first (and at this rate last and only) marathon.  I got to the station really early, time for a coffee and a read of the Metro which managed to panic me further.  Don’t even think of running in fancy dress and have you heard how hot it’ll be on Sunday the paper told me:

Happily, a quartet of us heading down for the Marathon travelled on the same train from Sheffield. Two supporters me and a fellow Smiley, but one who can run really fast unlike me who is the other end of the running continuum.  Me and my fellow marathoner (do you have any idea how strange it feels to be saying that phrase!) sat next to each other, and basically simultaneously broadcast marathon anxieties at each other the whole way down to London St Pancras. It was immensely reassuring. Even though she is a ‘proper’ athlete, she like me,  was also consumed with anxieties over everything from how to deal with the weather to how to source a bespoke breakfast and how to hydrate.  She isn’t used to drinking on runs and hasn’t been in the habit of carrying water, so that’s a biggy, I’m worried about absolutely everything, but mainly the sun. I  get nauseous and heat stroke really quickly in direct sunlight and heat.  I swear I must be from vampire stock.  I never venture out in the heat of the day.  It was basically great to spend time with someone who couldn’t escape, but also, genuinely could engage with the whole maranoia chit chat.

Top tip for anyone around people building up to a marathon, sometimes we just need to off load and voice our concerns.  We aren’t seeking reassurance or even advice (though confusingly sometimes we are just to keep you on your toes), we just want to get it out of our systems and also just articulating things can help you process strategies or just put worries in perspective.  In the presence of another empathetic angsty marathon runner no concern can be too trivial to merit many hours of earnest consideration.  Having said that, many of my Smiley comrades; parkrun people; monday mobster buddies and other runners aplenty have given bucket loads of advice, support, and inspiration, for which many thanks.  A special place in heaven must be reserved for the Smiley who responded to my panicky Facebook message on Friday morning about where Smiley Vests chafe most for people of my body shape – I’m currently thinking the unthinkable, wearing my vest without a t-shirt underneath despite being hugely self-conscious about exposing myself in that way, but I’m moving into unknown territory there.  Kit change and risk of sunburn versus risk of over-heating from too many layers.  It’s an indecisive person’s NIGHTMARE I tell you, add in running novice and it’s no wonder I feel I’m about to implode.  I’d be having a meltdown even without this heat.  The other pre-departure angst was centred around constantly packing and unpacking my stuff to check I’d not forgotten anything.  Then worrying that in the act of checking my passport and registration form and running shoes and giraffe were all ready to go, I’d taken them out and forgot to put them back.  STRESS!

It was remarkable in the circumstances I made it onto the train at all, but I did. We all did.  Me and my fellow marathoner (get me, it’s quite fun saying that actually, though it might ring a bit hollow subsequently if I’m a DNF) chit chatting away.  Sitting opposite us were two women who were lovingly colouring in a sign for some friends they were going to be cheering round on London. We didn’t particularly interact with them at first because we were too self-absorbed.  But couldn’t not join in when they realised a slight issue with their sign:

They spelt Sheffield wrong!  Hilarious, disappointingly, they chose to rectify this, and managed to fit in a sort of squashed L alongside a refashioned E, but it was a great moment.  Plus, I feel we have new friends now, I’m going to try and spot them on the way round and claim their support for me too. I  mean ‘Lisa’ is basically a misspelling of ‘Lucy’ after all is it not?  No harm in me claiming that.  I’m going to need all the support I can get and sometimes it pays to be direct and just ask for the help you need!

We arrived at  London, waved goodbye to our supporters, who were staying elsewhere and amongst other things running Bushy parkrun for a fiftieth event celebration on Saturday (today) – see how colour co-ordinated they are, how lovely!

parkrun celebrations marathon supporters

We wannabe marathoners (yep, coming more easily now) headed to the tube and joined the Piccadilly line, I headed off to check in to my hotel, whilst she went straight to the Expo.   I have no idea how Londoners cope with the underground. Whilst it is undoubtedly an incredibly efficient way to get about, it is sensory overload down there.  Super heated air, weird hot winds rushing through the tunnels, and the scream of trains compound the claustrophobia of being squashed up alongside sooooooooooo many people. On the other hand, I do enjoy how cosmopolitan it is, the multitude of nationalities, the range of types from hippies through to goths, school children in uniforms and besuited city executives all packed in the little cylindrical cans.  You can tell the city natives, as they have perfected the art of ignoring their travel companions and gazing into space.  Yet within that, there is clearly an underground etiquette, a woman with a pushchair got on and silently the carriage occupants rearranged themselves to accommodate her and her charge in an extraordinary display of collective spatial awareness.

One episode spun me out a bit though.  A youngish couple got on, doubled up in giggles over a shared joke. The woman had the most extravagant long fake silver nails I’ve ever seen – I don’t know how you could function with them, she was also sporting enormous silver hooped earrings with considerable style.  Her companion had stowed a ginormous spliff behind his ear. It was a creation of considerable skill, lovingly crafted into an even, seamless conical form, with the dry green leaves visible beneath the thin paper of the joint.  As is the way on public transport, everyone ignored this, and they were a lovely cheery pair.  But then, just after my marathon friend disembarked to go to the Expo, the woman lit up the joint and I went into complete panic mode. I’m not great in tubes, it’s like flying for me,  I don’t worry about either traveling on the underground or getting on a plane in advance, but when I’m actually in them, it seems an affront to nature to try and navigate the earth in this way.  Really claustrophobic.  I vividly remember the Kings Cross Station fire for some reason – I think that was what led to the smoking ban on the tubes, a fire started under a wooden escalator and 31 people died, horrible.  Therefore, in a completely spontaneous act, but a shocking breach of London tube-travel conventions I intervened!  ‘Please don’t!’ I cried out, my voice activating before my brain so at first I didn’t even realise it was me speaking! I added, rather pathetically ‘you’ll set the alarms off, I don’t want to be stuck down here!‘  Yes, I’m embarrassed, but I’m also default British, there’s a certain standard to be maintained.  Nobody is bothered by the illegality of the spliff, but to smoke in a non-smoking carriage!  Outrageous! The woman, who in my estimation was way too young to remember a time when smoking was the norm on the underground by many a decade was actually very sweet.  ‘It’s allright my lovely’ she said ‘there are no alarms, the train won’t stop‘ she laughed and they  tumbled out of the tube at the next station, no doubt puffing their way cheerily along the platform.  Even so, I was relieved.  It’s one thing to die from heat stroke half way round the London Marathon in a glorious but futile attempt to tick it off my bucket list, but I really didn’t fancy being burned to death in the hell of a London tube.

Just another couple of stops and then to my hotel.  My room wasn’t ready, so I just dumped my bags, refilled my water bottle and back into the horror of the tube.  Gawd, sooooo hot, I was exhausted and sticky with sweat and grime by the time I made it to the DLR overground exchange of Canning Town and boarded the crush of the DLR train heading to the Expo.  On the plus side, can I give a special shout out to the driver of the train that deposited us at Prince Regent about 3.27 p.m.  He was hilarious.  We got a running commentary en route, about the weather; how hot it would be; what fun we’d have he was great!  Plus, when we got to the first stop Custom House for the West Entrance, he advised it was a half mile walk from there to the Expo, but up to you folks – the train was so crushed, many opted to alight and do the walk to loosen up the legs, but a few of us stayed on for Prince Regent.  Our driver congratulated us for making a good call.  We’d be at the Expo way ahead of them.  Result.  It was grand, it created atmosphere and helped this whole adventure start to feel real.

Getting off at Prince Regent it is a long walk to get to the expo. I went last year 2017, and I was so glad I did, the layout and talks were seemingly identical, so it made it easy to find may way around. Even so, I was starting to really feel a rising sense of panic.  Even just travelling to the Excel arena had completely drained me, I was feeling stiff, tired, headachey and anything but springy and ‘ooh, wouldn’t it be grand to run a marathon in 25 degree heat in two days time’.  Even though many people have warned me about this pre-event panic, and doubting yourself, and worrying about losing fitness the reality of it is quite devastating and debilitating.  Looking about me there were loads of ‘proper’ runners, with athletic frames and focused expressions.  I looked sweaty, shiny, frumpy and fearful.  These are not desirable attributes on such occasions.   It was still very exciting though, and emotional too, couldn’t believe I’d made it at least to this point.  Even the ads were marathon themed!

Through the red archway:

the red archway london marathon expo 2018

Found the portal to my new identity as a marathon runner (hopefully):

portal to new me

There wasn’t even a queue.  And I was welcomed with winning smiles (I was really, the photo doesn’t do the duo justice) and handed my pack, which delivered both a number, a final instructions leaflet, a kit bag, and an overwhelming neurosis that I would lose all of these things at some point in the following 38 hours!  You pass through a little gate into the main exhibition, and as you do so there were lines of marathon makers who scan your envelope number and issue you with a shoe tag, which they place in your envelope so you can now worry about losing that as well.  I took a photo though.  This is real!  Bit too real.  Oh my gawd, why didn’t I train more, why didn’t I lose 3 stone during training; why did I tell everyone I was doing this; WHAT WAS I THINKING?!  Oh well, at least I have a magic number now.  Look!  Isn’t it a think of wonder.  Can’t believe I’ve got my hands on this. I’m so conflicted, this is amongst the scariest and most unlikely things I’ve ever done, but I know I am so, so lucky to have nabbed this opportunity.  I think a lot of my angst is to do with wanting to do the moment justice!

magic number 18590

In better news, I knew that my London Weekend running buddies were already here in force.  So I could at least hook up with some people I knew.  We met at a London Running Weekend in January and have been a Facebook self-help mutual support group ever since.  How anyone could possibly entertain the idea of running a marathon without a buddy group like that I can’t imagine.  I was soooooooooo happy to know they’d soon scoop me up.  On the way in to the expo you pass through lots of tempting London marathon themed clothing.  I wasn’t feeling confident enough about Sunday to buy any.  I was tempted, but it felt like tempting fate, as I don’t think you can wear London themed clothes if you don’t complete.  It’s weird though, as generally I’m not superstitious, but I am realistic. I  really struggle with heat, this is an eventuality that more than any other factor could literally wipe me out.  It was why I had to defer London last year, it was just impossible to train for the marathon whilst living and working in the heat of Cambodia.  I never imagined it would be an issue on marathon day, especially after hours and hours of training in ice and snow.  I didn’t buy any clothes, I did however buy a London marathon mug, after all I’m here now, however it ends.  Also, i like the mug, and you can never have too many really can you? It’s nice too. It has a rhino fancy dress costumed runner on it amongst others. I can’t be bothered to do a photo right now, but maybe I will later.

I texted my London marathoners current and deferred and established they were indeed in the Excel venue and currently watching the presentations, so I made my way to join them. En route I did buy a new, white running cap.  It is a risk, running in new kit, but I need something, and even I am realising my sun hat option might not be the best.  the new cap is exceedingly white, and, of course, deeply unflattering, but anything to keep the sun off is worth a punt at this point.  This was the other option, and I have to concede, it was probably worse:

hat option

By coincidence, I later found out my Graves marathon running friend made the same impulse buy, so hopefully we have both been wise in our choice.

I then ambled to the central area, following the sound of applause.  I was just in time to see Paula Radcliffe being interviewed.  That was great obviously, but I’m not sure her advice on what to do immediately after the marathon was entirely pertinent to my situation. Personally I’m not overly worried about factoring in all the press conferences nor prioritising getting into an ice bath, but good to know all the same.  Then Martin Yelling did his motivational chit-chat, 99% of us will finish.  The odds are in our favour, as long as we don’t do anything stupid and therefore die of either over or under hydration.  It’s curious, his optimism and positivity are indeed reassuring and inspiring, and I’m not generally that lucky to win a 1% chance of a lottery prize or whatever, then again, I got lucky with the stats on my side for this London Marathon ballot place, maybe that statistical anomaly will mean I stumble into the 1% DNF for Sunday.

The Expo experience for me was a bit mixed.  It was great to see my running buddies, it was exciting and terrifying to pick up my number and it was handy to get a running cap. On the other hand the mind games are really kicking in.  My training feels lamentable, I’ve done practically nothing the last two weeks – legitimate decision with niggles and a temperature, but as a consequence I feel lard arsed, lethargic and a complete fraud.  How on earth I shuffled round a half marathon a couple of weeks ago I can’t begin to imagine.

And the heat.  Oh my god the heat.  It was OK at the expo, but it was noisy and crowded and all a bit overwhelming.    Up until it got so hot I was quietly confident that as long as I made it to the start line of the marathon uninjured, I’d get around.  I know I’ve done the mileage and I’m tenacious, I might not get the best time, but it would be doable.  It would be an experience, I’d never considered being a DNF if I got to the start.  Now though, with this heat all bets are off.  I avoid the sun always, and feel nauseous even sitting inside in a sun spot.  If it is as hot as threatened I am really concerned I won’t make it round.  It wouldn’t be a mental battle, it would be a physical impossibility. I know how bad heat stroke can be and it comes on quickly.  There is absolutely nothing I can do about it, but it would break my heart if I don’t get round because of the temperature.  It’s made worse because as a slow runner I’ll be out for longer and I’m guaranteed to be caught up in the heat of the day.  My worse nightmare.

There are some perks, marathon support from my marathon BFF running buddy who has now sadly had to defer has now widened her remit to encompass the supply of popsicles en route.  Even if I know in my heart of heats the crowds are such I may not see her, the thought that she is out there someone with an icebox and an ice lolly just for me is massively supportive. Also, there was a last-minute email from virgin marathon today (Saturday) saying:

We have increased the number of shower units on the course to eight. They are located at Miles 7, 9, 13, 15, 17, 20, 22 and 23 – remember to run through these if you need to cool down. There will also be showers outside the London Fire Brigade stations at Miles 5, 7.5, 15 and 23. Remember that as your running clothing becomes wetter, you may experience chafing. Consider taping sensitive areas such as nipples and using petroleum jelly to help prevent chafing.

Is it wrong to be excited at the prospect of firefighters on hand to hose us down.  It isn’t clear whether they assist with taping sensitive areas or not, I’m guessing the latter would be more a St John’s ambulance remit.  St John’s staff will also supply hugs on request though if it all gets a bit much, which is very good news.  Whilst in ‘real life’ I’m not especially huggy, mid-race I’ll hug anyone, and it’s always best if they at least don’t recoil and you hit the jackpot if you get a marshal that will go with it!

We sat through some of the speakers and fraternised a bit with other people who were also there.  I felt intimidated by everyone else around me who looked even remotely equipped for Sunday by dint of wearing active wear or other ostentatious displays of sporting prowess.

Then, suddenly, I was just exhausted, teary and overwhelmed.  I was ready to go, but obviously, this was a historic occasion, I wasn’t willing to head off solo, firstly we had to get some compulsory cheesy ‘here we are at the London Marathon Expo’ photos.  Fortuitously, there were plenty of opportunities to do so with props like picture frames and huge medals to be purloined.  Unfortunately there were big queues we had to join to avail ourselves of these poses.  We queued, we conquered, here’s the proof:

Aren’t we lovely.

I was nervous about getting my number out of the envelope just in case I lost it or accidentally used it to wrap up discarded chewing gum in or something.  I remember from the Expo last year that the most common item of lost property is apparently kit bag with number in it. Can you imagine the horror of that. I think that would be worse than the other nightmare scenario I’ve imagined.  Arriving one minute past the cut off time for registrations 5.01pm.  It must happen to some people.  Indeed, I heard an account of a friend of a friend who worked at registration for the London marathon one year.  When the doors were shut apparently there really were runners outside pleading, crying and throwing tantrums, banging on the doors to get in to no avail.  Heartbreaking indeed, and  yet I can understand there has to be a cut off, horrific as it is. But that would be beyond terrible, to be turned away because of some unanticipated delay en route.  I shudder at the thought.  See, if there’s one thing worse than the apprehension of having to run a marathon the next day, it would be the horror of finding that you were no longer allowed to do what you’d trained for.  Be on time people.  Be on time!

Photos done, we traipsed to the tube together.  It was absolutely heaving, I made it back to my hotel about 7 ish, feeling overwhelmed, stressed and ludicrously tearful. I  have no idea where that came from.  I expected to feel excited at this point, nervous yes, but not like this, this was nihilistic doom laden despair.  After nearly a two-year build up, I was/ am fearing seeing this marathon moment slip through my fingers all because of the effing weather. It feels personal.  I suppose I was exhausted, but it suddenly all felt futile. Who was I trying to kid thinking I would ever be able to run a marathon.  it didn’t help that when I collected my left luggage from the concierge he accidentally rammed my case into my shins with such ferocity it broke the skin.  It bloomin’ hurt, I felt hot tears welling up at the pain, but choked them back, a bit too effectively – he didn’t even apologise, I’m not sure he quite realised what he’d done.  I hobbled off, thinking of the great irony of being the only person ever to miss the London marathon due to a suitcase related injury.  It did sort of put things in perspective again though, in that I had a fleeting moment of thinking I really wouldn’t be able to walk – like when you hit your funny bone and are completely crippled fora  few minutes – and i realised that however hot it is on Sunday I still want to be at the start!

In my hotel room I basically sweated and fretted.  I did lay my kit out and tie my tag to my shoe.

There were some social media related  perks.  Case in point.  I have a very fine friend and erstwhile flat mate of mine relocated to London literally on Tuesday this week.  She told me her new home is somewhere on the course, but as I’ve not had a chance to visit her there yet I was thinking it was pretty unlikely I’d be able to spot her en route as neither of us really know it.  However, she sent me updates indicating course setting up activity going on outside her new residence as she unpacked. The culmination of which was these two photos – from her kitchen window I think:

Is that not the most magnificent visual aid for spotting one of your supporters.  If only my other friends who intend to be out their cheering en route showed the same dedication in providing visual clues for me to spot on the way round.  This made me very, very happy.  It also made me quite determined to come and stay with her next year over London Marathon weekend so I can watch the whole thing from the comfort of her flat.  Wouldn’t that be amazing? Live action outside the window and TV coverage alongside plus no awkward loo queues and excellent catering made to individual preferences.  Note to self, try not to wipe snot on her during any mid race hug scenarios, don’t want her to shun me on future London visits.

To ease my nerves in the evening I treated myself to a night nurse capsule to help me sleep. I know I shouldn’t but I sleep so badly I thought I needed a break.

Then it was the next morning. This morning, Saturday morning.  Oh my life, I felt absolutely terrible, thumping headache, shivery like you get with heat stroke and my room was humid and horrible.  I didn’t know what to do, I had a shower and washed my hair to clear my head, then I went for breakfast, but everything was sort of ‘wrong’ somehow.  The baked beans were full of sugar, the orange juice wasn’t fresh, the coffee was rank, the scrambled eggs over cooked.  I just felt out of sorts, irritable, and again, tearful. I’m not an especially tearful person, I felt I was going mad.  I went across the road to get a paper, and decided just to try to drink lots and see if I could sleep off my headache by resting for a bit. I gave up any notion of a run.  I feel I should have tried, but I felt so bad I didn’t think I’d achieve anything beyond a further drop in confidence if I attempted to run and it went badly.

I felt foggy after a couple of hours lounging, but rejoining Facebook to about 50 missed messages from my London Marathon Superstars group was a revelation. It seemed all of us were having our own meltdowns manifested in our own individual ways.  From nearly leaving kit behind to panic over wrong shoe tags.  One of our number, the hardcore superhuman one, actually ran Brighton marathon last weekend as a warm up for London (as you do) and posted her kit with her shoe tag for London on one shoe and her Brighton one on the other. I completely panicked thinking at first maybe I should have had two tags too, but i only had one, oh my gawd, panic PANIC panic repeat – not only me, others also.  She reassured us, we laughed it was OK.  Upshot, it seems we were all quite emotionally fraught and fragile.  I’ve never felt like this before a running event. I only ever run for the experience and fun, and I’ve never considered the possibility of a dnf before.  It’s not nice, but maybe it’s not all that uncommon either.  For any runner tackling any unknown distance whether that’s a marathon or a 5k, it is the step into unknown territory, which is both the point and the source of terror.  I started to question whether I should have ‘come out’ and told people I’d be running.  I am tormented with visions of humiliation if I don’t finish, and the burden of letting down others who have supported me and urged me on.  Objectively I know this is ridiculous, it’s only a run, but I suppose the point is at this stage there is no objectivity left.

So at this precise moment, I’m sat in my hotel room, I’ve eaten a bowl of pasta and I’m fretting about whether that was wise, I may have over-indulged and now I’m worried I’ve actually inadvertently altered my centre of gravity as a consequence – will that mess up my running gait?  But you know what, I think I do realise that these are just thoughts, it will be a challenge of mind over body, the heat will slow everyone down.  Much as I fear embarrassment and shame if I don’t complete, the far greater benefit of having told people I’d be here is the support I’ve garnered.  So many messages of support I feel overwhelmed.  Granted that may not carry me round the course quite as literally as I may have liked, but it certainly helps.  I’m so grateful for all of them.  Thanks to each and everyone of you who has given encouragement, solidarity, advice or simply shown interest in my progress along the way.  I still want to do this.  The heat will slow everyone down, and there has been so much coverage about the heat I think everyone’s expectations will have shifted downwards.  It’s still going to be an amazing adventure.  Plus, at least one friend has pointed out I have to do this, so that in future she can refer to me in conversations as ‘my friend the London marathon runner‘ and my that prospect makes me chuckle.  My EWFM and daughter have promised to have photos taken wearing my finish medal if I get round and update their profile pages to make it look like they ran round too, just to see what the reaction is. That would be grand to see too.  Worst case scenario, I get to keep the London marathon trainer tag as a key ring.  That’s a start.

This time tomorrow we’ll know what a difference a day makes.  I’ll cross the start line and from thereon in we shall see if I make it out the other side. There will be tears, there may be incontinence, but there will also be glorious adventures, memories and shared stories.  Oh my gawd, despite everything I do not underestimate how very lucky I am to be here.  It will be amazing, possibly type 2 fun, but an extraordinary experience to be part of. Also, I can’t be that crap a runner can I, because they’ve put me in pen 8, the last pen, the only explanation for this being that the overwhelming majority of the other participants need a bit of a head start.  That Mo Farah must be extra slow, why else would they make him line up at the front if it wasn’t to give him a bit of an advantage over me.  I still respect him though, very smiley, I like that in a fellow runner.

It’s just one foot in front of another.  That is all!

Right now, I’m going to set several alarms for the morning,  have a shower, go mad have a night nurse and head down by 8.30 I reckon.   I’ll dream of crossing that finish to a ticker tape parade and fireworks over head.  If positive visualisation can get me round, it’s a done deal!

Thanks to everyone who has helped me on my way.  Whatever happens it’s been an extraordinary adventure, and you know what, just so we are clear about this, to the voices in my head that say I cannot withstand this storm of maranioa, running and heat I  hear you, and yet I say

I am the storm!*

Go me.

Image result for be the storm

*though I might be whispering it a wee bit tentatively ….

 

Categories: marathon, motivation, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

London Marathon 2018 – the final countdown.

Digested read: Hottest marathon on record?  Kill me now, I’ve moved beyond maranoia now into complete panic.  Trouble is, only one cure, getting to the end of the route on Sunday.  Aaaaargh.

This is getting serious now.

It’s no longer maranoia that we can chuckle about conspiratorially, sort of masochistically relishing the range of symptoms that are common amongst runners facing their first (maybe even any) marathon, that are part of whole marathon experience and help make it real.  What I’m now is experiencing full on panic!  In addition to the standard marathon angst of being fearful that I’ve not trained enough; conjuring up random niggles; and the growing realisation that I have no innate athleticism gifted to me by my genetic inheritance I have added, super sized angst from the addition to the mix of the likely DLR strike over the marathon weekend and a forecast of a sudden heat wave on the Sunday which I’m completely unprepared for.

It looks likely that the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) planned strike action by the RMT union will affect services over a four-day period from 04:00 on Friday 20 April until 03:59 on Tuesday 24 April.   As this line services the ExCel centre where the London Marathon expo is held, and every runner needs to visit, this is going to impact plenty of people.  Even so, regarding the DLR strike, I’m actually (at the moment, could all change when I get there) reasonably philosophical about this.  Workers do have the right to strike, and I’ve been on strike myself, so it would be inconsistent of me to object to others doing the same.  Of course they have more leverage over the London marathon weekend, so who can blame them for upping the ante then.  Funny how it’s always workers who get the blame for going ahead with a disruptive strike rather than employers for not addressing issues that have led to any dispute in a timely fashion.   The DLR strike I can’t do anything about.  It matters, because it will make getting to the Expo centre to register for the marathon a complete pain.  However, in this instance there are tens of thousands of other runners in the same situation.  Logically therefore, there must be some contingency plans in place.   Indeed there is some talk of extra buses and some limited information on alternative routes.  I wasn’t too impressed though with the advice:

We advise runners to register for the race at ExCeL before strike action takes effect where possible. The Expo is open from 11:00-20:00 on Wednesday 18 April and 10:00-20:00 on Thursday 19 April.

Not all that helpful if you don’t live in London and/ or have any kind of occupation or daily responsibilities.  I get their point, but really?  Bottom line, I can’t do anything about this beyond allowing time to find an alternative route and trusting the London public transport system to provide a solution.  I’m glad though, that I’d already planned to go up Friday afternoon, as that does give me some extra lee way.  So I’m conflicted.  I say I’m philosophical about all of this… but actually, worrying about the logistics has left me crapping myself, which is not helpful for maintaining either electrolyte balance or dignity pre the event.

Not to worry, I am distracted from focusing exclusively on the transport challenges, by self-defeating trauma over the weather forecast for next Sunday.  Pretty much all my training has been dogged by ice, snow and blooming freezing conditions.  I’ve been in a constant battle to avoid hypothermia, and only in the last couple of weeks have I been able to run even without a jacket.  Now, it seems likely that on Sunday, the weather forecast is not just in double figures, which I’ve not seen all year, but could even hit 25 degrees (depending on which weather forecast your believe). That’s crazy!  It’s actually dipped down a little just now to a ‘mere’ 21 degrees on the BBC website, but even that is going to feel really, really tough. I’m rubbish in the heat at the best of times, but with zero opportunity to acclimatize, it’s not going to be pretty.

weather forecast

The problem is, that mantra ‘don’t do anything different on marathon day‘ is really, really important, and yet… if it’s really going to be 15 degrees hotter than I’m used to, and with sunshine, maybe I do need to think about electrolytes? Gels and sports drinks might be the ‘obvious’ answer, but I can’t tolerate those and haven’t used them in training.  Obviously I’ve sweated a bit, but I think the highest temperature run I’ve done to date would be significantly under 10 degrees.  Plus, running in the heat will slow me down, so I could well be out there for even longer than anticipated based on my training to date?  What about a hat and sunglasses?  I hate running with a hat, but that could be my best defence against the sun’s rays, similarly sun glasses, I can’t imagine running in them.  Aaaargh.  Whilst it is beyond my control to order the elements to deliver up better meteorological options, at least along the route, there are some precautionary measures I could take, but they all represent changes to kit, nutrition, hydration and pace, all things you really shouldn’t do pre a marathon and definitely not as a hat trick of variables to mess with all at once.  Also, if it was within my power to control the elements and conjure up rain or clouds at will, then it is arguable I ought to harness those powers for the greater good.  Some people, granted maybe non-runners on the whole – might argue that controlling the elements to reverse climate change or relieve drought might be a higher purpose.  Tough call though, faced with the forecast for London.  I like to think I’d do the right thing, but, having to choose between perfect weather for my first and only marathon or reverse climate change and save the world in perpetuity, well, let’s just agree it’s lucky I don’t have to choose!

Not to worry, there is plenty of advice on-line Runners’ World issued an article ‘what hot temperatures do to your running and how to cope‘.  I’m sure it was a well-intentioned article, but it did nothing to reassure me.  The key points seem to be to give yourself a week to ten days to acclimatize, and you will cope best if you weigh about 7 stone (spoiler alert, not applicable to me dear reader) and/or have high surface area to body mass ratio.  Don’t be solidly built basically, bit late to do owt about that either.  It also provided grades of awfulness of conditions, starting with anything about 10 degrees C as impacting negatively on performance, over 20 degrees, might as well lie down and die on the spot is the general gist I think.  I am not feeling confident at all.

820-02248140

This post by Ben Parkes has a few more practical suggestions relating to running London in a heat wave.  There are some showers en route.  Note to self, find a place to stash dove shower lotion to make the most of these on the day.

I’ve done a few things in anticipation to try to help me to cope.  I’m going to put electrolytes in my water bottles that I carry, so if desperate I can use that. I  can’t tolerate gels or sports drinks, so daren’t risk suddenly switching to them. I’m also going to try to identify and carry some sort of salty snack – nuts maybe, as I think that would be OK. I’ve got a sun reflecting cap I bought to wear when I was working in Cambodia.  Honestly, I never really got on with it, plus it’s deeply unflattering, but it is a running cap, and it’s light so could be a practical option.  I’ve also bought sun block, as that’s an easy thing to sort, though of course I have to worry about sweat causing it to run into my eyes and blinding me en route.  Oooh the angst, it’s unbelievable what I can find to stress about.

However, shallow as it is to take comfort in such things, I do console myself with the thought that at least I’m not running in a rhino costume.  Or a the back-end of a camel.  Or giant ostrich costume, or carrying the angel of the north.  All of which just goes to show that a) I don’t know what the green dinosaur/gruffalo thing is and b) there is always someone worse off than yourself.

Geronimo is officially my running buddy, we are in it together, at least as a giraffe she, unlike me, should have some genetic adaptations to cope with the heat.  Also, if I do fall to the pavement, she will cushion my fall.  Also, it may yet be that the salty tears streaking down my face at the pain and horror of the heat might actually help, providing a cooling effect as they evaporate, and allowing me to lick them off my face in order to re-ingest the salt.  Thinking about it, I wonder if that’s an acceptable alternative to carrying electrolytes? Just gathering up the tears of fellow runners in a vial under the pretext of offering them comfort, and using them to replenish my lost salts instead?  I’m feeling more hopeful now.   Perhaps there are some proactive steps I can take after all!  We’ll fly round, just like at the Sheffield half, only for twice as long and with worse race photos at the end of it.  That’s not so bad.  As long as I make it round in time for the bling, that’s doable…

I’m also not feeling well.  Sore throat, which has properly transitioned to shivers and sleepless nights.  The only comfort I take is that I’ve still got a couple of days to go.  Lovely Martin Yelling, who has been doing fortnightly marathon training pep talks has kept saying that this last week wont make too much – indeed any – difference in terms of fitness, so I probably gain more from rest and allowing my body to recover than from forcing myself out to try to ‘keep things ticking over’.  I’ve lost hope that any part of my body will tick over properly ever again anyway.  Right now, as of this moment, I couldn’t spring up to answer the front door, let alone spring round a marathon route.   Even so, I tell myself that once I’m at the start, I’ll have to get to the end to pick up my stuff so might as well just put one foot in front of the other and get on with it.  To be on the safe side I’ve googled ‘running marathon feeling ill’ and basically got loads of people saying they got round and it was horrible but that way no regrets.

Personally, given that I can’t defer again anyway, whatever the weather, however rough I feel, I can not, and will not let this opportunity pass me by.  I am so grateful for this chance, and mindful of other talented runners who either missed out on the ballot, or, arguably worse, got knocked out in training by injury or illness.   It’s hard to say why, ultimately it is only a run, and an inherently pointless activity.  The thing is though I’ve watched this event on the telly for years and years thinking how amazing it would be to run London but with the sub-text ‘but I could never do that.’  Contrary to popular belief, I am not completely delusional, I know I am an unlikely candidate to get round a marathon.  Nevertheless, I’ve trained, I’ll try, and if I can do this, it matters not whether the result is pretty, what matters is that it will be a minor victory for the underdog.  If I can do this, then maybe it shows me and others too, that we can all do more than we think.  We wont know what unless we plunge out of our comfort zone and give it our best shot, you only know your limits when you’ve tested them. There is no getting away from the symbolism of completing a marathon, it’s supposed to be testing, that’s sort of the whole point…. I  suppose  I was just kind of hoping the test would not involve running in heat like an ant trying to flee from the focused rays of a magnifying glass. That seems a little harsh.  But hey, there’d be no point if it was easy would there?  And think of the anecdotes?  All will be well, or not.  But we get to find out really soon now.  Aaargh.

I need to keep it in perspective.  To help me rationalise this, I made a little list to try to see my situation objectively.  You should try it, it really helps, basically, I reckon the only things I really need to stress about are the following:

Angst (all variants); Boiling hot weather; Chafing (everywhere); Dehydration; Electrolytes (take/dont take; Fancy dress fails; General malaise; Hydration (over/under); Injury (pre/ during and post even); Just everything really; Knee niggles – why is it doing that wobbly thing NOW also KIT what to wear; Looking stupid if I don’t make it round (or looking stupid anyway) and/or Leaving Geronimo behind somewhere; Missing my supporters (if any) en route; Niggles; Over emotional (becoming); Precautionary pee opportunities; Queues (for loos/ start/ registration); Running; Sunburn, Strike, Socks choice, Shoe lace tightness and Sore throat; Temperature; Trainers, Timing device and Tomtom malfunctioning, Travel plans; Underwear (see chafing); Virgin London Marathon (being required to run it); Water stations – Where are they? Watch – will battery last; Xcel arena – how to get there; Yes, basically everything – Zikes, not quite what I was looking for in putting things in perspective!

The only real comfort is that this day is coming round ready or not.  It will be what it will be, and being part of the adventure is going to be amazing.  That part, I’m confident about.

I’ve been trying to distract myself by checking out other marathon stories.  Mercifully this has been a feel good week marathon wise – unless you are talking about the Callum Hawkins at the commonwealth games which we wont.  Apart from to say they were running in 30 degrees and it was a lot more humid but even so, seven out of the 24 runners did not complete the marathon.  We need to treat the heat with respect at least!  We wont look at this picture either, bad for morale: