I really don’t know what to write here. I’m writing to gain some clarity rather than to present you with an overall edited view of the past 2 weeks, as I really don’t know what I think or feel.
The week leading up to the London marathon was overshadowed, rightly, by the events that occurred at the Boston marathon. Much has been written about that by others far better qualified than I to pass comment on what happened, but like so many others I found it an upsetting and unsettling time. Worry for friends running the marathon (all of whom, thankfully, were safe) was followed by horror once the extent of loss of life and serious injury became clear. One of the consequences of terrorist actions like these, taking place somewhere where they are so unexpected, is a sense of all-encompassing anxiety and fear – a realisation that there is no safe place. Terrifying horrible events like this don’t just happen elsewhere, they can happen to you, right here. Of course, the idea that we are somehow safe is often an illusion anyway, but one many of us rely to get through our days, to send our children to school, to get on planes and walk into city centres. Or to cross marathon finish lines.
I had no real fear about safety at the London marathon. I knew the response would be heightened and also, sadly, terrorism has been a threat in the UK, especially London, for decades. Our police and emergency services are experienced in securing mass events overshadowed by the threat of terrorism.
And by Friday evening, when the bombers had been caught, it felt like the time was right for the London marathoners to run a race that acknowledged the tragedy that occurred but also that defied terrorism generally – to run, in public, in a big city marathon, was to say “I am not afraid”. Picking up my race number at the expo on Saturday morning was as exciting as it always is – the sense of expectation and excitement, this feeling that the moment I’d been building towards had finally arrived.
Prep-wise, I did it all right this time. Didn’t walk around too much on Saturday but did enough to make me tired. I slept like a baby Saturday night and woke up an hour early which was fine. Breakfast, travel to Greenwich – yadda, yadda,yadda – nerve-wracking as always but fine. For the first time in months, it was a cloudless day that promised to be warm. Like so many other places, England has been so cold these past months and it felt amazing to see the sun and feel the warmth on marathon Sunday.
Waiting around at the green start was a revelation – like other big city marathons, London is huge and divides their runners into 3 different start. The green start is tiny – it’s the good for age runners and the celebrities – that’s it. I’m terrible at estimates but it certainly felt like not much more than 1000 people there which was amazing in a race with 35000+ runners.
The pens were tightly policed and as soon as the gun went off, I could set off at my race pace. But almost as soon as I crossed the start mat, I could feel that today was not my day. I just had this feeling of dread. I wanted to cry. I really did not want to run. I told myself that I was just warming up, this was just how I was meant to feel and to ignore these feelings. The first miles felt physically easy, though I was mentally already counting down the miles (am I nearly at 6 miles? Only 20 more to go. I know I can run 20 miles). This feeling of unhappiness did not lift. I was running hard and beginning to feel the warmth. I didn’t perk up until mile 14, when I had crossed Tower Bridge and had seen the elite men come the other way. I suddenly felt like smiling at the people cheering (the crowds were immense) and I could feel myself, mentally, opening up. I was still on pace for a 3:38 by mile 18 and, finally, happy to be there. And then I started to feel exactly what I felt in Berlin in 2009 – this feeling of shivering and sweating at the same time. The heat (it felt like heat after the winter we have had) was wearing me down and I gulped water and salt tabs. And then my quads suddenly seized up. I could feel the cramps coming up and, just like that, I had to slow down. The pain was intense. I so wanted to stop. All the happiness I had felt for about 4 miles there had gone. I thought about pulling out. And then I thought about my friend Lizzie Lee, whose Boston marathon had been cut short by the bombings. We have been blogging friends for years and have both pulled through some very tough miles drawing on each other’s experiences. Her mile 17 in Boston was dedicated to me. My miles 18-26.2 were dedicated to her. I thought about how Lizzie would have given anything to have run her last mile or so and cross the finish. For so many reasons. And how I owed it to her to finish in whatever way I did. So I gutted it out – that’s the only way I can express it. I grimly pushed myself mile after mile, managing to squeeze in a surprise sub 8 minute mile between my overall pace which had dropped to 9:30s. When I saw Dawn at mile 25 I cried. And when I crossed the finish line I sat down. Immediately. I was helped to my feet by a volunteer shouting that I could not sit down, there were 30,000 people behind me. But I was done with this race. I was done with it at mile 1, at mile 3, at mile 7, and for most of the rest, but I fought that the whole way. I lost my 3:40 goal, but made it to 3:41:45, a 4 minute PB over Berlin 2009 and a narrow BQ.
I was met by lovely friends afterwards and my wonderful husband and feted and admired and looked after. I got such lovely texts and emails from so many of you and I really appreciate every one of them. And all I could think of was “thank God that is over”.
Now – 5 days on – I have regained some perspective on it. I can see that a 4 minute PB is wonderful. I’m 41 and they are going to become increasingly tough to find, so I am, finally, celebrating mine. I set out to BQ, long before the bombings, and I have done so. I still don’t really understand why I had such a miserable time out there. And maybe there is nothing to understand. Maybe it was just a bad day. We all have bad runs, and maybe, for once, for marathon number 9, I had a bad race. I just never “felt it”. I so enjoyed my recent race at Ashby despite the weather and the hills but this was nothing like it. I was just down the whole way round.
I’m not sure what to do next. I have my first “beginners” ultra booked in July. 30M in the Derbyshire hills. This is going to be an entirely new challenge and one I am really ready for. Way back, when I doubted whether I would be fit by London, I also booked myself in for a marathon at the beginning of June. I am considering doing this – not so much to get my 3:40 but just to try to have some fun again. I know that I miss training – I’ve loved training for this marathon and don’t want to stop. Any advice, tips, insights from any of you would be really welcome. And – before you worry – I am fine! I really am! I had a rough day out there and I don’t want to lie to you and say I enjoyed it – I didn’t. But that feeling has gone and here I am ready to consider the next thing. Onwards and upwards, always!