On Saturday, I got it right. It was my 10th marathon and I took lessons from each previous one. And on Saturday it all came together. Most things worked, and I was able to handle the things that didn’t. What worked for me:
- the course. 17 laps of an undulating, tarmac-ed bike course allowed me to pace myself accurately. After a few laps I knew where my pace would drop and where it would pick up on the course, where the wind would hit me and where the steep climb would be. I could plan for what lay ahead. There was no real sense of gaining on people or being gained on – people would lap me and I lapped others but it simply meant you ran sections with different people – you were never on your own and you could encourage each other as you wound round the course.
- the atmosphere. It was a small race – 322 finishers – and a new race and the race director was the friendliest, most approachable race director I have ever come across. His determination to make this a great race for the runners meant that it ran like clockwork and everyone responded to his attitude by being incredibly friendly and approachable.
- the weather – beyond my control but it was overcast (though my sunburn tells me there must have been more sun than I realised) and breezy. I HATE wind despite training in it year round but for the first time ever – in training or racing – I just set that aside, and actually ran strong into the sections with headwind, telling myself it was cooling me down when I needed that.
- music. I’ve never raced with headphones on before but in the spirit of doing something different from what I had done before (remember, the opposite of me is a BIG thing for me when life is not working out as I wish) I did borrow my son’s iPod and loaded it up with Scissor Sisters and Lady Gaga, just in case. As soon as the going got tough (mile 16ish?) I put on the headphones and focused on the music whenever I could feel myself slipping. It really, really worked. I don’t think I will race with music much, but it really helped me this day.
- nutrition. Over the past 2 marathons (Boston in 2011 and London in 2013) my coaches have persuaded me to eat more than I want to in a race and Mary is particularly adamant about it. I suspended my own judgement and chugged down a gel every 30 mins (I know!) and even forced myself to down a gel at 3h 20mins when I hoped to not have much time left to run – and I think they helped massively to keep me going.
The few things that didn’t work me, but that I managed to handle were:
- not enough water. Surprisingly, given that it was easy to set up water stations on a lapped course there was only one water station. To be fair to the race organisers they allowed us to set up our own water and feed stations in a specific zone but I had decided not to do that. Bad decision as the water was in flimsy plastic cups that I could not drink from without stopping (costing me precious seconds) and I found I wanted water when I was not near the water station (for a salt tab or a gel). If I do this again I will set up a feed station with some hand held bottles for myself.
- cramping. Not as bad as in London but in the last 4 or 5 miles I definitely cramped up in my feet, hamstrings and quads. It seemed to affect me particularly when I was running uphill but I made myself run through it and it tended to die down a little again when the surface flattened. After the race, however, it was something else. For about an hour or so after the race, cramp kept shooting into my legs and a few times I cried out in pain and had to ask strangers to straighten out my feet or legs. Any tips on this?
The big thing that worked, however, was me. I just had my head together on Saturday. Driving down to Kent on the Friday afternoon I listened to Talk Ultra and they interviewed various runners in the Transvulcania race. They’re all incredibly impressive, thoughtful, funny and surprisingly modest interviewees – just so happy to run! – but the interview that really stuck with me was an interview with Cameron Clayton. At one point he says that he’ll probably set off a bit too fast in his upcoming Western States 100. Asked about this he says”I’m totally willing to take a risk and blow up if that’s going to happen (..) it’s worth it to me. To go out there and (..) put yourself on the line – if it doesn’t work out at least you can say you did it and if it does work out you do something stupendous so both win wins for me. I mean, one has a lot more suffering than the other”. I actually replayed the podcast a number of times in my hotel room so I could write this down. Sometimes you just hear the right thing at the right time, and this was exactly what I needed to hear. I have written before on how I never have done much competing in any field and have always shied away from it. Recently I’ve come to see that I sometimes give up on something early – because I’m so scared of giving it my all and then “failing”. That is ridiculous behaviour and I know it. So what I took from Cameron’s message was to really put myself on the line and put myself in a situation where I might blow up and not be afraid. I went into this race knowing that there was a possibility I could (as coach Mary put it) bang out the 8:15-8:20 min/miles. And I did it. I banged them out. At about 16 miles I got my usual dehydration panic (shivery skin in hot sun) but instead of slowing down or even stopping I just told myself “no – you are putting yourself out there – just do it! You might just do something stupendous (I LOVE that word) but it’s going to hurt so just deal with it”. And I did – I just did not let my mind go to dark places and just kept telling myself that it would be worth it. When my legs started to cramp up again I felt like slowing down and I again I told myself “no – there will come a time when you can stop but that is not now. You want that 3:38 and you are going to have to keep banging out those miles if you want it. And you want it. So do it”. I crossed the mat at 3:37:39 (chip time) and collapsed into a chair for a good 10 minutes, before going up the race director and thanking him for making me my pace band. Only for him to tell me to stick around as I had won the Female Veteran 40 prize! ME! A PRIZE! I HAVE VERY VERY RARELY WON A PRIZE! EVER! IN ANYTHING! To win a prize in a marathon is incredible to me – I was just SO made up. As you can see – the smile is just about busting out of my head.
I am still on cloud nine. About all of it. About running a race and loving it, about pushing past my own self-limiting behaviour, about believing in myself and the hard work I’ve put in in the past 5 months, about getting that elusive sub 3:40 time I so wanted. And getting a prize is the icing on the cake.
So – what’s next? Right now I’m still limping up and down stairs I’m in pain where the cramping was and I imagine that will last a few more days. I now have what I wanted – the opportunity to apply for a Boston place in 2014 in the qualifying time +5 minutes group. If that gets me in, I will be in Boston. If it doesn’t get me in that’s fine too. I can live with however it works out. When I finished London I knew I was not done. Right now, I am done. Done with chasing this goal. I’ve achieved my goal and right now I’m not sure where next to take things. The ultras this summer (Intro Ultra on July 14th and Thames Towpath 50K in September) will keep me running and I’m happy to let go of big goals for the time being. I know I need the mental break from chasing a time but if anyone has a suggestion for a good race to run or a goal to train for – let me know!