Tuesday 20 October 2015

Yorkshire Marathon 2015

I was going to try and come up with some kind of tally for the number of times that I have visited York in the past 30 odd years, but to be honest I'm not sure where I would begin counting.  School visits to Yorvik and the National Railway Museum soon gave way to shambling pub crawls and visits to some very suspect nightclubs, only for the museums to come back into vogue now that I have a young family of my own.  Lets just say for arguments sake that I have visited York a fair few times in the past.

This year however I have added a new reason for visiting.  No longer is York Minster an acrophobia inducing tourist destination, Lendal Cellars isn't just another watering hole on a long and rangy list of pubs visited.  Instead they are now places that have featured as landmarks on race routes.  Back in July the Run For All York 10k was my last race of Summer.  I had beaten myself up over 18 seconds after the Leeds 10k and was determined to enjoy the day in York.  I kept a steady pace, took in the scenery and finished with a respectable time of 47:24.

Yesterday I was back in York for another race but this time it was different.  I'm used to running 10k races, but I had very little idea what lay ahead of me, in what was going to be my first full marathon.  To say I was going in blind isn't actually true.  I had been following a training plan for 21 weeks but that only took me to 20 miles twice so although I knew what it felt like to run that far, I had no idea how it would feel to run 26.2 miles.

I had tried to put all thoughts of the final 6.2 miles out of my head but in the weeks leading up to the race it was almost all I could think about.  My long training runs had been fine but I was convinced that I was in danger of going off far too fast and burning out before I had even got to 20 miles, never mind 21 or over.  To put my mind at ease I had one last run on Thursday with the sole aim of getting my pace right.  After 2 miles I was settled and happy that I could do the same on Sunday.  My training was complete and all I could do was wait.

Finally Sunday morning came around.  I got up at the crack of dawn so that I could eat breakfast without it sitting like a lead weight in my stomach whilst I was running.  I mustered the family, and waited for our lift to York.  Everything was falling into place.  I made it to the event village by 8am, got changed in the glamour of a portaloo, dropped off my bag and wandered over to my start pen.

So far everything was just the same as any other race I'd entered. I'd bumped into a couple* of buddies from South Leeds Lakers and chewed the fat with a runner that I'd been chatting with at the end of the Leeds 10k earlier in the year.  I ate my pre-race banana, used the facilities (again), ignored the group warm up, and got ready for the start.  Oddly, for my first marathon, I wasn't any more nervous than at the start of any of the other races of the year.  What we were about to undertake was brought home however when a minutes applause was held for David Colley, the runner who had died during this year's Great North Run.  He had been due to take part in the marathon alongside us and suddenly what I was doing felt that little bit harder.

Thoughts of not completing the run were pushed firmly to the back of my mind just in time for Harry Gration to get the race under-way.  The usual shuffle, run, stop, walk, run to the start line was observed and we were off.  I was trying my hardest not to run too fast but I was being swept along by the noise of the crowds and the tempo set by my fellow runners.  I got through the first mile a couple of minutes faster than I had planned to but then managed to settle into something closer to the 9:14minute/mile pace that I needed to get round the route in 4 hours.

Nice Minster
I saw my family in the crowds as I passed York Minster and, thinking that that was the last of my support for the day, got on with the job in hand.  I soon left York behind and started running through the surrounding villages.  Each new hamlet brought a new set of spectators cheering us on and giving out jelly babies.  I was expecting children looking for high-fives to be lining the route but the sight of the Minister from Stockton on the Forest happily leading his congregation in high-fiving as many runners as possible was quite a nice surprise and a chance that I couldn't miss out on.

I was through 10k in 50:04, faster than I had anticipated, faster than most of my 10k races in 2014 and only a second off my Abbey Dash PB, but done at what felt like a nice steady pace.  The next 10k came and went without incident.  I was a little slower (2:31 slower) than the first 10k but it wasn't my legs that were the problem.  I had a nagging feeling that I could do with a wee but as the feeling came and went I didn't do anything about it, unlike the masses who were diving into fields, jumping behind trees, or shielding themselves with bushes as they sought relief before rejoining the pack.

I made it to halfway in 1:49:17 (not a bad time for a half marathon if you ask me), but I was still dithering about needing to stop.  I had been careful not to drink too much before the race and I'd only had a couple of sips from the water stations that I'd passed so I couldn't understand why I felt the need to pee.  By mile 16 the urge got the better of me so I found a suitable field to pop into, hurried behind a hedge and nothing happened.  Then it dawned on me, I didn't need to pee at all, it was much worse than that.

I rejoined the race and tried to put all thoughts of needing to visit the loo behind me.  This proved more difficult than the previous 16 miles running had been.  My race was in danger of being ruined along with my self respect.  An attack of the "runners trots" was not what I needed.  I was convinced that every step was churning things up and every rumble was like a tsunami alarm in my head.  Was I going to be "that runner" who everyone talked about after the race?

It didn't help that all of this internal discomfort and worry took part on the long drag between 17 and 20 miles.  The road stretched on for ages with a constant stream of other runners passing in the other direction.  I passed some other running buddies** heading in the other direction, summoned up the strength to shout encouragement at them and pressed on.

I found salvation at Holtby where, just after mile 20, some kind soul had left a block of partaloos.  I would have been happy with the worst toilets in Yorkshire, or something resembling Renton's toilet from Trainspotting, but I guess that not many people use a portaloo 20 miles into a marathon so it was nice and clean.

For the first time ever I timed a visit to the lavatory.  It cost me 4 minutes but I was back on the road and feeling much more comfortable.  I was also now into the realms of the unknown as I'd only ever run 20 miles twice during training.  Every step was propelling me further than I had ever run before and I was feeling fine, well, not fine exactly but I was still moving.  I was slowing down however.  I knew my early pace was gone but even after the pit-stop I still had some time in the bag to finish in 4 hours.

Just after mile 23 I rounded the corner into Murton and to my surprise Phil and Jenny from Cross Flatts parkrun were stood at the side of the road.  Suddenly for the first time in hours I had some support.  I was spurred on to finish.  I picked up my feet and started off on the hardest 5k I have ever run.  I had over half an hour to finish before the magic 4 hours was up but no sooner had I left Murton behind my body decided that I had had enough.

I'm not sure if it was my legs or my head but something said stop.  I slowed to a walk only to discover that walking hurt more than running.  Why this isn't written in every training guide and online support forum is beyond me.  This knowledge might have kept me going for a little while longer, but I had slowed for a walk in a race for the first time this year, and I was shattered.  I tried to run as often and as far as was possible (especially when there were spectators).  I was willing the mile markers to come to me but they stayed in their allotted places and then, with a mile to go, the inevitable happened.  The 4 hour pace runner passed me.

He had been behind me in the start pens and I'd seen him again on the switch-back around mile 18 but I had hoped that I had enough time in the bag to finish ahead of him even after walking.  I checked my watch and came to the conclusion that Mr 4:00:00 was actually ahead of schedule, not by much, but I still had a chance at finishing my first marathon in 4 hours.

Back running I rounded the last corner to face the hill back up to University Road and the finish line.  From somewhere in the back of my mind came the knowledge that I could run up hills and run up it I did.  I passed a couple of less fortunate runners being helped along by spectators under their arms and cleared the summit.  It was literally all downhill from there.

Passing under the start gantry for the second time that morning it started to dawn on me what I had achieved.  But then a voice from the crowd yelled my name.  It was Anna from South Leeds Lakers.  The world kind of slowed down, I found where she was standing, ran across the road, got my final high-five of the day, and ran on to the finish line.  A friendly face with only 100m to go was all I needed to push for home.  The emotions of 42km washed over me and my eyes welled up.  Breathing became hard as I choked back tears but my legs kept turning and I crossed the line.

My watch said 3:59:38, 22 seconds under the target I had set myself.  I staggered through the goody bag zone, got my medal and walked, gingerly, back to the bag-drop area with my family who had been waiting for me just beyond the finish line.  My legs hurt, my head was swimming, but I had just done something that I still don't actually believe that I'm capable of.  I had finished a marathon.

No Excuses
*Betty, Liz, Ray, Karen, Steve, and Andy.
**Martin, Mark and Rachel.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful read. I am more than gutted that I couldn't experience my first marathon at the same time. Sigh, but what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Cannot wait to run my first marathon - I am hoping the above won't be your last.