Running is simple. You put one leg in front of the other and you keep doing it until someone tells you to stop. Simple.
Last weekend I ran the Manchester Marathon and it all got very complicated. It didn’t go to plan. I didn’t have a plan. It hurt. I cried. I swore. I ran.
List of reasons why the marathon went wrong:
- I ran 100k two weeks before. 9 miles into the race, every muscle that hurt at the end of the Canalathon came back with a venegance. Ow!
- I didn’t stretch enough between the two races. I’m evangelical about stretching. I have dodgy knees. I thought a sports massage was enough.
- I rested too much and didn’t test my legs properly between the two races. Taper, race, recover, taper, race. I should’ve been ticking over.
- I intended to run with a friend at a slower pace than my own. When he couldn’t start I didn’t have a backup plan. I winged it.
- I set off too fast. It was a fast, flat start. I’d been training slow and steady all year and all of a sudden I was cruising along at my 5k pace and it felt great!
- I got carried away. I was ahead of the pacing flag 8 mins quicker than my pb and mentally I was cashing in my Good for Age place. London 2017 here I come!
After each race I think most runners retrospectively look at what they could have done better. Unfortunately, sometimes you find yourself stewing over this stuff mid-race as the pacers take turns in passing you and trotting merrily into the distance. I list this because even after 7 marathons and 4 ultras, I got it wrong.
The race got progressively worse for me. The discomfort that kicked in at mile 9 steadily increased; from mile 15 my right leg repeatedly went into spasm and gave way beneath me. I was unable to identify what was causing the problem as everything hurt.
So what did I do when things went pear-shaped? Well, I sobbed a fair bit. (I think I mostly got away with this as I was wearing my cool running shades!) Each time my leg started playing silly beggars I gave it a good old talking to and swore at it when it didn’t listen. I mulled over the bad stuff. I clung desperately to a sub-4hr goal until that was unattainable. I sang. I encouraged the walkers. I ran.
By 19 miles although I was in a pretty bad way physically. Mentally, I was confident of a finish and content to tick off the mile markers. I’d got to the point where I knew that my best option was to stop running and have a bath; the quickest way to achieve this was to keep running. I kept checking my form, (I may have slowed down considerably but an exaggerated shuffle would only exacerbate my problems.) Head up, shoulders relaxed, arms dropped, standing tall and not sitting into my hips. My knees wouldn’t cooperate but my feet felt fine.
22 miles in and I actually got a second wind. Nearly there! People around me were suffering more than me and whilst I wasn’t picking people off, I was certainly keeping with the flow. As long as I didn’t go too fast I could run reasonably comfortably. Less swearing, more singing, a bit of a dance to a ukelele folk band.
The last mile was frustrating. The finish a relief. I cried whilst enveloped in the arms of a giant bearded man who also sobbed. I made my way through the crowded race village, completely disorientated and totally overwhelmed.
A phone call to the husband, a Subway sandwich and 3 cups of lemonade, a selfie outside Old Trafford with my medal and do you know what? I was ok. I was chuffed with my time of 4:13:55. I was satisfied I’d done my best on the day. Yes, I’d made mistakes, perhaps even trying to run a marathon so close to the ultra was one of them, but I’d done it.
Marathons are my favourite. A lot can happen in 26.2 miles. There’s a lot of narrative. A race like this one tests the mettle, physically and emotionally, that’s what makes a marathon special and why I can’t wait for the next one.