I finished my first marathon in May 2014. It was the Milton Keynes Marathon, one of the dullest courses you can ever imagine, and I was woefully unprepared. The race fell just four days after my final university hand-in and in the run up to it I had been working too many shifts in a Greek restaurant whilst desperately trying to finish my dissertation (for which I was also woefully unprepared). I had barely done any training at all, I was fuelled on pizza, Monster Energy and gin and I was wearing a purple Crayola crayon costume. I cried for at least eight miles of the race and finished in 5:23:45.
When it came to the Richmond Park Marathon a few weeks ago, my main goal was simply to not be a crying crayon. I’m not a fast runner and I don’t really have the inclination to train to get much faster. Running an extra mile brings me a lot more satisfaction than running a quicker mile ever does. I used the 2 x half marathon + 30 mins calculation which gave me a time of 4:30 to aim for and my training runs left me feeling pretty confident I’d make that.
My big brother offered to run with me. Chris definitely got the speed genes in our family (he finished the London marathon this year in 2:46:12) but he has a 24 hour ultra coming up in June and said it would be good to practice slowing down a little. “No matter how tired I am I’ll be able to run at that pace,” he said when I told him what we were aiming for and I might have been offended if I wasn’t so glad at the thought of having some company.
The morning of the marathon came and it was significantly warmer than we had expected. A few miles in a lady ran up behind, exclaiming “I hope you’re wearing sun cream, you’re paler than me”. It was too awkward to admit that I wasn’t so I lied and assured her that I was slathered in factor 30.
For the first 14 miles, everything was wonderful. Our mile splits hovered around the 10 minute mark, with Chris telling me off a few times for pushing ahead of him. It was hard to hold back as we ran easily in the sunshine through the beautiful Richmond park, spotting deers and chatting away. By the time we got to mile 17 though, I was starting to feeling pretty ropey.
The course was a mental minefield, consisting of a 12 mile loop then two 7.1 mile laps. This meant that at miles 12 and 19 you came alongside the finish line, making the temptation to stop much more real than it would have been otherwise. As we came towards mile 19, I had all but decided to throw in the towel. I knew I’d let go of that 4:30 time and frankly I just couldn’t be bothered to continue.
I was too exhausted to even lift my head and wave but just as I was about to quit I heard two friends shouting my name. The embarrassment of knowing I’d have to walk right past them if I gave up kept me going. I stopped briefly to talk to my mum then started running again, exclaiming “for God’s sake” as I went.
During the first lap, Chris had offered me a jelly baby and I’d turned my nose up telling him firmly how much I absolutely hated jelly babies. For the entirety of those last seven miles though, all I could think about was how glorious a jelly baby would be. Every time we neared a water stop I could feel the excitement mounting but they’d all ran out and the disappointment was tangible. I was overjoyed when I finally got to sink my teeth into some overly processed fruit flavoured sugar.
I just about carried on running, only stopping to walk the two hills, but the pace dropped significantly with a couple of 15 minute miles thrown in there. The excitement of the whole thing being over saw me pick up the pace a little bit towards the end and I finished on 10:39 pace. Chris’s watch said 4:59:21 but the official results gave me dead on 5 hours.
I was frustrated and disappointed. I’d ran further, faster in training and felt absolutely fine but for some reason those 26 miles were just too much. I took my socks off later and uncovered a gruesome blood blister. Stairs were a struggle for more days afterwards than I’d like to admit. It took me a few days to realise that what had gone wrong wasn’t that I hadn’t trained but that I had trained for a different type of running.
Out on my own, I stop to buy a drink when passing a shop, I pause to take a picture, I wait at traffic lights. Sometimes I can be gone for almost an hour longer than my watch tells me I’ve been running for, dithering around and enjoying the day. The sustained effort of trying to run consistently for 26 miles is what broke me. Out on my own, I press pause when I stop to check a map or take in the view but the marathon clock doesn’t stop until you reach 26.2.
The more I think about it though, the more I realise that perhaps my experience at the Richmond Park Marathon really just shows that what I want to do, this big long run around the coast, is what I’m much more suited to. Instead of having my eyes on the clock, each day I’ll have the whole day to cover the allotted miles in, a whole day of exploring and plodding along. It’ll be difficult, of course, but the kind of difficult I think I could be quite good at.
It would have been nice to run that marathon a bit quicker but it doesn’t do to dwell. Instead I’ll try and remember that I got to spend a Sunday hanging out with my brother, running in a really lovely park and thoroughly earning the beer and Kit Kats that were handed out on the finish line.
I don’t run to count seconds or tick off miles. I run because I love being outdoors, getting a bit muddy and a bit sweaty. I run because I think it’s one of the best ways to explore all the amazing places around you. I run to justify my afternoon cake habit. I run because I just really like running and that doesn’t change whatever speed I do it at.