I did it. I completed a marathon. I am a marathoner. Four months and 260 miles of training runs culminated in a fantastic day.
The night before was pretty disastrous. We had an early dinner at Pizza Express, much to my chagrin. To be in a big city and faced with such options as Las Iguanas and Yo Sushi was frustrating when I knew I could only eat something pretty basic and spiceless. An evening by the seaside couldn’t be wasted, so Barney rode the carousel for the first time, grinning gummily as it whizzed round.
We got back to the hotel around 8, to find that our room was filled with the thumping sound of 90s classics from the function room downstairs. When we asked reception, they said that they would turn the music down and that the party would only go on until 11. Not ideal – I’d hoped to be asleep by 10 – but bearable. The music went on until 12:30 and got louder and louder as more drunk people grabbed the microphone and sang along with the music. Barney’s sleep was horribly disrupted, and so even though the music stopped, he spent much of the rest of the night awake. Bearing in mind that he has slept through the night since four months, having a baby attached to me all night was pretty gruelling!
Still, I managed to get up, ready and fed with toast before I headed off to the start line. I was in the slowest corral, and held back so that I wouldn’t have to be packed in and have a million people overtake me over the first few miles. I have never seen so many people in a place where there aren’t usually that many people, if that makes sense. I believe that there were around 9000 runners and apparently 100,000 spectators expected for the day!
Twenty minutes after the gun, we got moving. My number one priority was to try and ignore what everyone else was doing and stick to my own pace. I knew that I was aiming for between 7 and 8 hours, so I aimed for a 17 minute mile. It was hard! I didn’t manage – I stayed at a steady 16 minute mile for the first 20 miles. Patrick met me after 3 miles; a couple after that, he and his mother, Alison (and Barney!) jogged with me for the worst hill climb. I then left the centre of Brighton and headed out towards Roedean School. The view out there was beautiful – an imposing, Mallory Towers-esque school, looking out to sea. Our first u-turn was at 8.5 miles. I still felt strong and steady, while other people zoomed ahead and fell behind. At mile 10, she joined me and stayed with me for 8 miles. My mother-in-law does *not* fit into the stereotype at all!
I pushed myself a little hard running next to her. I think it’s because she is a runner – I was a little embarrassed at being so slow – but if I hadn’t had her amazing support I don’t think I’d have achieved such great (for me!) times in those stages! My sister, Dad, uncle and Granny were all there to wave me on a few miles on.
Reaching halfway was quite hard – I think that the “out-and-back” nature of the course was mentally challenging, because I had already turned back and was running very close to where the finish line was, but with the same again to go. The next stage took us into a residential area, and while supporters were thinner on the ground, a number of people were having marathon parties and came out of their homes to cheer us on. Brighton is such a friendly and beautiful city!
At around mile 18, I was starting to suffer. Patrick took over from his mum, and stayed with me to the end. These are the perks of being slow – you can have your cheering squad alongside you at all times! The final leg took us around an industrial estate, which started with the 20 miles marker and an official race sign that read “To Hell and Back”. I don’t know if that was supposed to bring out a wry smile, but for me it was the point when I realised I simply couldn’t run any longer. When I was pregnant, I was referred to a physiotherapist because of problems with my pelvis being misaligned, and I could feel those symptoms flaring up again.
The final 6 miles were through an industrial estate with a power station, steelworks and what smelled like a sewage treatment centre! Only the hardcore supporters remained in this area, and the NSPCC (the charity I was raising for) crowd were there and full of enthusiasm. As I headed towards the group, I heard “it’s one of ours!!!” and the cheers were music to my ears! The final stretch was upon me, and I hobbled along, pausing every so often to scrunch up and stretch out my aching muscles.
I knew that the finish line was at the new pier, just along from the skeleton of the old, burnt pier, and that broke up the distance. Each mile absolutely crawled by, at this stage. The mile markers were almost painful, as each one was met with a “seriously? It’s only been a mile?!” I had started Patrick singing rugby songs through the industrial estate, and Chicago and Yogi Bear had carried me through some tough times so far. By this time, Granny and Alison had joined us, so the nature of the songs had to reflect their audience a little better! Green bottles were the answer, so we sang 20, then 30, then 40.
I made it to the finish line, which they were in the middle of disassembling, and it was incredible. I had finished, and I wasn’t last – those were my goals for the day, and I had achieved them. There honestly hasn’t been anything in my life for which I’ve set a plan, stuck to it and followed through to completion in this way. I feel like I can do anything.
We place so much value on the skills and attributes that come naturally to people – this actress has never had to diet and hates exercise; that sportsman is “gifted”. The truly glorious feeling is to achieve something you never, ever thought you could. I remember the feeling of every exam result – a sense of relief that I’d “got away with it” again, that my natural academic skills had got me through. The feeling yesterday, continuing into today and beyond, is so much more than that.