Thursday, 20 October 2011

I Ran a Marathon!

Yes I did. It's true, I have pictures to prove it and everything. On 2nd October, 2011, I participated in the Loch Ness Marathon, some 26.2 miles (~ 42km) of gruelling, undulating, unrelenting hills, unmercifully wearing me down, damaging and breaking my body and spirit. My final time was 5hrs 21mins.

Proof, that certainly couldn't possibly have been photoshopped

A few weeks on though and I've managed to block out exactly how difficult it was. But hopefully in writing this post and looking back at the pictures, I will remember.

Last mile!

Read more after the break.

My training did not go to plan; an understatement. I had trained quite a bit to get to the half marathon level, and had ran two organised half marathons (Edinburgh 2010 and Dunfermline 2011) and averaged around the 2 hour mark for them. By the by, the Dunfermline half marathon was very disappointing as it featured running along the cycle track (which used to be a railway line, and therefore is very straight and very flat) surrounded by trees and bushes, meaning no views and no spectators for many miles. This sapped my motivation massively. The Edinburgh one however was excellent; plenty of spectators all the way, the route was great and so on.

My training plan did take a knock however, as I went on holiday to Portugal for a bit. Then shortly after that (too soon to resume training properly) I went on another holiday to the States, for a bit of New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas action! Obviously these holidays took me many steps back in my training, not simply because I was eating and drinking to excess, but because it had been into months now without any running.

So all in all, I took about 3 months out of training and left myself only two weeks to get back into shape for the marathon. I did manage to crank out a 25km before the big day, but given how tough that was, it didn't fill me with confidence about making it to the finishing line. Just think; that 25km and remembering how bad that felt, and just do another 17km after that!!

Every one seemed to lose confidence in me including work mates and the girlfriend who thought I was mad to persist; but to be fair, I had lost a lot of confidence in myself. I do think the only reason I managed to get across the line in the end is because I am very, very, incredibly stubborn at not being beaten. (OK, technically since I didn't win the marathon, I was beaten by many, many people, but the race itself didn't beat me which was the main objective).

What really didn't help is in the week running up to the marathon, my left knee started playing up, such that every so often (with a wildly varying frequency) I would be unable to put any weight on my knee and would have to hobble off it, even when walking. This was the only time I considered that I might not run the marathon. It wasn't the only time I thought I might not make it to the finishing line; oh no! That happened many times throughout the run itself! This seemed to clear itself up after resting for a few days, but again, skipping training wasn't doing my confidence any good.

The course itself is a strange one. Spectators aren't allowed at the starting line, as you start somewhat in the middle of nowhere and are forced to run back into civilisation. So unfortunately, the lovely girlfriend who had made the trip to Loch Ness with me couldn't see me off from the starting line. And unfortunately no pictures! So here is a lovely picture of me on the morning of the run.

Oblivious to the forthcoming pain

The race itself started OK but as always happens I began at a faster pace than I could maintain. Partly due to the chap I had sat next to on the bus, as we started the race together although I knew he was aiming for a quicker time than I. After the third mile, he mentioned that we were pacing for the 4 hour finish, and at that point I wished him well and let him run off as I slowed to a more suitable pace for me.

Everything was going fine until around the 11 mile mark when I started hitting the wall. Yes, I had slowed to a walk a few times before then, especially when hit with some of the bigger hills, but at this point I was seriously feeling fatigued. All the energy gels I could stomach couldn't keep me motivated. This was the first true point I actually feared failing to finish. At 11 miles in, I was exhausted, and the thought of trying to run 15 miles more just seemed impossible. Again, were it not for sheer fear of failure, and fear of disappointing others and myself, I could easily have called it a day.

My suspicion at the time about running too quickly was confirmed when I hit the half marathon not long after my last half marathon time (which would be fine were it not for the remaining half marathon I still had to complete!).

But alas, I persevered (somehow) and when I broke the 16 mile mark, I knew I was going to make it. I knew it was going to hurt - the blister accrued at the 2 mile mark due to the rain assured me of that! - but I didn't fear the failure of non-completion again, at least not to any real degree.

The last few miles seemed to go on forever. There were the usual signs indicating how many miles you'd ran, but they seemed to blend into other signs registering distances in kilometres which seriously confused me. I'm guessing because there were 10K and 5K and other fun-run time races on too. But how disheartening to see that you have 2km left, to run for a while, and then see a 3 mile mark. Brutal!

And within the last 1.5 miles, when my body was well and truly aching, it jointly annoying and motivational to see a group of random lads enjoying beers in a beer garden chanting "C'mon big man, 602, give us a run, faster faster!" - I couldn't help but pick up my heels for that.

The picture shows the 'gun time', not my actual time

I managed to save just enough energy for a sprint finish across the looooong finishing straight, to even earn a "That's a nice strong finish from 602, Craig Russell from Cowdenbeath". What a feeling crossing that line, and having my girlfriend there to collect the hot soup and stovies from the local Baxters tent, feed me Lucozade, crisps, chocolate and sweets! And the sweaty hug. I think I liked that the most!

Sweaty hug time!

I honestly couldn't see myself doing another one. The challenge has been completed. It is a tick off my life long list of to-dos. There wasn't too much enjoyment to be had, but I can't stress enough how glad I am to have done it.

Immediately after finishing

Special mention has to be made to my mate Del, who completed the same marathon in the utterly incredibly ridiculously fast time of around 3 hours 20 mins. Simply superhuman! And congrats to his girlfriend, Rachel who also kicked my arse!

But mainly, congrats to me. Because it wasn't fun getting up at 5:30am morning after morning, waiting for the gym to open so I could fire out a 20km run before hitting the office. Not fun at all.

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