Abingdon Marathon 2017

 I ran my second marathon last Sunday, my second marathon ever, as well as my second this year. Some might say that this was a foolish endeavour; I’m certainly starting to think that signing up for a duathlon six days later was erm… ambitious (stupid). We’ll see on Saturday whether that actually happens.  Note: It very definitely did not. See final paragraph regarding post-marathon comedown/viral contagion.

This second marathon was a very different experience to the first – which I’ve written a long and VERY sweary account of here. 

One of the main differences was the sheer SIZE of the event.  Abingdon had about 750 runners, whereas Brighton was over 12 and a half thousand. This, and the 5-hour cut off point meant that Abingdon was a pretty serious race –  you don’t see people running Abingdon with a fridge strapped to their back or dressed as a rhino. Although there was one guy who did the whole thing whilst juggling (and in under four hours. I kind of hated that guy).  

So the smaller size of Abingdon meant that in terms of sheer numbers there were far fewer spectators, BUT crucially for me there was WAY more home support. I only live 10 miles from Abingdon, so half of the members of our club that weren’t actually running themselves (and there were a LOT of Headington Road Runners running it too) were out there cheering and waving flags and marshalling. For a local club-runner the atmosphere was fantastic. There were so many friendly faces on the course, mostly from our HRR and friends in Abingdon Athletics Club too, who were out in force marshalling and supporting. A friend from school who I haven’t seen for years came out to see us near the start and got so excited that she decided to come into town to see us on a second pass, AND came to the stadium afterwards to find me. It was so lovely I’ve got tears in my eyes typing this. I feel SO emotional about the whole event actually – but I am VERY tired. 

Another difference was that as the event is small and fast (obviously it was still 26.2 miles - which by the way is a really easy way to annoy a marathon runner: ask if ‘insert name of other marathon’ is as long as London. Go on, try it…) but due to the size of the event, there were some long lonely stretches of road with no spectators and where you can’t even see any other runners. However, I wasn’t on my own for a single second of it. This is the massive advantage of your coach being one of your best friends.  Tony had suggested running with me a couple of weeks previously when he’d got back off holiday and hadn’t been able to complete the long runs he’d wanted to do due to “eff-off hills and heat” in order to go for a sub 4. I’d said to decide nearer the time, as he might feel differently; I hadn’t meant ACTUALLY DECIDE an hour before the start of the race, mind you, but that’s what ended up happening. I didn’t bribe him or anything. One of our Headington team mates said, “You’re running with Emma?? Won’t you be bored shitless?” which was CHARMING. Thanks, Andy. But Tony insisted he thought it would be fun, because he has a very warped idea of fun. Apparently in his case fun is over 4 and half hours of your mate whinging. Actually I only REALLY started complaining when we got to about mile 18, and to be honest by that point I was too knackered and trying to conserve energy too much to really let rip about what a stupidly long way 26.2 miles is to run and who’s idea was this anyway, and what the HELL were they thinking making us go down and more significantly back UP an underpass at mile 25 the sadists… but that was what I was thinking.  But actually offering to pace someone for that long is a big deal. And it does and did mean the world to me not to be doing it on my own. To skip right to the end I got a 20 minute PB, which I am STILL buzzing about two days later, and that is in a large part down to Tony. Not only did he run it with me, but he also put together my training plan for me, which included somehow persuading me to get up at a ridiculously early hour every Tuesday for his track session that I am giving credit for my increase in speed this year.  And once my legs start working again I’m going to bake him a cake or something.  Anyone who has ever done a marathon knows that there are some DARK, dark moments of the soul at some point in it. Even my most impressively speedy marathon-running friends don’t take that distance lightly. It’s HARD and it goes on FOREVER. So to have someone alongside you to say you can do it – and remind you that your family are waiting at the finish line, and no you’re not walking YOU GOT THIS! – makes all the difference.  Obviously I still had to run it, though. With my own legs. I’m not going to give him ALL the credit. 

I don’t remember a moment during Brighton where I properly hit the wall. I had moments where I walked – quite long moments, and I ran it considerably slower than Abingdon. But it was a super-hot day back in April, whereas Abingdon was run during the tail end of Hurricane flipping Brian. (Brian, I mean seriously? As another friend pointed out, if you’re going to be able to say you ran a marathon in a hurricane you want it to be called something impressive like Beelzebub, not BRIAN…). So our intention with Abingdon was to do it in 4 hours 40, which meant 10:40 minutes per mile… we did the first 20 miles at 10:20 minutes per mile. We both knew we were going too fast, and every now and again Tony would say, “Yeah, we’re going too fast, we’ll dial it back for a few miles in a bit” and then we’d get talking again and that wouldn’t happen.  So we ended up doing the opposite: the first 20 miles a bit too fast and then the last 6 miles, erm…a bit less fast.  I had a short-lived wobble around mile 16, felt a bit more dodgy from about mile 18, but then seeing the 20-mile marker gave me a boost, as that was what we’d been aiming for. And the first 20 miles (and I am fully aware that saying this makes me sound like a dickhead) really did seem to go quickly. It just felt like a long run chatting with a mate like we’d done loads of times before.  But at mile 20 things got a little bit darker – we were paying for those earlier faster miles. So from then T gave me little goals: “You just need to get to Gerry and everyone at mile 21! They’ve got Jaffa Cakes!” “You just need to get to that mile 23 marker, remember we saw it on the first loop!” But at mile 24… well, the wheels REALLY threatened to come right off the wagon. And then roll over the wagon. And then back and forth a few times to make sure those wheels REALLY hammered their point home.  My legs just didn’t want to go on. They were hurting like hell and every atom in my body was screaming at me to stop… I think this is what they call hitting the wall. Or bonking. Which just sounds too funny, but really, really isn’t.

This was the point at which running with your coach comes into its own. I wanted to stop. I needed to stop. I actually felt dizzy and a bit nuts, but T did not let me stop. He reminded me that my family were at the finish line, of Evie and Joe’s little faces waiting to see me cross that finish line. So with that encouragement and a flash moment of anger at myself – “FOR FUCK’S SAKE YOU CAN RUN TWO FUCKING MILES, EMMA!” (yes, I am totally pairing up thoughts of my kids with very bad language – and not for the first time) – and then miraculously seeing the smiling face of one of our club buddies marshalling after we’d come up that EVIL underpass, and spurred on by seeing some of the speedier runners coming out of the stadium with their medals and t-shirts on, all cheering and shouting words of encouragement, we made it into the stadium. Up ahead we could see another club buddy who is usually considerably faster than me but her race had not gone according to plan, so all three of us ended up doing the final 0.2 miles in the stadium together.  And joy of joys as we ran around the lap of the track, on the far side of the stadium by the finish line, I could see the bright red coat of my Mum. AHHH MY ACTUAL MUM!  And beside her my Evie, my little Diddy, and knew that somewhere my husband and son and Dad were there too, all of whom gave me strength. But for some reason it was Evie that I really wanted to do this for, because she is just so proud and excited. Joe doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, he’s 3, he just wants to investigate the goody bag afterwards and insist I carry him even though I’ve just dragged the last 2 miles out from some reserve on energy I didn’t know I had… But Evie, my baby girl, she wants to be a runner, and she thinks I’m amazing. She recently wrote me a note which said she loved me so much she wanted to eat me until only my skull is left, which is PROPERLY creepy and hilarious, but also shows the strength of her love for me…  And there she was, and somehow we were crossing the line and we’d done it. And it felt like it passed in a flash and took forever all at the same time.  And despite what T refers to as his dodgy pacing (and what I refer to as us just talking too much) I knocked a full 20 minutes off my Brighton time, came in 5 minutes quicker than our intended time. I did it in 4 hours and 35 minutes.  

I’m finishing up writing this 10 days after the marathon, the buzz and the feeling of pride and elation I get when I look at that medal has continued, and despite having to crawl up and down the stairs for a couple of days my legs actually recovered remarkably quickly. But I am definitely learning something about recovery from this one too.  Because despite the legs feeling OK, I am FLIPPING KNACKERED… it didn’t help that the marathon was the day before half term, so a full week of child- wrangling ensued after, but I also seemed to pick up every little bug and niggle. I had to cancel my much-anticipated sports massage because of a horrendous one-day bug I came down with, and my skin looks like I’m a hormonal teenager. So right now I’m trying to nurture myself. Eat well, get lots of sleep, not eat all the kids’ Halloween sweets “for their own good” and just give myself a bit of a break, because I did an amazing thing! 

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