Well, I did it.
It absolutely didn’t pan out like I’d hoped, but given that I’ve spent the past three weeks injured and didn’t run at all in that period, I think I can be pretty happy with making it to the finish line.
While parts of the run itself were absolute torture, and a lot of that is completely my own fault (there are lessons to be learnt, more on that later) looking back on it I can already say I very much enjoyed the whole day.
I woke up early to horrendous weather and was, in some ways, happy that it was going to be a cool day. The odd shower probably wouldn’t be too much of an issue either to be honest. Better than it being too warm and overheating… And then it got nice.
The start line at Belfast City Hall was buzzing with runners either taking on the full 26.2 or preparing to run the first leg of the relay, with many in fancy dress. Although I was too far back to hear what was happening up at the front, the atmosphere was one of real excitement, and although it took us a good four and a half minutes to actually reach the start line, I spent the first 10 miles or so running with a friend’s brother, going much quicker than I had planned, but feeling okay.
Unfortunately, the warning signs then started to show. I had to take a quick break on 10 miles to shed a pair of socks – yes, actually – and by the time we reached the course’s longest, seemingly never ending, knee-shredding, morale-shattering hill, I was struggling. I’d almost reached the end in Manchester before taking a walk break, but here I was forced to before I was even halfway. Maybe if I’d not been injured and been able to train properly, id have dealt with it better.
While coming down the hill was certainly more pleasant than going up it, the damage had been done, and from miles 16-21 or so a blinding pain and almost unbearable cramp had absolutely destroyed my legs. It was a real struggle to even walk at times, and I can happily admit that I thought about giving up more than once, but two paracetamol from the first aid tent and the thought of seeing my partner at mile 22 and my little boy at 23.5 kept me going.
Somehow I battled on. And after seeing them both – and an impromptu change of shoes, I managed to kick my race back into life for the last couple of gruelling miles, eating up the last couple of miles in a very respectable time. It was certainly a huge relief to see the finish line though, and I’m as proud that I reached it given the relative hell I had been through as I was at finishing my first marathon – even if this one did take a while longer.
I suppose that if it was easy, it wouldn’t be called a challenge. And it’s heartening to know that, even when the body didn’t want to carry on, my mind had enough to keep going.
I can’t really put into words how much of a boost seeing friends and family on the course can provide, and I was delighted to hear from my mum, and from the lovely people at Clic Sargent, that my little lad was cheering on all of the runners, constantly telling them all to “keep going”. He really enjoys watching his daddy’s runs, and it means the world to me that he’s there to support when I drag myself around these courses.
In hindsight now, as well as the obvious hindrance of not being able to train for three weeks, hydration caused my severe issues this time around. Manchester had bottles of water at their stops that I could make last until the next one. Any runner will know that cups, such as the ones they had in Belfast, are a bit of a nightmare – as most of it ends up on the floor or all over your face. Thankfully, Derry marathon in four weeks time use bottles, so that should go a little better.
It’s fair to say that my legs are in bits right now, and I fully intend to give them a week off before getting back into training for the final of my three marathons. Hopefully I can attack it injury free and enjoy it a little more than this one.
Perhaps surprisingly, I’m actually a little sad that the challenge is approaching its end, rather than the relief that everyone seems to think I’ll be experiencing, but I can say with some certainty that this is only the beginning of my marathon journey, rather than almost being the end. I fully intend to keep it up, and am already looking forward to seeing different cities with my running shoes on.
A quick thank you to everyone who has given generously as I’ve been on this journey. I can’t thank each and every one of you enough, and the money goes to a fantastic place. Here’s what the money I’m raising does to help:
£33 of your fundraising can give a family a place to stay for a night, near hospital during cancer treatment. £164 can make sure there’s always a CLIC Sargent Social Worker to meet children and young people with cancer, and their families, soon after diagnosis and help them to understand and cope with the emotional, practical and financial effects of cancer.
Onwards and upwards from here. It’s four weeks and a couple of days until I hit the streets of Derry and undertake the Walled City Marathon. Thanks for the support, and I’ll be back soon, once my legs work again, with more updates.