Despite vowing that I wouldn’t run another marathon, I found myself signed up for a second crack of the whip. I actually entered the Blackpool marathon only a few days after completing London. I wanted revenge as I knew that I could do better than my 7:03 personal best.
Unlike with London, training had been going well. I had spent copious amounts of time on the treadmill (3+ hours most Sundays) and even joined a running club. My training mileage had been consistently in the 30+ miles per week range. Whilst training I had entered two half marathons. I completed the first in January in 2:11:02, which was a personal best down from 2:33. This is when I decided to target a sub-5 hour marathon time. I felt that this goal was realistic and would still feel like a massive achievement.
Unfortunately, I ended up hurting my knee on an 18 mile training run with around 8 weeks to the marathon. This injury knocked my training mileage down and also started to make me mentally doubt if I would be able to achieve my sub-5 goal. I also had another half marathon in just 3 weeks’ time. By the time the half marathon came around my knee was feeling a lot better. With that said, it was still causing me pain and discomfort. I lined up at the start of the half marathon not knowing if I would be able to finish. To my surprise I actually ran the first half really well, and then dropped massively off for the second part. Still, I finished in 2:11:10, so only 8 seconds off of my personal best, even with a bad knee. This gave me some confidence as I knew that I still had 5 weeks until the marathon and had ran a good time.
Although my knee was a lot less painful than it had been, I was suffering mentally. I was so nervous of aggravating it again and not being able to complete the marathon. In the end, this cost me a few long runs as I cut them way short of where I wanted them to be as I didn’t want to risk injury. This meant that my longest run was 18 miles, and that was a run which had been completed 8 weeks from the marathon. Ideally I had wanted to run a couple of 20 milers, just to give me a bit more confidence in my ability to cover the 26.2 distance.
Even with the last 8 weeks of training not going to plan, I was quietly confident of my changes of a sub-5 hour marathon. Deep down I was wondering if 4:45 or 4:50 would be possible. The rule of thumb for marathon time predictions is usually double your half marathon time and then add 20 minutes. This prediction method gave me a time of 4:44 for the marathon… we’ll see about that!
We had travelled up to Blackpool the day before and spent the evening in arcades. There were a lot of runners in town and the queue for Pizza Hut was out of the door! We tried a few restaurants but they were either fully booked or had no vegetarian options. In the end we settled on an American styled diner for food. We spent the evening eating snacks and watching Britain’s Got Talent as I tried not to overthink things. I was a bit anxious as we had been battered by 47 mile per hour winds all day, and I really wasn’t looking forward to running in that if it persisted through to race day. We went to bed at just after 10pm, and despite staying in a new place, I actually slept quite well.
Morning Of The Event:
We woke up early so that we could get breakfast and find the starting area. I had tried to purchase a pot of porridge the day before but I could only find golden syrup flavoured pots (which I can’t stand!), so I ended up having 3 hash browns for breakfast instead (so much for nothing new on race day!). I used the toilet for the fifth time of the morning and then we made our way towards the starting area. In fairness, I think I only used the toilet 5 times this time instead of the 10+ times the morning of the London marathon!
The starting area was less than a mile walk from the hotel. I double checked that I had my energy gels, phone, some change and my bottle of Lucozade and then said goodbye to Chris as I lined up ready to start. I found GPS signal on my watch, pressed play on my headphones and got ready to cross the starting line.
We set off along the promenade and I was feeling good. The nerves had died down a little now that I had actually started running. In what felt like no time at all, I had reached the first mile marker… only 25.2 to go!
With the strong winds the day before, and the sea breeze on the day, I had opted to wear a long-sleeved thermal top and compression tights. I reached the second mile marker and was starting to regret this decision! Despite yesterday’s storm, the weather was actually really warm. There was the occasional sea breeze but it was nothing like the 47 mile per hour winds of the days before.
I reached the 3 mile marker with a time of 29:17 and I was still feeling good, albeit a bit warm. Upon reaching the 4 mile marker, I decided to take my first energy gel. I had planned to take one at miles 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20. Upon taking my first gel I realized that something was wrong. The gel had been quite lumpy and not particularly pleasant. Still, I pushed on without giving it too much thought. I continued to sip at my Lucozade as I battled the unexpected heat.
Miles 5 and 6 didn’t feel too bad but my pace had dropped significantly. For the previous miles I had been managing an average pace of 9:41-9:47. This dropped to 10:58 and 11:03 for miles 5 and 6 respectively. I wasn’t overly concerned as I was still way ahead of my goal pace of 11:27. I took comfort knowing that I was almost a quarter of the way through.
I still had a bit of a buffer on time as I had completed all of the earlier miles quicker than my target pace. With this in mind, I wasn’t actively checking my watch. Mile 7 came in slightly faster than the previous 2 miles in 10:53. I took my second energy gel, and just like the first this one was also lumpy. This prompted me to check the expiry date… I then realized my rookie error. Yup, they were 6 months out of date. I had ordered more for the marathon but had put them in the same drawer as my old ones and hadn’t checked the dates. By this point I had also drank all of my Lucozade.
The next few miles were back and forth as mile 8 came in at 11:21, mile 9 in 11:02, mile 10 in 11:23, mile 11 in 11:08 and mile 12 in 11:35. I was faced with a tough decision here… take another energy gel as planned and risk my stomach feeling even queasier or not take a gel but then have no calories or energy and risk hitting the wall. Reluctantly I opted to take another gel as I didn’t want to run out of energy completely.
I was having a few sips of water at each water station. To my disappointment, there was no sports drinks or Lucozade provided at any of the aid stations.
Reaching the 13 mile marker was mentally challenging. I knew that I was still only half way. Not only that but the course splits as the half marathon runners turn right towards the finish, whilst the marathon runners turn left to complete a second lap. It was really tough to not take the right turn and drop down to the half marathon.
Miles 12-14 were all outside of my goal pace, but mile 14 had been considerably slower in 12:32. I was really starting to struggle. My stomach was turning and the heat was really getting to me. By this point I had unzipped my long-sleeved top (it was a half zip style) and rolled up my sleeves. I got a funny look from a female spectator as unzipping my top meant that my sports bra was showing, but I really didn’t care. To be honest, I could have been wearing a vest underneath for all she could see!
I knew that I couldn’t afford many miles at the 12:33 pace from mile 14, and somehow managed to complete mile 15 in 11:07. Unfortunately, this resurgence was short-lived as the next mile ticked by slowly in 12:41. I tried to take hope in the fact that I was still on course for my goal. My mind was doing all kinds of mental arithmetic to work out the slowest pace I could get away with to stay within target.
Mile 17 came in at 11:46, but it was the last sub-12 minute mile for a while. By this point I was jeffing (run / walk intervals) and I tried my best to stay positive. My belt bag was chafing as my top kept riding up, meaning that the belt was rubbing against my skin. I hadn’t put on any BodyGlide or Vaseline so it was getting rather sore. I could also feel my chest starting to burn from the sun. Yesterday’s storm seemed well and truly over!
Mile 18 had been really tough. The doubt had started to set in about whether I could still make a sub-5 goal. I had done so well to stay within my target average pace so far, but knew that it was going to be a tough ask. The 12:54 time for mile 18 really hadn’t helped any.
It was around the 19 mile mark that I saw Chris. He offered a juice drink and some Haribo sweets. I took a sip of the drink and a sweet, but struggled with both. The drink made my stomach feel more uneasy, and chewing the sweet was proving difficult as the energy gels had made my teeth sensitive. I was a little surprised by this. I suffered with sensitive teeth during the London marathon but I had drank around 3 or 4 bottles of Lucozade and taken 5 or so energy gels, so it was to be expected. Unable to chew any more sweets I left the packet with him and advised that I didn’t think I was going to make my goal. He told me to keep going and that I could still make it. I knew that I COULD, but I would really need to pick up the pace for the remaining 7 miles.
Miles 19 and 20 came in at 12:13 and 12:16. My calculations told me that I would have to run at around 11:25 per mile to be able to reach my goal.
I was trying to stay positive, but I knew how much work I still had left to do. My stomach was turning and my legs were feeling heavy. My chafed bits were sore and I could only hope that my sunburn wouldn’t turn out as bad as it felt.
Mile 21 ultimately came in with an average pace of 12:00. I would really have to dig deep to avoid disappointment! I had lost a lot of inhibitions by mile 22 and along with showing my sports bra I had also started singing out loud. Deep down I just wanted to distract myself from how uncomfortable I was feeling and to take my mind off the time. I knew that I still had a decent amount of time left to run.
The next 3 miles were quicker – 11:42, 11:45 and 11:44. It was bittersweet really; I was glad to see the mile notifications come up on my watch as it meant that I was closer to the finish line, but it was hard to take when I saw that each mile was falling behind my goal pace.
Mile 25 was a real battle. I knew that I would have to run two pretty quick miles in order to manage a sub-5 time. It was now starting to sink in and that was making it harder to push myself to keep running. The second half of the mile hit me hard. It felt like I had done all of the hard work early on and let myself down anyway. By now I was doing more walking than running as my legs were refusing to co-operate. My fate was then sealed as my watch notified me that I had completed mile 25 with an average pace of 12:38.
That meant that I had 13 minutes and 50 seconds to get through the remaining 1.2 miles. I knew that it was going to happen. Physically I was struggling, but mentally I was defeated. The battery in my headphones also died at this point so I couldn’t even take comfort in listening to my music. I shed a tear as I battled the disappointment and tried to just keep moving forward. Mile 26 had been a complete walk and as such was the slowest mile in 14:45. Spectators continued to cheer me on and congratulate me, but all I could do was shake my head as I made my way towards the finish line.
The last 0.2 mile actually felt like it took forever. I turned the final corner and could see the finish line in the distance, but it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Chris came over to me and offered me encouragement, trying to get me to run. When I first started running I said that I would always run across the finish line, so I took a deep breath, clenched my teeth and started to run again. It felt like lifting 200kg weights with each leg movement. The crowds were cheering me on but it was still a massive effort to get myself to the end.
I crossed the finish line and not even the thought of getting my medal could cheer me up. In fact, part of me didn’t even want the medal. I knew that I hadn’t hit my goal time by a distance and I just wanted to rewind and the start the morning over. My watch read 5:06:22 (official time was 5:06:21).
Chris soon joined me at the finish area. I was handed my medal, t-shirt, a chocolate bar and a bottle of water. We sat down near the beach front and I couldn’t hide my disappointment. Chris didn’t seem to understand my disappointment as I’d still gotten a personal best and had done much better than my first effort in London. Despite not being able to run any further, I still felt okay in comparison to my first marathon. After London I struggled with the walk back to the hotel and was in agony. This time I was hurting more from missing my goal pace than physically. I mean, sure, I hurt, but that was to be expected after completing a marathon. I was still able to walk around and managed the four flights of stairs to get back to the hotel room.
When I reluctantly got around to checking my phone I had a lot of people asking how I had gotten on. I let people know that I had finished but that I didn’t really want to talk about it today. Truth be told, I just wanted to eat and not have anyone mention the “M” word! The hotel manager had made me feel like an athlete though. He asked for a selfie with me and I had a few guests who were in the lobby offer me pizza and congratulate me afterwards. Still, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. It felt like a long time coming so to not perform as well as I had wanted was tough to take. I had made a few rookie mistakes which had let me down and I was now kicking myself for them.
The next day I let people know how I had gotten on and received a lot of congratulations and support. Everyone reminded me that it was a big achievement to improve on my time by almost 2 hours in the space of a year. I understood what they were saying, and I am proud of my progress, but I know that I could have done better. I always strive to do my best and be the best version of myself, and I don’t think the amount of training and effort that I had put in was reflected in my time on the day. All in all, I definitely learnt a few things from the experience! I won’t be making the same mistakes again (hopefully!). And yes, I will definitely be signing up for another marathon!
The full results can be found here.