Marathon attempt number two! Exactly one year after the first. I learned a lot from the whole process of preparing for and running Brighton Marathon 2018 – the most important being that I can actually run that far so this time around the worry about ‘will I finish?’ wasn’t there. The second big thing was that it probably would be a good idea to make the training more of a priority so that, even expecting to have a point at which it felt horrible, that it would come at a later point in the race.
I set up a training plan via Strava which started from three months ahead of the event day, early February, but started building up to that by running every day (even if it was just one mile) during January. Last year I had decided to do fewer runs during the week but focus on doing at least one fast run and one long run and trust (blind hope) that I’d be in reasonably good condition from teaching BodyPump and Body Combat to get round. Those classes are a great way to improve and maintain fitness but it turns there’s no substitute for logging the miles week in week out. This year I committed to more runs during the week, even if I only had time for two miles, and slowing down and taking the time to run further on the weekly long run. For the stats geeks, in 2018 from January to March I ran 150.2 miles across 23 runs and in 2019 it was 340.6 miles over 73 runs. Over double the distance and three times as many runs. The longest run I’d done in 2018 was 18.41 miles in 3:10:51 and in 2019 was 20.40 miles in 3:39:46. All this definitely contributed to a different type of experience on race day.
The first big difference was the scale of the event. I deliberately chose the Great Welsh Marathon as I wanted to do something smaller than Brighton. Fewer runners, smaller crowds of spectators and easier getting around on the day. It ended up being smaller than I’d imagined but for me that helped the whole thing feel more relaxed and more focused on the running. I travelled down with my parents the day before and after having checked into the hotel (a very convenient 10 minutes walk from the race start!) went out for a recce run to get an idea of where everything was and to see the sea! On the Sunday morning after an early breakfast my mum walked down and waited with me while the half marathon runners got started and it was time for the full marathon runners to toe the line. No waves and finish time based colour coded start funnels this time just everyone in together. Then, off we went!
The first mile went unbelievably quickly, a bonus of there not being huge numbers of other runners, we were able to get into a rhythm very quickly. Soon after that I warmed up into it and even considered taking a layer of clothing off despite the cold and wind (although very glad I kept wrapped up by the time the wind picked up later). The course was a 13 mile figure of ‘8’ shaped circuit run once or twice for the half or full marathon. The first loop was a roughly eight mile stretch along a nature walk and out to some roads around a business park which was lovely smooth road to run on. As it was a double lap course all the mile markers for the second lap were out, taunting us, which at first was a little discouraging but then I started to imagine how tired I might feel on the second time around and prepare some motivational thoughts with the hope they would pop back into my head on seeing the signs again. I think it worked as that part of the course was definitely the easier section both times. The second part of the loop, after running back past the start/finish line, went out to and along the sea front and while this was much more scenic there were more obstacles to think about, like benches and spectators, and the wind! And seemingly endless corners to go past before getting to turn around and run back to the halfway point.
The second 13.1 miles is where the marathon really starts. By this point I’d been running for about 2 hours 10 minutes and very happy with that split. So much so I started wondering if I could keep a similar pace going and finish near to 4:20 and that thought really helped boost the energy and the pace a little for the next few miles. My prep work on the first loop definitely helped. Well, seeing the mile signs again and remembering what I’d told myself first time around was something to amuse myself with other than thoughts like ‘running mile after mile like this for fun is just a little bit bonkers when I could still be in bed’. Then from mile 19/20 the pace was starting to slow and mini walk breaks were necessary but everything still felt manageable was ticking over quite nicely and, crucially, keeping ahead of the 4:30 pacers. That second loop of the second lap, the last five mile stretch, was where things really started to get ugly. Energy levels were actually okay, I’d managed to keep myself going quite well with gels and Nakd bars, but muscles were tired and I had now been running further and for longer than in any of the training sessions. Mentally the most challenging thing was the endless corners. As I wasn’t familiar with the route every time I saw a bend up ahead where the other runners went out of sight I would start thinking ‘oh it’s just past there that we get to turn around and start running back to the finish’. Five hundred times. Alright only five or six…. brutal highs of expectation then disappointment about having to keep going further away. Eventually the turning point came and now finally heading back to the finish my body decided it had had enough and various muscles started to object and felt like they wanted to burst. A horrible pain developed in my left foot so the pace slowed yet again with longer walk breaks and a shuffling waddling run type movement. But, it was forwards movement, even when it didn’t feel like it, and the determination to get over the line got me there with a finish time of 4:29:18. That’s about 27 minutes faster than Brighton. Amazing!. (Although there’s a strict PT in me that can’t help thinking ‘well, yes, that’s what you get when you actually properly train for it’ [insert eye roll emoji]).
Post-marathon was a surprising shock to the system. Last year, because the intensity had been lower, the recovery was fairly easy and after a good night’s sleep felt alright again but this year has been much more of a struggle. My appetite was up and down, aches and tightness in the muscles to be expected but the pain in my foot was not one I’d ever had before so that was quite worrying. For the first week when teaching classes I found I was getting much more tired earlier in the workout that I was used to. Although the physical niggles were annoying everything seemed more or less back to normal again within a week or so. I managed three miles run/walk again on the following Sunday. Mentally and emotionally the hit and the recovery has been much harder and slower. People talk about ‘hitting the wall’ in a marathon where you completely run out of steam and have to dig really deep to keep going. For me it felt like that moment didn’t happen until the Tuesday afterwards when I finally crashed and let go of all the focus and determination that had been carrying me through the training and the event. By that point the initial excitement of the achievement and sharing it all had mostly gone so didn’t have that to distract me and over the next few days I ended up feeling really, really low and lost. Even more so as my go to thing for feeling good is usually running and I wasn’t sure at that point how soon I would be able to do that pain free or have the fitness back to increase mileage again. I’d been so fired up pre-marathon I’d expected to take a few days off but then pick up and carry on going at the same rate so it was really hard to accept that wasn’t happening. But I did accept it, I decided that it was normal to feel this way after a big long-term project coming to an end (not just the marathon but strength training and the pressure of a Les Mills launch overlapping) and that it was rest time now and to take it easy. Save my physical energy for teaching classes, only do what I felt like I could definitely mange for my workouts outside of that and not try to force myself to feel better trusting that would happen on it’s own eventually.
It’s now been three weekends since the marathon and I am just starting to feel back to ‘normal’. I was able to run ten slow miles on Sunday and five slightly more energetic ones yesterday (for a new challenge, more on that in a separate post) and the difference it makes to my mood is some kind of alchemy that I’m not quite sure I will ever understand. I have new things to look forward to now which is always a nice place to be and one of those things is a non-running related project which I hope will be very interesting… (…tbc). I have started thinking I would definitely run a marathon again when I can and take what I’ve learned from this one to do even better but would be fun to try a trail event next time I think… we’ll see. Watch this space!