Sunday, 10 April 2011

First Marathon - 4:33:13

Now I know why Pheidippides died! 

Running my first marathon in near 20degree heat, with hardly a breeze, having trained solidly in single figure and minus temperatures, as Brighton decided to bypass Spring and go straight to Summer, always had the potential for a whole heap of pain.

If you can't be arsed to read in a full, what basically happened was that it was f%&king hot from start to finish, opening 13.1 miles was on course for sub-4hr pace (which I now realise was astonishingly ambitious in a debut) then pace started to drop away dramatically no matter how hard I fought it through miles 13 and 14, mile-15 my legs well and truly went, and by 16 I was a broken man. 

Had to slap down the little demon in my head at 16 that wanted me to stop, and instead embarked on 10-miles of complete and utter pain - THE WALL came very very early! Legs had nothing in them, emotionally and mentally I was spent, but there was nothing left to do other than to continue. Hated the back half, wasn't the pace I dreamed about, or even in more lucid moments wanted, but I completed my first Marathon

I just never realised that degree of pain existed, took me 10-minutes after finishing 'til I could speak and although I tried I was too drained to even cry. But, while Mary might have made me her bitch today, I've got unfinished business with her becuase now I know...
So that's it in a nutshell, but for those of you who will enjoy the full gruesome details of my descent into hell here ya go...

Miles 1-6
Start in one of Brighton's many parks then opening 5-miles winding through town and crowds, all very straightforward, felt great, kept hydrated, very much in control, fair bit of shade, all according to plan...nothing much to really report other than going past a few people in bizarre costumes - including the guy dressed as Noddy "wearing" a Noddy car that must have been at least 1-metre in length (glad I wasn't him). Never saw him again, so at least I know I beat him!

Miles 7-13:
The race went out of town along the coast road with a number of undulating hills, past the exclusive Roedean School then up into Ovingdean around the school and up the hill to Rottingdean.  All of a sudden there was no shade or cover from what was already becoming an ominous sun with temperature pushing 20-degrees, pace was ok, but already starting to feel it.  One guy took a tumble in front of me around mile 9 which meant having to literally leap over him (not a pretty site).

Mile-10 was as far East as you get, then it was the turn running back along coast road to the 13.1 mark just before the Pier in the centre of town. Pace was still fine, went through the half stage at 1:58:56 which was still just inside 4hr pace, saw family around 13.5 which gave a great lift, then turned back up the final "hill" (well long steep gradient) to mile 14 it what was already becoming quite frankly unbearable heat for a pasty ginger-haired large framed chap....

Miles 14-20: 
"The Descent into Hell" I'm not kidding, this is where it all started to go wrong.  What had been an uneventful race thus far, suddenly became hell on earth.  Got to the top of the hill at mile -14 and legs felt awful, pushed on to mile 15 and by that time they'd completely gone.  It wasn't that they felt heavy, just that they'd lost all power and desire to respond to my feeble demands.  Stumbled into toilet, weaving, couldn't get shorts down and couldn't pee properly - suddenly thought "oops!". 

Recently listened to MarathonTalk discussing pacing and the importance of committing yourself to a pace, but understand just how badly it could go wrong.  I was happy to make that commitment, and boy did it go wrong.  But if you are going to miss your goal, you might as well do it gloriously and implode! 

By mile-16 I was a broken man, physically I'd run out of juice a good 5-miles earlier than I expected any such problems "might" occur. I wanted to stop, I wanted to cry, but had no choice. 10-miles still to go and I felt quite frankly absolutely awful. The next few miles on a truly crap part of the course where you double-back upon yourself was truly a descent into hell. 

The body had gone, then the mind started to follow suit. It so desperately wanted me to stop, I tried to fight the Central Governor and had to make do with a truce and compromise that involved a bit of walking...yes, I know walking is not allowed, but I was truly a spent force and if it makes you feel any better it was more of a fast march than a walk, but I just couldn't do anything more.  Thank god there was a street shower at some point (was too gone to know exactly where) and one lovely old bloke stood outside his house with a garden hose on full blast spraying heavenly cold water across the runners. 

It didn't matter how much liquid I took on, I just couldn't get going again...was lifted by seeing Nick (parent from my son's football team) who's words of encouragement gave me a lift, but this was just becoming horrible.  Miles 15-18 were an absolute nightmare, at 17 I took my last look at the Garmin and knew then this was no longer about dreams of sub-4hr marathons or time goals, but a war of mind of matter, a battle to finish what I'd started - I just wished this had started 5 or 6 miles down the line with only a few to go. 

Miles 20-26.2:
Mile-20 takes you to the grimest part of the course, by this point I was having to run/march I just couldn't function any other way, vainly trying to drink enough fluid and also douse myself with enough to cool down, this part of the route takes you away from civilization and out to the power station (as dull as it sounds).  

One "highlight" is running through THE WALL just beyond mile-20, but by this point I couldn't have cared less.. was of no real help at all, but at least I wasn't in quite such bad shape by this stage as the 2 or 3 people I saw by the roadside being given oxygen by the medical service team!  

This was 3-miles of sheer tedium, not helped by a desire to vomit as my stomach dial went past zero and the last available gel was consumed.  Sad thing was I was so buggered, I couldn't even muster the energy to puke.

Finally got back onto the Esplanade at mile-23 where crowds were thick and the support fabulous, was hoping to get a real lift for a big finish, but just couldn't get anything more from the legs, managed to drag my sorry arse down beyond mile-25 where my mum and sister and persuaded everyone around them to cheer and shout my name as I went past (which was wonderful), then lurched towards the finish.  

The Aftermath
Staggered through the post-finish area in a blur collecting medal, banana, drink, presenting wrong foot twice to have chip removed, and finally found my way out of the back to civilization. Suddenly realised I'd made no plan with the family as to where to meet, so meandered off in the "right" direction soon to find them but incapable of the powers of speech or the ability to work properly.

Stopped to stretch, wanted to cry, but to tired. 

Met my mate Ollie who I'd fallen behind at around mile-12 and reunited with family life started to veer back to some semblance of normality. My son had his medal from his kids race, seeing them was wonderful and life suddenly didn't wasn't quite so bad...
So in summary, I truly hated the second half of the marathon today.  I was a completely spent force, there was nothing left and I was a goner with 10-miles to go.  4:33:13 is not what I was hoping for, but hey it was my début, I'd never gone beyond 20-miles and you know what it ain't that bad.

Oh, and at the time of writing   we've raised nearly £1,400 for disaster relief in Japan which makes me feel proud.

So basically it was absolute hell!

But, you know what? I can't wait to do it again. I "loved" it, kind of - in a perverse disturbing sort of way. Now I've got a time to beat and I know I can go quicker, and this time Mary I'm coming for you!


In case you are wondering what the Brighton course is like, have a butchers at what 15,000 of us signed up for: 


  1. So they had 'The Wall' set up at the wrong place. Bugger! Would have been a breeze if they'd had it at 14 miles.

  2. Well done Stephen!
    I think your finishing the race in spite of the wall coming sooner than expected and the pain being worse than expected means that in a certain sense you did better than expected. The longer the distance, the more a runner's mental toughness becomes a distinguishing factor, I think.