Running A Marathon: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly…

July 11, 2014 9:50 am

This year I achieved something quite special, I completed my first marathon. I ran in the Edinburgh Marathon on May 25 in aid of Alzheimer Scotland, an extremely meaningful cause to myself and my family because we lost both my Great Granddad, Sammy Irvine and my Granddad Michael Boyle to the horrific disease. Now, I wish I could say it was a lovely, euphoric experience filled with life affirming moments and pleasure, but I’d be lying. The truth is marathon training is tough. Anyone who claims otherwise are kidding themselves because there are times, particularly at the beginning, when it can be nothing short of grim. However, it is the warm feeling of self-satisfaction after a long run that lasts, that’s the feeling that pushes all those negative emotions away and makes it all worthwhile.

The first session is horrendous. I will never forget mine because I thought I was actually going to die. It was January 7, after buying my first pair of running shoes that day (Sauconies to be precise), I was in high spirits buzzing to start training. So I went out around 6pm that night, with the intention to ‘only’ do do a couple of miles around the area where I live… I couldn’t even run a mile without stopping. Disheartened, I returned home a crimson sweaty mess and collapsed onto the couch asking myself why on earth I’d signed myself up for this. I’d never even attempted to run a 5k, so of course it only made sense to throw myself in head first and register for a 26.2 mile race! The first week had a similar result, my only option was to suck it up and run every night till my fitness levels increased, so in week one I ran six days out of seven and by the end of the week I felt, okay. A couple of weeks into the training it did get easier and my fitness levels were certainly rising but at the detriment of my health. I had taken on a cold virus and was regularly having flu like symptoms. After some research I discovered the reason why, my diet. I took some advice from a friend of mine who is a personal trainer. She explained that what you eat post run is equally as important as what you eat before and has huge significance in your recovery. I learned that as the blood sugar levels drop while you are running, it is vital that you eat something as soon as you stop such as an apple or a banana, followed by a balanced meal within the hour.

After altering my diet I very quickly began to really enjoy taking to the streets. I became so keen I was out running in high winds, rain and hail and the miles were swiftly increasing. On March 11 I accomplished a significant milestone, my first 10 mile run. Shortly after I pulled my right hip flexor which unfortunately, affected my performance in both speed and distance. This required physiotherapy treatment and what I’d dreaded the most; rest. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing the momentum when I’d made such great progress but the pain was so intense it made it impossible to carry on, so I had no other option. I had to rest for a week which was less than ideal as I had already cut down my training to four days per week due to the injury. I did, however, manage to overcome the set back and began to push the miles once again. On April 15, through sweat and tears, I completed a half marathon. This was an achievement in itself and was certainly encouragement that I was on the mend. That week I travelled to Dubai to visit family, where I carried on training in temperatures that reached the high thirties. Running in blistering heat was less than pleasant but I knew it could only go in my favour as there was no way of predicting the Scottish weather conditions in May. On my return, on May 14 to be exact, I completed 15 miles and I was elated. But it came with a price, now that I was pushing the miles my knee on the previously injured leg had started to become sore and was flaring up during every run in the lead up to the race. I had planned to reach 18 miles before the marathon but in the end I was forced to stop at 15. I only had to hope that this was enough and that the adrenalin would take care of the rest.

Marathon day was finally upon me and I was a bag of nerves. I forced down a big bowl of cereal and a yogurt and set off into Edinburgh with my mum and my husband. The weather was just wild, the rain was battering off the windscreen and the roads were flooded but all I could do was smile. I had trained in all elements and I was prepared for whatever I was handed because as the saying goes, you just can’t book the weather! We arrived into Edinburgh city centre and the streets were buzzing with tourists and the array of fluorescent bodies in spandex. I started to feel a rush of excitement as we walked to the start line at Regent Road. I positioned myself and stretched while I took in the immense atmosphere and looked around at the hundreds of supporters. I was ready.

The first few miles were nothing short of awkward. Running amongst such large crowds of people was difficult as everyone was running at their own pace and people would often weave in front of me and break my stride. I watched in amusement at the many ‘ugly runners’ who passed me by. One particular girl dressed as Tinkerbell, sporting a spray tan and a full face of make up came charging in front of me like Kermit the frog at Christmas. Thankfully though, around one mile later, the hurricane of legs and arms veered to the left and I was able to escape. I also came across a man who held a large bottle of water in each hand and ran the entire 26.2 miles with his arms locked firmly by his side. For the first half of the marathon my knee was feeling okay; I was wearing a good quality strap and it seemed to be supporting it well. The route was stunning but, unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I’d have liked to because I was desperate for the toilet. I’d already gone before the race but with the combination of nerves and all the pre – run hydration, I had began to need again very soon into the run. At around the 16 mile mark my knee was starting to twinge. This was the beginning of the downward spiral…

My knee was sore and I was starting to feel thirsty, there were groups of charity reps after every few miles offering bottles of water and energy gels but having being so desperate for the loo I had held off drinking any fluids as long as possible. I couldn’t hold it any longer, I had to go and it had to be soon. I scanned the road ahead, there were no portaloos to be seen and I knew that even if there was one I would have to queue to use it. So without a care in the world, I made my way to a private area close to the track and peed in a bush. A couple of hours later there was another water station, thank goodness. Water has never tasted so good. The surprisingly tasty High Five energy gel gave me a well needed boost and despite the niggle in my knee, I was starting to feel remotely human again. To my adversity, this wasn’t to last.

I had reached the 20 mile mark and compared to what I’d already done this was nothing but mentally and physically I’d started to hit the wall. I couldn’t believe I still had more than 6 miles to go. I was now alternating between walking and running. My iPod had died and I had no means of time so I had no idea of how long I had taken. At 22 miles I was now running with a limp and my lower back was sore with the impact on running on hard ground for so long. I had started to feel light-headed again and was craving sugar badly. Just at that point, a miracle happened. A young girl appeared with a tray of jelly babies, well I could have kissed her. At 24 miles, with the pain in my knee now excruciating, I began to wilt. I had stopped and walked for which felt like around half a mile and I just wanted it all to end. My head was down and the pain was written across my face. At that point a young woman dressed in a black tee-shirt and shorts ran by me and gave me an encouraging rub on the back and graced me with a thumbs up. This gesture however small was just what I needed at that point in time, it was an expression of solidarity, we were all in it together. I was nearly there and I could do it. I picked myself up, dusted myself off and started to run once again.

Before I knew it, it was nearly over. I could see the finish line, I had actually almost finished. There had been supporters lining the streets all the way round the course of the marathon but these last few remaining cheers were the ones that stuck. The adrenalin was pumping through my body and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I sprinted the last few metres. At that point my competitive side came out and I was overtaking any person in a close proximity. I’d forgotten about the pain and I could see my husband and my mum’s proud faces in the crowd, as I got closer I could hear their cheers and I crossed the finish line with my arms in the air and my head held high. It was over, I had completed a marathon. I had done it in 4 hours 37 minutes.

I wasn’t entirely pleased with my time but I knew this was due to injury. The main thing was I had done it. I was overcome with a concoction of different emotions; relief, contentment, pride and self-belief. The pain didn’t matter anymore, it was all worth it and I would do it again any day. If I were to give advice to any prospective marathon runners it would be the following: Firstly, if you can, give yourself more than four months to train because I believe over training was the cause of my injuries; secondly, prepare yourself. Make sure you eat the right food prior to the race, hydrate and stretch well; and lastly, go to the toilet immediately before the race starts. Do not underestimate how distracting a full bladder can be when running 26 miles! I will always look back on this experience with a smile on my face. I’m pleased to say I’ve raised a total of £1453.00 for Alzheimer Scotland and I will forever appreciate the support and treasure the memories.

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