As I sat watching the 2012 London Marathon on tv last week, I found myself reflecting not only on my experience of running this particular race last year, but also on my own 2012 marathon experience. Just a week previously, I had been nervously getting organised to toe the line in Fort William after a roller coaster week of doubts over whether or not I would be able to take part. A week on and it was all becoming a dim and distant memory…
I awoke early on the Sunday morning after a surprisingly good sleep. The emotions of the week leading up to the race and the relief at being able to take part meant that I didn’t really have much time to worry about it and have fears dominate my dreams. That’s not to say I wasn’t nervous though (as I discovered when I had to force down my breakfast porridge!) but soon enough it was time to get in the car for the 2 hour drive to Fort William. With the race not due to start until 11am we had plenty of time.
Once in Fort William, the registration/start at the Nevis Centre was easy to find, there was plenty of parking and registering was straightforward. We were given our race T-shirts at registration and I was pleased to find that it was a rather nice technical T-shirt. Sadly, they had run out of small ones and I had to take a medium, however it’s still wearable even if not the ideal size.
There was the usual milling about chatting to fellow club members who were running or supporting the race, then at 10.45 there was a race briefing in the hall. After the briefing, we were led to the start by a piper and before I knew it, the gun had gone off and we were underway. The course at Lochaber is out and back, so there was just the small matter of 26.2 miles to cover before I would be back at this point again!
I used the first mile of the race to settle into my pace and see how my left leg felt. The physio had said I would be likely to feel some discomfort from it, but that there was no damage being done. I also knew I was to monitor how it felt as any worsening would be a sign that I might have to pull out. As I settled into the race, I could feel some mild discomfort but it was bearable. The other thing I was aware of was that after 3 weeks without running, my legs were a bit sluggish and not quite up to the pace I originally planned to run. That said, I was still running at a reasonable pace and knew that if I could maintain it I would be close to my target.
My race plan was to run in 5 mile segments (which would take roughly 45 minutes) then walk for a minute or so to take a gel before running on. The first 5 miles were ok, however I did begin to question the widely held belief that this was a flat course as I seemed to have run up a slight gradient and was now coming down the other side. As I continued beyond the 5 mile mark and onwards to 10, I became increasingly concerned about the slight downhill gradient as this inevitably meant running uphill in the second half of the race, where even the merest suggestion of a climb would be soul destroying!
Shortly after the 10 mile mark it was nice to see some familiar faces from the club out supporting us all, then at around 10 and a half miles I started to see the front runners heading back so was occupying myself with looking out for some of the faster club runners who were ahead of me, whilst also counting down the miles to the turning point. At this stage I was feeling the effects of the lack of running in my taper, but reaching the turning point proved to be a psychological boost as this meant I was over half way and on the home straight.
I was keeping an eye on my mile splits, and although not quite at the pace I had wanted to run, I was running steadily and my splits so far seemed quite even. I took another gel at 15 miles but then, disaster! Around 16 miles my left leg began to feel more uncomfortable and I walked for a couple of minutes whilst considering my options. The leg was fine whilst I was walking so I decided the best thing to do would be to stretch then try to carry on.
From this point on, I was alternating running (albeit at a slower pace) with short walking sections during which I would give myself a good talking to about digging in and carrying on. All I could hear
were Martin Yelling’s words from the London Marathon expo telling me to “zip up my man suit and get on with it”. My man suit was well and truly zipped up to the neck and, by mile 21 when all I really wanted to do was sit at the side of the road and sob, I was blazing a new trail in tenacity even by my standards!
Despite all this, I was finding it harder and harder to run, but there was no way I was going to drop out after covering 21 miles. I was going to finish what I had started even if I had to walk, crawl or drag myself the last few miles! Thankfully, alternating walking with shuffling along at a slow run seemed to suffice and although it didn’t seem like it at the time, I was getting closer and closer to the finish line. At about 24 miles I was caught by another runner from the club who encouraged me to run a bit more for a while but I just couldn’t maintain it for long enough. I was also encouraged by some of the marshals and could hear runners behind me shouting, “Oi! Perth! get yourself moving again!” all of which helped to keep me going.
Eventually, the greatest sight of all loomed into view on the crest of a short climb: mile marker 26. No matter what, I was going to run the last 385 yards and was delighted to see Steve waiting just beyond the sign. I think the look on my face said it all and he jogged alongside me, encouraging me to the finish line. The finish was not exactly where we started, there was a sharp right turn into a car park where a finishing area had been set up. I ran across the line, was presented with my medal then promptly burst into tears! Upon crossing the finish line of any marathon runners are beset by a range of emotions, but this was the first time that I’d given in to the desire to sob. Why? Relief at being finished? Disappointment at performing below expectations? Pain? Probably a combination of all of the above, but it felt good to let out those emotions. After all I had been through in the final weeks of my training and in the race itself, it was frankly a miracle that I had not only finished, but had clocked my second fastest marathon time of 4:35:08!
In all honesty, this wasn’t my favourite race. Yes, the scenery was beautiful and on another occasion I suspect I would have loved the peaceful out and back run through the Scottish countryside, but with a niggling injury and a tough final few miles, I missed the atmosphere of a big city race with crowds to encourage runners along the way and carry them through to the finish. I’m still astounded that I finished. I’m also astounded at my time, as I was actually 20 seconds faster than in London last year and less than 3 minutes slower than my PB, yet right from the start I wasn’t running as well as I know I can. This gives me the confidence to know that I CAN run a 4 hour marathon, it just wasn’t meant to be on this particular occasion.
So what now? Primarily rest and recovery. The physio said I should lay off the running for 4-6 weeks but cross training is ok. It’s now been 2 weeks since the race and although I’ve had a few gentle swims, only now do I really feel like getting back to the gym again and doing some “proper” exercise. I know my leg/hip needs a bit longer but things are definitely improving and I’m in no rush. I also don’t plan to race very much, just pick and choose the races I feel like doing. My next big race target is the Great Scottish Run at the beginning of September, so I have plenty of time to rebuild my training over the summer and get back to the form I had a few weeks ago. And as for future marathons, well I even have a plan there. I feel like I have unfinished business with the 26.2. I also have unfinished business, as it were, in Paris as I ran my first ever marathon there with greatly reduced training following an injury. Steve and I have therefore decided that next year, we’re heading back to Paris. We both have targets we want to achieve and feel that Paris may be the place to achieve them. It would certainly be a very special experience for me to return to Paris, my favourite city of them all, and run the race I believe I’m capable of. If the mind can believe it, then the body can achieve it – just watch this space…!