Last Sunday I attempted to run my first marathon and what a whirlwind of an adventure it was. It was a month ago I signed up to my first 26.2 miles. I’d never ran more than a half marathon before (and that was only once) so to double the distance in what was meant to be just six weeks, I had a feeling I was biting off more than I could chew. Throw in another cancelled event and rumours of a second lockdown, I ended up attempting this challenge far sooner than anticipated.
In this blog, I documented week one, two and three of marathon training and in all honesty, the rest was a blur! I tried countless pairs of new running shoes, still undecided on my perfect pair, and I squeezed in four training runs ranging from 28km to 37km. My training “plan” didn’t really go to plan and my weekly exercise sessions reduced significantly thanks to the long runs taking their toll on my diminishing motivation to get out the door. I thoroughly enjoyed it though and getting out into the countryside for a few hours on the trails became the highlight of my week.
Hearing news of my cancelled race saddened me so I decided to give it a go anyway. I had come this far and I didn’t want my short period of training to be for nothing. Running a marathon along the South Downs Way would be a lot easier than the ascents and descents found on the Black Mountains in Wales (these are next to the Brecon Beacons), but I was unable to travel to Wales so the South Downs were the next best thing.
I had planned to run on the exact same day as the cancelled race but my brother Hugo was attempting a crazy ultra, also on the South Downs Way, on that date. It would be easier on my parents, who were picking us up from the finish if I moved my marathon forwarded a week. I set a date and I was sticking to it. The marathon club badge was in sight.
The forecast wasn’t looking great but I didn’t mind. It was now or never. The night before I checked the weather again to see if it had got any better. It hadn’t. At the last minute, about 10pm the night before, I changed my start time from midday to 9am in the hope I would beat the worst of it.
Marco kindly gave me a lift to the start (near Upwaltham) and ran the first 10km with me to Amberley. I was wearing HOKA One One Speedgoat 4s in the wide version (after the regular gave me numb and very sore toes). The shoes were fine but I did feel my feet moving around inside, especially when I was going downhill. After just 10km my knees started to hurt which is never a good sign this early on in the day. Marco headed back and I carried on alone. I was in a good frame of mind, pretty happy at the weather and the fact my cunning plan to beat the storm was working out quite nicely.
I spoke too soon. Within 15 minutes the heavens opened and the wind went from 15mph to 40mph on top of the exposed downs. What’s more, it wasn’t just rain but hailstones hurtling towards me at lightning speed. Shouting out in pain and ran to the first bush I saw for shelter. I quickly put on my windproof (not waterproof) jacket, my gloves and my buff. Making a mini tent with my jacket, I managed to text Marco and he too was caught in the storm. We couldn’t carry on in this, could we? I was ready to call it a day when Marco replied saying things were clearing. Keep going I thought, it’s going to pass soon.
From this moment I took no photos. My phone was too wet and I was unable to stop – each time I tried, I would start to shiver. Instead, I’ve included some photos from training runs and past adventures.
I continued to run in the gale-force winds and hail with my buff pulled right up to my eyes to protect my skin from the elements. My thighs went numb straight away thanks to choosing to wear shorts, but that didn’t matter too much as long as I kept warm inside I was going to be ok. There have been many times in my life when I have endured extreme situations; cycling across India in temperatures so hot my bike tyre sunk into the melted tarmac, camping in snow 2800m above sea level, hiking 13 hour days for 5 days straight – there’s been many – so a bit of wind and rain certainly wasn’t going to stop me now. The feelings of PAIN, WET AND COLD ARE ONLY TEMPORARY. I’ve learned that over the years.
To say I was saturated was an understatement. I was raining/hailing so hard my Nutrigrain bar disintegrated into a soggy mess, falling onto the ground as I opened the pack to take my first bite. Weirdly after about 20km my groin started to hurt. I had never had a pain like it, especially in that area, but I soon realised what had caused it. The strong winds were blowing directly onto my right thigh which increased the resistance and the strength needed for me to lift my leg to run. I was in agony and I wasn’t even halfway there yet!
My brother Hugo and his girlfriend surprised me along the route – multiple times in fact – which was a huge boost for my morale. Luckily they saw me whilst I was running but I have to admit, there were a few times where I had to walk (uphill) or stop for a couple of seconds to compose myself. I did this by shouting out loudly “come on you can do this!” – luckily there was no one around.
The hardest part for me was when I hit about 30km and I realised I had over 10km (my most comfortable distance) to go. I had also stopped to text my mum and Maco to tell them I was ok. I knew they would be worried as I hadn’t checked my phone as it had stopped working in the rain. My head was coming up with any excuse to stop running. I soon learnt that by doing so, I became dangerously cold and the physical pain of starting again wasn’t worth it.
As soon as I saw the four-mile marker (to the finish) I instantly felt better. Four miles and it would all be over. I love running in the countryside, but I couldn’t see 10 metres in front of me let alone the beautiful views below. The ground was a mud bath and I fell over a few times despite having shoes with excellent grip. I pushed on with what only could be described as the most self-induced pain I’ve ever experienced in my life.
Roughly 3km before the end the clouds cleared and the wind died down, I even saw some blue sky. This also meant I could now see the villages below including the one where I would end my journey. This gave me a massive mental boost and I picked up my pace as much as I could. As I ran unto Pyecombe I had a huge smile on my face. My parents were looking up at the downs wondering where I was as I crept up behind them. “I MADE IT!” I shouted, nearly scaring them to death.
As soon as I had stopped I soon realised why people do marathons. The satisfaction and achievement I felt was incredible. Once I had changed into some dry clothes, gulped down an isotonic drink and scoffed down a huge flapjack, it was like the pain of the past 5 hours had never happened. I was even thinking about how my next marathon would be far nicer if I did it in better weather. I have made it into the ‘marathon club’ – something I never thought I would never do, ever!
Let this be proof that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. OK, I didn’t break any records but I achieved something I never thought I would. I went out there and got it done.
Thanks to everyone who supported me, both on route and online. I loved reading your messages of support, encouragement and congratulations, so thank you.