Want to run a marathon? were the words on the screen. My brother Hugo had messaged me out of the blue. Yes, I’d love to run a marathon but I would never be able to do it, I replied. I knew it was possible, anything is possible, but any thought of running a marathon had always been dismissed due to the amount of training required. Quite frankly, I wasn’t prepared to put in the hours and subsequently, sacrifice my social life.
In the days that followed all I could think about was Hugo’s message. What does it take to run a marathon? How does it feel? Could I do it? All these concerns filled my head but something excited me about this challenge and I was intrigued to find out what my body (and mind) is capable of.
So with a little persuasion from Hugo, I signed up to the Limitless Trails Black Mountains Marathon while Hugo signed up for the Ultra, both taking place at the same time. Hugo had got me from cycling 60km a day to over 100km a day when we cycled across India – if anyone was going to push me, it was him.
It’s official, I’ll be running my first marathon in six weeks. What’s more, this isn’t going to be a flat ride. There’s over 5869ft of elevation gain on the route and I am required to self navigate my way across the Welsh Black Mountains with a map and a compass. Am I prepared? Absolutely not. I’ve just returned from 10 days of indulging in Spain, my map skills are questionable and my current trail shoes can’t handle more than 15km without a blister. Despite being far from prepared, I am incredibly excited for this epic challenge!
First things first, shoes. Comfortable shoes are a must if I have any chance to complete this sort of distance. I am a self-confessed gear geek and to the annoyance of my nearest and dearest, I can get a little obsessive over the purchase of outdoor kit. I spend hours, HOURS, of my free time researching which kit is best, inputting specs into a spreadsheet for comparison and reading reviews. After a week of research, ten pairs of trail runners arrived at my house. I singled it down to two pairs; Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 and Brooks Cascadia 15 after trying them on around the house. The research didn’t stop, I continued reading reviews every minute of free time I had.
Then I found out that both brands offer a try before you buy scheme, where you can test out the shoes on a run before you commit to purchase. AMAZING! So, I ordered another four pairs of shoes directly from the brand’s websites. That’s now 14 pairs of trail shoes piled up in my bedroom. Oh lordy.
No one wants to hear me rant on about my issues with new runners but let’s just say it wasn’t love at first sight with any of the 14 pairs – it never is – I’m convinced I must have weird shaped feet and the heel raise I wear in my left shoe certainly doesn’t help matters.
Amidst the shoe fiasco, I thought I ought to start some training. There were just six weeks to go and one week of that I would probably need to ‘tamper down’ and carb load (can’t wait for that!). It took me all of five minutes to come up with a plan of action (I wish I was that decisive with running shoes!). I would stick to my usual weekly routine but have an extra day off and swap one mid-week 10km run with a long trail run at the weekend. My weeks would go like this:
Monday – 9km club run
Tuesday – 1 hour abs & arms + Bootcamp
Wednesday – 11km run
Thursday – 1 hour abs & arms + Fartlek training
Friday – Rest
Saturday – 27km – increase by 2km each week
Sunday – Rest
Doesn’t sound like much eh, and it feels weird taking an extra day off but the last thing I want is to hate running by the end of this.
The South Downs Way would be my training ground for two reasons; it’s the hilliest place close to home and it’s super easy to navigate. I know I should be practising my map skills but stopping every five minutes to look at a map is frustrating and it will just slow me down.
After a hearty breakfast of warm banana and honey porridge, I set off to The Trundle (St Roches Hill) next to Goodwood racecourse. I had a couple of stomach issues – nerves maybe – and had to do an emergency poo in a bush next to the car park, in which I was caught by a lady walking her dog. I quickly closed my eyes – if I can’t see her, surely she can’t see me. Ignorance is bliss.
The weather couldn’t have been any better. It was a crisp clear morning and visibility was perfect. It was perfect running weather. I had pre-planned the route on OS Maps and found myself stopping every couple of yards to check I was on track, despite the app notifying me if I ever went off course. I need to learn it trust that. Once on the South Downs Way, it was plain sailing, I just followed the signs. It was a glorious run with fantastic views over the South Downs and Chichester Harbour.
Not having decided on new trail shoes, I was wearing my road runners which wasn’t much of an issue as the path was still dry. After 18km I was feeling good as I jogged into Harting Downs Car Park. Marco was waiting for me and joined me on a final 9km loop. With fresh legs, his pace was much faster than mine (he’s generally much faster than me anyway) and on occasions, I found myself either trying to keep up or frustrated that I couldn’t keep up. Mentally I found this tough but physically I think he helped keep me on track.
My recurring knee problem and my new ankle injury were incredibly sore but neither stopped me running. I was on cloud 9 when we arrived back to the car. Waiting for me was a hot coffee, warm clothes and snacks (best boyfriend ever). Re-fulled, Marco dropped me back to my car at the start and then we both endured an hour-long journey home stuck in traffic thanks to M27 road closures. Luckily I had packed a spare banana and a bottle of water.
I had just run 27km, the longest trail run of my life, and I felt great! I rewarded myself with a protein-packed dinner and a doughnut from my favourite coffee shop. My first week of marathon training was a success….stay tuned to see how I get on with week two!