The Pain and the Glory

Today is the 1 year anniversary of the day I started the couch to 5k programme (and found running for 60 seconds a bit uncomfortable).

Today I am hobbling about with a big grin on my face, blisters on my feet and very sore bum muscles as I completed my first marathon yesterday.

I was extremely nervous as I removed myself from the safety of the loo and set off towards the start line from my house, clad in Lycra, my very special running top with my name and the thin blue line flag on it and a foil blanket which looked like a space-age super hero cape billowing behind me (although I definitely didn’t feel like a super hero!).

The start was bustling and a couple of blokes were running a warm up, bouncing up and down on top of a cherry picker while someone was shouting motivational things through a tannoy but I was in too much of a blind panic to hear anything they said – 26.2 miles lay ahead of me and I seemed to have accidentally placed myself in the middle of the 4hour pacer group full of athletic-looking people with serious expressions and club vests. Too late to move back a bit – as I hastily shoved my headphones into my ears and tried to put my phone into the pouch behind me, the race began and I found myself surging forwards towards the blue archway… and through it…

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The cheering from the start line and my frantically waving children faded behind me as I began the 7 mile stretch towards Doune. The serious club runners passed by me one by one on the long, straight road as I trotted along at my own, sedate pace (Liz McColgan’s mantra ‘do not start too fast!’ running through my mind). Just after the first water stop by the safari park, I saw the first runner of the day puking on the grass verge… I winced as I suspected she had a long day ahead of her.

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After the long uphill, bit of downhill, bridge, castle, steep uphill, I saw the first of the Doune supporters cheering and enthusiastically thrusting tubs of jelly babies at the runners (this was the beginning of what would turn out to be the consumption of my entire body weight in jelly babies over the next few hours). I was pleased to see a friend from work and his little boy and, just beyond the village and the nice lady with flapjacks, my husband and friend Abi (the marathon cycle support crew for me, my father-in-law, Patric, and friend, Darren). I felt ok at this point and flung my discarded items of clothing at them as I passed, smiling.

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The next section contained hills. I am not fond of hills but plodded on regardless, including a bit of power walking between bouts of running to preserve energy amongst the undulations. The fields stretched out all around me to the mountains beyond and, finally, I crossed the bridge over the M9 and started a lovely downhill bit into Dunblane. I was so glad of the downhill as there were many people standing on the pavements and I didn’t want to appear wobbly at ‘just’ 11 miles (I still cared about what people thought at this point). More high fives, vast quantity of jelly babies, golden post box and a dual carriageway later and I had reached the part I was actually looking forward to – a 2 mile steady downhill section into Bridge of Allan. My husband met me at the halfway point and yelled at me to carry on. I started to notice a few runners looking pained and limping at this point – it was a good place for the physiotherapist tent to be and I suspect they patched up a fair few people.

I ran past the Run4It running shop in Bridge if Allan and remembered the time I attended an evening of talks there in May last year giving advice for half marathon runners. The talks were followed by a 5k run which was a gentle stroll to all of the other people present but which left me gasping for air quite a distance behind the main group with a kindly chap who took pity on me and stayed back with me having a one way conversation as I was unable to speak (and hadn’t yet completed the couch to 5k programme at that point, and was a total beginner). Now I was running a section of that very same route but as part of a marathon and this was a reminder of how far I have come (physically and metaphorically).

When I reached the university grounds I realised, as I approached the 16 mile flag, that this was the distance I had covered in training and that the next 10.2 miles were a complete unknown. So I took a deep breath (partly to try to get rid of a painful stitch) and continued into the unknown with the rain and sweat making my eyes sting.

At 18 miles the course turned towards the Ochil Hills for a 4 mile square of country lanes – I could see the runners who were 4 miles ahead of me on the other side of the roundabout heading towards Stirling town and started to feel like I was entering the difficult section mentally at this point. The runners had thinned out and there weren’t many people (or jelly babies) supporting in this remote section so I took my phone out of my pouch to look for some motivation… there were 55 messages on Facebook and numerous text messages from friends – my fingers were so swollen that I couldn’t respond properly to any of them but reading a few of them cheered me up and I turned up my music and power walked onwards as fast as I could manage, desperately trying to hold in the wee I needed as the next toilets were many miles away.

The very welcome view of the Peak marked the entrance to Stirling (closely followed by the unsavoury pong of the sewage works which motivated me move faster to get past it to fresh air again). The speed bumps felt like mountains but I felt triumphant as I staggered over the 40km tracker mat… just the distance of the kids race which I had done with my daughters on Saturday left to go.

More speed walking, I was actually passing people now for the first time; more desperate grabbing of sweets; a high street with people who had been wearily clapping for hours and I finally turned up the road to the finish line. I have run up that road several times before but it has never felt so difficult – what sort of sadist would finish a marathon on an uphill section which requires Sherpas to navigate (even if the daffodils are pretty)?!?

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At last! The finish line!!! The blue arch of glory! I could hear very loud and enthusiastic yelling to my right – my family screaming at me to run! So I stared intently at the timer display and ran through thick, imaginary treacle towards and under that hallowed arch and out the other side.

I couldn’t quite believe I had done it!

I stumbled in a daze into the tennis court medal area and found Kevin, one of my fellow Liz McColgan challenge first time marathoners. He had finished just ahead of me and was also a bit dazed and very relieved to be in one piece. My thoughts turned to the other people I knew who had run – Patric, Darren and Steven in the marathon and Barbara, Sian and Aline in the half marathon. I hoped they were all ok and had finished in the times they wanted. As I staggered away from the goody bags area, my husband found me and I had the most fantastic hug and a little cry. I was the proud owner of a lovely medal and a pair of very wobbly legs and I was looking forward to a lot of guilt-free cake.

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In the middle of the night, I awoke from my food and prosecco-addled deep sleep to find a small child invading my side of the bed so, being unable to carry her back to her own bed, I relocated myself to her bed instead. As I lay down under the Paw Patrol duvet, I checked my phone to see what time it was and noticed that I had 38 unread emails which had definitely not been there hours earlier when I went to bed. Who on earth would be emailing me at 3am?! The emails were all from JustGiving telling me that donations had been made to my marathon fundraising page for Care Of Police Survivors (COPS). I couldn’t understand why, all of a sudden, so many people would donate to my page… but then I realised that all of these people were police officers or related in some way to policing. It turns out that UK Cop Humour (a great page with over 254,000 followers on Facebook alone) had shared an earlier post by COPS with a link to my fundraising page, encouraging the night shift to help me to meet my target of £500 (I was about £60 off my target when I went to bed). Thanks to that amazing gesture and the kindness of the policing family and lovely people who have never met me, as well as my generous friends and family, my marathon fund sits at £1236.50 plus gift aid at the time of writing this. I am totally stunned and so, so grateful! It makes the pain entirely worth while and I hope COPS can help someone in future with that money.

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This whole experience has been such a rollercoaster, from the moment I decided to sign up for the marathon while feeling very emotional cheering on the amazing runners in Stirling last May, to battling through the 5k mark, then 10k, followed my first half marathon in the pouring rain. Then the moment I was chosen to be coached by Liz McColgan; the 5k around Holyrood Park in January; battling through the blizzards which seemed to last for months; the low of my first DNS for the Coniston14 race; the pain of the longest long run while ill and the joy of feeling better. The tapering, maranoia, excitement, the start line and the finish many jelly babies later.

Would I do another marathon? I have decided to never say never – life is too short for that.

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