Ben’s marathon recap – a cautionary tale?

I have finally managed to get Ben to write his race recap of the Portsmouth Coastal marathon, which was on December 22nd 2013.

Before we get started, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but Ben had a fairly tough time with the lead up and the actual marathon. It’s a great achievement and I’m so proud of him, but it wasn’t the best race unfortunately.

Marathon Hello! I’m Ben, Anna’s husband. I’m a relatively new runner. I started March 2013 when I gave up smoking and gradually have increased my miles. I’ve run races from 5km to a marathon. I have suffered multiple injuries because I’ve never been a fit and healthy person. But my goal is to get fit and run a sub four marathon. Here’s my recap…

IMG_5678 Just before we left, looking very nervous

Anna, myself and my dad turned up at the start of the marathon on a cold and wet December day. I was pretty nervous. I’m always nervous before races and I knew I wasn’t 100% fit and hadn’t trained enough to really go and run the marathon to the best of my ability.

I had pulled a muscle in my hip or my groin in November and rather than trying to stop running and get it fixed I ran through it, slowly and surely making it more and more uncomfortable. But I didn’t feel that I could drop out of the marathon as I had raised a lot of money for a local charity [Anna’s note: he raised over £1,000!].


So we were stood at the start line with a guy from our running club who wanted to run a 4:30 marathon. I thought that was absolutely perfect so I was going to run with him. About 15 minutes before the start and it started pouring with rain, it was freezing – not a good start!

IMG_5691 I positioned myself near the back of the pack as I knew I wasn’t going to be setting any sort of fast time! When the race started I felt great. I started running at 9.30 per mile, overtaking everyone. We were running with the wind behind us down Southsea sea front. There was the added obstacle of the shingle and rocks that had been washed up on the path from the “beach” but luckily I avoided injury.

The first two miles were the same as the end of the Great South Run, just running the opposite way. Mile three was when I realised what I had got myself into. We turned off of the main road, ran along a little lane and then onto a shingle beach, covered in algae and sea weed. It was treacherous and slippery!

I started off really enjoying it. There was a small patch of mud and then straight onto the beach. However I realised quite soon that I had done all of my training on roads and didn’t have much experience of running through mud and shingle. This meant that my legs at mile three were already taking a battering and felt tired already.

Once we got off of the beach we were back on the road. Then we were on the seafront again. This time on a single file muddy track. It was tough to run in single file and it was so slippery that it just didn’t seem safe to overtake. The one thing I remember about this part of the race is running with my friend when he saw his children. One of his friends had brought them down to support and they shouted “go daddy”. It was such a great experience to see the push it gave him, even so early in the race, that it motivated me.

The dodgy path continued like this until the end of mile five where we broke back onto pavement, here came the start of my best bit of the race. I was still running with my friend, keeping a really good pace and loving the run. The rain had stopped and I had warmed up.

IMG_5707 Smiles ahoy!

Then I felt my hip pull, not too badly but badly enough that I knew I had to be careful. I dropped off the pace a bit and slowed down, then stretched a bit to try to relieve the ache. It worked to start with and I really thought that as I was heading to the half way point that I would be fine.

Then I hit mile 10. My hip suddenly started restricting my pace. I stopped and stretched and ran a bit, stopped and stretched and ran a bit. At mile 11 I saw one of my work colleagues who had driven down to cheer me on and that gave me the motivation I needed to push on through. I was almost halfway and I kept thinking I can do this.

When I hit the half marathon point I stopped, stretched, had a drink and a gel. I took a bit of time to think, which was a stupid thing to do. I realised just how far I had to go and I also realised actually how bad a position I was in. The marathon was an out and back. I had to run the whole way back to finish and that was daunting.

I started running again and saw a lot of runners running towards the halfway mark. I stopped and stretched every 0.25-0.5 miles as my hip was playing up. I was really struggling. At mile 16 I saw my friend again. She was shouting my name and again it gave me a push, I ran over to her and gave her a hug and then kept running. At this point I was an emotional wreck, I ran away from her and was a bit tearful.

The challenge of what I was doing made me realise what an idiot I had been to run it whilst injured and also what an idiot I had been to keep running even now that I was in pain. I couldn’t give up though. I had made it this far. I needed to make it to the end just to finish a marathon and get it done.

IMG_5726 At mile 19 I saw Anna, my mum, my dad, Anna’s mum and Anna’s dad.


The cheer squad

IMG_5714I had just had the most difficult running experience of my life. The three miles I had just done were tough: running/walking 13.30 minute miles, stretching and just trying to keep going.

As I got to Anna I stopped and burst into tears. My hip was hurting, I could barely lift my legs and I still had over 10km to run!

[It’s really hard for me to read this. When Ben got to us and had his emotional moment I pleaded with him to just stop. But the determination in his face told me that he wouldn’t do that. He would drag himself over the finish line if he had to. The stubborn bastard 😉 ]

I had completely underestimated the marathon. I thought I was invincible and thought I would easily run it with no problems. I was an idiot to even attempt it! After a good four minutes of constant crying I sorted myself out. I knew what I needed to do and that was drag myself to the finish line.

I started running away from my family and although I was sad I knew I could do it. Mile 20 was tough, not only because there was a little uphill but I could barely move my legs. I started to run and then my legs cramped up. Stretching wasn’t helping, my legs were shot and my hip was a burning fire of pain. Suddenly my Garmin bleeped at me and told me it had no battery.

THAT WAS IT. That told me how slow I was running; my Garmin that has never run out of battery decided it had been too long. The worst part of this is that I was glad, glad I didn’t need to look at my shocking speed and pace and time. Three hours and 45 minutes of pain and I had run 20.2 miles. Well only six to go.

IMG_5736The weather had brightened up thankfully 

Those last six took me one hours and 23 minutes – not my finest six miles! They consisted of me making myself run, getting over the cramp and pain. I managed to sort myself out and actually run for a bit which gave me confidence. I had managed to forget or block the pain in my hip.

I saw Anna and her dad at one point and at another point I saw my mum, dad and Anna’s mum. [We tried to zoom around the course and get to wherever we could to see him and shout encouragement] Whenever I saw them I apologised for crying and reassured them that I hadn’t gone mad and that I would finish the race. The last two miles were the worst. Those wonderful two miles at the start with the wind on my back and a group of people around me changed into hell.

Me running, alone, against the wind. It was a nightmare, to top it off my knee’s were shot. I had major pain in both of them and I couldn’t get rid of it. I struggled to the finish line in 5:08 and finally finished my first marathon.

What can I take from my experience – number one: never underestimate a race of any distance that you are not used to running. I have a history of underestimating races. My first half marathon was Cheddar Gorge that I walked most of. Two: don’t risk running when injured. It has taken me eight weeks of barely running to get back into running because of my injuries from the marathon and I only have myself to blame. Finally: this isn’t it. I know that I will beat my marathon time, the sooner the better. Hopefully in Paris but if not then in Berlin.

Back to Anna:

When I first read this recap my first reaction was “oh my god, and you want to try again??”. But the amazing thing about Ben is just how tough he is, how stubborn he is and how he won’t settle for anything but his best. Both Ben and I knew he shouldn’t have done this marathon. He was injured, under-trained…but very stubborn. He’d raised a lot of money and convinced he had to do it. I respect him for that but it didn’t help with my worrying wife syndrome I felt for every second of those five hours and eight minutes. But he did it, against all odds, and I’m proud of him. And we both know that this is not the best he has to give.

What’s your worst race experience?

Have you ever raced injured?

What event (not necessarily exercise related) has made you stronger?

10 Replies to “Ben’s marathon recap – a cautionary tale?”

  1. What a great read – and well done for pushing through and making it to the end Ben! I’m sure we’ve all done races and runs when we probably shouldn’t due to injury, I think you’re amazing for raising so much for charity and reaching that finish line!
    Can’t wait to hear a joint recap from when you both smash sub-4 🙂

    1. From Ben: Thanks! It feels good raising so much for charity, almost made the injury worth it! You might be waiting for a while for me to smash sub 4 but am sure Anna will do a good recap for both of us on Paris.

  2. What a race report! Well done Ben on what sounds like an incredibly difficult race for him. Never underestimate the power of seeing loved ones and how they can pick you up during a race…Looks like they were out in full force on marathon day. Sounds like he’s learnt a lot ready for Paris in April-fingers crossed he’ll have a much more enjoyable race! 🙂

    1. From Ben: Thank you! The support team were the main reason I made it through, I don’t think there is anything more inspiring than seeing friends and family on the way around especially over distances that are a personal challenge. I really hope I enjoy Paris too!

  3. Well done Ben! Thank you Anna for getting him to finally write the race report ;-). It must have been really hard to write but hopefully lots of readers will take something from it – I know I did. It sounds like everything was against him but still he kept moving. It sounds like he’s learnt loads from his first marathon experience and I can’t wait to read his Paris report where I know he’s absolutely going to smash that time 😀

    1. From Ben: Thanks, it was difficult to write but made me realise how hard the marathon was. I know I am not in my best shape for Paris either so my main aim is to finish it hopefully in sub 5, then really try to smash Berlin hopefully with minimal injuries!

  4. This sounds brutal, well done Ben for pushing through and finishing. I’ve never raced injured, but I have been ill for quite a few races, my first half I had an awful chest cold and was done by about 10 miles, but like Ben I’ve got a stubborn streak and would not be defeated! I also had a really bad gastric bug before my first marathon so I had to reassess my goals and just focus on finishing the race.

  5. Well done Ben for raising all that money- that is amazing!
    I can totally understand why he carried on even though the sensible thing would be to stop- you have come so far and you just want to reach the end. Hopefully that will make him a better runner in the future as he has learned lessons from it.

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