This was my fifth marathon and safe to say my worst. I think I’ve been very lucky so far to have had some truly great marathon experiences. I’ve felt strong, without injury and run past all those poor people at the end who were stopping, stretching and limping. Spoiler alert: I was one of those people at Bournemouth. I suppose my streak of good marathons had to end at some point and having a bad one only makes me want another good one so much more. I finished, thankfully, but it was through a lot of pain and determination.
**All photos are from various friends: Gary Trendel, Louise Larkum Bond, Karen’s family, my dad, Debbie Hampton – I’m very grateful, thank you!**
I got up at 6.30am, got dressed and ready, made my porridge and coffee and hit the road with my dad. We picked up my running club friend, Mike, and headed on our merry way. Parking wasn’t free but not extoritionate and was close to the main race HQ so it was fairly easy-going at the start (there were portable loos and proper loos without majorly long queues). So many people from my club were there, either supporting or running one of the many races Bournemouth Marathon Festival put on (5k, 10k, half, marathon). My previous marathons have all been pretty much on my own, without a lot of people from the club, so it felt lovely to have so many people to chat to, talk about goals with and just mill about with.
I was glad to have my dad there as well. He’s now seen all but one of my marathons and still loves to support.
I had no real time goals for this marathon. I’m happy enough with Liverpool’s PB to leave that be and knew my training hadn’t been as good, so I was vaguely aiming for a 3:45-3:30 time, closer 3:30 if I felt strong at the end. Quite a few of us were aiming for those times so we started together.
My friend Karen was running her first ever marathon and her training hadn’t been ideal due to illnesses and generally being a busy mum, but she was aiming for sub 3:45 for a GFA (she’s a sub 19 5k runner so it wasn’t unrealistic).
We took the start nice and easy and got into a good rhythm. The course is great because you come back on yourself quite a few times which means you can see lots of people lots of times, either in front of you or behind – and it’s a great one for supporters. With a lot of the club doing the marathon it meant a lot of cheers and support. I was feeling comfortable and we chatted away (to the point that one of the marshals on the bike kept laughing at us as we were apparently always talking when he saw us – and a fellow runner also said he wanted to stick with us our conversations were so entertaining!!).
Bournemouth is not a flat marathon. It has gentle long inclines and if there’s a wind it can be quite brutal as it’s along the seafront. However, the gentle breeze was a welcome relief from the hot sun that was beating down.
We were keeping a consistent pace and the miles seemed to fly by. At mile 6 I had a MuleBar gel (salted caramel flavour – I did a review HERE). This flavour absolutely rocked my world. Possibly the best thing I ate all day. It literally tasted like liquid caramel. I would gladly have that as a snack!
But around mile 7 or 8 my left leg (vague knee area) started to twinge ever so slightly. I ignored it because it wasn’t painful, just an awareness. As the miles ticked away though it started to niggle more. I tried not to panic and continued on.
As we got to mile 12 we both started to struggle: Karen with the heat and me with my knee. Around mile 12 there was a steep hill and we both agreed to walk it. My knee had progressed to a definite niggle. I stopped and stretched to see if that helped. My quads had been tight all week, I put it down to that.
I kept smiling for the cameras, waving to supporters, saying thank you to marshals, but the whole time a raging panic and debate was happening in my head. Karen had a quick loo stop and I stopped and stretched again – and got caught on camera by a friend in the club and I thought I’d have a moment of fun…
I tried to stay positive. I ran on, knowing Karen would catch me up as I could foresee more stopping and stretching ahead. I started to wonder how much this marathon meant to me. I could pull out and have a DNF and not make this niggle into a full-blown injury, or I could struggle on and get another marathon ticked off with the knowledge that I had no other big races until next year.
I pushed on. I saw my dad at mile 14 and collected a gel from him (Clif Double Expresso – very nice, but quite thick and sticky; definitely need water with this one). I quickly told him my knee was bad and I was having a tough time. His face fell and he wished me luck. Chatting with Karen helped us both take our minds off our own personal hell. What frustrated me most was that I felt strong and capable, it was simply my leg that was in pain.
At mile 18 we got to the next significant hill and we walked again. We were both rather demoralised. We kept doing the maths to see how badly this would affect Karen’s 3:45 aim (though her maths was significantly better than mine! I was useless).
I imagine this photo is probably before half-way
For the next few miles we were run-walking. I was too far away now to quit – as in, I’d have to walk back anyway so I might as well carry on. A lovely girl randomly called to me hello and said she was a blog reader. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me in my dark marathon moment. She was steaming along nicely and it brightened me up significantly. Thank you, Jenn! 🙂 She did very well I believe.
My pattern became: stop and stretch (which was absolutely pointless, as you can probably tell) and then run to catch Karen up. I suddenly found running at a brisk pace helped my leg and the pain wasn’t so bad. I decided to try running faster to see if that helped. I said to Karen that it was highly likely I’d break and she’d catch me up. Being lovely, she told me to go on. For a brief mile I was suddenly OK. This is going to sound bonkers but I started to sing to myself to keep me going (quietly, though a few people noticed and I said I had to do something to keep me going and they chuckled knowingly). The pain was still there, but less so. I suddenly had a bit of confidence spark inside me.
But then that moment ended (that was mile 22) and I was walking again. Stretching was making things worse. Karen caught me up. I tried to keep with her but it wasn’t happening. I told her to go on (oh how the tables change so quickly in a marathon!) and I started the long walk to the finish.
(Side note: Karen finished in a fantastic time of 3:53ish which is amazing considering her training and her struggles).
Those miles took bloody ages. You forget how far a mile really is when you’re running. I walked with some other injured souls and we lamented at our failed attempts. One guy had attempted to break 3 hours and his hamstring tear had returned it seemed. He said he thought he’d be OK as the bruising had gone down a week ago (!!). Jeeze, there’s always someone worse I suppose! He made a brief comment about how he was despairing not finishing in under 4 hours. I shrugged. At this point, I just wanted to finish it. Timing was now irrelevant.
Despite my dark time the support around me was fantastic. People could see I was in pain and cheered me on gently, in that “it’ll be over soon” kind of way. Marshals checked I was OK and consoled me a bit as I walked past. I couldn’t run any more. The pain was too much. Someone cheered me right up by yelling “come on, Miss Abs!”. Take the compliments when you can!! I sat down briefly on the wall and had a quiet word with myself, willing myself not to cry.
My FlipBelt was amazing by the way. Definitely using that again – no bouncing, held everything in place, no rubbing – two gels and a phone snuggly fit in there nicely. But my phone was dead. I have no idea how as I didn’t use it at all during the marathon! I must have left something on I suppose. Consequently I couldn’t ring my dad. As the time ticked past 3:45, 3:50, 4 hours I knew my dad would be worried. But there was nothing I could do but keep on walking. It’s a long stretch, the last few miles, and you can see the finish area the whole time. I just kept it in my sight and kept on walking, determined to get my medal.
As I got (finally) to mile 26 there became a lot more support and either side of the course people were cheering and lined up.
I felt myself welling up as people saw my pain and cheered me on. I grimly tried to smile at them and felt the tears just keep coming. This only made them cheer me on more. I saw my club ahead, put on a brave face, wiped the tears away and thought “sod this melodrama, just bloody finish”.
I barely registered crossing the line because, to be honest, I still had to keep walking. It wasn’t like I was running to stop. I still had to walk to find my dad. I felt like a fraud. But at the same time, I did it. I finished. Thank god.
The medal is amazing. It’s huge! My official time was 4:11:19, which isn’t bad at all I know. Yes it’s 30-40 minutes slower than I intended but these things happen. When people talk about awful marathons I can be fully part of that club now.
And, what absolutely made my day, was meeting Martin Yelling (again)! I was that annoying fan girl though, gushing “I’m a Marathon Talk listener!”. He did a sort of nervous “yay” but really meaning “please don’t be a stalker”. He was lovely, and can I just say, quite dishy in the flesh.
Anyway despite it being a terrible marathon, I don’t regret it. The race was fantastic, the support amazing, the course…challenging, and the marshals brilliant. My one regret is not being able to enjoy those last few miles and run strong through that fantastic support.
Great goodie bag afterwards. Fantastic technical t-shirt and snacks (and an iron supplement thing).
I think I made the right decision to carry on. Yes I’ve buggered myself now and I’m officially an injured runner again, but I have nothing else to prove or achieve for this year. I know I can rest up and come back strong for Boston (finger’s crossed). I just need to be patient.
Plus, it’s an ideal time to take a break for my own personal health and the busyness of my impending (though still date-less) move.
What’s been your worst ever race?
What would make you DNF at a race? Would you have continued on if you were me?
If you use them, what’s your favourite gel?