It’s long, I’m sorry, I just really had a lot to say!
This marathon was so vastly different to my previous ones. It’s off-road, technical trail, sharp inclines, long inclines, sharp declines, slow declines, jumping over rivers, stiles, rocks and logs.
I’ve done the half marathon so knew roughly what to expect. It had taken me just under two hours so I was aiming for 4.5-5 hours, but I wanted no pressures so didn’t mind how longit took as long as I remained injury-free.
My dad and me set off at 7.30am in the morning. It takes about two hours to get there and I would need a coffee and loo stop en route. The start time was 11am (or so I thought) so we had enough contingency time. I ate my porridge in the car and felt rather relaxed.
I had a coffee and a Beet It shot. I noticed the Beet It shot went off at the end of June but it tasted fine. Bottoms up and finger’s crossed! I had planned to take four gels en route: one was a Mule Bar brand (Lemon Zinger with caffeine) and the other three were the 33Shake Chia Energy Gels (which you add coconut water/water to and I’d done the previous night). I knew for this marathon I needed to take on more fuel because I would be running at least over an hour more than a normal marathon.
We arrived at Cheddar Gorge and then did a reckie of where my dad planned on standing. We’d Google mapped it the night before and found an ideal spot between mile 11 and 12.
The course is a bit of a nightmare for spectators (there are barely any on the course) but this is a good point when the runners come near the road before heading up off the stairs of hell. In the above photo you can see where the course goes behind my dad and up that hill (which are large steps).
They go on further than you can see in the photos! We then needed to find registration. We headed off to where we thought it was and found it was just more parking. Now it was 10.30am and I started to panic (panicked so much I didn’t even wait for the ladies public toilet, I just jumped straight into the men’s).
I then found out it was at the start – which is at the top of a very steep hill. So I quickly got my gear together: hydration belt, one gel – my dad would have the rest – sun tan lotion slapped on and visor. I said a quick goodbye and headed off up. He wasn’t going to climb the massive hill because it was HUGE and, bless him, it might kill him. He went instead to find breakfast.
It took me about 10 minutes or so to climb that hill and I was panting by the time I got to the start. Good warm-up! It was now 10:45 and I leisurely took some photos and looked around before heading to registration.
“Oh the marathon started at 10:40. It’s only the half that’s at 11” said the volunteer. Now I don’t really swear that much or that aggressively but my immediate reaction wasn’t PG friendly. I instantly panicked. What do I do!? They told me it was OK I could start now if I wanted. I HADN’T EVEN GOT MY BIB ON. This is my worst nightmare. I’m struggling to get the bib on as I keep swearing and my heart is going a million miles an hour. Then someone behind me, also putting their bib on, says they did the same. So the marshal said we could start together at a set time and they would adjust our times at the end according to when the marathoners started. They suggested starting at exactly 10:55 so we quickly headed over to the start line after they took our bib numbers. We had our own private start!
Needless to say my first mile was STRESSFUL. I had to keep telling myself not to try and catch up because it would ruin the race for me. My heart was still going and I tried to calm down and ease into a nice pace. I’d printed out and laminated my half marathon split times and had it with me to refer to so I could ensure each mile was slower – hopefully meaning I wouldn’t go off too quickly. Because of the crazy terrain you just couldn’t have a consistent pace, so this was a good way for me to not be stupid.
Sometime towards the end of mile one the half marathoners started overtaking me. I willed myself not to go with them and keep to my own race. They only had to do the course once, whereas I was down for two laps.
The first few miles flew by. I couldn’t even tell you what was going through my head. I was probably too focused on not falling over and where to put my feet. I had my phone with me take photos and listen to a podcast and music later but I was fine just plodding along.
The scenery was beautiful but the course was unsteady under food, very technical at times, and lots of inclines and declines to negotiate with. I was happy to walk as soon as I got to a hill that required significant effort to run up. There was no point beasting it up a hill and knackering myself so early in the game.
My hydration belt contained coconut water (brilliant idea from Lauren) and I made sure to keep drinking. I got to a feed station at around mile six after a fabulous downhill stretch and the marshals wonderfully filled up my bottles while I drank the nuun that they had on the table – nuun!! They had a great spread of food and drink. I took a couple of sliced oranges (another great tip from Mary) and headed off again.
Around mile seven we hit one of the worst hills. I was fully prepared having prior course knowledge and watched as people optimistically attempted to run it and quickly stopped. I used this time wisely to have my first gel.
After that hill I knew it was relatively easy going until we got to those steps around mile 12. I was keen to get my dad and tell him about my disaster start and to make sure he wasn’t worried that I wasn’t among the marathoners. Though by this point I had caught up to the slower runners and was easing past them.
There’s an out and back section up to another feed station which is fairly narrow and a bit of a nightmare, especially with the half marathoners and marathoners there at the same time but I caught up to a girl running the half and started chatting with her. We swapped running stories and she told me her PB for a marathon was around 3:44. She (her name is Jilly) looked about my age so I told her she must be pleased with a London GFA. She had no idea what it was! I was pleased to explain it to her and she seemed quite chuffed.
I was feeling great and was enjoying myself. Talking would also help me stick to a sensible pace and Jilly was lovely to chat to. Disturbingly I started to feel my tummy doing some crazy bubbling and cramping. I continued to chat but in the back of my mind I started to panic that my stomach was getting worse. The race is fairly low key and there are very few portable loos on the course (I think there is one at the feed station around mile six) but I knew there were portable loos at the start/finish area (which would be halfway for me) so I just kept pushing on and hoping for the best…!
I saw my dad and he gave me my gels, and I ate one going up those ridiculous steps. I knew I needed to keep fuelling despite my dodgy tummy.
Jilly and I eventually parted ways as she went to finish the half and I continued on. As the marathon course does a sweep around the start/finish area I had to wait a bit longer before I could actually get to the loos. Eventually I was able to run off the course towards the loos. This has never happened to me before. It was probably the Indian food the day before (not my ‘normal’ Indian takeaway – lots of sauces I don’t normally have) or it could have been the gone-off Beet It. Either way, my body was not happy.
Annnnnnnway, I got back to the race and felt much better. The course then goes all the way to the bottom of the gorge to then climb that bastard hill we had to climb to get to the start/registration area.
This was TOUGH. No running involved (this is mile 14 which also includes my bathroom stop – I didn’t stop my watch). The half marathoners were now coming down after finishing, all wearing their medals and looking happy. They were all lovely and supportive to us though and one even gave me his water as mine had run out. There was a feed station just along from the top so I could refill again with nuun water but it was just at that point I needed water.
What was great now was that you knew it was just one more lap. Mentally this was easy in my head. I still felt good and still didn’t fancy listening to anything. I was ‘at one’ with the race if you like. I was having a great time!
Unfortunately as I got a few miles into the second lap my stomach started whirling again. I overtook a guy who was having a wee stop and started frantically looking for the ideal area to hide myself away in. I found a spot that was sort of hidden away from the course trail. I was mildly amused that I could see the man run past and if he just looked up the hill near him he’d see me nestled into a bush doing my business. THANKFULLY he didn’t. Again, I felt so much better and, I’m sure you’ll all be glad to know (as my bathroom habits are clearly a highlight of this race recap) that my stomach for the rest of the race was fine. As I saw the guy ahead he turned round and asked if I’d got lost. I had to shout across at him “no, just a call of nature!”. Mortification complete.
We ran together for quite a few miles, chatting about this and that and it was lovely. We walked the hills together and then picked up the pace again on the flats and the time flew by. I couldn’t believe it when I checked my watch to see we were at 19 miles!
As it got to about mile 23 I decided to put some music on which was a nice change. But Apple Music kept cutting out (I’ll soon be switching back to Spotify) so it didn’t really work. I wasn’t bothered though.
The temperature was warm and I sweated a lot but thankfully there was no searing sunshine. I felt like I was keeping well hydrated. At each feed station I’d refill my bottles, drink a few gulps of nuun and take either an orange slice or some jelly beans.
I saw my dad at the same spot before those steps at around mile 24 and knew I just had to get up them and I was home-free. This last mile was tough as I knew I was almost there but my legs were now feeling very fatigued. Whereas for the first lap when I got to this point I still felt like I was fresh and fine to carry on, but now I was feeling the hills and was very tired. I had an agonising moment where I kicked a rock as well. I guess because my feet weren’t picking up enough and it was like a dagger in my toe. But I was almost there! Genuinely this was the only mile where I seriously thought “OK I’m ready to finish now”.
With one final little incline that I had to walk, then a sprint to the finish and I was DONE.
And now it gets a bit awkward. I saw the main race organiser and headed over to him after I finished and said to him about my start time mix-up and how I’d been reassured I would have my time readjusted. The marshal from the start was there to corroborate my story and the other late man’s wife as well. It was clear I wasn’t lying and had my watch time to prove it anyway.
The organiser looked really awkward and said it would mean I would ‘bump’ a girl to third place as her time was 4:38:33, and mine was 4:31:26 on my watch (and 10:46 marathon start and 10:55 my start difference = 9ish minutes off my gun time of 4:40:12). He said that he would sort it though and took down my details again. Reassured I headed off, grabbed my medal and then had to walk down that bastard epic hill to find my dad.
That hill…walking down it was a nightmare. Bless my dad he had made a good effort to work his way up and find me and had gotten about 1/3 of the way up. We finally got to the bottom, took the standard post-race photo and headed to the car.
Unfortunately when the results were released I saw my time hadn’t changed. It still said 4:40:12 (third female). I emailed the organiser. He came back and said in the end it was too awkward to bump the current second place female into third and that the results would remain as they were. He further added that how were we to know that if the lady knew she was third not second she wouldn’t have pushed harder (she would have needed almost seven minutes…). So I’m third female in the results. I won’t lie, I’m sad about this. I wish they had told me this at the time as they led me to believe the results would be adjusted. BUT I know this is my own fault for being late and not reading the race information properly so really I only have myself to blame.
What does make it a little bit harder to take is that the difference between our gun times was only around 1 minute 40 seconds… perhaps the equivalent to two bathroom stops. GARGHHH!!! That said, I never expected to get on the podium anyway so I’ll take it!
In the end I was 3rd female (4:40:12 official time *grumble grumble*), 2nd in my age category and 14th overall (men & women – incidentally my ‘chip’ time would have gotten me 9th overall).
Despite my idiocy and the annoyance I feel about the results, I fully enjoyed the marathon. Though it was such hard work surprisingly it felt easier than Liverpool. I guess because I knew I could walk at any time and I was just ‘taking my time’. In my heart (and on my watch) I know the time I got. But it does remind me that no matter how much pressure I take off myself from a race I still need to READ THE RACE INFORMATION PROPERLY.
Oh, and don’t eat stupid food the day before a marathon 😉
Have you ever started a race late?
What is your preferred race: road or trails? I can’t decide!
Have you ever had tummy issues during a race?