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The Abingdon Marathon

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How can I put into words the joy and pain of completing a first marathon? The sheer exhaustion, the nervousness at the start, the emotionality (it's a word!) and relief at crossing the finish line, the highs and lows of the full 26 miles 385 yards. It's tough to explain, and unless you've done it, or something similar, you may never get the full meaning of what I am about to write. You may not want to, or you may just think its overly dramatic of me, or you may think that it's only a marathon - lots of people do it, lots do it faster than me and lots do even further or more extreme versions of it - however this is my story so I'm going to tell it my way.


The whole XL challenge started with thoughts of completing a marathon. Having previously done a couple of half marathons, I thought that it would be nice to see if I could train for and complete a marathon before my 40th Birthday. That was a failure for starters, but more about that later. After my first Great North Run in 2011 I never thought that the marathon was going to be an option. I only just completed it in less than 2 hours and felt that in no way would I ever want to turn around and run that distance back again. Then in 2012 I set about beating that time for the GNR. I knew I could do it - I was somewhat hampered by runners knee on the inclines towards South Shields and knew that if I followed a proper training programme and put more effort into the training, I could beat that time, and I did. In fact I knocked almost 19 minutes off completing in just over 1hr 41. I also didn't feel too bad afterwards, which got me thinking that maybe I could do it. Maybe I could run double that distance if I trained harder and longer.


I decided that if I was to step up, I wanted to do it for a charity that had some meaning and felt close to me personally, and I knew it had to be Dravets after all the help they have given Andy, Marie and Elizabeth. So after talking to them, and Marie B, the head person at the charity, the monster that is the XL Challenge was born and I had committed to doing 40 events/challenges in 2013. The original plan would be to run the London Marathon in April, but I didn't get a place through the ballot and Dravet Syndrome UK is such a small charity that they don't have any places for events. So to plan B and I entered the Milton Keynes Marathon, set to take place on the first Bank Holiday Weekend in May. However in the middle of March (well into the training schedule and on a high from getting a new half marathon personal best) I sprained an ankle quite badly playing football, and that meant there was no way I could complete the training for and take on a marathon distance. That meant I wasn't going to do it before I tuned 40 in June either, but I wasn't going to give in and eventually secured a place at the Abingdon Marathon. It may seem like an odd location, given that its 300 miles away from home and a small event in the marathon world (703 finishers!), but my employers head office is based there, so I thought it would be a good way to get some involvement from my colleagues.


So the training came and went - somewhat rearranged and amended depending on other challenges that were booked - and Marathon day came. I arrived bright and early to the start line full of nerves and anticipation and with all my supplies intact. Jelly babies, energy gels etc plus hat and rain jacket as it was a little bit on the wet side leading up to the 9am start time. As it got nearer to the big klaxon to start the race, the weather started to brighten up a bit and I was worried that I had too many layers on, but not much I could do about it at that point! I felt quite good once we started, I managed not to go off too fast, like I have done in a couple of half marathons, and the first few miles were good - nice scenery, decent weather, easy miles - and I was doing between 8 and 9 minute miles. 9.1 is the target for a sub 4 hour marathon and I was building a bit of wiggle room and made it all the way to mile 14 before the first mile that took longer than 9 minutes. Unfortunately from mile 15 or 16 I started to get some niggling pain in my left knee, which I knew meant I was going to have to slow up a bit more if I wanted to make it round and finish. The times slowed and my dream of finishing in less than 4 hours went out of the window. I managed to run as far as mile 19, then had to walk for a bit at the start of the next mile, then run the remainder of the mile. Pretty much, that is how the last 6 miles went too - get to the mile marker and walk for a bit, before trying to pick up the running again. Once you walk a bit, your legs stiffen up, your rhythm is disrupted and you end up finding the running part much harder. My mile times started to drop to between 11:30 and 12:50 with the slowest mile being mile 23 which took 14:44!!


All the while I was thinking that I had been pushing my marathon sweepstake for weeks, based on finishing around the 4 hr mark and it only went up to 4:07:30 and I was not going to make it to the end before then. There was a cut off time of 5hrs to complete the distance, and at least I knew that I was going to be back before then barring any real injuries, and so targets became to make it to the next mile marker or the next water station before having a rest and try to make it back in under 4 and a half hours. Eventually I reached the athletics park where the start/finish line was, but the route kind of winds around the whole park before making it back to the finish line, then you have to do a loop of the track itself before I could drag myself over the line in a sweaty, painful mess.


Crossing the line is a weird thing to try to comprehend. I was so pleased to have finished and it was all over, while being slightly disappointed with my time, totally exhausted and in pain all over. The joy and euphoria of having completed my first marathon would have to wait until a long time after I had finished. At that point it was all I could do to stay upright, get some water and my goody bag (medal, t-shirt, Mars Bar), collect my kit and head for a shower. Even after that I had to walk about a mile back to the car - good for warming down and helping prevent too much muscle soreness the following day, but still painful nonetheless. I then had to go to the hotel, and then drive 300 miles home. I don't mind telling you that in the first hour or so following the finish, I didn't know if I was going to collapse in a heap, vomit or cry - or maybe do all three.


I think several things contributed to me not getting around in under 4 hrs, the biggest of which was not preparing sufficiently. If I am honest the training schedule was amended too much to fit in other events. I missed out on a couple of longer runs while doing half marathons and the Duathlon 2 weeks before the marathon was maybe a bit too close. The course wasn't the flattest, but not the most hilly either I suppose. I'm not looking to make excuses, just thinking about what I would do differently if I ever decided to attempt another marathon. If I ever do, I will be concentrating solely on that event, training better and having no other distractions. It's a very big if at the moment, but as they say, never say never!