Monday, September 26, 2011

I accidentally ran one of the hardest and hilliest marathons in the country

Cross posted from my old blog.

Short version: I missed my pessimistic goal time by almost twenty minutes, did a lot of walking and failed to get a negative split. But I not only completed a marathon, but one of the (if not the) hardest and hilliest on "these Islands", with no hill training. Ow.

I set myself two different goal times for the marathon; 1) the somewhat arbitrarilly chosen, should be doable, time of 5 hours (11 minute 27 second miles) and 2) my BHAA Standard, probably unrealistic, time of 4 hours 39 minutes and 13 seconds. My pace on my 20 mile training run was 11 minutes 45 second miles and I had read that you should do your long training runs a minute or a minute and a half per mile slower than your marathon pace, so I thought it shouldn't be a problem to knock 16 seconds a mile off. I was thinking that I'd do the first half as though I was going for the slower goal and speed up in the second half if I felt up to it. But when I set my goal (and did my training), I did not know about the hills.

The first I learned about the hills was when I went to pick up my chip and bib and saw TShirts for sale advertising the half marathon with the slogan 'are you tough enough?' and a graph of the 750 foot climb and drop. I hoped that the marathon route didn't follow the half marathon route. Or failing that, at least that the second half of the full was flat. I was wrong on both counts. I also should have seen the problem coming by the number of people who told me I'd picked a hard one for my first. The second half is flatter, but we're still talking a climb of over 100 meters. And not in the reasonable 'we're still going up' kind of way that the first half is. But rather in that 'really, that's not the top either', up a lot, down a little, up a lot, way than any hiker or hill walker will be familiar with. Over the course of the whole thing I went up over half a kilometer.

elevation profile picture
elevation gain 512m, elevation loss 541m

The first two miles flew by in a brief blur of pleasant conversations with mostly foreign strangers (who were mostly doing the half marathon) and thoughts of 'I'm running a freaken marathon!'. I managed to stop myself going much faster than the 11 minute 27 second miles. Mile three was where the first hill kicked in. One American I talked to later said that she figured the cow theme was because that first hill you come to makes you say 'holy cow'. I was quite proud of managing not to drop to a walk on that first hill, which was most of miles three and four and the start of mile five. I passed a lot of people who had done so. Just after the four mile marker there was a water and aid station and a fantastic drop with a beautiful lake view. I released my inner five year old, shouted 'whee' and ran down the mountain, passing a bunch more people. I say ran, it was more like controlled falling. A couple of times I had to slow myself down because I actually felt in danger of falling over. After that I ran for a bit with a guy called Fergus and a girl called Eithne who told me they were very amused by my going 'whee' by them. After a while I glanced at my watch and realised that I had now more than made up for the time the hill had cost me and needed to slow down, so I said goodbye.

I'm not sure when the first time I got chatting to Eimhear was. She reminded me a lot of another Eimhear I know in that 'bubbling with enthusiasm and confidence, crazy in a good way' kind of way. She was running the full with her friend Colette. Most of our conversations ended with her dropping back to let Colette catch up with her. She sang a lot. She was the one who christened my fiance and son my 'support car'.

My support car drove by me just before the first water station. I saw them and wasn't sure if they'd seen me. My fiance later told me that he had but was too busy trying to get the car up the hill and not hit any runners to wave. Shortly after the water station my car was there in a lay-by with an adorable little hand stuck out the window looking for a high five. Which, of course, it got.

Another person I talked to a lot was an American woman that I kept catching up with when she stopped to take photos. She had brought along the camera mostly to make sure she took breaks. She was rewarded with some of the most scenic views I've ever seen and has promised to email me the photos. I've run a few races that have claimed to be picturesque. But I've never felt any of them really pulled it off before. The views on this one were stunning.

sea between mountains

My legs and hips started making themselves known to me at about mile eight. Not that they were really complaining much, they just thought it was important that I was aware of them.

My support car turned up another once or twice in the first half. Always a delightfully welcome sight. The stuff that motivation is made of.

At the halfway mark I passed the finish line and lost most of my company as the half marathon finished. After that point pretty much the only person I saw was a woman who was alternating between running and walking, when her preset watch told her to. At first she would catch up to me when she was running, then fall behind me when she was walking. Then she would pass me when she was running and I'd pass her when she was walking. Then I'd catch up with her only when she was walking. Then she was a spec on the top of a hill when I reached the bottom. I guess that strategy was working for her :).

The route was very well marked. As promised, whenever you had to turn the ground had a little white 'moo' and an arrow. Everywhere else you just followed the road. That said, after a long few minutes of not seeing any other runners, I started worrying that I had interpreted where the road went differently to them at some point. This happened repeatedly, but every time I eventually came across another mile marker to tell me I was still on track.

Once it became clear that I wasn't going to have any more company I started playing my audio book, as I usually do when training.

Mile seventeen and eighteen brought the first serious hill in the second half of the marathon. And it was a serious hill. This time I conceded and walked for most of it. I just didn't have the juice left to run it.

Speaking of juice, I brought along five energy gel packs, planning to have one every fifty minutes. I'd used them once in training, on my 20 mile run, and had found them very useful. I didn't feel the need for the first until well after the first hour. The second and third were similarly over an hour apart. So, when I wanted another about a half a hour later I figured I could take it and still be behind schedule for taking them all. And so I learned why you don't take them so close together. Lemon bile, delightful. Thankfully I managed not to actually get sick, but it was a close call once or twice. I never got around to the fifth gel, funnily enough.

Mile eighteen was also where I finally gave in to my bladder and asked some nice strangers if I could use their toilet. They let me, saying that I surely deserved it, given how far I'd come. I noticed at some point later that I was reaching all the mile markers about 0.08 miles after my watch said I was. I was confused by this but just tried to recalculate based on it and carry on. It was only after I finished the race that I realised those guys' toilet must be 0.04 miles away from the road. I was very amused.

In mile twenty I was close to tears in a good way, knowing I was going to finish and thinking that I could catch back up with my goal time if the rest was mostly downhill, which it surely had to be.

And I actually managed something resembling running in miles twenty, twenty one and twenty two. Though progressively less so.

I think mile twenty three was possibly where I started running into to wind for the first time. Before that I had noticed it at my back once or twice and been grateful for it, particularly going up the hills, but I hadn't really been aware of how strong or cold it was. Mile twenty three was certainly where I hit the wall, realised I wasn't going to make my goal time and lost most of my will to go on and some of my will to live. I was so sore, so tired, so cold and so beaten that I was close to tears. When I saw a water station coming up with my support car at it, well, it helped a lot :).

From that water station I had to run down a road, turn around, run back up that road (into the wind), run down another road, loop around a church with another water station at it and back to that first one again before heading for the finish. My support car managed to be at that point each time and also at the church, where they gave me a jumper that may have been the difference between me finishing and not finishing.

One of the times I approached the car I heard my son say 'run Mammy, run!'. Which I dutifully did, for a few yards :). I later learned that he had said, disgustedly 'I see Mammy, and she's not running!' just before that.

The last few miles I was really upset at missing my goal time. I kept telling myself that it was an arbitrarilly set limit, chosen without all the information. But I wasn't listening, and I was distraught.

I managed a little bit of running in mile twenty four, but mostly walked it. Walked mile twenty five pretty much entirely. At that point I was just determined to finish, even if I had to walk the whole way.

When I reached the twenty five mile marker I thought 'just 1.28 miles and I get to see my fiance and son again'. Then I thought about how long it would take to walk that and decided I couldn't wait that long and ran the last stretch.

Just before the finish line my finance saw me taking off the jumper, which didn't fit the black and white theme, and ran over to grab it from me. I really didn't want to be wearing it in the photo at the finish and it was great to not have to carry it either.

I crossed the finish line and sat down, with a view to lying down, but my son ran over and gave me the world's biggest hug, holding me in a sitting position.

I recieved my ridiculous but precious full mooathon finisher's medal. It's a cow with flashing eyes.

it's a cow with flashing eyes, and a sweatband

We went back to our hotel, with me munching on the peanut butter and mashed banana baguette that had been prepared for me. I had a cold bath that was not as useful as the last one I had (I suspect this one was not cold enough). Then we walked to the main race hotel. It was further than we thought and the walk was torture. I know it's a good idea to keep moving afterwards. But ow.

We sat around chatting to other people who'd done the race. They were mostly people who had done the half marathon, were jealous of my medal and thought I was crazy.

Myself and my son went in to the prize giving. I got called up for a photo for being the fastest woman in my age category. With an over all time of almost five hours and twenty minutes, I can only assume I was the only woman in my age category. Or that all the others had been disqualified from that prize by winning overall prizes. It was still nice though :). My son was delighted.

Over all, I'm very glad I did it. I'm sorry I had a goal time, because of how bad missing it made me feel. In fact, I think I'd have run more at the end if I hadn't been so upset by that. So I'd have actually finished faster. And I wish I'd known about and trained for the hills. Or maybe started on an easier marathon. All the same, I did this:

very impressive map of where I ran

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