I did it. I wanted to do it in under 4 hours, and I did it in under 4 hours, in 3:59.04. Which is a bit of a miracle as my training had not been perfect, as I have travelled about 8,000 miles in two weeks, and as on the day my left hip decided to become very painful at mile 19 and continued to be very painful until, well, now.
September and October have been busy and filled with travel. The last couple of weeks included a trip to Louisville, Kentucky, then Glasgow, then Cheltenham, then Cyprus, then London. I got home from all this at 11pm on the Friday night on marathon weekend. It was not the best marathon preparation. But I did try to keep my training going despite the travelling. I ran along the magnificent river in Louisville:
I ran until the riverside path ran out at a cement factory and then I turned around and ran back and along the way discovered that one of Louisville’s many beautiful bridges has been pedestrianised. The Big Four bridge starts in Louisville and ends in Indiana, and it’s wonderful.
On the way over I tried to take a selfie – or as my mother calls a selfie, a “meesie” – and managed only to look petrified. I wasn’t petrified, just hot.
All of Louisville’s riverside park is pretty great. Especially, as I had set off without water AGAIN and it was getting hot, that there were open, clean toilets at frequent intervals, and drinking water fountains! When do you see drinking water fountains anywhere in British parks any more? I don’t hold with Britain-bashing, which I hear far too often. I think that a country where you don’t die before the age of 5 from an easily preventable disease, where you can get education and healthcare is, with all its problems, a highly enviable place in which to live. But I do object to the wholesale removal or neglect of drinking water fountains. So well done Louisville Water, which has a great campaign to get people to ditch bottled water in favour of tap water called Louisville PureTap. I approve in principle, and when I was parched after 7 miles and couldn’t find a shop, but I did find drinking water freely available, I approved heartily on the spot too.
From Kentucky, I flew overnight to London, didn’t sleep, flew to Glasgow and almost immediately went onstage at the Infection Prevention Society’s annual conference. Then I slept for about 16 hours. The next morning: another run. I love that hotels increasingly have running/jogging maps for guests. Well done to Crowne Plaza Glasgow. I set off along the river, this time the river Clyde. The sun shone – really! – and it was cool and lovely. Along past early morning rowing crews, and people getting to work early, and walkers and runners, to the People’s Park. A quick picture of the shoes that I couldn’t resist buying in the US because they are so cheap – many thanks to the kind man from Waterstep who drove me to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Indiana to buy them – then back and home to Leeds, finally, but not for long.
Then it was down to Cheltenham for 24 hours for the books festival, back home, then to Cyprus for 48 hours for the AGM and annual conference of the Women in Shipping Trade Association (WISTA). They invited me to give me an award for raising the profile of the shipping industry, which was lovely. And I got to run along the very fine beachfront promenade in Limassol from my hotel, which was right on the beach.
So, unlike in Leeds, I could run four miles, take off my running shoes and jump straight into the gorgeous, warm, delightful Mediterranean. I flew to London then to give a talk at the annual supporters’ meeting of WaterAid, who I was running the Yorkshire Marathon for, two days later.
I got home late on Friday night from London, lazed around all Saturday and got increasingly terrified. I just didn’t feel that I had done all the training. Perhaps it is retrospective revisionism, but I remember feeling much fitter before London, though I was equally scared. This time, although I have done a lot of training, I’ve been ill, I’ve been injured, I’ve been not as assiduous as I should have been. I was running the marathon with my friends VeggieRunners i.e. mother and daughter Janey and Bibi. We all had our WaterAid vests, although it wasn’t an official WaterAid race, so there would be no massage or great snacks unlike at the Great North Run, which I missed. Of course I had to customise my vest to show my priorities:
(I’ve requested that WaterAid add “toilets” to their running vests the next time they order some.) Anyway by Saturday evening I had got all my kit ready. Namely:
To run in
Vest, with number pinned
Carefully selected shorts (Brooks)
Carefully selected socks (Sock Mile, with Run Mummy Run leg compression sleeves)
Carefully selected shoes (Brooks Pure Connect)
Carefully selected pants (the ones I always run in: more on those later)
Gel belt with 6 gels plus one extra just in case
For before, during and after
A flask of black coffee
2 bagels with cream cheese and gherkins
1 litre of chocolate milk
Change of t-shirt
Change of pants
Change of trousers
Change of socks
Change of shoes
Of course the night before I realised that my Garmin charger was not as I thought in my house but probably in a hotel room somewhere in Kentucky, Glasgow or Cyprus. And that is one of the many, many reasons that I love belonging to a running club: a quick Facebook request and I had a borrowed charger within half an hour. Thanks, Claire and Russell!
Oddly, I slept OK. I’ve been sent a Bodyclock by Lumie, which wakes you with light, which is supposedly far better for your body as light switches on the right hormones in the right order and with the right pace so you wake up refreshed rather than startled. I did wake up quite gently, and even my cat seemed to have taken my timetable to heart and woke me at the perfect time of 5.50am. Breakfast, although nerves were making nonsense of my appetite, was toast and peanut butter and rhubarb jam. Fling everything into a bag, last toilet visit, prepare a flask of coffee and off I go to pick up David then Janey. There had been fog warnings the day before, both from the weather forecast, and from the Yorkshire Marathon people via text. So there were fog nerves to add to race nerves. Plus parking nerves, as David and Jayne were sure they would find somewhere to park near the start, and I was not sure. But the fog was fine, we got there in good time and parking was easy, as most people had obeyed the marathon organisers’ request to park in park and ride so there was plenty of space for early-arriving rebels.
The marathon was based at the university, and it was very well organised. Clear signposting, somewhere warm to wait – there was fog and mist and it was cold – and no queues anywhere, except at the toilets and those queues were crazy. But Jayne and Bibi had run last year and remembered which building to go into that had toilets on the first floor, and off we went, to Real, Warm Toilets with no queue. Well done Jayne and Bibi. And no, I’m not going to tell you which building it was or you’ll all be going there next year.
Baggage dropped off, foil blankets wrapped (around Bibi and Jayne, I hadn’t thought to bring anything beyond my throwaway charity shop sweatshirt), a last toilet visit “for the last 10 millilitres” and we headed to our start pens. Zone 2 for me, Janey and Bibi; zone 1 for David and Adam, the fourth member of Team Veggie. David was aiming for under 3:20, Adam about the same. We did a bit of the warm-up, stood around and chatted and got nervous, then lined up. A young lad next to me said, well done for running for WaterAid, and that he had interned for them for two months over the summer. A couple of days after the race – which he did in 3 hours 30 or something impressive – he wrote to say he had found my website and already ordered my book. So that’s how to sell books: run a marathon.
The start was on time despite the fog and pretty soon we were running on cobblestones into York city centre. There were shops and cobbles and people on the streets and then suddenly this:
and it was pealing bells and well, that was enough propulsion for the next few miles. We had decided to run together, and having the company of Janey and Bibi was wonderful. We talked sometimes, and sometimes didn’t. Our conversation ran from intellectual to what pants we liked wearing. We met other runners sometimes, including a man who had come from Surrey and who ran behind us for a couple of miles before he mentioned that he was aiming for 3:45. Oh. We’re not. And off he went.
What I loved most about this marathon compared to London, was the space. London had 30,000 runners; Yorkshire had 7,000. There was space to run! Of course there was overtaking, but generally, people seemed to have been in the right pens. There wasn’t so much weaving, which is tiring. It wasn’t like Edinburgh where even at ten miles I was overtaking people who were seriously slow (and not because they were walking or tired). Edinburgh was shambolic. Yorkshire was impressively organized.
The only thing I’d have liked more of was support. London is a sensory overload, and marathon day was hot, and Mo was running, so of course there were thousands of supporters. Yorkshire was on an autumn day and there was fog. So there were miles where there was hardly anyone. That meant that when there was support, it was great but I’d just have liked more of it. Thank you though to the bagpipers, to the students – I presume – who had all passing runners shouting Oggy oggy oggy oi oi oi behind us, to the man in one of the very beautiful villages we ran through, who rang his doorbell – a real bell, not a button – constantly as we ran past. Thank you to everyone who had jelly-babies, and to all the volunteers and marshals, who were encouraging and great. Thank you to everyone who bothered to get up on a Sunday morning just to encourage perfect strangers to do something as simple as running.
The water stations were every three miles. There were gel stations too but we couldn’t remember where they were, and Janey had lost some gels on the way (a common sign on marathons is abandoned gels on the ground). Luckily we ran past a very organized runner who had brought along a map. An actual map! So we figured it out. I’d discussed race strategy with Jenny and decided to go for 10 miles without gels then to take them every three miles. I think I started at 9 then pretty much followed the strategy though at about 15 miles it’s hard to think logically about anything. Anyway I didn’t hit the wall, again, or at least not because of lack of glycogen so I must have got it right.
At one of the water stations, the first volunteer had got backed up, so that he couldn’t quite get the bottles handed out fast enough. It didn’t matter because as always there were plenty of other people handing out water ahead of him. But a man running behind me said “for fuck’s sake!” and I was furious. It’s quite hard to turn round at 9 minute mile pace and say “don’t be so bloody rude, he’s a volunteer” but I did. I apologise to all marshals and volunteers for his oafishness. What a ******.
Miles 13-18 were tough. I can’t really remember them, except for the switchback at 16-18, where you run for a long way against runners coming in the opposite direction. Janey said, “‘I didn’t like this bit last year and I don’t like it this year,” and there wasn’t much to like about it, as you’re not only looking at faster runners who are farther ahead, but you’re noting that the return on the switchback seems to be going uphill. The marathon is described as “undulating,” which can mean all sorts. But it was. There were inclines, and it certainly wasn’t as flat as London. I was busy looking for the Kirkstall Harriers supporters at mile 18. I missed them and they missed me, but it kept me occupied. And on the uphill stretch my left hip started to really hurt. That is, it was worse than discomfort. But I kept running. I didn’t want to lose my company and I knew the last 6 miles would be when I needed company most. But my hip got worse and worse. It was sore, then it was painful, then my leg started to give way. Finally it felt like I was limping while running. I had to stop, so Janey and Bibi went on and I didn’t see them until the finish line. From then on, I had to stop every half a mile or so to do a glute stretch. It was weird; I never get problems on my left side. But I was running in my Brooks Pure Connect, and though I had done lots of miles in them, I’ve never done 20, so I suppose my hip got tired and decided to make a point. I kept trying to run through it but after half a mile, it would get so painful I had to stop. At one point I stopped and leaned on a marshall to stretch out. Thank you to her.
The next thing to look forward to – and it’s important to have something to look forward to – was Osbaldwick village at mile 24, because that’s where my brother lives with his family. My mother had also mentioned that she might come up and watch, as she had wanted to come to London but hadn’t in the end. She hadn’t answered me when I asked if she was going to come, which meant, I thought, that she probably would (she has form for surprise arrivals). I couldn’t greet my cheering party while limping or they’d all worry, so as we came into Osbaldwick, I stretched again, and then managed to run past them without hobbling. A quick hug to my mother, who of course had come, my god-daughter Alice, our family friend Bill. I didn’t notice that my brother Nicholas and nephew James were taking pictures, because I didn’t dare stop. And then it was just onward, to The Hill. “You went off like a bomb,” said my mother. My subterfuge worked (I had to stop half a mile later as usual).
People had talked about this hill. It ends on a hill, they said. It’s a big hill. It’s hard and horrible. Some people have to haul themselves up it using the barriers. So I was expecting something like this:
which is Post Hill in Pudsey. But finally, as we got to the last mile and turned the corner, there it was. And it was fine. I belted up it, because for the last few miles various kind supporters had shouted “You’ll still make sub-4!” and I thought, perhaps I will. Up the hill, and then a sprint to the finish. It’s amazing what legs can do. I forgot to smile for the cameras, because the clock said 4 hours had just passed but by then I was on automatic. Over the line, I had to really limp, so I limped to get my goody bag, I limped into the recovery area to find Bibi and Jayne and then suddenly there was a text from the marathon organizers saying I’d done it in 3:59.04. Chip time. I’d forgotten about chip time.
I drank the horrible protein shake in the goody bag, because as usual, I had no appetite at all. I never do. No appetite then an hour later totally ravenous. We all found each other again by the cafe, and Jayne’s partner Zsolt and our friend Wendy turned up with a bottle of fizz. So, chocolate, fizz, and some happy pictures of the WaterAid ladies, as loads of supporters had called us:
Thank you so much to everyone who has donated. If you haven’t and you’d like to, here is our donation page for WaterAid.
That’s that, until April. And now, up to the fells.