Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Marathon #3 - Kent Coastal Marathon (and celebrating Gina's 500th marathon with the Plums)

Whoever thought it would be a good idea to run marathons first thing in the morning, eh?  Surely a nice afternoon start would be a better idea?

Alarm set for 5am.  I was out of bed before the iPhone had bleeped for the second time.

Pack ruck sack.
Cup of tea.
Toilet again...

Maybe the nerves had set in already?  I've blogged in the past about my issues with long distance running and the effects it has on my stomach.  I need to feel comfortable otherwise I could be in trouble.  I didnt feel comfortable in the slightest.  As usual for any long distance run, I opted to take Imodium to avoid any Paula Radcliffe-esque moments later in the day.  However, given this was my first ever marathon which involved a long journey to get to the start line, I made the mistake of taking the Imodium before I left the house.  In reflection, 5 mins before the start would have been a much better idea...

Thanks to the TFL webpage bookmarked on my iPhone, I got to the end of my driveway and I could already see the 486 bus about 400 yards down the road, so knew I'd be on time at the club.  Already sitting down on the bus was Ian, Felicity and Carl.  So strange bumping into people you know at 6:40am on a Sunday morning.

Got to Bexleyheath Sports Club and the Plums were already gathering.  Considering it was so early, everyone was in a cheerful mood.

Now let me take a moment to set the scene as to why 50 odd hardy souls were climbing aboard a coach to get to the Kent Coast so early on a Sunday morning.  The Plums were heading to the Thanet Roadrunners-hosted Kent Coastal Marathon (and Half Marathon for those not wanting to run the full distance) to celebrate the amazing feat of our fellow club mate, Gina Little, who would run her 500th marathon on the day, becoming the first UK woman to do so.  Pretty amazing, I'm sure you'll agree.

The coach turned up a little late but we all climbed aboard and after a chat with the two Lee's and Chris, we arrived at Palm Bay, in Cliftonville, on the NE Kent Coast between Margate and Broadstairs.

Off the coach, into the Race HQ, quickly picked up our race numbers and then it was into the queue for the portaloos.  I knew I was in trouble but the dose of Imodium had put paid to any chance I had of feeling comfortable before the race started.

Once everyone was ready, we took a stroll over to the start, where we lined up on the start line for some photos, to mark Gina's milestone.

Gina, the Plums and Friends...

As you can see, we were all wearing rather fetching yellow t-shirts and vests, where as Gina was resplendent in pink.

Following loads more photos, some stretching and the official announcer telling us that Gina would be first over the line with her entourage, we were off.

Now, beforehand, we had been warned several times that this course was hilly.  Some how, that didnt really register beforehand but the first half of the marathon was brutal.  Hilly and hot.  I dont think you could wish for a worse combination.

However, today was not going to be a race for most of us.  For me, the plan was to run along with Gina and the guys, not run for a particular time and just treat it as an enjoyable long and slow training run, with a view to trying to run a decent time in Amsterdam in mid-October.

Now I learnt a valuable lesson.  You can never underestimate a marathon.  It is a huge physical undertaking and you just cant wing it.  Its not possible.  I certainly underestimated the effects this marathon would have on my body.

For any endurance athlete, you need to keep fully fueled throughout the event.  That means sipping a drink every mile and taking supplements where necessary...the one last thing you want to do when you feel you need the nearest bathroom, so this was going to be a challenge of a different kind.  I had to try and drink enough to stay hydrated but not so much as it upset my stomach.  I can tell you now, I was in all sorts of trouble by mile 10.  I'd had cramps from mile 2 but by 10 I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach and I had no choice but to walk for a bit.  Christ, when I ran Paris back in April, I ran the whole way and didnt even have to break into a walk but I was walking.  This wasnt good.  I managed to walk/run for a bit and caught up with the group again but my legs were pretty much gone by then.

From mile 10 thru to half marathon distance, I contemplated stopping and pulling out.  I was seriously considering it.  I didnt really know what to do.  Had I not told anyone I was running a marathon, I likely would have stopped but being the stubborn git I am and without wanting to lose face, I battled on.

I managed to keep with Gina's group up until mile 14 but then it became too much.  I carried on plodding away but my pace was dropping.  I was force-feeding myself gels by then and trying to drink as much water as I could but I felt sick as a dog.  I wanted to curl up and die pretty much by then.  Although the second half of the marathon was flatter than the first half, running along the sea wall became monotonous and the miles seem to drag longer and longer.  My pace was continually dropping but I dug deep and found some energy from somewhere.

Struggling big time at half way and about 200 yards behind Gina's group...

By mile 21, I managed to catch Graham and Keith who had dropped off Gina's group.  Graham was struggling with tight hamstrings...and Keith, the poor sod, was more in need of finding the Gents than I was and didnt dare run any further.  See, its not only me it happens to!

Graham and I ran (for ran read shuffled as its probably the best description of our style given our discomfort) together for the last 5 miles and kept each others spirits up, pretty much talking about anything but running, just to keep our minds away from the pain.

Crossing the finishing line with Graham

Although I seem to be smiling in the photo where I'm crossing the line, my legs were screaming.  Of the three marathons I've done, this was most definitely the hardest!

After picking up my medal, finishers t-shirt and goody bag, I collected my bag and headed straight for the massage tent.  Knowing I still had at least an hours coach journey to look forward to back down the A2, I thought I'd give myself the best chance of a decent recovery.  The smiles in the selfie didnt last long.  The masseur inflicted serious pain on my legs.

Massage selfie...

Twenty minutes later, I had some feeling back in my legs and I headed back to the throng of the Plums, who had made camp under a marquee where we were treated to a fabulous spread and lashings of alcohol, the perfect post-marathon recovery aid ;)

Gina was the centre of attention as the Plums presented her with a lovely gift and we listened intently to Graham and then Richard, followed by Gina being presented with a lovely trophy by the 100 marathon club for her achievement.  All that was left to do was for Gina to cut her celebratory cake.

Gina cutting her celebratory cake...

Given how well my preparation for Amsterdam has been going (an 18.5 miler at sub 4 pace only 2 weeks ago, see here for the evidence!), I'm surprised that I found the marathon such a struggle but I'm fairly certain that was down to my pre-race preparation this time around.

When in Amsterdam, my hotel is only a 10 min walk from the start/finish line so I'm sure I'll be lining up on the start line much more relaxed, comfortable and focused on the job in hand.  I wont be rushing about to catch a bus to catch a coach etc.

However, there are four things I can take from this:
  • Never underestimate a marathon...
  • I've now chalked up marathon #3...
  • Gina Little is one of the most inspirational women I've ever met...
  • The Plums are an awesome bunch of people...
What a fabulous day.

Last word for Gina though.  Awesome.  It was an honour to run with you on your special day :)

Back of my running vest and marathon medal #3
Official race photographs are here

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