I had to run Brighton, because it was going to be for Rukai. But I never should have made that start line. As it happens, were it down to the park and ride organisers, I very well may not have but some bloke in the crowd at Brighton Stadium decided to take charge and move us runners to the front of queue in spite of them. The poor marshall didn't know what hit her, one second fighting off the madding crowd and the next hustling us on to double deckers whose stairs we would no longer be able to climb later that afternoon. And there off we went to the start of this 2018 Brighton Marathon.
But me, old me, phooo I really never should have been there. The start of this training cycle fraught with injury, frustration, from hip flexor to peroneals, screaming down hills to wincing on the physio table, this marathon wasn't meant to be completed. Not by me. Not after a max distance of 14 miles. Not after resting for three weeks immediately prior, lower shins and ankles still stiff from tromping around Paris in hiking boots thinking they would provide the right support for my feet. They provided stiff ankles but wot hey, my back felt ace! And there I went forth, to the start of marathon four.
The music played, I danced around, feeling slightly queasy and eager to get moving. I normally struggle to intake my breakfast on race day but this one was particularly difficult. Never had I felt a wobbly gut before a marathon. Wobbly every other thing going but the gut was iron clad. Not today.
Folks around having a giggle at the back sign I crafted to prevent overeager pushy folks from mowing me down when I stopped for a minute's walk after 2 minutes. I was 'Jeffing' (the term we use in Run Mummy Run group to define run/walk using the Galloway method). I'm a particularly polite Jeffer, hands to the sides in a slowing down motion every time I stopped. I don't give two monkeys if I'm in the middle of the road when it happens either, mostly because I'm usually positioned somewhere in the 5:40-6:00 finishers who are all walking by five miles anyway. We get it. This back of pack life isn't all misery and gloom, it's quite lively and the camaraderie is epic, despite the chronic lack of bananas.
So off I Jeffed, somewhat more grateful for the method than usual as we rounded the opening corner to an immediate uphill. The lungs were saying 'b**** please, already?!' And then I gave them a break so they shut up. This is why the method works for me, for that inner conflict which would erupt into fisticuffs if I'd let it. Cresting that hill and then the blissful downhill I took with a grin and a longer interval, which would become the norm. In fact I'd spend the first half of the race adjusting my whole plan of 2:1 run:walk to 1:1 uphill and whatever felt good downhill until it leveled out. It was a perfect plan. In retrospect, that initial clickety clack up and screamy down those hills was the perfect rollercoaster to mirror the experience of the day.
I loved Brighton.
I hated Brighton.
I loved Brighton.
I have never in my life begun a race to this level of strategic perfection. Never. Nevernevernever. Ever. And I'll jump to the end to clarify my feelings about that. At one point, somewhere en route to the power station, I thought 'maybe I should stick to halves. Maybe this distance isn't for me'. And as fast as it came, it left. Because those injuries only allowed me to train to 14 miles. I hadn't run more than 10 total in the last three weeks. I absolutely should not have even showed up. And yet I have never in my life begun a race to this level of strategic perfection.
How can you stop when the odds are stacked so high against you but you then see the result of all the hard work right before your eyes? You can't. I certainly can't. Despite the fact I was limping at the time, despite the fact I wasn't able to run, again, for the fourth marathon on the trot, I KNEW THAT TRAINING WAS WORKING. The reason I will keep running marathons is because of that pristine first half. I want more of that so badly I can taste it. I look at an injured foot and am impatient for the healing to be quick so I can go train some more.
Still yesterday, the song remained the same.
I had a dream, crazy dream...
So out of the park, through town, there was a boatload of mermaids, a bunch of chaps in pants running with and for their mate with motor neurone disease, and a phone called Dave, out we went down that screamy hill and around and up and down and then we were approaching the seaside. I'm going steady 2:1, 2:1, listening to a whole album of Counting Crows followed by Crosby Stills & Nash to ensure I am able to remain patient for the three hours it will take me to press the gas pedal at the halfway point. This, too, was planned to perfection. CSN Deja Vu comes on 'If I had ever been here before I would probably know what to do...don't you?' Intentionally there to remind me I'd done this, I do this, I am a marathoner. Go.
Little did I know the key line was actually 'do you know, don't you wonder, what's going on down under you...?' I didn't know, I didn't wonder, I was just running strong. And proud. And so happy for this there are no words. It was magic.
By 8 miles we were heading out to the eastern most point and the scene in front was fantastic, streams of runners on the way out and back. I was looking out for Liz once the blue bibs started coming through and just as I'd given up, I hear her calling my name. We greeted each other and never stopped moving. Talk about stellar proof of the business we were both there to attend to. One of my top memories of the day.
And out I went, changing the tempo to suit the ridiculously cambered uphill bit, which I was finding challenging but not impossible. That alone was blowing my mind. How could I possibly be running this well with so little training? Out and back, back down the hill and into the noise again and just about 12.5 the left hip reminded me I'd only reached 14 miles. Small niggle, manageable and expected. I was sure I'd get at least to 18 before it started giving me stick, and also sure that the 'thumb-in-joint-while-walking' plan I'd used in the Big Half would be my go to solution. Little did I know what was about to happen.
I'm on the lookout for a friend who said she'd position herself on the turn into 14, for the Hove stretch. I smile and move to playlist three. We're now to 'Picking Up'. So strong. I was elated. I'd promised to stay to the right but the camber pushed me over left to stay on the most level bit. Now I'm turning the corner and out of the clear blue there comes the most rabid sharp pain in the inner arch of my left foot. With a sharp intake of breath I think I'm cramping up so I pull forward the walk segment, shake it off and there I go again. It comes back. And so on and so forth until I can no longer move forward and with a feral groan I park myself beside a few marshalls in the middle of the road and try to stretch it out. I'm about at 16 now. I can hear the clock ticking in my guts and my guts are on fire because of it. No no no not now, not after all that not now.
I look down at my shoe and the inner wall and cushioning is totally compressed, flopping over the side as I press my foot down.
'I think the arch in my shoe has just blown,' I say. 'If I can get something to raise up the support that should stop it.'
They frown at me and I can see the gears turning in their eyes.
'St John's Ambulance is around the corner, they'll have some gauze or something? If you get stuck, stop with us on the return leg, I may have something for you.' (In the two miles it would take me to return to their position, they'd be clocking off. Perhaps seeing them walking away and out pacing me was one of the worst things I've ever experienced in a race.)
I get to SJA and speak quickly, remembering forms and sitting in chairs and some 20+ minutes wasted in London for treatment that helped little at the time.
'I need something to support the arch in my shoe please.'
'Do you want to sit dow---?'
'No thanks, I just want to sort it and get moving, have you some gauze or anything?'
Chap gives me some gauze, we whack it into the shoe, I (stupidly) double tie the laces, thank them and go forth to Buzz. But the damn buzzer is broken. My 12-minute-something miles were now stood on their head. Mile 17 tops 21 minutes. You are all watching a blob self destruct and wondering what was going on. I was thinking of messaging to tell you I'm ok, it's ok, I'm still moving, don't worry...I would try later but the phone died too. Adversity all around. No time for messaging, just keep moving. Relentless forward progress.
Mile 17 stop, untie shoe, adjust gauze, (stupidly) double tie shoe.
I've no idea how many times I stopped, til I was about to turn back on the return leg I decided the gauze wasn't going to cut the mustard. It just wasn't firm enough and it kept slipping around. So now I'm racking my brain as to what I had on me I could use for an arch support.
'A gel? It's cushioned and... No, no if it pops I've got gel carnage in my shoe.'
'Winegums? Squishy? Leave them in the plastic and...No stupid, stupid...'
'Gah! What can I use?! I can't take my shoes off at 17 miles but I can't wear these shoes like this...'
I'm limping down the road and mentally going through my vest pockets. Nothing in the vest. But the flipbelt was a different story. Sorry for the TMI to follow fellas but...
I had stashed a tampon in the flipbelt! This realisation was like a winning lottery ticket. Compressed? Check. Firm? Check. Out it came, packaging all akimbo, it gets deconstructed and jammed into the shoe. Better, now better...
(Stupidly!!) double tie shoe. Damn, this isn't working either. I'm still trying to trot on this foot, this gauze-and-tampon arch supported foot in stupid broken shoes. I may have lost 25% of my sanity about then and lo when behold up comes the husband of a running neighbour, whom I had zero expectation of seeing. He asks me how I'm doing, I tell him the fit has hit the proverbial shan and just by offloading it gets me feeling better about what came next. I decide running's over. This is now a walk job. This is a hugely important part of every race I've done, that decision to park the dreams to secure the finish. I've done it four times now and this time was maybe a little easier, I expect due to that shortened training cycle. I expected a problem and I got to my 18 before parking the dream. Ok. We're there now. Again. No regrets. No time. Ok. Go.
We say goodbyes and off I go. Yet even walking isn't working, the damn shoe is still all over the shop. And then, I've no idea where or how, I realise that if I lift the footbed of the shoe and put the padding under it it'd work better.
Ding ding ding we have a winnah. I finally escape Hove and off toward the power station I go.
Playlist three is working out well, and I'm feeling good that I know how to manage the adversity. I've experienced body blowout once more at this particular level, back in my sweet home Chicago, two years ago. So I pulled back my shoulders and tried to make lemonade. Of course that's when it started raining. But clever me, packed for all eventualities and out comes my cap and jacket, pop it on and into the power station leg I go. Guys, I absolutely LOVED that section. I was chatting with fellow Run Mummy Run ladies, passed some great costumes including a pair of boobs which was epic, loved the fact that there were only die hard supporters out there (thought of Gaelle there, and her placement in Snowdonia last year). I enjoyed the smells of the sea and rounding the corner to smell sawdust coming from within the warehouse they were using as shelter.
As I reached the return leg I saw the sweepers coming up the other side and remembered reading about Ranulph Fiennes MDS experience where the 'sweepers' were on camels and he kept flipping them off whenever he saw them. When I saw the Brighton sweepers it just made me walk faster. It hurt like nothing I've ever experienced and twice in the entire section I actually had shockingly bad pain enough to worry me that I'd not be able to even walk on the left foot. Changing the pace helped a bit but when the right side started feeling a bit dodgy I was beginning to panic.
By the time I got to the beach huts, it was pretty desolate. The supporters who were left were absolutely amazing though, and the SJA folks were exchanging some fantastic banter. I asked one group if they had a teleporter (sadly, no) and told the next one I reached that I'd decided I no longer gave a **** as to my finishing time, I just wanted it over. (This was truth by then.) Another shooting pain in the foot and I'm really slowing again. I really felt a strong presence of my Pops, pushing me onwards. I thought a lot about how difficult everything is for my son. I did a lot of Makaton signing along to song lyrics when I was walking. I thought a lot about the scene in The Last Samurai, where Algren gets the stuffing knocked out of him and smacked to the ground in the pouring rain. And he stands up. Over and over again, he gets knocked down and he stands up. This not your typical race motivator but it sure did me a fair bit of good. I've used it before.
And then enters the worry I'd been holding ever since that first sharp pain in my foot, as I'm turning now towards the finishing stretch. Last year as a volunteer I was going back to clock off and saw loads of people wearing bibs fighting their way through the crowds on the promenade. I was convinced I was moving too slowly to have beaten the re-opening of the road and I'd have to finish up there. But as I turn to the promenade, there is a gate across it.
And she's directing me into the road.
And the song on the iPod is saying 'baby, this is what you came for...' And I'll be damned if it isn't.
A grin. So wide, maybe never previously matched aside from atop Snowdon.
The playlist had been changed at 20, and was delivering my final push soundtrack. Anthems coming thick and fast, I'm grinning, air drumming, lip syncing. I can see how much I'm enjoying this by the looks on the spectators' faces watching this mad power walking woman going by. The sun had come out. In the sky and in my head and in my heart it was positively blazing.
I see the island in the road that I'd passed twice before, the very same point I'd stood last year cheering people to the finish. I remembered my own words: 'one more turn and you're straight home to glory'. Oh but I was.
I'm walking. I've no idea if I can run but I'll be damned if I don't finish trying. There is a conga line of photographers along the finish and up go my four fingers like bull horns. To the sky. I'm running now. I'm running and saying 'Number FOUR Pop!' And my feet are flying. And I'm whooping. And then I'm over the mats and someone is holding out a medal to me and I kiss it and then I'm wearing it. And I'm bawling.
Six hours. Twenty six minutes. Thirty-seven seconds. A mere eight seconds faster than Chicago. I should never have made it to that starting line. I should never have made it to that finish line. But I did. There weren't any bones sticking out of my leg, so...
So many lessons learned. Don't run in 'shoes that may or may not be too old...' Always accept a banana in a race. Think creatively. Smile. Be flexible. Run happy. If at first you don't succeed, etc. etc. The singlemost reason I'll keep working my tail off and run my next marathon is because of the strength of that first half. It is also because I know I can dig a finish out of the ashes. Whatever it takes.
The song may remain the same but everything that's small has to grow. And it's gonna grow.
Next stop - we are returning to summit Scafell Pike next month. This time, I'm having it.
Until then I will see you heroes in London. On a speed camera!
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