Do something for charity, they said. Do it by yourself or with your family. And do it on the weekend of the cancelled London Marathon.
Just incorporate a two and a six and away you go!
So that’s what we did, Izzy and me. We devised a whole load of wacky activities that weekend and made ourselves 2.6 Challenge medals out of Lego, raising a few hundred quid in the process.
She ran 26 laps of the garden, we did 26 press-ups, sit-ups and leg bridges. She got Dooley involved – he gave paw 26 times (in exchange for 26 treats!) and we all went on a 2.6km walk that evening over Wimblebury Mound.
It was only when she decided to sing Baby Shark 26 times that my enthusiasm started to wane…
My challenge was, of course, to run 26.2 miles in a lockdown marathon. But if you’ve read my last update, you’ll know that plan went astray when I clumsily managed to catch and break my little toe.
Small bone, big discomfort, probably made worse by all the 2.6 Challenges I’d been doing as well.
I did lace up the following morning and managed a very slow 2.6 miles – the distance felt apt – and then dug out the ice pack and pain relief gel.
Recovery was, however, surprisingly swift. I was back on the go again after a few days with the toe strapped up, the worst part being getting a sock and shoe on rather than running itself.
Fast forward a week to VE Day weekend and the May Day Bank Holiday, now moved to a Friday to commemorate our war heroes (and sadly for covidiots to flout social distancing rules and do the conga, but let’s not go there).
I was child free, so this was my best chance to get a lockdown marathon done. Take a brave pill, preferably one containing ibuprofen, and let’s give it a whirl.
You’ll have seen from the headline that things went well. Unexpectedly so, but as people often say, when the pressure is off and you stop over-thinking your running, good stuff can happen.
Now, it wasn’t THAT good. I’ve not cracked sub-4. However at 4:03:38, despite the route having more than 1,200 ft of elevation because where I live is far from flat, I got pretty close.
And that’s close enough to make me very happy and very proud.
The day started super-early. Bearing in mind we were still in partial lockdown at this point, I wanted to avoid as many walkers, runners and cyclists as possible, which meant up at 3.30am and out running by 5am. Makes me tired now just thinking about it.
I was mindful of lockdown and not straying too far from home. About 400 yards down the hill from my front door is the Old Brickworks Nature Reserve, reclaimed land from what used to be a clay pit and, as you probably guessed, a brick making factory up until the 1950s.
An outer loop around the pathways is about half a mile, longer if you criss-cross. Over the main road is another shorter loop around a pond, plus more paths leading through a housing estate.
And so the Old Brickworks Marathon was born. Toilet facilities, excellent (providing you have a key to one of the houses). Bag drop, a breeze – no queues. Support, somewhat lacking (Dooley was still asleep).
Aid station, well stocked with everything fitting easily into the boot of a VW Golf. Yes, my car on the drive became my aid station and I just swung by every four to five miles to collect supplies. Genius!
I was surprised how un-repetitive this all felt. I wasn’t literally running round in circles, lots of direction changes and variations in the loops, but even so my surroundings were awfully familiar for four and a bit hours.
Perhaps it was because I was enjoying it. Yes, enjoying a marathon, even the horrible bit after 20 miles.
I used Tailwind, some flat coke and two Gu Gels, all of which sat well on my stomach and will be my combination of choice for future marathons. Some people find the Gu’s too thick, almost paste-like, but that just suits me better compared with more liquid ones. And they taste amazing!
At mile 10 and mile 20 I did venture further from home, completing a local 5k circuit as a distraction. It felt like a nice reset before hitting the Brickworks pathways again and helped me clock up another six or so miles.
Half marathon distance came up in about 1:57, so my pace dropped a touch in the second part of the run but honestly not by that much.
When fuelling I was actually stopping rather than doing a ‘grab and go’, stretching at the same time as drinking and just taking a few moments to compose myself.
You could say that cost me time (my Garmin stats show a ‘moving time’ of 3:59, oh look…sub 4!) but I’m inclined to think it actually helped and contributed to a better overall run.
Either way, I ran the lot (bar the fuel stops) and finished strong. No crash, no wall, no sickness and not too much discomfort from my still rather swollen toe. What a shame the result has to go down as ‘unofficial’.
The big question now is can I carry this through to a proper race day? An effective fuelling strategy is perhaps the best lesson of all I’m taking away and one that is easily replicable.
The bigger challenge will be mindset. I ran relaxed that day. Getting a PB was in the back of my mind, yes, but not front and centre and not the be all and end all. I just didn’t want to waste my winter training and get a spring marathon done as originally intended at the start of 2020.
I’ll soon get a chance to put it all into practice again. Milton Keynes Reimagined is next and this time the course is officially measured, the only difference being I’ll be running solo and socially distanced, not part of the usual race day pack.
Three and a half minutes is what I need to find. It feels at lot more achievable than 11 minutes, which is the gap I was facing before.
If not, well Old Brickworks will always be a fun and rewarding memory from a difficult period in our lives. And with the course being practically on my doorstep, I get a welcome reminder of my marathon achievement almost every day.
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