As I type this, my legs are still in agony. In fact, my legs have been in agony from around the 9 mile point yesterday, and have become progressively worse. But I’m skipping ahead.
I woke up on Saturday morning at 3:15am when Ian sent me a text message (under the influence) detailing some events of his night out in Edinburgh where he was attending a wedding that I had chosen to skip for the marathon. I then slept on and off until my alarm went off at 5, forcing me to drag myself into the shower, and then get dressed. Grant (because in a tiny room there really isn’t much choice) got up with me and we headed down to breakfast.
I had porridge (not appetizing at that time) and some toast and OJ. Grant, who was only running the 10k, tortured me by having a full Scottish breakfast. It looked delicious. It smelled delicious. I wanted to punch him hard in the face. Especially as he laughed in between mouthfuls and kept talking about how delicious it was.
After breakfast, I packed everything I needed and we set off for the buses to the start of the marathon. The Bed and Breakfast was pretty close to Bught Park, so it was only about a 10 minute walk. At dawn:
Walking along River Ness, following all of the runner-looking types.
Ronnie, ever the keen bean, texted while we were on our way saying he was there and next to the buses. When we eventually caught up to him he was nursing a coffee and chatting to someone he knew (he seems to know about 90% of the population in Scotland). I decided that, since there was time, I’d use one of the toilets before the 90 minute bus journey.
The bus journey was uneventful. I’d like to be able to say something about nerves, or feeling like it was the start of something magical, but it was just a cramped, long bus journey that I tried to sleep through (partially successfully).
In hindsight, the choice to urinate (further details removed) before the bus trip was a wise one, as the first thought upon hitting the ground and fresh air was ‘I need a slash’. Cursing my lack of penis as I gazed at the colourful sea of dudes pissing into the bushes, I took my place at the back of a mammoth queue and steeled myself against the freezing wind. Thank god it was going to be a tailwind!
I dumped what I needed (high 5 gels, crappy old phone with my sim card, a tenner, and my ipod shuffle) into my fanny pack, strapped it on, and ditched my backpack at the luggage drop before scooting to the start with a mere few minutes to spare. Before I knew it, we were shuffling our way forwards and crossing the start!
That start line looking forward (Ronnie’s photo)
This was such a crappy idea. I could be hungover in Edinburgh in a comfortable bed with my boyfriend, is what I wish I could tell you I wasn’t thinking. But it was. The thought of 26 miles was not appealing, and I tried to make the most of the sunshine, downhill start, and fresh feeling in my legs that was sadly not to last beyond 9 miles.
Ronnie stuck with me at the start, and soon we got chatting to a guy in the RAF (I feel ashamed that despite finding out about his love life, wedding plans in December, and some of his goals for the future, I never found out his name) wearing a charity vest and a beanie. It was his first marathon too. We were soon joined by a veteran marathoner who said he’d stick by us because we had a good pace.
Our group stuck together until about mile 5 when some hills decided to join the party. We were sticking with 9:00-9:30 minute miles, and I was feeling pretty good. When the hills hit, I walked up the steep bits, and soon found myself left behind. I made up lost time on the downhill sections, and soon caught back up to beanie-wearer and marathon-vet (I didn’t get his name either – I’m so terrible). Ronnie had seemingly sped off ahead, and upon hearing this I had a bad feeling that I’d see him again later on.
Soon, marathon-vet had to take a comfort stop in the woods, so RAF-beanie and I went on ahead. Things were going smoothly until mile 9, when I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in my left quad. Not even in double figures, I was mildly concerned. My left calf, shin, and arch were giving me problems from the start, but that I had expected, and as a familiar pain, I knew I could ignore it and soldier on. But this new pain was unlike anything I’ve felt whilst running. Like, ever. I informed RAF-beanie of my pain, and he was very supportive, telling me to blast up the hills ‘like Rocky’, and checking frequently how I felt. I told him I’d stick with him until mile 13, and then I would take a walk break to stretch, take a gel, and check my phone (which I had unsuccessfully tried to set to ‘silent’ before the race).
True to my word, I left him to continue ahead while I started a walk break. I sent Grant a message to let him know I was at 13 miles. I planned to update him so he knew roughly when to expect me at the finish. He wanted to take a video of me finishing, despite my request for ‘photos only’.
After about 30 seconds, I tried to run again. The result? Eye-watering pain and the feeling that my legs no longer belonged to me. What the fuck, legs?! I went back to walking and thought maybe another 30 seconds would sort out my legs. Turns out I was wrong about that. I stopped altogether and stretched for a bit, resumed walking, and then tried to run again. Agony multiplied by about 43. Panic was definitely starting to creep in. And then, out of nowhere, I spotted Ronnie up ahead, walking to one side of the road. I called out his name and hobbled up to him.
‘How are you doing?’ I asked.
‘Terrible. Why did we agree to do this, this was a stupid idea, I am in so much pain, you’re the most horrible person on the planet for suggesting this bullshit idea to me, I hate you and I want you to die a slow, painful death, like having to run 1,000 marathons with no break only to be stabbed at the end,’ was the reply. (NB I may be paraphrasing a bit)
‘Yeah, I’m experiencing pain too. Want to walk a bit, jog a bit?’
We struggled on for another couple of miles, but Ronnie’s belly was unhappy, possibly due to trying out new carb gels (Cliff was one of the sponsors, so there were shot block, gels, and electrolyte drinks along the route), and when he saw a couple of port-a-loos, even the queue snaking around them wasn’t enough to keep him going. When nature calls, she makes you her bitch. He asked if I was staying or going, as I could have also done with a bathroom break, but I knew if I stopped running, it would take a monumental effort to get started again, plus I knew I’d be walking on the uphill section after Dores, so I told him I couldn’t stop, but I’d probably see him again on the hill, and carried on.
If only he had his phone on him (which he would have if the screen hadn’t recently cracked) then I could have let him know that less than a mile further was a hotel with its toilets open to runners. No queues AND relative luxury! Though tempted to go in for a crap and an excuse to sit down, I continued.
And then I passed Dores. And reached the hill. I entertained thoughts of powering upwards, but after 20 painful, breathless paces, and with the realization that I still had several miles left, I slowed to a walk to conserve energy for the last 10k. It was somewhere on this hill, around 19 miles, that I first started involuntarily crying. I was in so much pain my face was a constant grimace, and I had to fight hard to keep going, and just as hard to fight back sobs of misery. As my sun block and sweat trickled into my stinging eyes, my Garmin beeped to let me know I had run 20 miles (even though the 20 mile sign wouldn’t appear for another .2 miles due to the whole slight inaccuracy thing), and I thought just 10k to go. Near the top of the hill, I caught up to a girl who had passed me a few times, and I her, and we gave each other pained smiles. She was chatting to another girl and I walked the last uphill section with them. As soon as the downhill part began, we all decided we would start running.
Loch Ness Marathon elevation profile
The pain I experienced when I tried to get going again is something I’m finding difficult to put into words. It literally took my breath away. It felt how I would imagine several sharp blades being plunged into your thigh might feel. And it felt like that every time my foot hit down on the road. The girls I was with were obviously feeling pain as well. We all agreed that we should run through the pain until it went numb. After a couple of horrific minutes, they both fell back to go to the bathroom, and I went ahead. I was in desperate need of some inspiration, so out came the headphones.
Ten songs. By the time you listen to ten songs, this hot mess of an experience will be done. Lana Del Ray’s ‘Born to Die’ made me long for the sweet relief of death. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers assured me that they liked pleasure spiked with pain, but I doubted they’d felt pain like mine at that moment. Nero’s ‘Promises’ helped me start building momentum and I was shocked to look down and read 8:xx for my mile pace on my Garmin (not constantly, but at times).
I was delirious by this stage, so I can’t remember exact details. I do remember passing the 23 mile marker and telling myself not to stop running. I also remember soon after catching up with RAF-beanie, who was walking – and patting him on the shoulder as I passed, shouting back that if I stopped, I’d be done, and keep going ‘like Rocky!’. I’m not sure how much of my garbled speech he heard, but he grinned (or grimaced), and set off at a jog. When I looked back, though, he was walking again.
I remember hitting the 25 mile sign and turning into the city center, along the river, and several enthusiastic, cheering, smiling supporters were cheering everyone along. I locked eyes with an older woman and she gave me a look of pity. I realized that my face was still contorted, and I think I was wincing every time I took a step. Less than ten minutes to go. This part of the route was like the Inverness half marathon in March, which back then seemed never-ending. I felt no differently about it at this point, but knew that the finish line was close. As we crossed the bridge and turned, heading in the opposite direction on the other side of the river towards the end, the tailwind became a strong, unpleasant headwind, and I remember feeling grateful that we’d had the good fortune of having it behind us all day.
Attempting to smile through the pain for the photographer just after mile 25.
My legs were beginning to seize up, and it felt like I was running on peg legs. My Garmin beeped for 26 miles, but I knew I’d have slightly further to go. I also knew I might have a shot at making my ‘B’ goal of 4.5 hours, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t speed up. Salt ‘n Pepa’s ‘Push it’ started at that point, and I continued grimacing and carried on.
When the finish line came into sight I was overcome with emotion. I smiled. I winced. I wanted to cry. I dread seeing the official finisher’s photo. I heard my name called out through the speakers and used the cheers of the spectators to give me that last bit of strength to cross the finish line. Then I cried like a baby. Slowing to a walk, the pain I’d been ignoring for the last couple of hours suddenly became extremely noticeable. I hobbled forwards for my medal, shuffled a bit more for my goody bag, and dragged myself far enough for a t-shirt.
I was in such a pitiable state that the woman at the information desk offered to escort me to the baggage pick up (I gladly accepted her help). Once I had found my bag, I called Grant, who told me he’d seen me finish and would wait for Ronnie to get a photo. He had managed a PB for his 10k and was feeling pretty smug. I’m amazed his calorific brekkie didn’t weigh him down! I headed for the massage tent. Even the 20 minute estimated wait wasn’t enough to put me off parting with a tenner. I was stiffer than Charlie Sheen in a whorehouse. At least I was reassured by the other pathetic creatures around me, as we gave each other knowing looks through weak smiles.
While I was waiting for my number to be called, Ronnie and Grant arrived at the tent. Ronnie managed to cross the line in 4:56:39 – slower than he had hoped, but he was glad to have the experience behind him at that point! Plus, it’s decent going for having his longest training run at just over 17 miles! Ronnie left to sort himself out, and I was called up for my rub down. Worth every penny. For sure.
Once I’d hobbled back outside, Grant and I found Ronnie chatting to someone else he knew (of course) and he gave us a lift back to the B&B, where the landlady had promised me a shower.
When we arrived, she looked pretty amused at the state I was in, handed me a towel, and pointed me in the direction of the shower room. UP A FUCKING FLIGHT OF STAIRS. I grabbed my toiletries, and 15 minutes later, I was locking the bathroom door and switching on the shower for one of the best, but also most painful washing experiences to date. More crying ensued at this point.
Once I’d managed to get downstairs, we decided to set off for home. I’m amazed I didn’t fall asleep, and we got in just after 7. Luckily, Ian had made it back and was waiting at mine, so I had much-needed assistance getting myself and all of my belongings up the stairs. We went out for a curry (delicious) and beer (also delicious), and then we hobbled back where I did very little, and went to bed. Considering the pain I was in, I was delighted when I saw my mail:
Rejection magazine for a ballot place in the London Marathon
Today (Monday) at work was ridiculous. I had to walk up stairs like a geriatric, and I had to walk down them backwards. I had many a strange look from some of my pupils (and some of the staff), but I made it through the day, and now I’m lounging on my sofa, where I intend to stay for the remainder of the evening. Caressing my medal.