Where to start? At the beginning I suppose, but for the sake of argument let’s make that Sunday morning, or we’ll be here all day, especially the bit after the Jurassic Period when it’s all just rats and seaweed. The Dark Ages could be fun, but to be honest it’s a bit difficult to tell what’s going on there…
It could still take a little while, as there’s a bit of an experience in here…
So, back to Sunday morning, and I was up at the crack of 5am – why, you might wonder? Well, there are a few reasons…
- It’s a long way to Kielder from Whitley Bay
- I needed to nervously re-check my stuff to make sure I had completed the list (see the last post)
- The Metro into town was off from Whitley Bay, so I had to walk to the next station
- The Metro, assuming it came, would get me in at 7:06 in theory, with the bus to Kielder leaving at 7:15, which I will put down as a “narrow window of opportunity”
So, up at five, cup of coffee, quick shower, cup of coffee, check bag, finish second cup of coffee, a few tabs here and there, and some anxious re-appraisal of clothes. It’s October, so I’d planned for “cold”. Long sleeve top with vest over the top, shorts and leggings over planning to take them off later. Pair of arm warmers, in case it’s proper in-between at the start and looks like it might get better.
Out the house, walk along and wonder whether the local taxi firm can help me arrival-worries – call them from outside their office door (locked) to be told it will be “around fifteen minutes” for a taxi. As these are taxi-minutes, and therefore have no connection to actual real-time, I figure this could anything up to an hour, and no less worrying that the possible-not-arriving Metro. So, walk to the Metro, well, jog to the Metro, and let’s call that warm-up, shall we?
Arrive at the Metro, two chaps in fluo-jackets direct me to the other side. I’ve got a good 15 minutes before the train is due, but there’s no-one else there. Tenseness +10%.
As the time gets closer, a couple of early-morning shop-people appear, clearly relishing the idea that they’re waiting to go into work early on a Sunday morning. Me, I think it’s peachy, a little bit of sunlight is creeping over the station roof .
Train is due at 6:43 – and at 6:42 we hear a train approach. Fab. It comes into the other side of the station, empties a couple of people and takes off again. Not good. The other people look a bit confused, which doesn’t make me feel any better. 6:44 and no train. 6:45 and thank goodness, after what seems like an age the train comes back and we pile on.
It feels like there’s no way this train is going to get in on time, and I’m secretly preparing to be disappointed. How do you explain that you missed a race because the Metro was a bit pants?
However, the mass transit system came to the rescue, and positively whoosed the train to the station – I genuinely goggled at the fact we were making good time.
Arrival at Newcastle Central Station: 7:04am.
Quick run up the escalator and the stairs, out into the concourse and there are the buses. One single deck coach and one double-decker. Pay for my ticket, then on I get – double-decker, up to the top deck of course, travelling in style. Waiting for the bus to leave now – and it’s funny how quickly you go from wanting the bus to wait to wanting it to leave. Another passenger gets on and sits opposite me – it’s only James Bailey, vegan runner, banana eater and all round good guy. First time I’ve met him, so some good chat on the way up. Nice one.
Finally we pull out, and coast through the early morning streets of Newcastle, out towards Hexham. As we get further inland, and perhaps a little higher up the mist rolls in, and it looks properly cold – maybe the layers were a good idea after all?
We turn off just after Hexham, then spend about three weeks heading through the countryside – it was lovely, but the steamed up windows mean we can’t see any of it. Eventually there are some fluo signs outside the window, think I can spot the word “marathon” and we’ve arrived. The bus driver kicks us off – one bus back at 3pm, one at 5pm, pick up exactly here, don’t be late. Later, it will replay in my mind how I should have paid a little more attention at this point…
Down the hill into Leaplish Water Park, though the caravan site and we’re there! Quite a few folk, a lot of runners, many, many portaloos, a finish gantry and a two-storey radio booth. It’s like a party for runners, and the mist has left – there’s some sun, no wind, and it’s very cold.
Toilet visit #1, into the marquee – Start Fitness are there, selling shoes and kit, in case you’ve forgotten anything or want to do a bit of shopping. There’s a cake stall and I take the opportunity to get a coffee and a flapjack that I choose to call “breakfast”. Out in to the weak sun to sit by the lakeside, drink coffee, eat flapjack and have another cigarette. Clearly, I stand out somewhat as a smoking runner, and I can sense the odd glare unless I’m much mistaken. Fair play, each to their own, but it does make me wonder how many of these runners are eat meat, for example, or do other things that I might not like, but which might be considered less social-pariah-making?
Off come the leggings, as the sun is warming a bit, then the long-sleeve and the on go the arm warmers. Not too bad, and the lack of wind really helps the sun to warm. I go to the bag drop and plonk down my small sack with warm clothes, a bit of food and an increasing list of things I’m figuring I don’t need in my bum back. Phone first, I can’t see me stopping to take pictures, and the battery has been steadily going down, so GPS seems unlikely for the full race.
Another trip to the loo, and it’s nearly time to start. On the way up to the start line I bump into Sumanth from the Northumbira Barefoot Running Group, who I’ve never met before, so it’s great to say hello. He’s in the company of The Other David Anderson – also a member of the Vegetarian Cycling & Athletic Club. I’ve met him once before, at the Blaydon Race, and as name-and-club twins he’s about as good as it gets. They’re both likely to be fast than me, so I let them head up to the front of the line, while I skulk at the rear.
A few minutes later, and the horn goes, we all inch to the start line then we’re running – I’m underway in my first marathon – wahey!
Just to get us in the mood (though I don’t realise this at the time), they send us up a hill on a loop back to the finish line to get us heading in the right direction. A few folk walk this first hill – possibly not a bad idea, but I’m feeling properly fresh, so I take it at an easy pace and keep jogging.
Back past the start and off into the wilderness – there seems to be a lot of up and down, basically no flat bits. I’m starting to get the feeling that this will be a recurrent theme. The view is spectacular, out across the reservoir, still a few wisps of mist on the water, and totally clear air. The sun is warm on our backs, there’s no breeze and all in all it couldn’t be more perfect. One mile in, two miles in and it’s all feeling pretty groovy. After three and a bit miles the first water station, but I’ve got a full bottle so I don’t need any more.
Four miles, five, and it’s now feeling like a run – in a good way, I feel like I’m motoring along, while I’m keeping myself between the 10-12 minute mile marks. No pain, no aches, and I’m feeling very jolly. After about five miles we cross the curved wooden bridge out of the water park – it seems to be a bit cantilevered as my faster 180 steps per minute caused it to jump up and down in counterpoint to the four Quaker Running Club ladies behind me – I think it gives us all a bit of a surprise.
On we go, and I’m being passed by everyone – I like to think this is because my strategy of running slow is somehow genius, while it’s more likely that they have simply done some actual training, don’t smoke and maybe are just generally better prepared? I reckon I’m in the back of the pack now – I haven’t actually been passed by Tony the Fridge yet, but surely it can only be a matter of time?
Around seven miles in, and there have been a few steep hills – I haven’t walked any yet, though I’ve slowed right down on some of them. We pass another water station and it hits me that we’ve just passed the top of the reservoir and are now heading back down on the other side. Mint!
After about nine to ten miles, I’m noticing my right big toe is getting painful in a joint stylee – not much I can do about it, but I start walking some of the inclines to try and spare it a little. It becomes a game of run downhill, run the tiny flat bit and immediately into the next uphill.
At some point we reach half way – that’s 13.1 miles and marks a significant point – this is the furthest I’ve ever run before, and it hits me that I’ve got the same distance to go again – the sun is truly lovely, but it would be a lie to say I’m not suffering a little at this point. The halfway point is a set of electronic receivers that would make Goonhilly feel small, to tag our chips, concealed in our race numbers as we go past.
It’s four miles to the dam, the next significant marker point – it’s surprising how far four miles can feel. A peculiar optical illusion makes an appearance – you’re running along the lakeside, and can see runners in front of you, maybe a couple of hundred metres. The you reach a small inlet which turns out to be a quarter mile in length or so. The runners who appeared to be a few hundred metres in front are actually over half a mile, and have already run up the inlet and back out again. To keep us cheery, some boats have moored in the inlet and are sounding their horns and waving.
On the way back down the inlet, I can see the runners behind – there are still people coming into the inlet, so I have a bit of a lifeline – I think I can see Tony further back, manfully slogging along with his white goods on his back.
Forever later, and we finally tumble out at the end of the dam. it’s flat, it’s road, and it keeps on going forever. The number of people slowing to a walk, just because the thing goes on forever (I think it’s about a mile long). Including me – Righty Toe is not a happy chap by now, but if I keep off him a little then it’s not so bad.
18 miles in. Now the isotonic drink stations start (I think this was the first) – as well as water, the stalls also have cartons of ice-cold isotonic orange drink. What’s isotonic, I hear you ask? Well, it has the same thickness (sort of) as your blood – I get a bit hazy at this point, but I think it’s equivalent to making sure you don’t have too much water and overhydrate or insufficient and dehydrate. Kind of perfecto-hydrate. It’s also very cold which is like a little kiss on the throat. Did I mention I had flu last week, and I’ve had a snotty nose and slightly sore throat the whole way round? Nah, didn’t thinks so, I hadn’t noticed it until about now.
Properly plodding now, nineteen miles in, now twenty, then twenty one. I don’t think I’ve ever been so pleased to see a sign as I have the 22 mile marker, though I can’t explain why moreso than the other markers. Something about four (and a bit) miles to go makes me realise I can finish this thing. I hadn’t though about it until now – very cheery at first, then plodding with a wonky toe, I suddenly figure I could finish my very first marathon.
There’s another of the in-and-out inlets, which saps the strength a little, but all of a sudden I’m at 23 miles, so there’s basically one Parkrun to go. I think it’s fair to say I’ve never run a Parkrun so slow – well, to be honest it was no more than half run, and that at a painful amble. Now it’s about getting to the end – I’ve heard that when people’s brains realise they’re going to finish, they sometimes give in at that point, withdrawing their support as they foolishly think their owner has already finished.
From somewhere a little burst of energy, and I’m running bits – some bits that other people aren’t running – I feel like a second wind (albeit only a zephyr). I start to notice things like the odd bit of frost at the edge of the rack, the boats out on the lake. Feeling cheerier now.
Back into Leaplish Park, over a few hills and I can hear the PA system now – the announcers are calling people out as they finish – I want a bit of that, so I slightly position myself so there’s a gap before and after me. Break out of the trees and there’s the line if front – the PA calls out my name, the people are clapping me in, and I slow down over the line, suddenly realising that there’s a proper finish line a few metres on, so I stagger along to that. Over the proper line, collect some water and another isotonic drink and collapse in the grass. How cool is this, I’ve finished a bloomin’ marathon. I’m not sure I can get back up again but I’ve finished the thing.
After a wee while I lever myself up, stumble into the tent, get my goodie bag, get my medal presented, pick up two bananas and get my bag. Paddle around a bit putting some clothes on and eating bananas then back outside into the sun. I bump into my name double (he finished in 20th place – how fantastic is that, and how good for the good ol’ VCAC) and a friend (so sorry, can’t remember you name) and head off to the cafe for a drink. Great company and a bit of chat before the bus home. Bugger! The bus! We head off up the hill at a dull rumble. Not 100% sure which way we’d come down, but we bumbled through the caravan site, just in time to see the bus and watch it pull away. David sprinted (no, honestly) after it, but off he went – we were sunk.
But hah, he’s only having a little joke, see, with the runners and came back around the block, oh how we nearly laughed.
Onto the bus, and I retreated to a seat on my own to have a rest and organise my shredded mind.
My time? Well, I finished in 5:13, that’s five hours and thirteen minutes on my feet. Mostly running with some walking at the end. I finished 894 out of about a thousand people.
What did I learn – I can run a marathon – I may not have looked beautiful doing it (or at least not at the end), but I did it.
I learned that sponsorship is a good motivator – I have to thank all the people who sponsored me, and you need to know that without you I would have stuggled so much more round the last few miles – at the start of the dam, at mile 17, there was a moment when I wondered whether crunchy-toe wasn’t a compelling reason to drop out, but I had to get ’round to fulfil my part of the bargain.
I like medals. Perhaps not enough to run another 26 miles in the near future, but if I am going to, then it’s nice to have a shiny thing to hold at the end.
I need to train a lot more for The Wall in June 2013 – after 26 miles I could barely walk yesterday. After 35 of day one of The Wall I’ll need something to get me through the second 35 on day two.
While I have nothing to compare it against, I’m thinking Kielder may be spot on with it’s strapline of “Britain’s Most Beautiful” – it was truly lovely.
Comradeship in adversity – I talked to more people, not really more than a few words a bit of encouragement each way, but it made such a difference.
Vegetarians are a bit cool – a number of spectators shouted “Go Vegetarian!” as I plodded past. That made me smile. A lot.
Right, going to take a few days or a week off now – need to sort out `Mr Toe for one thing. Can almost walk normally today, which is nice. 🙂