I have been an established marathon runner for a week and a day since completing the Brighton Marathon on 9th April in a time of 5 hours 46 minutes and a bit. Most of the intensive training was undertaken during the winter months, and then we ran on the hottest day of the year so far! The temperature peaked at 21 degrees Celsius around midday, just as I went through mile 10 and was beginning to wilt a bit. I started strongly and confidently, running in a relaxed way, but the heat triggered some unhelpful thoughts by mile 15, and it was quite a struggle from then onwards.
The support of the crowds lining the streets was amazing. They proffered drinks, sweets, sausages and hose-pipes to cool us down. It was lovely to hear my name being shouted out by so many random people, each time injecting a little bit more energy into my tired legs. My race nutrition strategy was not perfect – my mini Mars bar had melted somewhat in the heat, and my emergency banana was a gooey mess when I finally retrieved it from my pouch. The jelly babies remained intact and did not disappoint.
I was proud to be running in a MIND vest, helping to raise awareness about mental health and reminding me of the generosity of my sponsors. I dedicated each of the last 8 miles to special people and this helped me to keep going in the final stages. It was great when Palace Pier could be seen in the distance as we came out of the long haul around the power station – I struggled with the speed bumps in that section, not much of a hill, but enough to make me stumble a couple of times. I had already tripped over just after mile 10, but was able to roll onto a soft grass verge. The sea was a silver mirror, sparkling in the afternoon sunshine. People were eating ice-creams – how tantalising!
We had to pass the i360 viewing tower before reaching the pier, and this stubbornly seemed not to get any closer, stride after relentless stride. Once past here, I summoned all my physical, emotional and mental reserves to finish strongly in Madeira Drive, next to the statue of Steve Ovett. This final stretch was a perfect stage for me, a catwalk, a red carpet, my name echoing around the seafront and being picked up by the soaring gulls. Well, maybe not that dramatic, but nonetheless I was caught in a kaleidoscope of emotions in those final yards – joy, relief, pride, exhilaration.
And as an established marathon runner of one week and a day, I am still unable to describe what it means to me. There is a sense of achievement and relief. To use a cliche, it has been a journey from the day just over a year ago when I signed up for the marathon. I was inspired by friends and my son and his partner who had run marathons. How difficult can it be? It is about putting one foot in front of the other, about moving forward, and in the words of poet Thom Gunn, “one is always nearer by not keeping still“. So, we are talking about 51,208 steps in my case, but they are only steps.
Another consideration was that I wanted something tangible to mark my retirement from full-time work as a psychologist in the NHS. This of course was beautifully complemented by having an opportunity to raise funds for MIND. I believed that running a marathon was largely a psychological challenge, so who better qualified to take this on?! Psychological factors are clearly important, but in and of themselves they are not a substitute for hard physical effort.
There is a definite emptiness now my goal has been achieved. The support of people at MIND and of fellow MIND runners on our Facebook page has been amazing, and as this closes it brings with it a sense of loss. It is only in hindsight that I recognise how all-consuming this challenge has been over the past few months. I feel emotionally and physically stronger, and so running will become part of my normal lifestyle now – hence the title of this blog post. As for future challenges….?!
A final thought – do we run a marathon or does the marathon run us? Either way, a marathon takes you further than 26.2 miles.
The good news is that my sponsorship page is open until 9th May 2017!