So here I am, four days before my first ever marathon, not really thinking too hard. Go down below for FAQs as I want to reflect a bit more widely on what I am getting out of it.
I have been ably supported by a wonderful running club, great running buddies, an excellent coach and running plan, and an amazing and tolerant wife and children, who have put up with me disappearing, particularly recently, for hours on end each weekend. To be properly prepared for a marathon, one has to complete a number of long runs, building up week by week.
Personally, I have run up to 20 miles, and on Sunday I will be trusting my legs, grit, the fact I paid money to enter, the fact I’ve had sponsorship, and the sheer number of people I have told, to spur me on to run those extra 6.2 miles. Last weekend I ran ten miles, a ‘taper’ run, and I have to say my legs felt dreadful after it… I am told that this is quite normal. Read more about long runs here
I had that odd experience, which shows that I am a ‘real’ runner now, of telling people when asked that I ‘only’ ran 10 miles. A couple of years ago I would have recoiled if someone suggested I even ran one mile.
What I’m most scared of is that after the heaving congestion of the start of the race, and once I can settle down to a steady pace, I will run TOO fast for the first few miles and not pace it well. It might seem a bit strange, but we had a guest preacher on Sunday at church, and he quoted a verse: ‘Walk by the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:16 if you are interested). This can mean to ‘keep in step’ with the Holy Spirit. It’s as if there are two soldiers marching side by side, and they are going at the same pace – not forced to – and it’s just a natural thing. This is what I’m going to rely on; not following other people’s pace, not even completely sticking to my Garmin pace, but what I am feeling, and what I get from somewhere deep inside. Read it how you will – an angel / heavenly figure / friendly fellow-runner to keep in step with, to keep steady next to. And when it gets to 20 miles and I’m still good, then I’ll give it a bit more!
Other niggles or concerns four days out? Just packing and remembering everything I need. Anticipating the weather, and being fully prepared for it (hoping for a day a little on the cold side personally, little wind, dry, just a little sun). Needing to remember to drink quite a lot. Not wanting to over-indulge on food, but making sure I eat enough carbs. Knowing I need to get to bed on the early side, and get some good nights’ worth of sleep. That’s in no particular order because of course worries never present themselves in an orderly fashion.
I suppose what really drives it home, is the knowledge that I have been training and building up for this from before Christmas, and in a few days’ time it will all be over, and I will know more about myself and also more about those closest to me. It’s ultimately doing something a bit different, focusing the loose odds and ends of a diverse and straggling life, into enough of a pattern, enough discipline, enough of a line, to make a success of my first marathon run. I know that for me (and perhaps for others too), it’s not simply about a marathon, not simply about running. It’s about channeling the lessons learnt into other areas of my life, into my newish job as church pastor, into my job as a teacher, into being a father, a husband, a friend. Long distance over a sprint, but knowing that even the long distance needs to be broken down mile by mile, otherwise it just seems too much. At this stage, I’m not even THINKING about how I will break the miles up.
Questions that I’m wondering at the moment: Will I be able to ‘break up’ that wall into lots of ‘little’ walls, steadily hurdled by a strong psyche and a refusal to give in, helped by onlookers, by other runners, by the knowledge my family are there watching me somewhere? Will I find that I start to ‘reel’ other runners in as the last miles go by, and that will balance out the experience of being overtaken all the time? Will I have enough energy to push through and find a bit of speed as I get towards the finishing line? Oh, the drama of race day!
Frequently Asked Questions
Are you ready for it?
Well, no – of course not. But I have trained, if that’s what you mean. Running a marathon has always been on my ‘life ambition’ list (don’t ask me what else was on it, I lost the piece of paper). Since my sister ran the Paris marathon a couple of years back, it has helped to motivate me.
How long do you think it will take you?
For those who don’t know, when you sign up for a big event like the Brighton marathon (the second biggest in the UK after London), you have to give an estimate of your time. I’m aiming to be between 4 and 4:30. As this is my first marathon, whatever time I produce will ‘technically’ be my PB, but of course I won’t be happy with it!
Do you plan what to think about when running?
Interesting question I was asked today – no I don’t, but also I know that the ‘space up there’ will get filled. Countless times I have been sitting in one spot, and getting no further with an issue or a problem; then I have got up for some reason and moved, and the answer has come to me. Solutions, ideas, madcap schemes and general observations swim around my mind when running, and the ones that are worth retaining, generally stick. Part of the fun of running outdoors is the way that what you see organizes in a serendipitous way what you think about. Simply noting the changes in the season, the changes on a street or location I know well, brings pleasure, recognition, surprise, curiosity, plans.
Are you raising money?
I do not have a ‘charity place’, but I AM raising money for Compassion UK. Feel free to sponsor me if you haven’t already, and a huge thank you to those who have. They are one of the best Christian charities out there, fighting to give children in other countries more of a life chance.
Are you mad?
Probably – I don’t quite know how I ended up doing this. When I started running, I just ran along the seafront. Then someone told me about park run.
Joining a running club seemed a natural progression, and friendly people told me how to go about it. It was then I realised that the hardcore club members (and even NOT so hardcore) shaped their weekends around races. Most races happen on Sundays, and with church a priority, it means I had to pick fairly carefully. But after a half-marathon, and just about managing it with not MUCH training, I felt that I could go for a real marathon, before it got too late and I got too old!
What will you do next?
I have not yet booked up another race, but I will probably do something to keep some momentum going, if not in the summer, then early autumn. Like I say, I cannot do races too frequently due to church commitments. I have found that the odd race scheduled in gives me something to aim for, but at the same time I don’t go crazy about it. In terms of marathons, I will not know until I finish it how I feel about another. I have vague plans to do the Paris marathon, and the Edinburgh marathon – I think ‘marathon travel’ is a great idea, but with two small boys I’m not sure whether I mightn’t leave some of this til my retirement!