The pressure to write a blog is relentless! But I feel I am man enough to take the challenge.
I’ll start by saying that I’ve run marathons before – I’ve run the distance, I’ve got the t-shirts, and yes, I’ve got the medals. So when I signed up for Liverpool RockNRoll Marathon, I was pretty confident I would manage it with ease.
Before I go into the full story, I feel some pros and cons of the event need to be said:
• Pros: The toilet facilities were first class. I stood at the back of a queue of 30 or more, and within 5 minutes I was in a portaloo – a CLEAN portaloo!!!!! On day 2 of the event! Also good is the bling – some heavy, glittery goodness right there. The bag drop was well organised, plenty of space and the volunteers were chirpy . The pacers were excellent. The route was lovely. Some of the bands on the route were excellent. Plenty of water drops and gel stations as well.
• Cons: Marshalling was abysmal. I saw marshals asleep, I saw marshal jackets slung on a wall and no marshal within 50 yards, I ran past silent marshals, marshals looking at their phone… And I heard that the times mile (where children were running unaccompanied) was unmarshaled – it was only the common sense of the older half marathon runners that prevented an accident. Also poor was pretty much everything between the finish line and the concert – crossing the line, you get a medal, you go inside. The official race photographs were in a door of the corridor – the door was closed and there were no signs anywhere. Into the ‘get your free stuff’ bit and you entered a 20 metre wide pen, with stacks and stacks of Lucozade, water, crisps and bananas – and about 3 people telling you to help yourself. And then it was bag drop, collect your t-shirt and nothing. Out the doors, up the escalator and into the concert area. Such an anti-climax after the buzz of finishing. And some of the bands were awful (the out of tune lady in Chinatown was easily the worst). The free beer was awful.
I spoke to friends and family, and decided on a charity to support (Jammin for Jessica – check my fb profile for the video and details for supporting), and I sorted a training plan out. Target time: Sub 3 hours. Training time: 20 weeks.
And then it all went wrong. I started the early runs, and was soon building distance – 8k, 12k, 18k… Then the tempo runs came along, and I upped the pace. The weeks rolled by, and then… disaster.
My little girl, Felicity, whom you will undoubtedly meet at Parkrun, came home from Nursery with a rash. Then she vomited. Then she got a raised temperature, and the rash got worse. I didn’t know what it was – but whatever it was, I felt my energy levels sink. ‘Don’t be daft’ I told myself, its just a natural part of the training program. Until I too got a rash… Scarlett Fever ladies and gentlemen.
A quick trip to the doctor left me in no doubt as to how serious my case was – if I hadn’t refused, they would have consigned me to a hospital bed. Antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and a weird pink liquid every four hours – and it got worse. It became infected (if you were wondering how my skin looked, imagine a piece of gammon steak). Stronger antibiotics led to me vomiting, and staying off work. I hadn’t run for 15 days.
Back to square one for the training. ‘Never mind’ I said – I’ll change the plan. Target time was now 3.5 hours – training time was now 8 weeks.
I Flung myself back into the training, with renewed vigour, and was just as swiftly put back on my arse with a throat infection. 4 days off.
3 days after that, and I was in bed again with a Chest infection. Another 4 days off.
So with only 5 weeks left to train, no long runs under my belt and the marathon swiftly approaching, I sacrificed a hot dog to the Great God Imhotep, and was (yes, I’m quoting Shakespeare in my blog post 😛 ) Once more unto the breach.
With my transport arranged, and a good strong run at parkrun (around the 22 minute mark) I finally had my mojo back. 22.5 miles up Rivington Pike and I felt good!
The calendar days crossed off closer and closer to ‘the day’. The determination set in – I WAS going to do this. I felt strong – I sorted my gels, arranged a belt to carry them, I arranged a pre race massage, I read up on nutrition and experimented with banana pancakes (didn’t go well before you ask).
And then, as sure as 007 gets the girl in the end – WHAM! Norovirus. 10 days before raceday. On my arse again!
And so Sunday the 29th arrived. Sunny. Light breeze.
We gathered in Liverpool, and dutifully recorded the Red Rose presence (Anees took a Selfie – will someone get that man a Selfie Stick). I joined Steve at the first corner of the half marathon route, butterflies calm, and we waited. The runners were off, and we waved, shouted and generally looked ‘a bit silly’.
And then I left to find my pen. I hadn’t run for 10 days. But I had fuelled up. And I was hydrated. I had my gels. I was near the 3:45 pacer. It was going to happen.
The tannoy boomed, we fell silent. The loudest noise for a few seconds was the waves. Someone behind me farted – everyone giggled.
We were off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And it was good. The pacer was friendly, had us chatting. Started off a bit quicker – warning us of a couple of hills where we would lose some pace. And the miles rolled past. We went round some dump called Godisor? Goolison? I dunno…
The bands were good, lots of rhythm and tempo. The temperature was rising though, and soon my little bottle of water was drained. I filled it u at the next water stop: this became my new rhythm. Empty bottle, full bottle, drink. Empty bottle, full bottle, drink.
An ambulance passed us, sirens blaring – the race had claimed its first heatstroke victim.
About 9 miles in, I felt myself approaching my first mental barrier – the never ending road before the 10 mile sign. I dug in, but slowing down was inevitable. I found myself with the 4 hour pacer, and gritted my teeth. The magic SUB4 was still in my grasp.
Halfway, and I was struggling. The heat was sapping me – I was no longer sweating. Water was going in the top, and vanishing. I fell in with a gent called Dave, from Bury. We kept each other on track for a little while, before he fell back.
As luck would have it, I hit a reasonable pace, and managed to catch the 4:15 pacer, and what a cracking bunch they were. I started seeing familiar faces too – people who had passed me and were now suffering. Is it wrong that I felt a little smug?
But alas, pride goeth before the fall, and a common pavement was my undoing. I tumbled, not at all gracefully. Escaping injury, I picked myself up – but alas, the abrupt stop, coupled with the thought of catching the pacer again… I walked.
The heat was getting worse now – the ambulance had passed me at least 6 times, and every time the marshals uttered the word ‘heatstroke’. I panicked. I hit the wall. I sat down.
I think in all my times as a runner, I have never felt so weak.
In the middle of so much noise…
Under the beating sun…
A voice. Not a heavenly voice, just an average guy.
‘You ok buddy? Don’t quit now, we’ve only got 7 miles left. Come on, lets go together’
He hauled me to my feet. And I forgot to run.
It was a bit of an epiphany – all the feelings I was having of failure were based on my own expectations. I wanted that Sub 4, to prove to the world that I was a real runner. But the world didn’t need to see it. The world didn’t care. Still doesn’t now to be honest.
I realised to every person there, every spectator and participant that I WAS a marathon runner. If I finished it in 6 hours – still a marathon runner.
And then I started to enjoy it properly. My new friend was called Gareth, and he was from Wales. It was his first marathon. He wasn’t a member of a running club, but made it to Parkrun as often as possible. Now, Gareth didn’t help me because he wanted to be a hero, or because he was sent from some higher power – he simply wanted me to finish.
And from then on, everything I’ve learned from Red Rose, and Runsmart, and parkrun came shining through. I thanked my first marshal! Gareth and I started collecting people. Carlos was doing his first marathon. Ann Marie was doing her 5th. Rebecca was also doing her first. Julie was doing ten in ten days (nutter). Tommy had lost his t-shirt. The list goes on…
It was completely amazing – we were all tired, but every time we gathered one more person into our little running fold, we all felt energised. We were counting down, and then, all of a sudden – One parkrun left! On the seafront, under the sun. No shelter til the finish, just a humid, salty breeze.
And NO-ONE cared! We walked and jogged the next two miles. There was even a little sing song! I glanced around me, and was shocked to see people were SMILING!!! This was mile 25!
The last mile marker came and went – and still, our gang of now 20 runners were moving. We started to stretch out a little, as the eager ones sped up, smelling the finish.
It amazes me even now how many people were willing to give up in the last mile – so many ‘I can’t do it’ and ‘its too hard’ excuses.
Now was my time to shine – summoning every ounce of positivity I had left, every ounce of running camaraderie, every last shred of Parkrun spirit, I dragged everyone on. It felt amazing – to see the life return to so many faces, the determination as I told them they could do it. I would love to say I was doing it for them – but in truth, the best way for me to keep moving was to get everyone else moving.
And then it was 800m.
200m and the crowd screamed.
100m, and Rebecca, my new friend and personal project was lengthening her stride, straining as hard as she could. She was fixed on the finish line, and I shamelessly harangued her, ignoring the camera’s (I know, right?). Focusing on getting her over the line became my reason in that instant for actually running that day.
And when we got there, she stopped, and told me I deserved to finish before her.
My next action will make me laugh for the rest of my life. I pushed her over the line.
This is an honest account of my experience in Liverpool. Sunburnt, and aching, with a 3kg medal hanging round my neck; I realised I felt something I hadn’t felt before. Absolute elation. I’ve run marathons before. I’ve run every distance up to a marathon. And I’ve never felt that good.
And that’s when I realised that I hadn’t thought about running for the last 6 miles. And yet I’d enjoyed every step.
And on a final note – did I mention the free beer was crap!
Fantastic rob, a wonderful read
Absolute joy to read well done! X
Fantastic job Robert. I did the first Rock n Roll Marathon in Liverpool and my experience was so similar to yours. I wouldn’t do it again the marshalling was, as you say, poor and the bands, which were the reason I decided to do the race, were no existant after 10 miles. The bling was great but coming in after 5 hours there wasn’t anyone in the food, baggage area. No there are cheaper and better races. But, like you I joined up with a group of runners and we got each other through to the end. Brathy (Windermere) same month much better and Lockaber, well I loved that. But it was my first.
Riveting read Robert! You can only gain strength from your adversities: I’m pleased you’re enjoying your running now and that is impacting on your friends and fellow runners. Keep up the good work.
Haha! Well done, Robert. I loved sharing the day with you, and I love your blog! I thought the pint was amazing 🙂 x