I’ve done it!!
The last day’s been a complete blur from start to finish – but what an experience that was!
On the morning of the race, as soon as I knew I was awake the weight of the task ahead landed straight onto my thoughts.
“Oh my God, today’s the day!”
We went down for some breakfast at 06:00 (the hotel had opened it early for the runners who were stopping there) and a bowl of my customary porridge later we met in reception to take the Metro together to the Champs-Elysée and the start. As soon as we stepped outside the first thing that hit us was how cold it was. Only a couple of degrees at most. After surfacing from the Metro at our destination we donned the plastic cover we collected at the Expo and made our way up towards the starting area. The Champs-Elysée looked huge as we walked. Very hard to imagine it filled with runners…
Before long we’d arrived at the start and our time zone pen for 3:45. People were milling around but with an hour to go we were surprised that there weren’t more runners there. Counting down the minutes now. 30…20…15.
The organisers start to whip up the gathered crowd then the runners start pouring in, and with them the gravity of the situation. I feel bitterly cold, numb, apprehensive. 5 minutes. Thousands of people now, as far as you can see in front and behind. This is it!! And then the countdown…and they’re off!!
Minutes after the start we were still stood in exactly the same place! Eventually we started shuffling forward sporadically but it was another 20 minutes before suddenly the people in front surged forward and we were over the line! And the beauty and breathtaking view of the full length of the Champs-Elysée extended in front of us, now filled with runners!
It took a mile or so to begin to warm up and then everything just clicked into place. I had my sights on the 3:45 pace setter and I stuck with him like glue for the next 19 miles!! I felt great. Strong, fast, fit. The crowds were amazing and the noises will stay with me for a very long time. Music, shouting, rattles, drums – what a send off! The road snaked off left at the Place de Concord and the street narrowed as I dropped into race pace and settled in. All systems green, everything was good. Onward we ran…
The rest of the race was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Some of the sights were absolutely stunning. The support from the crowds, especially any fellow English that spotted me and shouted my name, was amazing. The noise!! I could spend a week writing about all the things I saw and heard, all the people that came to speak to me as we ran, all the touching messages and truly heroic efforts from people running but I’d need get close to conveying the experience fully. It was awesome. Something you have to be part of to fully appreciate.
Miles ticked by. At mile 7 we entered a park area and I knew that we’d be looping round to join the bake of the Seine and head back. Already some runners were walking, presumably injured. I felt so sorry for them and what was still ahead for them as I passed. At mile 13 I checked my watch. A 3:45 finish meant an average pace of 8:35 and that’s exactly what I’d done! Textbook! This was going well. I felt absolutely fine, ticking over just as I should. Wow!! Onward and suddenly Notre Dame was ahead as we snaked along before dropping down to the side of the Seine. I knew that we’d be passing the Eiffel Tower at mile 18 and as we emerged from underneath a hot, long and stifling tunnel (boy was i glad to get out of there!!) there it was! What a sight!! I can’t remember ever seeing anything as spectacular as that. Still there were thousands of people shouting encouragement ( I think “Allez!! Allez!!” will be something else that stays with me forever). Then, at around mile 19, the unexpected happened…
The road, which up until that point had been amply wide enough to accommodate us, suddenly narrowed to the width of about 15 people. The bottleneck caused everyone to slow and the people dodging began once again as people tried to keep up their pace. It was around this point too where I became aware of a pain in my right hamstring, the same as I’d experienced once or twice during training. As I reached down with my hand I knew it there to stay – a pain registered a warning shot that I took very seriously. The road widened again at around mile 20 but my pace never recovered. I was down to 08:50/mile and nursing an injury that had the potential to be a race stopper. It was only then that I realised the beginnings of fatigue in my hips and feet (my calves were still absolutely fine – thank you £30 socks!!) and as 21 miles approached things started to progressively tire. My hamstring was a constant pain (the extent of which I wasn’t fully aware of until I finished) but I dug in and kept going. Only 10k to go. This is where it starts to bite…
People walking now. I was passing people in agony with cramp – I passed one guy who was screaming out loud as he leant on a parked car clutching his leg – and for the first time I realised this was it, the final stretch. 4 miles to go. I tried to equate that to one of our normal training routes. Keep going, Simon! 3.5 miles. It was taking longer to clock the miles up now, and a glance to my watch revealed my average pace was dropping. 08:36…08:37…damage limitation now as mile 23 passed by. One by one I was ‘joined’ by club-mates giving me the energy and motivation I needed to keep chugging away. The crowds were thickening – we were approaching the final couple of miles. More people dropping out now. Walking in obvious pain and people strewn on the roadside trying in vain to stretch out the agony and restore some vitality to their legs. Mile 25. Last mile. Tescos and back!! Come on! As the music got louder and the shouting more intense we turned right and there it was…”Arivéés” the finish line, and with it a confusing mixture of relief and an unexpected feeling of disappointment that it was soon about all be over. Despite my ankles and hamstring I surged forward, overtaking countless people as I steamed towards the line. Those seconds mattered. And with raised arms I crossed the line and checked my watch…
3hrs 51mins 41 secs
I’d done it! I’d run a marathon!!!
As soon as I finished I immediately thought “I could’ve gone faster” (what am I like?!!) but hitting 3:45 was never going to happen on the day. The congestion throughout the course saw to that, plus the fact that I’d dropped a good minute/mile from my pace towards the final stretch as I tired and things started hurting. But a sub-4hr time for my first marathon – I’ll take that!!
All in all the race went perfectly. The gels were taken on the mark as I’d practiced and my drinking was similarly as rehearsed. The fact that I’d got the same gels and drink that I’d trained with made a lot of difference too. Everything that was in my control went perfectly. In the end my training paid off and as a result I was able to relax and take in the experience. I’m so glad I put the effort into the training. Had something gone really off-plan at 20 miles that last 6 miles would’ve been the longest 6 miles in the world. They were long enough as it was!!
Race over and a slow walk back to the Metro and back to the hotel. On the back of his experience at London 2009 Our Kid had made sure he booked a hotel with a jacuzzi and what a move that was! We soaked in there for over an hour letting the jets massage our aches away as we planned our evening: a steak, a beer or two and finally a chance to venture into the city to see it at night.
So, that’s it – I’m a marathon runner!!! All that it leaves is for me to thank everyone who has supported me since I started this journey last October (yes, it really was that long ago!) and for everyone who has followed my ramblings in my first ever blog. Your comments and emails really helped. Thank you.
To all my fellow runners at Cleethorpes Athletic Club, and all the fantastic support and advice you’ve shared with me, you have all helped me achieve something that just blows me away to think about and I can now hold my head up high because of the help you gave me. I look forward to using my experiences to similarly help others achieve the same goal. Thank you guys 🙂
To Jayne, Cheryl, Scott and especially Mandy for doing the training with me – you guys made all the difference on those cold, wintery mornings (remember that -9deg one?!) and I you helped push me through in ways I wouldn’t have done had I been on my own. Your support throughout has been priceless. I’ve loved every step with you guys and I hope we can keep it going for a long time to come. Thank you so much.
Finally, and most of all, to Rachel and the kids thank you for being supportive, understanding and for giving me the room and being behind me to achieve this. The countless days and evenings while I was out on my feet, the constant washing machine trips and careful food shopping – it all made the difference. You were with me throughout and your pride in what I’ve done is truly humbling. I’ve achieved something I never thought I would, and a large part of that is down to you. Thank you so much.
Well, that’s it. The end of my marathon journey. I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading my story. All that remains is to work out what to do with myself now..!
Take care everyone,
I guess there’s always next year…