Claire wanted a sub-four-hour marathon time and to raise money for Wheel Power, a local charity – and that’s exactly what she did. Her fundraising total to date is over £3000 and, at the Manchester Marathon, she took her home that elusive sub-four-hour finish. She gives us the run down on her two marathons, which took place just three weeks apart.
The First Of My Challenges: Manchester Marathon
I left home with a reasonably positive attitude but in the back of my mind I was preparing myself not to get the sub-four-hour time I wanted. The weeks/days before a marathon, when tapering, are always difficult and I was beginning to think that my knees were hurting and that I was too old for this marathon malarkey.
Saturday afternoon was dedicated to focusing on the task in hand, an early dinner of pasta was all I needed and I decided on chicken, even though my favourite is linguine vongole (I thought it better to err on the side of caution and avoid shellfish!).
I got up on Sunday morning and felt refreshed from a decent night’s sleep, such a rare event for me. It was a beautiful day and the tram ride from St Peters Square to Old Trafford was easy, everyone was talking about his or her expectations for the day and it was comforting to know that I was not alone in my thoughts. After last year’s debacle with regard to the bag drop, this went really smoothly and now all I had to do was sit in a sunny spot and gather my thoughts. After several trips to the loo, a period of stretching and a last minute (much-appreciated) telephone call from Georgie (eldest daughter), I made my way to the start.
I overheard three lovely ladies talking about the number of gels a runner had. They were surprised at how many I had but I explained the session we had with High5 back in February. On learning that I was one of the women featured in Women’s Running’s Big Marathon Challenge, they asked if they could take a selfie with me. Fame at last! More importantly it gave me a kick up the backside to go all out for a sub-four-hour time; there were people out there following my story. It was one of the reasons I had applied to BMC back in October. To be accountable to someone would always be a reason to keep going with the training during the long, cold winter months.
The beginning of the route was different from last year and, for some reason, that put me on the back foot. I began to doubt myself at 5K and so tried to draw on my last few months of training, concentrating on just 5K at a time. By the time I got to 10K I felt a twinge in my left groin. No, I thought, this couldn’t be happening and then I realised that it was going to have to be mind over matter. Then we were back on a recognizable part of the course. At about this point I caught up with the four-hour pacer, this was the boost I needed; if I could keep him in sight, I had a chance. For the rest of the course I was sometimes in front and sometimes just behind, if I got boxed in. Everything was now going to plan, I had relaxed into a reasonably comfortable and consistent pace and I was enjoying the fantastic support.
It was at about the 25-mile mark I overheard the four-hour pacer encouraging those that were beginning to flag: ‘Come on,’ he was saying, ‘Stick with me.’ He was having a conversation with someone who was running with him about how he had a four-to-five hour drive back home to Bucks. So naturally, as I live in the same county, I joined in with the conversation. It was at this point that I realised how far I must have come, to be able to hold a conversation at this point in a marathon and still be running at the same pace I was 20K beforehand. I said to him that he could have given me a lift home but, as he wasn’t, could he just make sure I got over the line in four hours? We worked out that the time on my watch confirmed I had started behind him so that, if I finished ahead, I would get home in under four hours. I asked myself how much I wanted this. It was up to me, I didn’t want to stick with him, I wanted to be ahead of him, I kicked on.
3hrs 57mins 42secs.
As soon as I crossed the finish line, the legs stopped, they hurt, and the realisation of what I had just done hit me but there was no sense of achievement like last year. “What is wrong with me?” I thought. I was pleased, not ecstatic, with my time but the job was only half done, I still had London to go. Although the support from the crowds at Manchester is amazing, I did miss my family. Even though last year they hadn’t seen me run any of the course, they had managed to catch me at the finish. I hadn’t realised how much it meant to me that they were there. They were there to celebrate and we had a lovely meal, this year it just wasn’t quite the same as I tucked into a Byron burger and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc alone.
I was really looking forward to London, especially as family were hopefully going to be there. The pressure was not so great at this point, I had my PB, I had my Good for Age time, but would I still feel the same come race day? I was already thinking, ‘Could I do better?’ Was it going to be advantageous to have had all the pressure taken away or is that what drives me on? I’m no athlete but psychology was still going to play its part. One more challenge to go.
After Manchester Marathon, I was on a high…until 10 days before the London Marathon when I went for a 30-minute easy run and, at about halfway, my left leg started aching (the only part of me that had hurt after Manchester). My friend Laura, a physio, was so kind and said that she would see me; she told me that all I had to do was stretch out a muscle/tendon with a long name, that I can’t remember, and I would be fine to run with no risk of damage. At the Expo, I met up with Richard and broke the news to him that I was injured. His advice? You have got GFA at Manchester, the first part of the challenge, now all you need to do is complete London.
Sunday had arrived. London Transport did us proud, free travel and fabulous organisation. At every point of my journey from Earlsfield to Blackheath there were people telling us where to go, which train to jump on and all with a smile. The walk from the station to the start area was easy and there was a definite buzz and air of anticipation. Some runners had their supporters and others, like me, were making the journey alone but we were all in it together and at no time did I feel alone. Having deposited my bag I headed off to the loos, the queues weren’t looking too bad, but I didn’t mind really as I needed to kill time before I needed to make my way to the start pen. As luck would have it, I bumped into Leah and her twin, Kim (honorary Big Marathon Challenge team member), and then Katie joined us. They certainly helped to keep me calm for the final 20 minutes before we had to go our separate ways, just before the start. As usual I started to shake uncontrollably before the hooter went off and this didn’t settle until we all started the slow walk to the actual start.
The beginning of the course is enough to get you into a steady rhythm, such a beautiful part of London. There is enough support for encouragement but not too much music to get you overexcited and head off at a wild pace. I tried hard to maintain that steady pace and was grateful I did as, when we hit the first hill, I realised that I still had a problem with my left leg. This was not going to be a time to equal Manchester; I was just going to have to be happy with finishing and completing my Big Marathon Challenge.
The atmosphere was fabulous, I knew roughly where my family was going to be but I had all but given up hope that I was going to spot them in the crowds. Shortly after the first shower station, the crowds became much bigger but there they were, hanging over the barriers and waving wildly. Running round London is an amazing opportunity, all the crowds and the landmarks make the whole experience one that I will never forget and I would recommend it to anyone thinking of entering it in the future.
When I saw the family for the second time I had to veer off to high five them but this gave me the kick up the backside I needed. The final few miles are very similar to the 10K I have done on three occasions so I knew I was near the end and I was past the dreaded 20-mile mark. My legs were still moving and, if anything, felt better than I expected but that was probably partly due to the fact I was now on a part of the course that I recognised.
I finished in 4hrs 28mins 47secs. Not the time I wanted but, all things considered, having done Manchester three weeks previously, having a slight injury and running London for the first time (such a difficult race to run and I certainly think it needs a completely different approach from any other race due to the amount of runners), I am reasonably happy. London I’ll be back, thankfully I have GFA for next year. #dontletlondonbeatyou