Reflections of a Marathon
On the 9th April, I set out to run the Brighton Marathon, my second marathon to date. I am going to share with you how it can all go horribly wrong despite being diligent with training and feeling as if I was 100% prepared for the big day.
Let’s go back to the end of December (Boxing Day to be precise) where I was kicking myself for entering the marathon as I had to begin my training after overindulging on Christmas Day. I thought being a Physiotherapist I had better practice what I preach so I had written myself a comprehensive 15-week training programme which had an increased focus on strength and conditioning for the first 6-8 weeks, followed by speed sessions whilst carefully and gradually increasing my distance. Then of course I planned to taper for 3 weeks prior to the event.
I can say that despite my programme being slightly over-ambitious I managed to stick to it by about 80%. I had to prioritise my long runs and fit them around a very busy social calendar of hen-parties, weddings and a trip to the States. I also had a niggly glute-med tendinopathy for the most-part of my training which I managed to keep on top of with dry-needling, strength and conditioning, modifying my running style and keeping my long-runs on the flat where possible.
By the time I got to week 10 my hip was better and able to tolerate some hill-sprints as part of my speed sessions. However, in an ideal world I would have liked to start these a bit sooner. I completed my last long training run of 22 miles three weeks before the event and it couldn’t have gone better. I even recovered a lot more quickly than I had 2 years before after running 22 miles in training for the London Marathon. I had a huge sense of relief that I could taper, all the hard work was done and I was prepared for the big day. Based on my training I was hoping for a sub-3.45 finish.
10 days before the event I came down with a cold. Terrible timing, but I managed to get over it with lots of rest and vitamins and was feeling well enough to run again five days before the event. Then as every runner does, I started watching the weather forecast hoping and praying for a cool/overcast day. As the week went on, temperatures were rising and the medical director for the marathon sent out warm-weather warnings. We were warned to dress appropriately for the heat, wear hats and drink plenty of water but be careful not to over-drink, which is always my worry when marathon-running as I know I guzzle water when I get tired. By Friday the forecast was set to be 14 degrees and sunny, however, on the morning of the marathon is was 19 degrees at the start line and set to get hotter.
I always tell people to be careful not to get swept up in the adrenaline of the race and set off too quickly so I started the marathon slow and steady, aware that it was going to be hotter than forecast and that around the first bend was quite a steep hill. I completed my first mile 30 seconds slower than my usual average pace and started to speed up to my normal pace as I warmed up. I was carrying 500ml of my own water and my plan was to re-fill this as it got low from the water-stations so that I could keep track of how much water I was drinking and not over-drink. I ignored the first few water stations as things appeared to be going to plan and I didn’t want to slow my pace as I was hoping that despite the weather I would be able to smash that PB.
As the race progressed I realised that the water stations were more spread out that I anticipated, and at around the 6 mile mark I was running low on water so grabbed a cup from the water station to try and re-fill my bottle. However, I found it quite difficult to run and fill my bottle simultaneously so ended up spilling most of it down my legs. Temperatures were rising and I was aware that a lot of people were pouring water over their heads to keep cool, but I was expecting there to be showers or some other means of cooling down on the course. It was soon apparent that this was not to be the case. By about the 10 mile point I was completely out of water, and I went to the nearest water station to find that they had run out of water. This is something I hadn’t even considered could happen on marathon day as water is a very basic requirement and something you would think you should never have to worry about. I made it to the next water station a mile down the road, where water was in such short supply that I only managed to get a dribble out of a cup. There was then a 3-4 mile stretch before the next water station. I was beginning to feel dehydrated and slowed my pace, accepting that the finish time I was going for was slightly ambitious at this stage. I managed to get to around 15 miles where I stopped at a water station and managed to refill my bottle. However, by this stage I should really have drunk around 1.5 litres of water but had only had just over 500ml. I continued to run but was feeling dizzy and as I turned off the seafront was overwhelmed by the 25-degree heat, lack of sea breeze or shade. I then collapsed on the side of the road and woke to find myself surrounded by kind spectators and first-aiders. My blood pressure was dangerously low and heart rate dangerously high to compensate for the level of dehydration I had encountered.
My initial reaction to what had happened was that I was thankful to be alive. As I recovered, this soon turned into frustration, upset and anger at not being able to complete something I had spent three to four months of my life training for. It took me a while to accept this and a good few weeks to recover physically, but I am here to tell the tale and thankfully without any long-term damage. The marathon organisers did send out an apology statement for the water situation which I suppose is something.
Looking back on the day I wondered if I was as 100% prepared as I had first felt. I think the only thing I could have done better was to study the route a bit more so that I could have planned my strategy for refilling my water bottle better. I also had not trained in temperatures above 15 degrees so was not prepared for the weather, which was out of my control and a risk you take when running a spring marathon. However, I never anticipated that something as simple as water on the course would even be an issue, nor had it crossed my mind that I would not finish the marathon. It just goes to show that things can go wrong, even for an experienced runner and healthcare professional such as myself!