On April 14th I took to the streets of Paris and completed my second marathon.
Mt first marathon was in Copenhagen, in 2017. I had trained for five months and in that time had hit all my pace and mileage targets. I felt ready. Unfortunately, I had a terrible run on the day. My stomach was upset, and I was sick at mile nine. I kept telling myself, the next mile will be better. The next mile was never better but somehow, I managed to finish. I was an hour outside my target time. I was devastated.
I woke up the following day, calmer than I had been all week, no longer shaking with adrenaline or feeling nauseous. I remember thinking:
‘if I could run the marathon today, I’d do it better’
Thankfully the Paris Marathon went more to plan. I was nervous but comfortable. I set off with the 4-hour pacers full of excitement. The streets of Paris were lit beautifully by spring sunshine on a backdrop of blue skies. Naturally, due to the crowds at the start, the first few miles can be slow. I resisted the urge to overtake my fellow runners despite being off my 4-hour target. I was confident that as the crowd thinned, I would be able to make up on my pace.
Mentally, I tackle my long-runs by dividing them in four and focussing on each individual quarter. By the time I had completed the first quarter my pace was back on track for a sub 4-hour marathon and felt comfortable. I was staying hydrated by taking on water every three miles and my first energy gel, taken at mile seven caused no ill effect.
The second quarter also went well. The route took us around the Bois de Vincennes, a beautiful green space in the east of Paris. I felt relaxed and found I was enjoying the scenery, the support and the race itself. I reached the half-marathon marker in 2 hours and one minute, a little off-pace but feeling comfortable, as though I could pick up the pace if necessary. I was running in a group with the 4 hour pacers so decided to stick with them.
I started to feel less comfortable during the third quarter of the race. I remember hitting the sixteen-mile marker and being so grateful that there was only ten miles to go. My pace had started to drop off target though the pacers were still visible ahead. I was no longer able to appreciate the scenery along the bank of the Seine and was almost unaware that I was passing the Eiffel Tower.
At the thirty-first kilometre (mile nineteen), the course ran through a large inflatable arch. This was organised by one of the events sponsors and such there was live music and hundreds of supports in the area. Everyone’s energy seemed to surge at this point, except for my own. As I passed through the arch there were large signs that read; ‘the dreaded 30km wall is behind you’.
I remember that moment so clearly. This was my ‘wall’ and I had yet to conquer it! By now my pace had dropped significantly off my hour target. I could no longer see the pacer or anyone from the group I had been running with. I felt so low. I felt I had let myself down and berated myself not keeping up and throwing away five months of training. Everything hurt. I could feel pain in my left knee like something I experienced in 2014 due to injury. I could feel pain in my ankle, like something I experienced in 2015 also due to injury. I honestly believed I couldn’t run. I managed to keep moving forward by promising myself for quarter mile I ran, I could walk for the next quarter.
For me, those thought were extremely destructive. Running again after each of my walking breaks became increasingly difficult. Thankfully, for whatever reason, I remembered something a former marathon runner had said to me a few weeks previously. He had asked me; ‘What’s your plan B?’
I didn’t have a plan B! I had gone in with the sole purpose of running a sub-4-hour marathon but he more I thought about I started to appreciate the achievements I had made to get to this point. To get to twenty-something miles and still be moving forward. I told myself, okay, if not 4 hours then what? How close to 4 hours can I get? I started running again at this point and did not stop again until I crossed the line.
Turning the final bend and seeing the finish line must be one of the greatest feelings. I felt a huge surge of energy and started sprinting for the line (well, as close to a sprint as I could get after twenty-six miles). I crossed the line in four hours and thirty-four minutes. Within minutes the pain begun to settle, in-fact I felt incredible! There was no element of disappointment regarding my time. I had run the best I could on the day and that felt fantastic.
You learn a lot about yourself and your limits when running the marathon. I don’t feel I could have done anything more on the day but on reflection I do feel I should have believed in myself more. The next time I run the marathon, (and there will be a next time!), I will trust myself and my preparation. I will know to encourage myself if I feel I am struggling. And most importantly; my aim will be to enjoy the atmosphere, appreciate the support and be grateful of the opportunity to take part.