11/12 Valencia Marathon
Before I say anything about my race I want to put in a huge disclaimer that Valencia marathon is incredible. It’s a beautiful route, extremely well organised and full of some of the best support. I would recommend it to anyone. I also love running and love Marathoning, I will continue to race and I would encourage everyone to do it. But I have to be honest with what went on, that’s all I ever can do. Even if it makes me look ugly.
I rocked up to the start line of Valencia marathon having already had one hell of a journey. You see I missed my flight, yep that happened, and then I spent 20+ hours in various airports and Spanish cities that were in fact not Valencia. I ended up in a taxi from Alicante to our air bnb at 1am whilst a house full of people I’d never really met waited to see if I was actually a real person. I was shattered, stressed and a little embarrassed to say the least. It was not my finest hour.
Luckily turning up to a run-venture with loads of other runners is amazing and they made me feel welcome and less like a total idiot from the off. Valencia expo was great and simple enough, goody bags, tech tees and the normal photo ops. The group waited for me to weave in and out and get my race essentials. I managed to do the whole thing in about 25 minutes which shows how well organised it was.
Race day felt big. I’ve felt so good recently running, smashed out a huge 10 mile PB, found Beachy easy, and I was riding the high of some big successes this year. My drama was over and I was so happy to be on that start line. My plan was to run sub 3:45, a big goal, but realistic based on the year I’d had and where I was at. Being able to do that would either make or break my next year of training. It would set me on a clear path to a big goal that I really really wanted to go for. Not getting it, well not the end of the world, but would definitely confuse my mind a little about what the best direction of travel would be for 2018 race planning.
It was hectic at the beginning. The start pens were tightly packed and people started breaking down the fences to get in to them. It felt a bit riot-ish, but we were soon in and on our way to the line. Martha and I started together both aiming for 3:45. We set off and something wasn’t right, my heart rate was really high and I felt weird. I figured maybe it was nerves and the spectacle of it all, and just tried to maintain a steady pace as we weaved through crowds. The next 6 miles with Martha I was really not feeling great, she checked in on me regularly and I kept telling her I’d be ok and to go, I knew something wasn’t right, and i didn’t want to be responsible for her missing the target.
At about mile 8, Katie ran past us looking like a beautiful gazelle and I told Martha to go with her and leave me. I knew Katie was on for sub4 and I knew Martha would be on for a really great time if she didn’t feel like she had to counsel me through what was shaping up to be not a great day. I was in a bad way, I felt really panicked not knowing what was going on with my body, an easy pace for me felt like a massive struggle. My body felt uncomfortable, my breathing was off.
I started to mess around with my pace, to see if I could settle my heart rate and my breathing. I couldn’t. Whatever I tried to do it wasn’t making any difference. I was really emotional. I wasn’t hitting a wall, I wasn’t injured, I wasn’t ill, but I couldn’t get control of myself. The crowds were cheering and the atmosphere was electric and honestly all of that stuff that you normally long for in a marathon, i just wanted it all to disappear. I felt so fraudulent, I couldn’t stop tearing up and every time I did my breathing and heart rate spiralled, I felt like I was ever so close to having a panic attack. I know it sounds melodramatic but when you’re surrounded by the buzz of a marathon and you’re having a bad day you can feel totally alone. Which i did. I started to ask myself was it worth it, i was panicking and i needed a pep talk so i called home. What was said isn’t for here, its not really for anywhere, but it was what I needed to hear. It didn’t change how I was feeling and it didn’t allow me to settle, but I knew what I had to do. I couldn’t quit, I just had to keep going. No matter how painful that was going to be.
Every step felt like a punch. My body and mind were so totally bruised. Nothing was wrong. Not a thing, but everything was different in the worst way. I started to run walk between water stations. Every time I looked up and tried to distract myself with the beauty of this epic city I’d panic and tear up. I honestly couldn’t look at anyone or anything I just had to be head down in order to move forward. I’d check in on all our runners on my walk breaks and I knew everyone else was doing really well. This was both incredible and I was over the moon for them but also heart breaking for where I was at.
I bumped in to Tom around mile 18 which was just the most emotional moment. Turns out he was not doing so well, and although I wouldn’t wish it on anyone I was so glad to feel a little less alone in the torture of a bad day. Tom had heat stroke and was pretty dehydrated, I was unsure what was going on but felt mostly sick and a bit shaken up by it all. We opted to walk whenever we were in direct sun light, drink plenty of water and run in the shade. I use run loosely because it was more of a shuffle. A struggle shuffle or a struggle jog, strog, as we nicknamed it. We found ways to laugh and took it in turns to fall apart, and distract the other from how harsh falling apart felt; And there you were thinking a marathon isn’t a team sport.
4 hour pacers went by as did 415s and I knew I was a million miles away from where I should be. At this point it didn’t matter though, I just needed to get to the end and get Tom to the end and that’s all that mattered. I’m pretty certain he’d say the same thing.
Nearing the last mile Louise caught us and we were once again given the boost of a familiar face. It was amazing to have her cross the line with us. It was her first marathon and despite her own setbacks she’d totally nailed It!
As we got to the incredible finish line, cue running across the most incredible blue backdrop, I sprinted and tried my best to hold back the tears. I didn’t cheer or celebrate it didn’t feel appropriate. I ran to the line and came to a pretty abrupt halt just before crossing it. Two months ago you see i’d beat Tom on a sprint finish in the new forest in kind of a funny but also kind of a dick way. This time I wanted to make sure Tom was there with me on that line. I reached back and grabbed his hand and we crossed the line together, because honestly I don’t think I would have made it without his selflessness and amazing friendship. I broke down immediately for so many reasons but mostly because it was over and I hadn’t thrown in the towel.
As I walked out to get my medal I couldn’t stop myself from crying and asking questions I knew were dangerous to ask. I didn’t feel proud. I felt numb from it all.
I knew what everyone would say, I knew what I would say if someone else was in this situation but none of that matters. It’s such a personal experience in that sense. For me I couldn’t find a way through to enjoy it. And without sounding like a spoilt brat after a year of achievements this felt like such a bitter pill to swallow. I didn’t miss a time I wanted, I ran my worst marathon to date in all ways. This wasn’t just a bad race. It was a bad race away from home, with none of my family around me. It was a bad race with no explanation. It was a bad race that was supposed to be the race that cleared up my mind as to what 2018 was all about and what 2017 had all been about. It was a big deal and I needed to feel it. I still need to feel it.
I tried my best to explain what had gone on but every time I tried/try I’d well up. I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s day or make them feel like they couldn’t celebrate their victories in the wake of my set backs. I’m not sure I achieved it too well in the end, it was raw and I did what I could. At the end of the day I was immensely proud of the group of amazing runners I’d met and spent the weekend with, I just felt inadequate. I mainly want to say here how incredibly they all did. From first times to personal bests and fighting through injuries or finding form they thought they lost. They’re individually inspirational and display perfectly exactly why I love the marathon.
So what happens now. I honestly don’t know. As I said I’ve been scared to delve in to it and when I try and talk about it to anyone I still just bubble over. I have one more marathon this year and that’s going to be a hard one to start but hopefully an easier one to finish. The plan is to allow that to be a pure celebration of running with no other motive.
Next year I honestly don’t know where to put my heart/head. I was asked recently if I was ready to put all my eggs in one basket, and if I was ready for the pain that comes with most likely failing at the impossible dream… I said yes to that question at the time. All I can say right now is that feels like the scariest thing in the world to me.