I’ll tell you this now, it’s gonna be a long one! Grab a cup of something warm and settle in, or if you’re not up for it, then this is your warning to come back another time!
A weekend maratholiday is just about one of my favourite things. Marathoning in a new city is awesome, teamed up with bumping into familiar race faces, eating local food and generally having a ramble around. What’s not to love?!
This time it was Berlin. Kev and I were kindly offered places to run for Mind in connection with the ongoing charity work we do for them both individually and together. We talk a lot about scheduling a race a year to tackle together, and this one was too good to pass up! Back when it was booked in the diary we were both going to be going for our Boston Qualifying times. As we’re all way too painfully aware, and probably quite bored of hearing about, that wasn’t going to happen for me. Up until the start line I had run a precarious amount of very painful miles, hopped up on painkillers and strapped up to within an inch of my life with KT tape. It wasn’t smart or pretty but it was my new normal.
We arrived in Poland (yep we drove from Poland to berlin) without too much of a hitch. I mean Kev insisted on going to the post office before we left, which meant we were running late and I was left speeding up the M25, but yeah apart from that very few hitches… We picked up the hire car, well actually we sat in the wrong hire car for a solid 20 minutes trying to figure out how to turn it on, before quickly realising it wasn’t in fact our car, finding the right one and getting on the road. The drive to Berlin was easy as anything, and it all felt pretty good. See hardly a hitch!
On Saturday morning we woke up to try out Park run Germany style. Hasenheide Parkrun is a delightful route through a really pretty park that was essentially 2 larger loops and one shorter (hillier) loop. We met up with some of our friends who were also running over the weekend, and it was the perfect morning, finished in park run style with a nice coffee. The parkrun marshals were superb. Their race had jumped from an average of 70 runners to over 500 over night, they adapted brilliantly with bi-lingual and extremely humorous race briefings! I felt really comfy, and even thought my limp had cleared up, but when I checked in with Kev he assured me I was still carrying the gangster lean. It didn’t matter, I felt good, and I needed to feel good because 26.2 on a limp is quite a different scenario to a 5k. I knew if my head wasn’t in the game this would be one tough day at the office.
This was followed by the quickest dash possible to the expo, where I refrained from buying even more new shoes. It was heaving, and I’m not great with huge crowds so kept it short and sweet, numbers, pictures, and go! The rollerblading marathon also takes place on the Saturday, it’s the craziest thing to watch, and well worth standing around to catch a glimpse of. It only takes them about an hour to go round the marathon course, which is frankly insane, and slightly terrifying! I considered taking up the sport for all of about 4 seconds before realising it would be a surefire way to break all the bones in my body.
Sunday brings us to the main event and the meaty chunky ‘I thought I was reading a blog about a marathon not your travelling escapades’ section! The Marathon!
Getting to the start line felt incredibly easy, public transport across Berlin felt easy and the starting pens were, well, easy. I queued for the ladies and didn’t even have to wait 5 minutes. I was amazed, it was packed but it didn’t feel hectic. I’m not sure if my pen was just a little less busy than others, or if I was just there early enough to get settled in, but I felt comfortable hanging out there. Martine found me wandering around aimlessly, we stretched and chatted and had a few pre race lols – the build up felt epic watching the Elites start! We did the Icelandic football chant, had a good dance, some slow-mo running to chariots of fire, and then we were off.
I felt incredible, like actually incredible! Being on that start line had been such a hit and miss thing for me. I’d wanted to be there so badly but even up to last week I was seriously considering a DNS.
The route was fast, I could feel it, and it definitely felt hectic now as runner’s elbows came flying at you as people tried to fight for a place at their pace. The sun was shining and Martine and I settled in to a comfy pace, chatting watching the crowds and buildings go past. It was WARM! I was a sweaty mess pretty early on and by water station two I’d opted to chuck a cup over my head and one down my neck.
Can we just talk about water stations for a minute? I have never heard a noise like it. The water was in plastic cups, and the carnage at every one was insane, runners fighting for a cup and then running off crunching down on this plastic. I had to mentally prepare myself every time we came up to one, as the noise level was just through the roof! It was unreal and something they just have to figure out and get better at.
The first half literally flew by, and we came in just under 2 hours, which was quite frankly astonishing to me. My dream was just to finish, so to be running really steadily seemed unreal. I’m not sure if it was the adrenaline or the spectacle of it all, but I wasn’t in pain. I knew the pace wouldn’t last, although it’s way off PB pace for me, it was still good going.
I strolled a few times at water points to save myself form getting trampled on, and took theses as opportunities to check in on Kev’s time and my other friends, stretch out any niggles and continue on feeling strong. It was just over half way when we found out Kipchoge had set a new world record, which was such a boost. Being out on a course running whilst history is being made is something else!
Now let’s talk about crowd support. I was a little disappointed if I’m honest. I think I have been spoilt by Brighton/London/Iceland memories and so when things don’t live up to that hype I get a little judgey. Now the streets were pretty packed with people, and maybe they’d lost their voices screaming Kipchoge home, or they’d just had enough by the time we came through, but I found the majority a bit lacklustre. There were some insane points, weirdly when ever we ran under a train track or underpass, but I was honestly expecting a bit more from the stories I’ve heard of previous years.
After about the 15/16 miles point I started to slow down, my fatigued lack of marathon fitness started to show, and I pleaded with Martine to leave me be. She was running incredibly strong and I knew she had sub4 in her, and I also knew I didn’t.
There would have been a time when that would’ve broken me, a feeling that I wasn’t as good as I once was, or as good as I needed to be, but after this year I knew better than to play that game. Progress isn’t linear, just because I’m not running a BQ now, doesn’t mean I won’t, and if I never ran ‘my fast’ again it wouldn’t ever take away from the fact that I once did. Wherever you are right now is good enough, and as long as you maxed out on your effort level in that scenario then you’ve done everything you set out to do! I knew I was maxing out on giving it everything I had, and I was so happy for that. In those moments, my mental strength showed me how much I’ve grown as a marathoner.
Martine of course didn’t leave my side, and although I had to dig deep in to the pain train, a smile never left my face. I was running a marathon again; and unless you’ve once had and then lost that ability for any length of time you won’t get how that feels. By 32km, I was struggling to hold my pace. I knew I had 5km to go before seeing friends and then a little over 5km to go the finish from there. So I sliced it up in to 2 park runs. Seeing friends cheer is the best, but seeing Becca and Lou especially lifted me, they both get it, and I cried and hugged them because I knew they knew what it meant for me to be out there.
5km to the finish, although my watch was wildly out of sync so I’d end up running an additional .6 of a mile somehow! The crowd support here where you need them most was probably my most disappointing part of the day; I’ve never known such a lack of noise so close to a finish line. If I think of the last 5k in Brighton as an example, it’s the craziest sea of noise to carry you to the end, and I needed that crowd support bad. It’s not until you turn the corner and your eyes set on the Brandenburg gate that the volume picks up! Note the Gate is not the finish, my watch had long ticked over 26.2 and I couldn’t believe how far after the gate you have to keep running. It was the longest stretch of sleepy leg time I’d ever experienced, and if you’d kicked it up gear for a sprint finish before the gate, there’s no way you’d keep it up to the end .
I’d done it!
I cried hard like the strong ass woman that I am. I hugged my friend and thanked her for the selfless performance she’d put in by staying with me, when she had everything in her to go harder.
I was emotional for all the reasons you’re emotional in a marathon, but for so many more. There is so much that goes on outside of blogs and posts and pictures. I have been broken this year, tested in ways that I don’t often feel I deserve, I rise to them the best I can, but I also am human, and I bend and break, and do stupid shit, and feel real things in real ways. When I run 26.2 or 26.8 in my case, I am reminded of the immense strength that I have. That reminder that against all the odds I can still come out fighting gets me through so much more than just running miles. It makes me who I am. Every single marathon delivers you something, a new perspective, something to fight for, something to go hard after. I’m in love with the way it challenges me and changes me. This moment refocused my mind about what I want, and how I’m going to get to that place. I very nearly typed get back to that place, but there is no going back, there is only going forward.
I posted after the race that this was by far my personal best effort, and I stick by that. The time is just numbers written on a page, that don’t add up to times I’ve run before. But what I did in Berlin far surpasses a perfect training block and a perfect race. I fought for so long just to be on that start line, and then I carried on fighting for 4 hours and 14 minutes, to make sure I crossed the finish line with my head held high.
Kev found us and I gave him a huge hug, I knew he was hurting, but that’s not my story to tell. He did what I expected he would and shifted focus telling me how well I’d done. I asked him questions about his race and we both agreed we didn’t want to spend the rest of the day sobbing, so we parked those for another time/place and headed for a pint/5.
Sunday came and went and Monday was spent strolling the city streets, finding roads we thought would have been better/prettier/more interesting to run down. Our flight was leaving Poland at 10:30 so we left Berlin in plenty of time at 18:30. We drove to within 4 minutes of our destination on the sat nav when I turned to Kev and said ‘this doesn’t look like where we flew in to’, realising quickly that we were in fact not going to the right airport at all! We had an hour before our flight left and some 40km in the other direction to the correct airport. It was time for the second marathon of the trip, albeit by car! Heart rates were through the roof as we raced through the streets of Poland. Thank god for tiny airports, as we got there with about 20 minutes to spare, running form the hire car drop off, they let us straight through security to get on the plane – thanks for that one mate!
All in all Berlin is a great fast and flat* marathon, the course is interesting enough, the start and finish line feels are good, but know it’s busy, super super busy, and the crowd supports a little tired.
Now it’s time to rest my legs as I have another 26.2 in 5 days…
*definitely felt a few gradual inclines
Most marathon training plans will take you through some 16 or 20 weeks of a staged increase in mileage and effort. Ever one to do things my own way mine hasn’t quite worked out that way.
I’ve been on the fence of whether to run Berlin or not. It was meant to be my first attempt at a BQ and a chance for me to show what I can do on the fast/flat marathon record breaking course, but due to nerve damage in my back I’ve been unable to run successfully at any speed since February. With a solid 4 months off running altogether I was able to come back in July and get some training miles in before the aggravated nerve struck again and another few weeks of hobbling ensued.
It’s been 6 weeks would you believe it?! 6 whole weeks since i took a super duper run around rome and realised I was capable of moving again. Since then I’ve been running with zero pain, well not zero pain, but only the good pain, the pain that means your pushing and working hard. I can’t believe we’re almost in August and I’ve missed the majority of the year in terms of running and racing. My one solo medal from the year hangs pride of place reminding me just what I achieved way back in Feb, and what I’ll keep working for.
When I woke up and put weight on my leg to find shooting sensations of pain in my calf and ankle I was pretty sure I’d broken it, I couldn’t put weight through it, I couldn’t even rest it on something like the bed without being in agony, I must’ve broken it, right?! Wrong! I hadn’t broken it, and I knew that deep down, but that didn’t mean it was simple. In some ways it was harder because it took time to figure out what was happening. As the chiro said “you’re not an easy case”. It took 10 weeks for me to be able to start to run properly again. 10 weeks is nothing to most people, it’s nothing in a lifetime, but in the agony of not doing the thing you love to do, it most certainly feels that way. I thought as I’m building up strength and not exactly racing, I’d switch tact and write a few things that I’ve learnt on my way to recovery. It may help if you find yourself in that situation, or it may just pass the time for 5 minutes, either way I guess you gotta read on to find out…
As I met my mum on mothers day, she looked at me and said “are you limping?” I confirmed her thoughts and replied with a “yeah it’s nothing, probably just over did it a bit”. I hadn’t over done it, in fact I had spent the week underoing it (all planned of course), and my nonchalant attitude was a poor attempt to trick my mind and body in to believing my words.
It feels like forever since I’ve raced, in reality it’d only been about 50 odd days, but I’d been missing it. It’s no secret that I’ve been struggling with lack of progress, or that’s been my perception anyway. I’ve been focussing on speed to try and get myself close to where I want to be, which essentially leaves me throwing weekly ‘I Can’t’ tantrums. I’ve been looking out longingly over social media feeds and spending too much time in my head, comparing, questioning, and judging myself against other people’s measurements. I needed to stop.
Cue Worthing Half Marathon! My initial goal was to run it and feel good about running marathon pace, set myself a little challenge, but play it smart. I’m not smart, when have I ever been smart? I messaged Kev (official Clare Pacer) the day before asking if I could throw smart out the window. After a chat about the potential risks, and hindrance that messing this thing up could do to my marathon mental state, we agreed to go out there and ‘fuck shit up’.
Sub 1:43 was the new goal!
The start line at Worthing is basically like a massive version of Run Club. Running on home turf has you feeling like you know everyone, with the added bonus that you’re running the streets you always train on just with a couple thousand friends! It’s an odd little route winding through the streets, never being more than a stone’s throw from the beach. I quite like the twists and turns, you sort of get lost and distracted in a maze of Worthing side streets. Time melts away and before you know it your hitting the long out and back stretch that will eventually bring you to the finish.
I felt good, I kept trying to speed up (standard operating practice for me) and having to be pulled back quite literally at times. The sun was out and it was a perfectly crisp winter’s day. I knew miles 7-10 would be tough as this straight was going to have a killer headwind, I wanted the safety blanket of banked time, a bad habit I have. Kev kept reassuring me I didn’t need it, I was strong enough to run the distance at this pace and maintain. I wasn’t sure I believed him, but I listened and paced it out.
As the miles ticked off I hadn’t once seen an 8 pop up on my watch it was always a 7 something, I couldn’t quite believe I was running this and feeling so comfy. Turned the corner, BAM headwind! Ugh!! I knew it was going to be hard and it really was. Kev and Rob ran kindly in front of me acting as some sort of human windshield, but still it took just about everything I had to stay on pace. My breathing was shot, and the extra energy headwind seems to sap from you is insane. One thing nobody ever tells you about running faster is it is bloody near impossible to drink water out of a plastic cup when running a 7:45 pace! I digress! It was really just a hold on for dear life part of the race and although my pace dropped a little bit I was really pleased with the splits when I saw them. The sun was still shining and I was doing everything I could to stay out of the part of my head that wants to tell me I can’t.
As we turned to run back I knew the wind would be on my side, and I let everything relax back in to rhythm. Now I had no excuses but to run it home as hard as I could. I didn’t have as much energy left in my legs as I hoped but I calmed everything down and got back into a groove. Reaching that finish line my legs felt tired but I had a sneaky suspicion that if I needed to, I could do that all over again. Sprint finish for:
1:42:13 official finisher time
1:41:04 fastest half marathon on the watch
That was everything I needed to prove to myself. To be able to believe in myself and this crazy process again. To stop looking outside and most of all to stop quitting before I’ve even begun.
There’s a long long way to go, but this feels like the best kind of win!
It’s taken me a little while to get started writing again. Not because I don’t love It, but after 12 months of a clearly defined race schedule it’s felt a little unfamiliar to not have a race/failure/achievment to write about. Oh and I’ve been a little busy with this thing we did that got a tad bit bigger than expected – Run Up to Christmas 😉
This is my first month that I won’t have run a marathon in 13 months, and I won’t be running one for a few months yet. Although for most people running a marathon might not ever feature in their calendar. I’d grown so used to one being in mine it’s been a little disconcerting to stop. I use the word stop very loosely.
So what’s next for me and for this space? The truth is I’m not completely sure. I’ve been spending some time goal searching and goal setting, but it’s not as clear cut as running 12 in 12, or hitting a particular time. When I asked my self what I wanted, really really really wanted, out of this next training cycle. I responded with ‘to get to the start line the fittest version of myself and see what that version of me can do’. That’s about pushing the limits of what I think I’m capable of, training really really hard/smart, and being focussed.
Of course I’ve started to think about numbers that I associate with the fittest, best most badass women I know, and wondering if I’ve got that in me. I’ve thrown numbers around, and I’ve got those two little letters (BQ) rattling around in my head most days. Essentially though that’s no better than me shouting out some figures and hoping they stick.
This training block will and has to be more than that, and potentially will produce a lot less than that in terms of times and stats. This will be a very personal journey, and it’s a changeable beast. I have targets I want to reach to give me an indicator of what that marathon day might look like, but I’m also going off of feel more than I ever have before.
Must stop waffling!
Basically what im trying to say is i’m not going to put my self in a position of standing on a start line trying to achieve something that is utterly and totally out of reach, but also I’m not ready in the slightest to define what is out of reach, despite many many people seaming to want to do that for me. It’s open, adaptable and ultimately indefinable, because right now at this moment in time I have no idea how high I can fly or how hard I can fall.
So what can you expect from thinkingclarely over the next few months? A lot of trying hard and falling short, and getting straight back up and going again. It will be a sweaty hot mess of emotions, and a rollercoaster of questioning everything I do. Whilst trying really hard to not hold my self accountable to the people I see killing it out their on social media, but to be accountable to me and my journey alone.
This is about pushing as close as I can to that magic place where you’ve given it exactly everything you’ve got, nothing more and nothing less, and who the heck knows what that magic number will be. (3:33?)
Welcome back to marathon diaries – the go faster edition!
The day before I’d spent at the BBC studios being interviewed for national radio, I’d talked about suicide, running, and the year I’d had. It felt ever so fitting. Once upon a time I was scared to talk about how low I’d been for fear that someone might judge me or look at me differently. I’m a together person with a good job and a ‘normal’ life. I’m a success. Yet I’m broken. Being bold enough to say that to 2.5 million people is somewhere I never thought I’d be. I said it not because I wanted to rave about where I am in my life and what an achievement 12 in 12 is, but because I want people to know it’s ok to be broken. My brain wont ever be perfecr, it will always take me down paths I don’t want to go. I have days now where I sit and cry for hours whilst I try to catch my breath and make sense of my head, and that’s ok. I have days where I go to work and be a boss, and get all my stuff done, focus on the future, make plans, go for a run and feel sensational, and that’s ok. Everything that falls in between those things is ok. Mental health is not black and white. I am not black and white. This year has not been black and white. All of that is ok.
So yes I rocked up to a start line of my final 12 in 12 marathon, in a place where I hadn’t been in a little while. A very calm, very level place, with no expectation and no agenda. I just wanted to run for the love of running and for the love of being strong, even in my weakest moments.
The start line was lush, the sunrise beautiful and it was full of so many lovely people, a whole host came down for Tommy’s birthday. Although I only got to see them briefly it was so nice to say hey to a whole host of mini inspirations who have got me to this point in different ways; old friends and new friends and blummin inspiring friends. Team runr were there selling awesome kit, who have also featured heavily in not only my 12in12, but also the Virtual events I’ve put on. Last but not least it was so lovely to have Kev with me to see out the final run, which seemed fitting as we’d worked so hard together over the past 12 months to get me to every start line feeling strong AF. It was a really nice vibe. We had friends and family stationed along the route and all in all it felt like the perfect day for it.
Setting off was cold, but calm and still. The views around the coast are beautiful, and I love the multi terrain, not quite as off road as trail, but not quite as on road as well, road!
The route is an out and back along the Portsmouth waterside. You take in road, promenade, paths, stoney beaches and muddy tracks. Yeah sure you have to contend with the dulcet tones of the A27 for a bit, but no race is perfect. The aid stations were a delightful treat, with mulled win and minced pies along with the usual selection of race essentials (mainly water and sweets)!
The miles to half way slipped by effortlessly, Kev and I chatted and ran comfortably, well comfy for me quite slow for him. We bumped in to Kev’s friends Paul and Anne, and stopped to chat for a while. They had heard me on the radio and were just ever so lovely about how it went. Off running again, bumping in to Em and James next. My cheer squad who have tirelessly followed me round the country/continent for the past 12 months; getting up at the crack of dawn and standing in all conditions to see me for a split second. They have been there picking me up when I’d fallen apart and celebrating me hard when I did my impossible. I cannot thank them enough for their endless support and belief in me!
The struggle came on queue at about 18 miles, it stuck with me till the end. I’d had a run streak in to the marathon trying to reach my 250km target for the run up to Christmas. I’d run 12 marathons already, had over 1300 training miles in my legs, the race was over a mile longer than it should’ve been, and I was tired, I am tired, but I was mostly happy.
I thought a lot about a lot of things in that last 10k, how my life has changed immensely since I took up running, how I now have so many memories filled with new faces that I would never even know because of running, and how I now have this thing, this thing that even in its worst moments is enriching my life no end. Running is not something I do, it’s who I am, and as I crossed the finish line I didn’t cry, or feel relief, I just smiled and put my head in my hands (thanks for the tip Brine), because I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be.
This year I ran 12 (13) marathons in 12 months and all I got was this totally incredible life.
Be bold, put yourself right outside of your comfort zone, be honest when it hurts and falls apart, and shout loud about yourself when it all comes together. Be proud of every step you take in the direction of where you want to go, even if that’s a step back, believe hard, achieve hard, and go for it!
2017 you’ve been insane
2018 it’s time for something new…
#Clareruns12in12 charity #12
This Christmas you can give someone all of this for under £27. That’s less than a £1 a mile for my run on Sunday! Think of what a difference you could make to someone who currently has so little, and be part of the solution this year to end homelessness.
Give someone who’s homeless all this for £26.08
Please head over to crisis to donate!
Because it’s Christmas and this is also the time of giving, if you feel inclined to donate on behalf of the 1700 runners taking part in the Run Up to Christmas as well! Please click here
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.
When I first started training for marathons, I would turn up to races not knowing anyone, feeling completely out of place, I was amazed by how everyone knew each other, the buzz and chatter was electrifying. I was (and still am) constantly inspired by the people I saw on social media and at these events doing amazing things, a little intimidated to say hello. The crazy thing is I know them now, and I get to hug them and be surrounded by their awesome. Turning up at Beachy Head Marathon really felt like all my friends from near and far had shown up for me (I know they’d really shown up for themselves, but ya know what I mean). It was my 10th (11th) marathon this year as part of the 12in12 challenge and it was also my birthday. The big Three-O.
I was pretty much milking my birthday for all that it was worth and a marathon on the actual day seemed too good to pass up. It was so much better because a whole bunch of above mentioned awesome people. The start line felt perfect as we chatted and laughed and made friendships that will now last a lifetime. I’m always surprised how amazing it is to meet these incredible people you only know through a selection of insta squares in real life. You can feel like you know so much and so little about them, but within those first moments friendships, real proper friendships are formed and it’s one the most beautiful parts about social media and the running community.
It was a cold morning but I knew the climbs would make it feel warm, and although we shivered on start lines, we’d soon be covered in a nice layer of salty sweat. The start line is at the bottom of a rather steep looking hill. It’s intimidating and exciting all at once, anyone who ran up it is an instant hero. We ran up to it, and then quickly stopped in the mass of people realising this was not going to be an easy day.
Our marathon group of Katie, Jon, Kirsty and Jess, started a bit too far back, which meant for the first 4 miles we were in heavy stop start congestion with some of the walkers, as we tried to make our way to the right pace group. I’d been told over and over again to not push it on the early hills as this race is hard right till the end, if you go too hard too soon, you’ll regret it. We stuck with the walk any big hills, jog any small ones, and run on the flats and downs approach. It is ever so tempting though when you’re fresh in the legs to just go. I also didn’t want to do any damage, I want to race in Valencia in 3 weeks and more importantly I wanted to have the best day out. I didn’t want to panic about pace and time, or put any pressure on myself.
The route takes you up and over the downs and sisters, through local villages and farm land. Some of the toughest climbs are saved for last. It’s unrelenting and unforgiving. If you underestimate it I’m almost certain you’ll pay in one way or another. The clarity at the top of the climbs is truly sensational though, you can see for miles and it’s a reward that just keeps on coming.
At the aid stations we’d stop and re group, taking on some fuel and in some views. The marshals were the best, and the food options were endless. This is the most insanely beautiful run. I fell in love with Sussex a lot throughout this race. The views were stupid, the sky was clear and the sun was beaming down on us. Mother Nature had been kind and delivered just about the perfect conditions for this race.
Be warned though this is not an easy race, the terrain is hard as you move from mud to rutted ground, rocky paths and slippery leaves. I’m used to this so it didn’t feel too bad but I’d hate to downplay it, and on a different day it could have been a lot worse. You’re up and down and up and down and up and down and up for some 4000ft. There are about 300 steps to climb, a wall to jump, gates and stiles, and everything you’d expect from trails. We saw cows and sheep and horses and dogs. And headwind you can never discount the headwind.
As you make your climb up to the sisters the truly spectacular view is hidden from you right until the very top. There was something so poetic about the struggle you had to go through to get those stunning views. We’d raced it right though and when we got to the sisters we had energy to run on them, up and down them. I can’t claim to have had quite as much energy as Jon and Katie who I think ran all of them pretty much, but I ran more than I thought I would. The downhills here being as hard as the up with the steep gradients dropping off to cliff edges and crashing waves. It was dramatic in all the right ways.
I’d opted for the subtle approach as I didn’t want to make a big deal out of my birthday and covered myself in shiny birthday badges. As I ran the runners sang to me and cheered me on and it was like having your own little cheer squad follow you for the better part of 6 hours. My favourite birthday sing along came at around mile 24 when my legs had stopped working all that well and I was on the last climb. Thank you kind man, your voice powered me up and over.
I talk about flow a lot when people ask how you keep going in a marathon. It’s that moment where everything melts away and you just move forward, it feels effortless (although tiring), it’s the most beautiful space to be in, it’s why I love to run, and I was in it for almost all 26 miles. This was just one of those perfect race days when it all comes together. There was no pressure, no sub whatever to beat, just good people and good vibes. The whole way round I kept saying to myself I must purposefully schedule in races like this, races for the love of running and just stick to that. I can’t tell you how good it made me feel, and it reminded me of so many things I think we forget about as runners chasing down dreams.
As I came to the very steep hill we had climbed up first thing that morning, Jon said ‘go on birthday girl it’s all yours’ he was the stronger runner by far but let me have my moment like the totally selfless gent he is. I ran down, which may have actually been harder than running up, to my family and friends screaming happy birthday. I felt like an actual super hero; I may be a way off that wonder woman bod, but hey super heros come in all different shapes and sizes. Over the finish line and straight in to a hug from Charlie, a hug that seriously made me know she will just be one of those people I have to make sure is in my life for a long time. Flowers and champagne at the ready, my favourites new and old, we did a cheers and headed to pub.
This could quite easily be my favourite marathon, and most definitely my favourite day. Thank you insanely to every single person who was a part of it.
I’ve always wondered how people go back and run the same marathon year after year, but I now know this one will be firmly on my race calendar.
And yes I’ve teared up a lot writing this, because once upon a time I was very very lost, and although it’s taken me 30 years, I am so certain that now I’m found.
##clareruns12in12 charity #10
Sport has transformed my life; running has given me a sense of being, a confidence, a purpose, a new lease of life, and the best friends in the world. It’s hard for girls growing up to understand what their place is in an often male dominated society, and this is even more present in sport and especially in team sports. Is running a team sport? well heck yeah it is when you get to run with incredible people spurring you on, your coaches who work with you to unlock your potential, your club who train with you and run with you, and your supporters who follow you round the country/world on race days.
If what I say or do can get one person out doing something active, then job done, but there are proper charities doing great things to make this so much easier and less intimidating for girls and women up and down the country, and it is needed. Women in sport say “Sport has the potential to transform the lives of women and girls for the better, yet the opportunities are not always there for them. We need your help to create a future where everyone can benefit from sport – regardless of gender.” I couldn’t agree with them more, so my donation this month goes to them and you can find out how to donate, or support them by visiting their website.