I did it! I joined the marathon club before turning 30

Damien looking shattered

Well that was emotional but I did it. I ran a marathon before turning 30. However it wasn’t to be a glorious 3:45 marathon debut my training had pointed to but a real test of my ability to endure. Before the race my friend Nick told me that no matter what happens on the day remember the journey you have been on and the great experiences you have had whilst out training. I had to cling to words like those during the race as I stumbled across the line in a disappointing 4:26:12.

Edinburgh Marathon Race Report 

We headed up to  Edinburgh by train on Friday, after some drama with the tickets we got there and headed to our Airbnb in Leith to stay with the lovely Janet. Being at Janet’s reminded me of my Mum’s, it was pretty untidy but full of beautiful pictures and interesting books and cats, Janet has great taste.

Kasia and Damien

We failed to consider that Edinburgh might be pretty packed and it was freezing and wet, so after being turned down by our restaurant of choice we spotted a Pizza Express and I finally tried their new vegan pizza which went down brilliantly. Saturday saw plenty of resting and a little trip into town.

In the evening Kasia and I had the pleasure of hanging with Kayleigh and Tim. I met Kayleigh by chance whilst she was watching the London Marathon with her London running club the Mornington Chasers. We have a friend in common Hannah and realised we were running the same marathon, so we agreed to meet up. We went to David Banns and most of us had fantastic vegan food (Kasia’s wasn’t good) and a night of wonderful conversation. Both Kayleigh and Tim are more experienced runners than me and gave me loads of advice. This was just another example of how running has helped me make new brilliant friends.

Race Day

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 15.43.27

I woke up to rain after a surprisingly good sleep, slipped into my running kit, ate my 3 Weetabix and drank a pint of water. We headed to the race start with plenty of time to spare and stood around shivering in the rain for a bit. But after starting to warm up I felt the race nerves fade away. I met up with Kayleigh, we had similar target times and agreed to run together for as long as possible.

ready to go

Tim (2:53 PB) had advised us the night before to start really slow: “Think as the first 5k as a warm up”. This made perfect sense and despite the downhill we started really slow, just at a lovely cruising pace. During the first half of the race we made our way out of Edinburgh and along the windswept coast, the sea and coastline looked beautiful, it was definitely rugged and the strong headwind was a challenge, But as we left the city we were met with some beautiful views. Runners were jostling for position on the inside to shield themselves from the battering winds blowing across us. I joined in this game trying to get myself as close to the inside as possible.

In the first half of the race I chatted to a guy called Paul from Birmingham who has ran over 150 marathons. He did his first one when he was also 29 to do one before turning 30 and never stopped. I remember him saying that his first one went badly wrong and he ended up at around 4:30. I remember thinking that is never going to be happening to me as we chatted away merrily till about mile 11. I carried on having lost contact with Kayleigh by this point but I was happy and feeling very much in control.

Then the wheels fell off in a dramatic way…

These were my splits at mile 13:

first half splits

half marathon

All of a sudden at mile 13 my right knee tightened and every step felt like someone was hitting me in the knee with a hammer. Writing this a few days later think it was my IT band that failed me. I have been plagued by flexibility issues and during the race they all flared up all together in one big perfect storm of pain. After dropping my pace by well over a minute a mile between 13 and 14, I was despairing. I called Kasia to tell her my knee had gone and my race was effectively over. At this point I was still on for a 3:40 marathon debut but I just knew and my words were “I will finish but it will be more like 4:30”.

I then proceeded to go through a whole roller coaster of emotions. The injury meant I couldn’t drive my right knee through. I decided to switch to a shuffle essentially, by opening my feet like a duck, I could move so that my knee didn’t kill. The problem was that this started to stress other parts of my body, the walls really came tumbling down.

The running part of this race was over, I had literally gone from gliding to hobbling in the space of a mile. This hadn’t happened in 5 runs over this distance in training. It had been 20 miles in Poland before I slowed down to 10 minutes a mile, but here I was at mile 14 basically struggling to keep it there.

second half

The next phase was all about mental resilience. Paul glided past me, his words “I am going to slow down otherwise I will pay for it later” rattled around my head. I hobbled along until mile 19 then it really fell to pieces. This was the part of the race where there were sparse crowds. My hamstrings had decided to join the pain party and completely tightened up. I was left cursing myself for not stretching more or getting involved in yoga.

From this point onwards it was a shuffle/run walk affair with stretching every half a mile and a bit of walking. Cardio wise I felt fine, I was actually a little bit cold once the sun went in as I was moving so much slower than I am accustomed to.

During these dark moments as my ego was taking a crushing my mind wondered to some interesting places. My thoughts drifted to hearing two time Ironman Champion Chris McCormack talk about walking in Ironman races. Rich Roll taking part in his first Ultraman and employing a walk 1 mile, run 1 mile strategy. Dave Scott’s form collapsing and pace dropping from 6 minute miles to 10 minute miles when he was overtaken after 24 miles running neck and neck in the final miles of the 1989 Ironman (The Iron War) but still chased Mark Allen in hope he still might fade..

I felt humbled, I felt like a baby, an arrogant baby having a sulk in my head because my body shut down and taught me to respect the marathon distance. I really felt like my pacing strategy was fine. I was running the same pace as my second longest training run and slightly faster than my Poland run but it was just total collapse. I didn’t feel hungry or thirsty just tight, my movements were totally constricted.

Being passed by thousands of runners was a hard experience for me to take. My second half of the marathon was a whole 1:36 slower than my first half 1:50 with it taking a total of 2:36. Possibly the worst negative split in history, perhaps the hard hill runs I had done to Hampstead hollowed out my legs, perhaps the move, the illness, not getting above 20 miles since my 21.7 (3:15) training run in Poland had done for me.

Whatever it was it hurt, it hurt real bad in my legs and in my head. Perhaps I had delusions of grandeur, just because I can run a 1:50 half marathon with ease doesn’t mean I can do a sub 4 marathon. I don’t know.

I can honestly say that the crowd were amazing on the way back into Musselburgh the last couple of miles saw people shouting great encouragement and anyone who was there cheering us on I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

As we arrived into the finish, I managed to string together a mile of shuffle run heading towards the line I felt a sense of relief wash over me. I couldn’t wait to see Kasia as it had been nearly 3 hours since I had talked to anyone (no one wants to talk to the person they are overtaking).

But I did it, I crossed the line in 4:26:12, I joined the marathon club before I turned 30. At the end of the day, that is what I originally set out to do back when I started this blog in September.

It wasn’t the result I was hoping for but now the dust is settling I am pretty sure I will run another marathon, perhaps in the Autumn if not in 2015 for sure. For now I want to focus on shorter races, I have the Hackney Half Marathon in a months time and I want to start doing some ParkRun’s and focus on completing my first triathlon.

Honestly although the marathon hurt me mentally and physically I can honestly say that journey towards it changed my life for the better. At 29 I am fitter and healthier than I have been since I was 21. I have discovered a way to explore my surroundings and calm my mind.

I have come to realise that sometimes in running like life in general things don’t work out as we planned. However that doesn’t mean they are not worthwhile experiences, every bit of mental and physical anguish I experienced in the Edinburgh Marathon will help me become a better runner and hopefully a better person in the future.

And to you the reader. Thanks for coming here and supporting me on this journey. The blog will continue as will the YouTube channel, I feel drawn towards triathlon at the moment and will be writing about my ventures into that world. You have been the best and anyone who has commented or interacted with me on this blog or on YouTube or Twitter, you have enhanced my life and I will be forever grateful to you for that.

And to all my friends who have supported me throughout this journey especially my girlfriend Kasia Ring for being super supportive and enduring my endless run chat. I also couldn’t have done this without all the following people.

My Mum for being a brilliant person and inspiring me everyday by being a wonderful person. My brother Adam for his words of encouragement and support with whatever I pursue.  My regular training partner Clare Foster and her dog Watson, you both got me through some grim winter runs.  Joe Phillips, especially for that 10 miler,  Nick Jones for wise words and inspiring me the seek challenges. Kate Stewart for the regular words of wisdom and the spin classes. Sam Sparrow for being super solid friend and setting a great example of how to get your training done. Helen at Fix for mending me and Kierra Hautala (old housemate and also at Fix) for the great advice on stretching and impromptu massages. Ade Adoabe for the amazing PT and counselling and inspiration. Ivo Gormley for the words of encouragement and creating GoodGym. Lauren Garland, meeting you in Platform 15 months ago set me on this course and those first difficult runs with you helped set me on the right path for which I am forever grateful. My friend Aimee Harrison for getting me to do that Bushy Park 10k and giving me loads of advice along the way. My old school friends John Rendle and Peter Flexman for running the Greenwich Park 10k, you both will be coming running with me again soon. All the vegan fruit bats for rooting for me and Rich Roll, Durian Rider and Scott Jurek for being an inspiration. And everyone else who supported and inspired me along the way.

My race stats can be found on Strava

I would love to hear from anyone reading this blog. How do I recover from this marathon? My legs are shot to pieces, where did I go wrong with my training? You can find all my training over on Strava, as always your support and advice is massively valued. 

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4 thoughts on “I did it! I joined the marathon club before turning 30

  1. Congrats Damien! Really pleased for you, sounds like a valuable experience in lots of ways, bring on the next one! xx

  2. Well done! For a debut I think you have to just focus on finishing, and not worry too much about a time, and you still finished an hour ahead of my marathon time! I suppose get a sports massage once the swelling has gone down (I was told to leave it a week before getting one as otherwise they can cause damage), and just keeping active. I was aiming for 5 hours for mine, and due to some circumstances not being on my side finished in 5.21, which I was still pleased with, but I then decided to focus on half marathons and under, to speed up on those distances before attempting another one. So your plan sounds like a good one 🙂

  3. Thanks for all your support throughout this Maria. I managed to ride my bike yesterday and will go for a light swim probably this evening. I think you’re right about not setting too much of a goal the first time, that is probably where I went wrong. What is good is that I don’t seem to have done any permanent damage. D

  4. Hey doll,

    Well done you! I know it wasn’t what you set out to do timewise but in the scheme of things that so doesn’t matter because you’ve joined the marathon club. I think I read the a statistic that something like 0.1% of the world’s population has run a marathon so pretty any which way you look at it your feat is an epic one 🙂

    As you know I ran my first in April my goal was to make a dress to change into at 24 miles, finish and not die. I achieved all three in a time of 5hrs 30mins and 21secs so you were going a tonne quicker than me but I said I was going for a look not at time. I too was hampered by my left knee playing up again in the run up (excuse the pun) fortunately foam rolling and an excellent set of phsyios sorted me right out. I could probably have gone faster but I was so enjoying soaking up the atmosphere and it was a hot, hot day. Everytime I look at my medal I just remember all the good and the time doesn’t seem important. The only thing it is good for is setting new goals and that’s what so ace there will always be new goals and you’re just starting. You’re gonna achieve so much and you’ll look back on this one with a warm heart because as they say you never forget your first 😉

    In terms of recovery I took a good couple of weeks off just did a lot of walking and then I started cycling to work again and now I’m training for my first tri, which everyone tells me is fab for all round fitness and will get me running faster woot! I’d say to have a good sports massage when things are calm and if you can stomach it I do swear by ice bathing and apparently beetroot is majorly reparative.

    Again well done you!

    Best wishes,

    Rehanon

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