I’ve spent the last month digesting what I managed to achieve this year and what I needed to do to get there so I was able to put it into words effectively. If I wrote something directly after, I have no doubt that it would have been jibberish! Who knows, perhaps this will be anyway.
My aim with this article is to explain my journey to the start line, attempt to explain the journey to the finish line and to give some insight into those that have never run a marathon.
The Journey to the start
Around March time a friend of mine sent me a message showing a success on the NY marathon ballot. About 5 months prior I made a tongue and cheek deal that if this was to happen, I’d do it with her. Partly because she constantly vowed to never do another marathon thinking it’d never happen and I’d be fine, and partly because I thought it would be a good incentive for me to do one should the time come. ‘A deal’s a deal” was essentially my mantra at this stage, so I contacted MacMillan as I researched into charity spots from the UK and they were the best option for me in the supportive sense. About an hour later I had a phone interview which ended with “we would like to offer you a place.” Uh oh!
Before I go into my training, I’d like to address a problem I have with my right leg – at a younger age I underwent a few surgeries to try and correct a leg length discrepancy. It never got corrected, in fact I managed to break my femur while on crutches and its always served me a weakness on that side. Going forward I knew it would be challenging, but thankfully because of my profession I knew I’d be able to adjust accordingly when problems arose due to imbalances and whatnot.
My training regime at the time was mainly focused around badminton and casual gym going; I’d not ventured into running for a long time. I started with some Asics I purchased a year ago because they were a great deal, incorrect move. After about a mile it became obvious that these were not to be my future marathon trainers, the arches were incorrect for my right leg and it would leave me with bruising under my foot. Before getting heavily started I best get a real pair! After a visit at RunActive and 8 attempts of trainer trials on the treadmill, I found my pair. I’ve always found RunActive to have an up-to-date knowledge and modern branding available, so as expected I was very happy with the result especially considering my crazy gait!
My training regime hereafter developed to two runs per week, and one leg strength day per week. This was solely based on a preservation as opposed to putting my best effort into the marathon; the aim was to finish, not finish fast.
I remember my first run of 1.2 miles. I was convinced at this stage that I’d do my best to get to the marathon but it was unlikely due to some sort of injury. Keeping up with the running consistency each week, the strength work to develop what was clearly too weak for long distance running and regular treatments with a colleague all gave me the recipe to progress as time went on. There was one particular long run (at this point it was 6 miles) that I actually called my mum to distract me and just talk rubbish to me. It didn’t work, I was still in pain, but I got to the end with a defeatist attitude as I came through the door. Nonetheless the next day I felt I’d done well, and began plotting the next route of 8 miles. It’s funny, every long run I completed, knowing full well I hated them and just wanted the marathon over, I look back on them fondly and dare I say even miss them! I think the best thing to take away from my beginning runs as a reader if you’ve never run a marathon is that there’ll be a point where you suddenly click. I occasionally posted live videos whilst out running and the day I think I realised the marathon was possible was my 14 mile run. At mile 7 I started a video explaining how I felt good and look forward to the return trip; 2 months before that, 6 miles would kill me! The progress certainly creeps up on you, but eventually you find yourself saying “just a short 8 miler today” like it’s a casual stroll. Try to embrace those moments and register how you’ve developed; it’ll make the experience quite fulfilling if you tend to feel pessimistic in nature and need that boost.
As I started hitting big mileage, I noticed my routes were harder and harder to plan; I could never find a good programme or app without having to pay for it. For this reason, one or two of my 15+ mile runs ended up being a little shorter or longer which did annoy me at the time, I had a marker and it was never where I’d planned. I suppose what I took from that is the structure doesn’t have to be so strict. My minimal approach of 2 runs and one strength session was so laid back that it actually took a lot of stress away that I know a lot of runners suffer with in training, however I did always think to myself “is this enough? Will my next long run be achievable?” but as it turns out, yes it was! Of course with each progressive long run the extra distance would always be the hardest, but I firmly believe that it was my mentality rather than physicality making me suffer there. Please remember at this point that this journey was about finishing the marathon as opposed to finishing with a good time; most of this advice is based on my own experience and in some cases professional opinion.
My last long run was 18 miles, but the plan was 20. This was my biggest and most stressful part of the training. I had planned for 20 miles which was formed of two identical laps, and it was planned 2 weeks before the marathon. The first lap was difficult because as it turned out, I planned a very hilly route for my last and longest ever run at this point. Whoops. As I finished that lap I remember being about 30 seconds from my front door fighting hard to not turn in early. A good piece of advice, try to always keep your route away from your house or car, or wherever you plan on finishing; a very tough battle! Anyway, on the second lap I managed to reach 16 miles, staggering for another two. My left knee had buckled and I tried to persevere through thinking it was just the new soreness I was accustomed to at this point. At 18 miles I wouldn’t weight bear and had to call a taxi for the last 2 miles. I was defeated, I was injured, and I was 2 weeks from a marathon which had an extra 8 miles on top of what I had just barely reached. My process at this point was rehab every day 3 times a day, and not to step one foot of running until the day. Now as I said at the start of this section, this was the most stressful part of my training. Spending 2 weeks before a marathon not running one step due to recovering was the hardest thing I had to do, but knowing it was the best possible scenario to get the marathon done. I did however spend 2 hours on a spin bike to keep the cardio going, so that gave me a good boost.
The Journey to the Finish
So with my limited experience of marathons, NY being my first and last, the start seemed really well run! My coach arrived at the start for about 7.30am, but my wave wasn’t until 11am. There was a fair bit of standing around but because there were so many areas in the sporting village it kind of flew by. I expected these hours to go by so slowly almost like the night before Christmas, but before I knew it I was at the start line listening to the explosion behind me signifying the time to start running. It begun on the Staten Island bridge and I really wanted to be on the top deck (there were two levels), but annoyingly my wave was underneath. Oh well, 4 more bridges!
At the start I felt strong. I was energised and I was happy to be there. The sky was blue, the weather was about 10 degrees Celsius (perfect for a marathon) and I had done everything I felt I could do up to this point. As you cross the bridge you entered the bottom of Brooklyn. Brooklyn turned out to be one of my favourite parts of NY; it was very suburban and homely. If you ever go to NY, try and find your accommodation in Brooklyn and commute the 30 minutes to Manhattan. The next 12 miles or so were spent in Brooklyn and I must admit, I think I’d have preferred it to be the finish. The crowds were amazing, there was music every 500 metres, and after about 50 I lost count how many times I heard my name get called out, which really did help. Don’t get me wrong, a half marathon is a half marathon! I still ached and it was still a drag, but it again went by so quickly due to the crowd support. As soon as I left Brooklyn over the next bridge, and I really mean as soon as I left, it became much quieter and therefore tougher.
My focus from mile 13-17 was knowing my partner was there waiting for me. She had been tracking me on the NY Marathon tracking app so knew when to expect me, and I arrived apparently looking pretty good on the surface – I’ll take that! I spent about 10 minutes topping up on my gels and scoffing some food and drink while of course repeatedly expressing my love and appreciation, then I was off again. Now, this truly was the longest slog; not only had I never been over 18 miles, but the crowds had thinned out and I had no marker between where I was and the finish line. I began my stint up 3rd avenue heading towards the Bronx.
This must have been the longest straightest road I’d ever seen and I began to worry about the sweeper truck behind me. Mentioning for a 3rd time, remember my aim was to finish, not finish fast! The marathon website informed me that the sweeper truck would come along at 6 hours 30 minute pace, and I was about 3 minutes in front. While on this long road I was constantly looking behind me to see if I could see it in the distance, I never could. My new aim at this point was watching and looking for each mile marker, and just quietly saying “another one down..”. My cardio felt ok, but my legs were really suffering at this point. I have to confess I never hit a wall, and I think I know why. Throughout my whole training and in my work, I explain to people how “the wall” is a place in the mind. There is a science explaining it’s the point when your body just fully runs out of all energy and reserves and you physically can’t go any further. I’m sorry but no, that in my opinion is illogical, the body doesn’t have a sudden emergency shut off switch. You will get slower and slower for sure, but “the wall” is a simple psychological battle. Due to my mindset with it, I firmly believe that’s why I managed to avoid it and kept my legs moving.
As the sun started to go down, yes that’s right I started at 11am and now it was getting dark, I felt the chill start to come in. It didn’t affect me thankfully, but I did worry about my knee and how the cold could have it act up somehow. As I headed through central park for the final stint, I swear I saw Santa cheering me on. I don’t mean a man dressed up, I mean a large man with a white beard wearing a Christmas jumper offering high fives with his sausage fingers. I wanted to stop and take a photo but I was 0.7 miles from the end, Santa would have to wait for my sweaty hug.
I crossed the line in the dark with a position of 51,268 out of 53,517. I wasn’t last! My time was always a hope to get under 6 hours but I wasn’t sure how my body would manage from day one; it was honestly just a turn up and see what happens situation I ended up with 6:32:39, and honestly, I was just happy to have it finished. I got my medal and I walked 2 miles to get my back of stuff I never actually needed but packed anyway just in case. Another bit of advice, check where your baggage claim is in relation to the finish line. I did not need it!
I apologise for the length, I wasn’t sure how much I’d end up writing but this is almost a personal record as much as it is a blog for others to read and learn from. I hope it helps with those thinking of running a marathon or those that are in the process of training. If you’d like to know anything else please feel free to message or call me, I’d be happy to talk about it some more!
- Worry more about running too much than too little
- Consider your fuelling during long runs quite early on. Salts, Electrolytes and Sugar were my focus. Test different brands and register how your stomach feels afterwards
- Try to take room temperature water. Odd I know, but I found when buying water on my route from a shop, the water would be very cold and my organs were very warm. I’d take big gulps and almost immediately feel sick where my stomach had just contracted so much from the cold. Either take small sips, or buy a warmer bottle!
- Buy trainers for comfort, and only comfort. Try as many pairs as you like until they feel like socks
- Keep your running routes away from your finish line until you actually finish. You’ll always try to find an excuse to finish early. You may be strong enough to push through, but we all have bad runs.
- We all have bad runs! Don’t let the day you head out and suffer after 3 miles define your ability level, some days you just aren’t feeling it
- Seek sports therapy as a preventative rather than waiting for something to hold you back – you do not want to start taking time off when you’re only a month away for example
- Get your name on the front of your shirt. Its more uplifting than you expect
- Don’t be roped into “the wall.” It only exists in your head
- Don’t rely solely on running for your training. Include a cross training day in there somewhere too. That could be anything from crossfit, boot camp, strength work or spin classes, just make sure you are moving and strengthening those legs in other ways.
- Don’t run with someone that has a different speed to you. If you run slower, you’re loading your body differently. If you run faster, you’ll burn out too soon.