I stood on the start line alone in the dimming light with rain stinging my face and an angry wind whipping around me like some giant dinosaur beating its huge bulking tail into the land.
It was Saturday the 22nd of December and I stood on the sea front at Southsea looking out at the darkness laughing “tomorrow is going to be fun”!
I had decided to go for it and run the Portsmouth Coastal Waterside marathon (yeah that is a bit of a mouthful). My knee had been fine for a couple of days and my short 5k run on Wednesday evening had gone well but the knee was painful again as I walked back to my hotel.
I genuinely had no idea if I’d get through the marathon; the best I could hope was that the pain would be manageable.
After a meal with friends I headed back to my hotel to discover there was a band playing at the bar which was conveniently situated beneath my room. I had been warned that there was a function on that night.
Mercifully it was all quiet by 11:30 but I still had a fateful sleep with dreams of putting Vaseline on my feet among others! So I woke feeling very nervous but felt happy to have made it to the day its self.
I went through my usual pre race rituals, a coffee, banana and a bowl of ban flakes all finished off with a Beet It beetroot shot plus some toast and sips of Lucozade sport and some apple juice. To my surprise the 2nd place runner from the 2011 marathon Mark Carwardine was staying at my hotel and we wished each other luck before setting off to the marathon.
The weather was a touch calmer but I still expected rain but for the moment it was dry. I wasn’t able to make it to the marathon expo on Saturday so I picked up my number and timing chip before the race got underway.
I met up with lots of friends and it seemed I’d have company for much of the race. Both Kevin and Andy would pace both my self and another runner Adam who was also aiming for a sub 4 hour marathon.
Despite the last minute knee injury and my short hospital stay with a kidney problem I would still give it my all.
The race got underway the beeping of timers and watches was electrifying and once I got over the blue mats the shuffle soon gave way to a steady jog. Though it’s a low key marathon with about a 1000 runners it was a congested first few minutes with some jostling for position.
The first 2 miles along the Southsea Esplanade were very enjoyable but as we hit the first beach I became aware of pain in my knee. I carried on running as close to my pace as possible but it was tough going on slippery rocks and shingle beaches.
I also had wet feet from 2.5 miles into the race when we ran across a small inlet to the sea. Wow this was a real off road marathon! I felt good and the banter between Kev and Andy was funny.
It wasn’t long before we came upon our first puddles which had become lakes; like me most runners were still trying to skirt around them in a fruitless attempt to keep their feet dry.
At the water station Adam miss took the shots of brandy for an energy drink. This caused great hilarity. I doubt I’ll ever run another race which provided mulled wine and brandy as well as water and energy drinks. I was also very impressed by the huge glass bowls full of jelly babies and jelly beans.
Due to the nature of the course and the time of year spectator support was at a premium and people would often gather at the water and aid stations and this was always a boost.
I motored on and from 10 miles in my right foot was in pain and that would become agony for the rest of the marathon. It distracted me from the left knee pain!
As we approached the turn around point the conditions under foot became much worse.
To say it was a quagmire was an understatement. We ran along a bridle path split down the middle by a fence and the leading runners who had started their return leg ran on the right side with outgoing runners keeping to the left for the remainder of the run. We cheered every one who came past us and made a lot of noise when we spotted people we knew like Mark @MarkCarwardine1 and Brian @churchlard
I remember getting a bit annoyed with a runner in front of me who started to count the runners as they came past him. I thought he’d stop or lose count after 10. I got past him when he was counting the 44th runner pass by!
At the half way point we met up with Emma and shared a hug and had some water and jelly babies before starting our return leg. I really liked the fact that it was a there and back run; it was also the first time I’d experienced that kind of race. It was good to know what lay in store for the final 13 miles. Though it was also scary knowing we’d be running through some very boggy tracks and had to tackle the two shingle beaches again.
By now no one was trying to keep dry and we just ploughed through the muddy lakes and bogs which in places would swallow your feet right up to your shin and ankles. I was so glad I’d not taken my Gore-Tex lined shoes. At least with my Asics Fuji trail shoes on the water could drain out.
I remember hitting the beach at mile 17 and thinking “this is the hardest running I’ve ever known”. Fatigue was now starting to creep into my legs.
From around mile 19 I took my 4th of 5 gels to try to get going again. Andy kept offering advice to help distract me from the pain and I knew from my first marathon that I start to lose it at this point.
I was determined not to walk this time and kept pushing on. At 21 miles I took my last gel and started to look ahead for a sign I was approaching the final beach. Once there I knew it was only another 2.5 miles to the finish.
It was past 21 miles that I started to feel somewhat dizzy at times though with Andy Goodson’s help I kept moving, though it felt as though I was getting slower and slower now. Once we got onto that last bit of shingle I knew the finish line was getting ever closer. Once back onto the Esplanade Emma who had waited for us to arrive ran with me for the last 1.5 miles and helped to keep me focused and upright. I was still feeling very unwell and thought I was going to pass out a few times.
We posed for the photographer at the 25 mile mark and even raised a smile or two. I looked out across the beach to the sea to savour the moment even though I felt horrible.
The conditions underfoot meant I’d spent much of the run looking down at where best to place my feet and so I kept reminding myself to look around as this was a beautiful course with fantastic scenery and living in land locked Staffordshire I don’t get many chances to run at the seaside.
And as the finish approached all 4 of us crossed the line together and though it wasn’t a sub 4 hour marathon I felt pleased as punch with my PB of 4:24:01 which beats my last marathon by 21 minutes.
That was my goal and it capped a perfect end to 2012 for me. A year in which I hit new best times in every distance from 5k to the marathon; a year in which I raised over £2000 for charity but more importantly a year in which I made many new friends through my running and charity runs.
For anyone who might fancy a crack at the Portsmouth marathon this year. The online entry will open on the 1st of February at the early bird price of £20 until 28th Feb 2013. Then it will revert to £26 after this.
Or why not have ago at the Portsmouth Coastal half Marathon on 17th February 2013. http://www.fitprorob.biz/marathons/
So for now I’m having a few weeks rest, I owe it to my poor knee’s. Plus I do feel a bit tired, 2012 was a year of running and racing. I ran just short of 1400 miles and raced over 200 miles and I now feel the time is right for a short break.
I don’t know what 2013 will bring me but I do know its up to me how to play it. Good luck and happy new year to you all.