Since re-launching my website earlier this year, I’ve gone ‘off-piste’ a few times with my blogs. There is only so much you can write about music and the clubbing scene and when putting together the ideas for my new site I was adamant that I actually wanted it to be more than just that. Running is now a big part of my life and I’m sitting in bed writing this, aching pretty much everywhere after completing the Chester Marathon, so I thought I’d put fingers to keyboard and write about it.
Let’s give you a little bit of background first. I took my first tentative steps away from the gym treadmill and out into the dark, cold place they call Croydon – I’m not saying Croydon is a dark, cold place all the time, it was actually night time and really cold. I completed just under three miles that night, back in March 2010. I remember it vividly. Where I ran. What I wore. How I felt – I was blowing out of my backside, by the way, but I’d made a start. Quite soon after that one of my best pals, who is a Territorial Army member and regular marathon runner, had me signed up for the Dublin Marathon. Fast forward a few years, a few thousand miles ran and a few thousand quid raised for The Adolescent Childrens Trust and Nordoff Robbins Music Charity (at the Dublin and Amsterdam marathons respectively) and something in me tells me it’s time to tackle another marathon.
I’d initially registered for the 2013 Berlin Marathon but the cost of getting out there and staying for a few days was looking to cost a monkey (that’ll be £500 for you non-Londoners) before I’d even sampled some post race Berlin fun. Yes, I’d intended to try and go to Berghain and blag my way in past the difficult doorstaff with my medal. Anyway, I knocked the Berlin idea on the head and jumped on Google to find a replacement around the same time. Up popped the Chester Marathon. Voted the UK’s No1 Marathon in a very short time (this year was only its fourth marathon). It was a mainly flat course, that took in historic Chester and included a small jaunt out to Wales. A main factor for me was the fact they had pace teams. I’m absolutely pony with keeping my pace, so once I saw they had them, I was sold. Chester I’m coming to get ya….like them lyrics? Whaddaya mean it doesn’t rhyme? Yes it does.
I’m just gonna chop out all the training running stuff as it’s mostly boring. I run lots, it can sometimes seem monotonous, it can sometimes be refreshing yadda yadda. What I will say is that I didn’t train as much as I had for my previous two efforts and I struggled to find some running trainers that I really got on with. I actually bought three pairs and went back to a trusty pair I’d run in lots for the big day. You can try these puppies on in the shop and they feel sweet on, then several runs later and they aren’t so sweet. Maybe I shouldn’t be such a picky sneaker freak!?
I’m heading up the M6 with ‘Heather’ and I’m a tad concerned at our accommodation. I booked somewhere cheap, from a few options I could find and this was before ‘Heather’ was in my life. I was just thinking about somewhere cheap, central and clean. Well according to Trip Advisor it was two out of those three. Guess which one it wasn’t supposed to be? Thankfully it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the reviews had stated and after a really nice ‘last supper’ (before the race) with the folks, who had also travelled up to support me (and go to Cheshire Oaks retail outlet, I kid you not), I settled down for an early night. Probably not the best night for ‘Heather’ to have a massive snoring session. She said it was a man in another room, the rooms did have thin walls and she wasn’t fibbing, there was a man snoring, but there was no mistaking her snoring right next to me. I woke at 6am after a light, broken sleep and I instantly felt nervous.
The next bit was really rather odd and I don’t recall this happening before. After I’d got clean and had a flapjack and nourishment drink for breakfast, I then had a really snotty, runny nose. I’d had no sign of this previously and then out of nowhere I had a constant flow of nastiness. I’d blow it, whine at ‘Heather’ about something and then I’d need to blow it again. Then to make matters worse I needed to go to the bog every ten minutes and I’m not talking about going for a pee!! I guess my body was trying to tell me it didn’t fancy running 26.2 miles? The good news was once I fully kitted up and ready, the runny parts of me stopped as soon as they’d begun. Result. Time to get my Game Face on and do tha ting!!
One major driving force for me this year was the fact that just before the race I was sitting on £980 of sponsorship for the Newham Branch of the National Autistic Society. A Charity my Mum has close ties with, having worked with kids with Autism and Aspergers for many years. I had a lot of people to be grateful to for sponsoring me and I couldn’t let them down. A snotty nose wasn’t gonna keep me from nailing this race so off to Chester Racecourse we go.
Nervous conversations and awkward jokes gather pace between ‘Heather’ and I until it’s time to get in the pen and get ready for the start of the race. One of the race organisers was giving words of encouragement over the racecourse PA system, but they were delivered in a way that you knew he’d been here himself. Not fake positivity delivered with a salesperson pitch, but in a way that meant the next few hours of your life were going to be very tough. The Chester Town Crier then nearly deafened me with some final words that rattled through me more than the speakers in the Box at Ministry of Sound. Cheers mate!! And we’re off, running a bit on the actual horse racing route before we head out in to Chester Town and the next 26 miles of the race.
I shan’t bore you with a blow by blow account of my race. I started off behind the 3hour 30minute pace team and I followed them for most of the race. What I will tell you about though, were the hundreds, in fact thousands, of words you have with yourself when you take on something like this. I think most runners will agree that your body can adapt to the distances you put it through if you train enough, but you’ve got to get your mind straight first!? Sometimes you’re thinking “I can’t do another 20 miles of this” after you’ve just done the first 10K. Sometimes you’re bolting along and thinking “This feels great……they look nice in those shorts”. Sometimes you overhear something extremely poignant and you think “Wow, respect due” as I did after someone said “I’m happy just to be alive” after they had explained to a fellow runner about having had chemotherapy for Cancer and was there running and getting stuck into a marathon whilst you’re watching the Hollyoaks omnibus. That sure focuses your mind, well it did mine anyway. I actually kept the volume down on my earphones for most of the race. Loud enough to keep me moving. Quiet enough to take in things around you, like spontaneous “Oggie Oggie Oggie” chants and the gentle applause as people passed the pace team time signs from shift to shift. It’s hard enough to keep pace, without having to hold a placard up on a stick!! I started off with some classic Hip Hop featuring the likes of Onyx, Nas and Jay Z. I then went with a chunky mix of current House and then onto some really nice rolling D&B. I sourced all these mixes specifically for the race from pals off Stalkbook, so I must shout out Robin K, Mark Robinson and Sam Caterer respectively, for the mixes that kept me going.
As I got to twenty miles the inevitable happened, I started to slow down and the regularity in which I had words with myself increased. I also turned the volume right up on the iPod and switched to some D&B and Jungle classics. Music from my youth that would really get me pumped, when I needed it most. I also started consuming Lucozade gels and energy drinks every time I could get my hands on them. I really shouldn’t have, but it was so psychological right now. I checked FB and Twitter to see whether the clever race chip time was linking to my social networks? It was and that took my mind off it for a few minutes. I ran with a fellow racer for a while and took my earphones out and discussed the merits of the first post race beer, another few minutes with my mind off the task ahead. At one point M-Beat and General Levy ‘Incredible’ came on and I really did have a massive rush of endorphins, I was buzzing, until I saw the incline I had up ahead of me, but I was edging ever closer to that finish line.
Another thing I think any marathon runner will tell you, will be that the last few miles are truly emotional. Not in a straight up crying, ‘I wanna do this for my 3 year old kid’ X Factor emotional way, but you are so close, but so far and with not much more left in the tank. I started thinking about seeing ‘Heather’ and my folks. Could I spy them on the way in? Then I started thinking about the fact I wouldn’t beat my PB. Sod it, who cares, I’m still gonna celebrate, but how? The Mo-Bot and the Lightning Bolt are soooooo 2012 darling, what shall I do? And no, ‘heart shape hands’ did not cross my mind. I saw one runner with a very bloody leg, where it looked like he may have run out of steam and taken a tumble. Another in one of those silver tin foil blankets, both so close but probably not likely to cross the finish line. I felt for them for sure. One last push, plenty of spectators cheering everyone on and then it was the final furlong (see what I did there? Racecourse, furlong, genius!!) and I really went for it….. for about 50 metres, saw the race clock, realised a) I’d not beat my PB and b) I had NOTHING more left to push any harder and I trundled in whilst giving it the Run Dem Crew ‘Gunfinger Salute’ at the finish line. I’d only gone and done it. 3hours 38minutes and 44seconds. I saw my folks, posed for a miserable looking pic, remembered to then grab my medal and then I saw ‘Heather’ waiting for me after I’d grabbed my commemorative race top and goodie bag (which became the best goodie bag EVER for having Haribo Tangfastics in it). I then wanted to get out my race clothes and survey the damage to my toes. Surprise, surprise, my big toe nail was looking rather horrid. Feet aren’t nice anyway, but when you have a massive blood blister staring at you, they become even nastier.
I wanted to get back to the B&B and get clean and to open the bottle of Veuve Cliquot we had on ice to celebrate ‘Heather’ getting a new job and for me finishing the race. We nailed that, whilst I was attempting to repair and bandage my toes with the £20 of blister plasters, bandages and painkillers I’d bought in Boots on the slow walk home. As we left the B&B for some more celebratory drinks and a nice meal, I was offered the immortal line from some bloke in reception “You look like you’ve been bummed, our kid”. It was a friendly marathon, but it wasn’t THAT friendly.