From Snickers to Marathon
It’s been a long, long while since I’ve written a blog post, I’ve been in a funk. I very nearly didn’t write this one, as I debated whether to blow my own trumpet here. I’ve always been careful not to have an ego, almost as though I’ve been raised to think that pride in any achievements should not be celebrated. Strange, as this is absolutely not how I was raised. So you know what? The hell with it! I trained bloody hard to complete a marathon and I raced even harder, so I’m going to document it dammit! Also, during my quest to lose weight etc I’ve read many inspiring blogs along the way (check out @austinslide’s Couch Potato to Ironman, for instance) and if this can provide even a fraction of the inspiration to someone else, then it’s worth it.
As far as the weight loss goes, I’ve written about it elsewhere, but to sum up here: I was 17.5st and smoking twenty L&B a day. Look at this photo, for the love of god. Like a pigeon stuffed into sausage wrapping, and one of two horrific ones that the media CONSTANTLY used.
All the weight I’d worked my ass off to get rid of a few years before had come back in a wave of self-pity, and was threatening to bring friends too unless I changed my lifestyle. I mean, two tubs of Pringles cannot be construed as a meal in anyone’s book for crying out loud. So I figured the best way to both get in shape and help with kicking smoking would be to run. It’s relatively inexpensive, practically anyone can start straight away and the thought of coughing up a lung every time I stumbled ten yards was enough to strengthen my resolve.
Now, anyone who saw me attempt cross country in school would have bet good money on Jesus returning to tap-dance the Olympic torch from Greece to London than say I’d be a runner, especially on those wet and windy days where me and my equally-flab-challenged friend John wallowed like beached whales at the bottom of the notorious hill on school grounds. Particularly out of shape beached whales. So the early days of this foray into running were a hard combo of run/walking at a “leisurely” pace, with much sweating and cursing as more seasoned runners swept by me like smug gazelles. However, I was a realist and knew exactly where I was at so I didn’t let it get me down, I just knew I had to keep at it. Two things helped at this stage. Firstly, the support I’d received at home and on Twitter was incredible. They made me feel like a world champion instead of a puffer who’d taken fifty seven minutes to run less than five miles. Secondly, it’s amazing how quickly the human body can improve, and by how much, with consistent training. I’m a numbers guy, so seeing my distances increase and my pace per mile tumble was very gratifying, and spurred me on more.
I very quickly felt confident enough to enter my first race, a 10k last June (see picture of me to the left looking particularly gleeful at the end). This was a fantastic experience for me. The buzz you get on race day is infectious and addictive, and I knew I only wanted to move forward from here.
A marathon was something that I hadn’t given any serious thought to, seeming like a completely insurmountable distance, but was an objective lingering in the far recesses of my mind. Instead, I continued to pound the road and push the distances until I reached half marathon distance in September. Serious training takes a back seat through winter as conditions worsen, so I just kept things ticking over until after Christmas. By this point, I’d lost about two and a half stone (see next pic) and was feeling pretty fit, so I had a vague notion of a spring marathon. I ummed and ahhed for a while until I realised that unless I actually entered one soon, I’d probably end up not doing it, so I took the plunge and entered the Belfast City Marathon in May.
With that finally set, I could focus completely on training towards it. I was pretty lucky with my training, I only missed the one run throughout the whole thing, due to a damn cold. I won’t bore you with the whole regime, but it was amazing the ride my confidence took on the way, from its lowest ebb after two eighteen milers that were as painful as they were demoralising, to amazing highs including a fifteen miler a month out where I felt I could have gone on forever.
Come race day, I felt as ready as I could be but still not amazingly confident. My mantra was ‘trust in the training’ and if anyone is in a similar position, I’d tell them to do the same. You have put in the miles and you WILL pull it together on the day as long as you don’t do anything too crazy.
Conditions for the race were, well, crappy, but it didn’t dampen the day at all. I had support from Sarah and Ashton, who’d been great during training and with calming me on the day, and I was buzzing to go. Again, I won’t do a mile-by-mile commentary, but it’s a strange thing. I didn’t hit the wall, which I’m sure would have been impossible for me anyway given as I’d eaten ALL the carbs on the weekend before, but I did have low points. Running alongside the shore in 40mph rain and sleet in the middle third was pretty damned trying, let me tell you. They say the race begins at mile twenty, and that last 10k is certainly a bitch. It’s a different kind of pain to training runs, as you almost leave your body in that extra feat of endurance. This leaves you ready to break into any and all emotional possibilities once you cross that line. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. In the end, I just stopped my Garmin, held it together and grabbed the crisps being handed out, my medal and, most importantly, a hug.
I’d done it. I was a marathoner. No-one could take that away from me. The most important thing from all this though, was the knowledge once I’d finished that, despite being exhausted, I was definitely going to do this again. This was now a lifestyle, not just one thing I do once, get a tattoo of my time just to prove I’m never going to do it again, and stop. This is me, for good.