Two marathons in two weeks: 'It's over!
Supporter Vee Uye has just finished her second marathon in a fortnight. It was a race she won't forget in a hurry.
At the end of last year I decided to run 2 marathons in 2 weeks in order to raise much-needed funds for Freedom from Torture, a charity that provides care and rehabilitation for individuals and their families who have been subjected to torture and other forms of organised violence.
On the 29 April, in what felt like 'end of the world' conditions, I ran the second and final marathon of this challenge. I'm not going to lie, it was tough.
After the first marathon in Brighton, I was quite upbeat. I'd achieved a personal best and had a great time, running the whole course with one of my best friends. The weather was perfect, and other than the general fatigue and soreness of running such a long way, I felt good. This left me wholly unprepared for the Manchester Marathon. It was a good 12 days ago and, to be honest, I'm still a little bit broken. But what an achievement, albeit one I won't be rushing to repeat anytime soon.
I really wanted to run Manchester as it's my home city, and the start and finish of the marathon were located about a mile from my house. Having traversed the country for the Brighton Marathon, I felt something a little closer to home would be a little easier on my schedule. What I failed to consider is that it always rains in Manchester when you need it not to. And if you really need it not to, the Rainy City will whip up a meteorological apocalypse.
The big day
I arrived at the start area before the race, dropped off my baggage and joined the inevitable cue for the portaloos. I knew that the weather was going from bad to worse when a particularly bitter gust of wind hit the queuing, scantily clad runners and we all shuffled 180 degrees en masse, with protective bin liners whipping in the wind and gritted 'I'm determined to enjoy this' grins fixed to our damp faces. It was like a scene from Frozen Planet.
Next, I popped into the Freedom from Torture tent at the charity village. I met regional fundraiser Alice and some of the other Freedom from Torture runners. We were all very cold. I felt bad for those running the tent, who'd arrived much earlier than I had, would be staying later, and wouldn't have the warming benefits of running for those long hours. (FORESHADOWING ALERT!!) The tent was a little piece of sanctuary carved from the boggy windswept landscape of Longford Park (END FORESHADOWING).
Finally, it was start time. I had been worried that the weather and the out of city centre route would make for a sparsely supported race. As soon as we crested the hill at the start, my prediction was happily shattered. Cheering crowds lined the streets and my mind was taken away from the rain and cold and my body started to warm up. By the time we ran past the Manchester United ground, I had regained feeling in my hands. Running along with my good friend David, who had also run the Brighton Marathon with me two weeks previously, I was pleased to find that we were setting a good pace and that expected aches and pains from the last race were at a minimum. Craig, another friend who had also run at Brighton, caught up with us about a mile or so in to say hello and good luck before dropping back to his own pace.
We'd planned to run at slightly under sub-four hour pace, slower than Brighton but still respectable for us. However, the flat, fast course and the fitness gains of marathon training meant that before too long, we'd caught sight of the 3:45 pacer. We carried on at our own pace and eventually caught him at around the half way point. So we decided to hang on to him.
Everything was going well until David's knee injury, picked up after the Brighton, was exacerbated by the sudden materialisation of a never ending hill. Shortly after this, he dropped out of the race at around mile 16. I was on my own.
Manchester cheering through the rain
The next thing I remember is coming into Dunham Massey. The wide road transformed into a narrow, high-hedged, country lane. The mud and rain water was calf deep and the only sound for a while was the churning, splashing, slipping, and cursing of runners in what was, essentially, a sheep-dip. I actually quite enjoyed it. I probably said something jovial like, 'well, I can't get any wetter'. I was wrong.
After successfully negotiating the mud-chute, we turned to head straight into a sleet laced headwind. Any exuberant joy I had been feeling after the giant puddle stomp quickly dissipated. The cold stole sensation from my hands and legs and the 3:45 pacer was a distant memory. The next 4-5 miles were a speed-sapping death march.
I don't really remember much from here on in. The crowds increased in support in direct correlation to my sinking motivation. It made me feel awful because I was being cheered on while all the time thinking, 'as soon as the crowd thins, I can stop without shame'. Fortunately, it never thinned and stubborn pride kept me going until the bitter end.
We had to run through a subway tunnel at around mile 25. I was dreaded this, having read about it prior to the race, but to be honest, I was so miserable at this stage, I was beyond differentiating between shades of pain. My hands were too cold to receive the pouches of water, or to unzip my pocket to take on nutrition, so I was probably completely delirious and dehydrated. I was also unable to press the miniscule button on my Garmin to show me the total elapsed time, and too cold to do basic math. This meant that as I finally, impossibly, neared the finish, I thought I was on for around 4:15 - 4:30. I was just glad to be finishing. I wanted to go home.
And then, impossibly, I saw the finishing clock as I entered the last funnel, deafened by cheers of freezing wet spectators. 3:51. I knew it had taken a few minutes to cross the start line so...there was a good chance I had smashed my Brighton time. It didn't make sense. I couldn't work it out.
I stumbled over the line and was given a space blanket and a banana, as well as a recovery drink. The sodden ground in Longford park was absolutely covered in tiny worms. I'm sure there's a name for that phenomenon. Regardless, it merely added to the surreal nature of the whole experience. If anyone saw me mumbling about ground-dwelling invertebrates while sporting an attractive space blanket cape, I apologise.
There was a debacle at the baggage retrieval tent. I won't go into it as it has been covered in more detail elsewhere, and the organisers have since apologised. Suffice to say, I got my bag some time later, by which time I was so cold I could only think about getting to that safe, wind-free space I had encountered earlier in the Freedom from Torture tent. Remember that foreshadowing I did earlier?
I made my way to the charity village and to wear I thought the Freedom from Torture tent was. I couldn't see it. Then, my heart sank. I saw a lonely Freedom from Torture vest hanging from a tree with some people huddled under it. The tent poles had snapped in the ridiculously fierce wind and blown the tent down? I wondered if it was the same wind that did for us in Dunham Massey.
Disaster. I felt so sorry for the volunteers who had been left shelterless in that. Massive, massive thanks for their support, including the blanket somebody lent to me while my addled brain tried to work out what to do. Luckily for me, a friend found me and called my housemate, who promptly collected me and pointed me in the direction of a hot shower and a cup of tea. And laughed at my blue lips. And weirdly swollen hands.
An amazing achievement
The official results came back. I ran 3:47:21. Amazingly, I had completed two marathons in two weeks and run the second one faster than the first, in much less favourable conditions. I can't explain it. I can only say it made it all worth it. That and my fundraising, which stands currently at £713. There's still time to donate if you want to!
I think if I had known, really known, how hard this would be, I might have thought twice about it. And yet, I wouldn't turn back the clock. I've forgotten the pain, mostly - except for the persistant groin pull I picked up - and it's impossible for me to truly remember just how cold and miserable I felt at the time. The body and mind are like that. If we had perfect recall of truly horrible moments, how could we go on? It doesn't mean we forget. It just means that we incorporate them into our future experiences, hopefully in a way that prepares us and makes us better. What I do insist on taking with me from all of this is that I set myself a challenge that I did not know I would be able to achieve.
And, yeah. I did it.