I don’t often review races in my blog and I know that most of you aren’t here looking for race recommendations. But, bear with me, because this one was a little bit special and I think it deserves a post all of its own.
On Friday I ran my second marathon; the Darwin Day Marathon in Shrewsbury. I first saw this event mentioned on Facebook and it seemed too good to be true… really local venue, all my girls would be in school and it was on my usual day off. The downside? It was lapped… and the idea of 22 laps for a half-marathon was a bit daunting to say the least. But I decided to enter and treat it as a long run with an amazing medal at the end.
Once I’d made peace with 22 laps I’m not entirely sure what happened but some part of me decided I might as well enter the full marathon, 44 laps, and make it my first really long run of ultra training. Completely unlike me, I made this decision very quickly without overthinking it for several days and without analysing my training in minute detail. Turns out maybe I should be spontaneous more often, because this decision was a brilliant one.
I put absolutely no pressure on myself for this event. Unlike my first marathon, I hardly told anyone I’d entered and to be honest there were plenty of times late last year that I actually forgot about it! Yes I lead a very active life now and I run regularly because it’s my hobby and I love it… but really, I just let my everyday life train me for this marathon.
Long runs were replaced with several long hikes – spending hours on my feet and often in pretty terrible weather means that I’m pretty comfortable with being uncomfortable. Several soggy trips to Snowdonia and over 11 hours in the Yorkshire Dales completing the three peaks challenge in January turned out to be excellent marathon training.
If you’ve never run a marathon I’m not for one moment suggesting that you don’t include long runs in your training; in fact I think they’re essential – you need to know what it feels like to run 20 plus miles, both physically and mentally. But, I’m proof that, once you’ve banked those long runs, if you stay fit, do your strength training and keep regularly running 10-13 miles, you can get through a marathon… and, most importantly, you can enjoy it.
Please don’t confuse this with training for a certain time or for a new PB. If your goals are to get faster or to hit a certain pace then of course your training should be tailored accordingly. But you don’t have to run 50 miles a week. Please don’t compare what you are doing to the people you follow on social media – they might be training for a PB attempt or for a 2:20 marathon… of course their weekly volume and sessions will look totally different to yours.
So about Friday. There were no real nerves in the weeks and days leading up to this run. My biggest worry was that I had the mental strength to get through 44 laps on a cycle track. But I was very encouraged by the thought of being able to leave my bag at the side of the track with my nutrition and various drinks. (Plus several alternate items of clothing, lip balm, gloves, buffs, body glide and fresh socks – it ended up being quite a big bag!)
In addition to packing my bag (suitcase) I also downloaded several episodes of the ‘My Dad wrote a porno’ podcast because I often speed up when I run to music and I wanted this run to be controlled.
Race day started the same as any other school morning… breakfast for the girls, packed lunches, school uniforms, the usual cries of ‘Teeth! Hair! Shoes!’ whilst I threw back a coffee and a slice of toast. Then it was school run and off to run a marathon… even writing it now it feels a bit surreal!
So, about the race. I’ll get the big negative out of the way first. There were no views, I mean a few trees and a wire fence. Obviously I got to run through the start / finish area 44 times and there was music playing and people offering encouragement, but that was it. Fortunately I brightened the place up a bit in my own extra way…
It takes a different kind of strength to run laps… real mental strength. I really did try to switch off and just focus on the lap I was in… counting down from 44 was a definite no go in terms of strategy. I was careful not to even look at the lap counter screen near the start until my Garmin told me I was approaching 20 miles – I was happy to count the laps down from 10 but I refused to start any sooner and I think that really helped me.
If you’re thinking to yourself ‘I could never do that’ then I’d probably advise you not to try – you really need to be in a positive mindset if you’re going to attempt this style of race. Since I’ve run it I’ve had lots of people get in touch to say they’ve found laps horrendous and that they will never do it again. I can understand how you could quickly find yourself having a pity party for one if you didn’t have a strong positive mindset.
If, on the other hand you’re fairly sure you could do it, but you’re not sure you want to, I say give it a go! Particularly if you have a big goal race coming up and you’re wanting to try out your fueling strategy or your gear – this event was absolutely perfect for that.
I can honestly say that I loved every minute of those 5 hours on Friday. It helped that I was really lucky with the weather and for the most part it was a lovely, sunny winter day. I was consistent in the first half (about 2 hours 20) and once I started to feel tired I slowed it down, walked half a lap whilst I ate a few jelly beans or some energy bar. I didn’t hit the wall and actually felt I could’ve kept going if I’d needed to.
Crossed the line after my 44th lap, collected my absolutely beautiful Darwin themed medal, quick recovery shake and I was on my way to do the school pick up – via Tesco to grab a couple of pizzas for dinner! My girls gave me an absolute heroes welcome when they saw me arrive… honestly, what more could I want?
It’s still sinking in that it happened. Still in disbelief that I enjoyed it as much as I did and so very excited to increase the distance. Watch this space! As always, a huge thank you to everyone who supports me through these crazy ideas and adventures of mine… I feel with you all behind me I can do anything I set my mind to and that’s a really great feeling.