Yes, I know, don’t go off too fast, and I didn’t. There were no pens for different speeds and so I started towards the back, taking it all in. I’m sure all the confident super humans at the front were leaning forward, poised before the off, making out that a good start would give them the edge over the opposition.
Have you met people from the 100 Marathon Club? There were loads of them at Halstead, so many that I wondered whether the club was so named because they send 100 runners to every marathon. I was going slow enough to be able to splutter out a few words to one of them who was wearing a Superman cape. He ran marathons pretty much every weekend, eschewing all the advice that tells you to take significant breaks every time a 26.2 has pretty much broken you. He told me that Halstead and Essex was in the top 5 most difficult British marathons, maybe not what you wanted to hear with 20 miles to go.
And it was tough. There was bright warm sunshine throughout, apart from the respite of the occasional shady lane. It was hilly and if you didn’t like a particular hill then you had the prospect off tackling it all over again when you were more ground down and doing the second loop.
The organisation was faultless. In many ways we got a taste of the treatment that elite runners receive. The organisers were even willing to take labelled drinks to various water stations around the course. The marshalls then took them off the table and handed them out as the relevant runner came into view. There were also icy buckets filled with little sponges to mop our sweaty brows.
We’d worked out that there was sn intersection through which the runners would pass three or four times. Team RunDontRun stationed themselves there and I appreciated for the first time the importance of having loved ones giving you extra special encouragement as you toil around the course. I started off knowing exactly where they’d be and looking forward to seeing them. Towards the end I’d lost all sense of location or direction and was surprised when again they loomed into view.
As ever, my strict Run Don’t Walk rule was in operation. I was sniffy about the significant number of people who decided to walk up each of the (many) hills pretty much from the start. There was one woman I overtook on most of the early ascents, only for her to speed past me after each “summit”.
I’m not sure how conscious I was of Mile 20, the prompt for my “crash” in Hyde Park a few weeks earlier, but up until that point I’d felt reassuringly comfortable and was holding my planned pace. However, it was around this point that the regular gels I’d been downing seemed to be exposed as crude placebos as my legs started to fade and my confidence started to sap.
A woman seemed to take me under my wing around this point. She took on the role of a kind of Guardian Angel as I transformed from someone who bragged about how I would never entertain walking in a running race to someone who basically wanted to lie down in the middle of the country lane.
Team RunDontRun loomed into view one last time and I kept going to reassure them that all was fine. After that point I sent my temporary Guardian Angel on her way as the effects of her encouragement to keep on going were wearing off. I’m ashamed to admit that during the last three or four miles, the Run Don’t Walk rule was broken many a time.
Fortunately the finish line followed a short turn into a leisure centre and I was able to fake some semblance of a runner as my son spotted me coming round the corner to join me as the 26.2 miles finally came to an end.
I lay in the Essex grass for a good half an hour repeatedly telling myself never again, before remembering I’d recently entered the ballot for the 2013 London Marathon. The feelings of elation weren’t quite what I’d been hoping for but I reminded myself that I was now one of the 1% who can say they’ve completed a marathon.
I was way off my target time – I’d set my Garmin for something like 4:10 (with the aim of getting closer to 4:00) thinking this would stop me from overdoing it and crashing as well as hopefully giving me some leeway to go faster towards the end if I had it in me. My final time was just over 4:29:00.
A year later, I know there’s a good chance I’ll be lining up for the London Marathon in 2014. I’m “secretly” hoping that knowing I can “get round”, making sure I do a couple of much longer and successfultraining runs, fewer hills and the big city marathon atmosphere will all combine to show me I’ll be older, wiser and maybe a little bit faster.