Yes, reader, I ran the damn thing.
The eagle eyed amongst you (pun intended) may notice that this blog is missing a week. I actually started writing it, but to be honest it was just another week of physio, test runs, adventures in cross training, and general indecisiveness. Not that this isn't a massively important part of this marathon build up, it's just harder to write up interestingly, and I just don't quite get round to it. Sorry 'bout that.
And so we reached week 18, which seemed a very long time after that first meeting with Coach Mark, and certainly not how I hoped to be feeling - still not sure whether or not I would be running it.
Had a pre-physio test run which went horrendously - hip was sore, felt massively hard work AND my healing Buddha charm made a break for freedom and fell off my wrist. Tried to comfort myself with the experience that all runs in the week before a race are shit, but it wasn't doing anything for my confidence. Was finding it hard to even feel excited about the weekend because I just didn't know what I should do. Was even trying to run a marathon a bad idea? Would I damage myself further and rule myself out of running for the rest of the year? Might it actually all be okay?
Left work early on Thursday for final physio, armed with a card filled with amazingly kind words and encouragement. Physio went well and Kieran told me that if I wanted to run it, then it should be fine. Was told to keep up the glute exercises in any spare moment I had, and that whilst it would probably flare up afterwards, I should just keep doing what I had been doing.
Even with the green light, I wasn't sure, but the time had come to make a decision. Whilst Mark had said that we could go to Wales and it would be absolutely fine if I decided on the day itself that I didn't think I should run it, I knew that if I went then I would at least start. And if I started, I would probably finish whatever happened. If the worst happened, I knew my parents would be at halfway so I would be able to get a lift back to HQ rather than having to wait for the sweeper bus. The taxi was booked. Bags were packed. Decision was finally made.
Arrived in Wales on Friday morning and headed to race HQ in Llanberis to collect my number, and do some obligatory posing with the trophy. Lunched in a cafe where they had run out of pretty much everything (busiest weekend of their year!) but I was able to get a rather yummy toasted sandwich.
Bus driver back to Bangor was brilliant and seemed to know everyone he passed along the route, and don't mind causing blockages and traffic jams to stop to talk to them. #sowelsh. He was also very fluid with the location of bus stops, which worked to our advantage in the end.
Spent the rest of the afternoon "relaxing" at the hotel (sitting still is not my forte) whilst Mark went to see if there was anywhere to get a decent pre-marathon meal in Bangor. Turns out, there was not, so he bought supplies for a carpet picnic - pastas, bread, houmous, and a repeat of last year's secret weapon, the Pot Noodle.
Headed back to my room to do some yoga, stretching and foam rolling, and to get everything ready for the next day.
Now, Snowdonia has a very respectable start time of 10.30am, but out of habit I felt the need to set my race day alarm very early. With good reason as it turns out, as there always seems to be so much to do. Made our way to breakfast where I wished I'd practiced eating hot food before running because, damn, those hash browns looked good. Settled for cereal, which was on top of the porridge & banana I'd already had in my room. Spotted a couple of other runners, including one lady who came over to say hello. If I haven't said it already, I bloody love the running community.
Taxi to HQ was unsurprisingly much quicker than the bus had been, despite the traffic jam which the driver said was "the first I've ever seen in Llanberis."
Unlike last year the weather was clear, so settled myself outside whilst Mark went to check where he needed to go to get up to mile 22. Within ten minutes of arriving I had tripped over my own bag and been trodden on whilst pigeon-ing. It was going well.
Whilst I was waiting, Sarah Mack off of the Ealing Eagles found me. Her boyfriend Tom was going to be cycling round the course supporting, and her dad and Mark both planned to hike up the mountain to support us up the toughest part of the course. Leaving them to discuss this, Sarah and I went off for a last toilet visit before we all made our way to the start line.
I still wasn't sure how this was going to go, and whether I'd even make it further than the first few miles, but I'd written 5/10/15/20 mile split times for a 4'25 finish on my arm and figured I may as well start with this in mind and see what happened. Sarah said she wanted to try to stay with me for as long as possible, but I suspected it might not end like that. Just after 10.30am, we were off.
After the last few tester runs I'd expected the first few miles to be a bit tricky and uncomfortable, but actually everything felt okay. Bit stiff, but okay. Despite us doing many, many of the same races, Sarah and I had actually never run together. I'm generally a bit of a lone runner, so having a buddy was different and exciting and would definitely help later on. We hit the first ascent and made it to the top strong. At 5 miles I could check on how we were doing compared to my 4'25 finish splits - 90 seconds down, but that had been mostly uphill. So far, so on target.
From Pen Y Pass, it's a glorious downhill. Clouds were low so couldn't really see anything. I dropped a gel and a few minutes later a guy ran past us and gave it back to me. I love tis race. I love where it goes off road and you have to really concentrate on your footing. Hip was still feeling good, but I was careful not to lead with my right foot and put extra pressure on it. Miles were passing so fast and I was still feeing strong.
A check at 10 miles showed we were now 3 minutes ahead of target time. I opened a gel and managed to spray it all over myself, and spent pretty much the next 16 miles of water stations trying to wash it off. Sarah was feeling hungry so we shared a Nakd bar.
My parents were at Beddgelert which is just before halfway, where they had the Marmite sandwich I requested. Last year I'd asked for Jaffa Cakes, but this year I knew something savoury would be better. My mother had delightfully cut it into quarters so I took two and Sarah took two. A lady a few minutes up the course asked "Do you have a sandwich?!" Bonus of experience.
From this point, we hit our second ascent. I had previously claimed I didn't remember this hill, but now I'm not sure how this was possible. After a great first half it was starting to feel quite hard work. After losing massive amounts of boyfriend points for disappearing (loo break apparently) Tom was turning up regularly on the bike which was nice in breaking things up.
Time check at 15 miles showed we were almost bang on time for a 4'25 finish. I knew difficult times were ahead, but by this point I thought that a PB might be in the bag.
At 17 miles, Sarah commented that it sounded like a really big number. It really does. It sounds like you should be near the end when you actually have 9 miles to go. My hip joint wasn't hurting, but the outside of both hips, IT bands and glutes were starting to tighten up. I was struggling, but running with Sarah was keeping me going, probably faster than I would have been otherwise.
It was around this time Sarah also pointed out, "Is it just me, or is everyone else walking?" Yes they were. Perhaps there was a memo we missed as we kept trudging on.
Waunfawr was busy and I managed to get up on the pavement and then worry about how to get down again. It was like being on a cliff. Made the turn into the last great ascent where we had both agreed to power walk up.
Ironically, I had been looking forward to this point so I could finally get a quick rest before the last few miles. I don't think I realised how little I had left. At a run I had managed to match pace with Sarah, but at a walk it suddenly seemed so much harder. Watching her disappear out of sight was so hard and I knew the last few miles were going to be tough as fuck. For the last few miles I'd been feeling pretty nauseas and it wasn't getting any better. Each step felt like my foot was being nailed to the floor.
Mark was at mile 23 ish where he walked alongside me and made me keep my head up and my chest open to breathe properly. 99% of my body and brain was screaming at me to stop, but the last 1% was reminding me that even if I sat down right there (as I wanted so much) I'd still have to get back somehow.
Starring role on S4C. Looking like I'm about to vomit.
The worst part of this was seeing my average pace slipping and watching my potential 4'25 finish disappear. It's so easy to reflect and say I should have just pushed on, but at the time I had nothing left. Made it to the top and then when I was finally grateful that the downhill had started, my right knee started hurting. Awesome.
I have to say that the camaraderie at this point of the race was a amazing and despite feeling crap I was so grateful for every kind word received. But the knee was pretty much the nail in the coffin and my watch was already showing my previous time with over a mile to go. I would have cried, but I didn't have the energy.
Literally hobbled down the mountain knowing that it wasn't worth potentially damaging myself further. I was grateful enough about the hip not being a bitch to appreciate this.
Crossed the finish line, not quite so as gloriously as last year, but never so happy as to have bloody finished.
Claimed my water and foil blanket and spotted a dog in a jumper. Feeling a bit delicate, I decided that saying hi to this dog would make me feel 100% better. Asked her mum if it would be okay to say hello, which quickly lead to staffie snogs. She then told me that lovely Carla was an ex Battersea dog who was very excitedly waiting for her new dad to finish. Love her :)
Made my way back to HQ to collect my bags where I found Sarah waiting for her massage. She hadn't quite made our target either, but still finished in an incredible 4'27. We're both targeting sub 4 next year so I really hope this race helped us both on that journey. Surely nothing can be that hard.
So, the big question - no regrets?
Mark messaged me after the race saying he hoped I wasn't disappointed. I'm not and I am. On the one hand, I spent the last 5 weeks not sure if I would even start this race. Several times during these weeks I was 100% certain that I wouldn't. To decide not to start would not only be an easy option, but also a sensible one. I definitely wouldn't damage myself any further and I could have happily continued healing.
But it would have been such an anticlimax.
I'm glad I started and I'm ecstatic that I finished. The only disappointment comes from spending a large part of the race thinking that I might actually get a PB out of it, which would have been the greatest of comebacks, only to watch that slip away in the space of 4 miles.
Much like childbirth (I imagine), memories of the pain and struggles during races quickly slip away. Just a few months ago I finished Maidenhead Half in 1:55:03 and was initially delighted at running a PB in spite of a tough last few miles. Within an hour I was kicking myself for not getting sub 1:55. As a group, runners are rarely satisfied.
Six weeks ago, a finish time of 4:45 wouldn't have seemed worth getting out of bed for. Three weeks ago I couldn't even imagine starting. It might not be the time I hoped for, but it represents a determination to not give up.