Jo’s Marathon Blog: The Final Chapter – Race Day!

I AM A MARATHON RUNNER!!!!!!!!

I did it! 16 weeks ago I said I didn’t think I could manage it, but I’d train anyway and see how far I could get before my stamina, my back, my asthma or my funny ankles got the better of me. Yesterday I completed my first ever marathon, and the longest run I have ever done, and I feel AMAZING!

What a day. I pulled a muscle in my left shoulder during work on Saturday, and by bedtime it was really painful. I barely slept at all as I couldn’t get comfortable and was so worked up about the race.  I was practically in tears over breakfast as I thought it might be painful enough to stop me running, and all I managed for breakfast was a cup of tea, one toasted crumpet with peanut butter and 2 paracetamols, leading to a new worry of how on earth will that fuel me for the rest of the day? In my head there were two Jo Randalls (or “Rundall” as I erroneous put on something a few days ago – clearly showing that something was on my mind!!!). One Jo was saying “you can’t do this – you will be in agony if you try – be sensible!” and the other was saying “you’re just a bit tense – you’ll be fine once you get going!”.  After an hour of exchanging text messages with training buds Deb, Sarah and “Poley”, I was back in control and determined to get out there and get on with it. We had all slept badly and all had doubts – but none of them were saying it couldn’t be done, so there was no way I was going to!

We arrived at 10:45am to collect our numbers, re-tie shoe laces, hug our friends, fret about what we were wearing, wonder if we had everything, and go – numerous times – to the loo! We also worried about what would happen if we needed the loo on route as the “running pee” or “roadside squat” were not options I favoured!!

013 Poley, Deb, me and Sarah await the start….

The support of friends, Club-mates and other runners was extraordinary. The amazing Tom Crockford (who is about to attempt the world record for “longest continuous run without sleep”) gave me an enormous bear-hug…. ME who was just doing a tiny marathon in comparison to his challenge! What does that tell you about him? Truly amazing. Gathering for an IOWRRs Club photo was exciting, and the atmosphere was electric – I was surprised that the seasoned marathon runners were just as nervous as me!

As we gathered for the start the adrenalin was overwhelming… we were itching to get started but so terribly scared at the same time. Sarah surprised Deb and I with some little motivational cards she had made for us in case we got separated or things get tough on the route, each one with an inspiring or uplifting thought on one side and a song (typically one we had sung on training runs!) on the reverse.  What an angel. I had decided that as I couldn’t wear a charity vest (as I was running for my Club and had to display club colours) I had to do something to show that I was running for the RSPCA too, so I pinned a toy bunny in my running backpack with his ears sticking out the top. I hoped that runners behind me, and spectators too, would see his ears flapping up and down and smile! I had a laugh to myself when I was getting him ready on Saturday night, as my friend Keith had given me all this advice about travelling light and not carrying more than I needed to, and I KNEW he would have given me one of his “special looks” (the kind a Primary School teacher would give a wayward pupil!!!) if he could see what I was planning to do! Even Simon questioned my sanity!

Bunny in bag

We’re off, and the race starts with a lap of the field. There are spectators lining the driveway out to the road, and everyone is shouting, cheering and clapping – it is very inspiring. The first mile is lovely as it is mostly downhill to Gurnard sea-front, but we realise that we are going way too fast – under 10:30 mile pace. Going up the first hill – Rew Street – slows us down a bit, and by the top I lose sight of Sarah, who is on cracking form today. The first 3 miles are good, and everything feels strong – even my shoulder pain is nothing more than a dull awareness now. By the first water station Deb has to ditch her rucksack as it keeps falling off her shoulder, and although she says she is OK I am worried that she is stressing inside. I feel guilty for feeling so good, and bunny is bouncing away happily behind me!

My watch is on a pacing mode which warns me if I’m going too fast or too slow, but I am actually finding it hard to keep slow enough to stay within the boundary I had set it for. This is especially the case when I encounter the next water station – manned by IOWRR ladies – who cheer me so loudly and amazingly that it puts rockets in my shoes! The Patey family (members of my Tuesday group) are also out and about in Porchfield, and there is much clapping, shouting and cow-bell ringing as I pass!

The bit I am dreading – from Shalfleet to Yarmouth – isn’t as bad as I expected, and the miles trickle by nicely with Poley just ahead of me.  At Cranmore I get a cheer from a passing cyclist and realise it is Yvonne, whose hubby Pete was way ahead with Simon, and I can’t help wondering how Simon is doing and if he is – at this very moment – running parallel with me on the Wellow road…  a lovely thought that pleasantly occupies me for a few minutes. I realise I am still going too fast for Deb and try to wait at the water/sponge stations to regroup, but each time I start running again I get an ankle pain which tells me that stop/start running is going to be an issue for me today.

Poley has disappeared from view by now, but at Bouldnor there is a lovely apparition – our friend Caroline has come to run a few miles with us! After a chat with me she drops back to find Deb and I continue onto the footpath to the Yarmouth/Freshwater cyclepath. Going past the old railway station café is amazing – all the diners sitting outside suddenly start clapping and cheering me! People are so amazing, and this really put a added spring in my step, which is especially good as I don’t like this stretch of path very much! I have to do a bit of weaving to get past walkers and cyclists (don’t they know I am running the biggest race of my life here?!)  and I start to catch up with another runner for the first time too. When I reach him I warn him that the next water station we come to was likely to be the loudest he’d ever heard, as it is manned by some very dear friends of mine who do not scrimp when it comes to vocal support! I was right! Coral, Bel and the team are amazing, and I stop to eat melon and drink some water with them, whilst I wait for Deb. Halfway now and still feeling surprisingly good. This running malarkey rocks!

016 Bel being an awesome marshal!

We set off from the water station together again – me, Deb, Caroline and the back-marker – but again I find myself ahead within minutes. Deb keeps telling me to go on, but this was never what we’d planned and it feels so wrong to leave her if she’s struggling. However her final (and very firm!) “go and catch that man ahead up, Jo” gives me a push, and so – with Caroline leaving us and the back-marker staying with Deb – I start my own race at mile 14.

Catching the next runner up is surprisingly easy, and once I overtake him I see another runner ahead and set out to do the same again. This road through Thorley and Wellow is nice in some ways as it is at least pointing back to the finish, but it is a long, long road with little to stimulate the mind, and even the alpacas were hiding from me today! Perhaps my new game of overtaking runners (something I am not used to!) was helping to pass the time too? Caroline’s husband had said to me “keep tap, tap, tapping away at it, Jo”, and I thought of this so many times as I jogged on through the lovely countryside.  The Patey family make their second appearance around Wellow, and the high-fives, cheering and bell ringing really boost me. I soon overtake the next runner, and can’t believe I still feel so good at mile 18… it has never been like this in my training runs! No more ankle pain, my hip is just a bit tense, no knee pain and I can’t even remember the pulled muscle in my shoulder!

Jo at Wellow  The long and winding road…..

I lose track of the number of car horns that beep me with unidentifiable hands waving from passing windows, and each one gives another surge of energy and renews my smile.

Turning towards Shalfleet feels good. I know that my friends – the Dixeys – are marshalling there somewhere, so I try to keep running (don’t want to let them down!), but the Warlands hill does make me walk for a bit. Manage to overtake a few more runners, and I’m feeling strong and smiley when I pass Simon D and then Emma D – hugs all round and lots of quacks from Simon on his duck-whistle! 🙂  My only worry now is that I have barely eaten anything (just a small piece of “guava bocadillo”, the melon at mile 13 and some water), and I am now verging on the longest run I have ever done. I still feel good though – no “hitting the wall” or anything – and at the water station in Shalfleet my electrolyte drink is waiting for me – a mixture of carbs and salts. Not wanting to faff about with my rucksack I decant some into my hand-held bottle and leave the rest there, and take a good swig on the hill out of Shalfleet (my excuse for walking this bit!). More supporters at the junction – the Rileys! Simon Riley had done the Solent Half Marathon that morning and still made the effort to come out and support his club-mates – what a star!

The 2 mile stretch from mile 20-22 is interminable, though I manage to overtake another runner (she calls my bunny a kangaroo, so she deserves to be overtaken ;-)). My parents are due to be on the route somewhere near one of the Newtown turns, and this keeps me running even though my quads are now starting to complain, as I can’t possibly let them see me walking! There is no sight of them in the expected places though, and I fear they’ve given up on me and gone home, but suddenly there they are near at the bottom of a hill in the middle of nowhere – perfect as I can run down to them and look better than I possibly feel! I stop for hugs and a phot with them (of course!), and then I’m off again. My Dad – usually a bit disinterested in my running – gleefully told me later that I looked better than most of the other runners who had passed them in the preceding 30 minutes. He also enjoyed high-fiving some of the runners, which is very unlike him!

019 Thanks to Neil Cooper for taking this photo

The water station at Mile 22 is awesome – the IOWRR ladies again – and very noisy and supportive. They try to make me take gels and sweets but I am starting to feel sick now and regretting swapping my water for electrolyte, so I just have some water, hugs and more high-fives, and continue on my lonely way. Bunts Hill and Rolls Hill are hard work, and although there are runners ahead to tempt me along, I have to walk up most of the inclines. Lovely Neil Cooper – the lead cyclist who has finished his job and come back to support the rest of us – passes me regularly and always with words of support and encouragement. He also gives me some water on Rolls Hill which really perks me up. I manage to run up some of Rolls Hill after this and then reach the 24 mile mark – what an amazing feeling! I am all alone but have to stop for a selfie with the sign, because I am just so pleased to see it! 

021

A little way on is the Pallance Road junction. Lots of support and high-fives again (the Cordery family are on good form here, and West Wight Sports Centre’s Clare Griffin is a great encouragement), but one person I fail to spot at the junction is darling Keith – marathon-runner extraordinaire, and training buddy.  Not content to let me pass without so much as a “how do you do”, Keith proceeds to chase me (sorry – this implies I am running fast, but bear in mind he was in normal shoes!!) Benny Hilly style until he catches up with me. He is a gem. He tells me he’ll run up Pallance Road with me, and tells me how strong I look, but he then looks at bunny on my back and gives me THE LOOK!! Tee hee! I can’t run most of the hill, but do little jogs as and when the quads allow. Keith also encourages me to overtake the guy in front who is walking, and as I’m a good girl and do as I’m told I happily oblige! The runner overtakes me when I insist on stopping at the 25 mile marker for another selfie (I want to remember EVERY moment of this race!), but we soon pick him off again.

023 Nearly there!

At the top we enter the final mile, have a surprise cheer from my friend Sofia in her front garden, and a feeling of  elation grows… I’ve got this in the bag, and now have a nice flat run to the end. I encourage Keith to stay with me to the end and we run along together companionable, overtaking three more runners who are struggling. At this point I am running on nothing but willpower and adrenaline, but feel amazing. I am also delighted that I am not last (I discovered a few weeks ago that I had been pegged as the slowest anticipated runner on the day!) and have a certain pride ( I am ashamed to admit) that I have managed to overtake 12 people since mile 14, whilst being determined not to let any of them pass me at the end!

At the corner of Park Road Neil appears on his bike again and leads me around the roundabout whilst holding back traffic (I feel like Paula Radcliffe now with all this lovely treatment!), and suddenly there is Sarah waiting for me. She runs alongside me encouraging, singing and being generally amazing – just as she has been in all our training runs – and when we reach the Sports Centre entrance hubby Simon is there with a camera too, so now I have three amazing friends running down the drive flanking me. At this point it is hard to explain how I feel. Amazed, joyful, elated, strong, powerful, tearful, loved, incredibly weary, heavy-legged… above all ELATED! Towards the end of the drive I can now see and hear all my Club-mates and friends lining the finish stretch on the field, already shouting my name, clapping, cheering, jumping up and down and being tremendously supportive. My emotions threaten to overwhelm me, and I know I am going to cry in a minute, but I also remember hoping that I won’t faint or throw up when I finally stop. My legs suddenly get a second wind as if the noise of my friends has somehow put wings on my shoes – I feel weightless, inspired and a bit out of body as I surge (it felt like surging but was probably more like a drunken stagger!) onto the grass and towards the finish gantry. I am laughing, trying not to cry and feeling amazed all at the same time.

Finish with Sarah      Finish back view

I cross the line just over 5 hours 32 minutes and spend the next 15 minutes hugging people, crying, trying to find my flat coke (it was all I could stomach), cheering Deb (and the 12 runners I had overtaken :-D) over the line and realising how tight my legs had suddenly got. My Simon is also a happy bunny having completed his second marathon in a PB time of 3:35 and there was much hugging!

Simon at presentation   Post run hug

It was a truly amazing experience. It was hard, very hard at times, and yet not as painful as I feared. The support all the way round was remarkable (and a good reason to only ever attempt such a feat on home turf), and I want to thank every single person who helped me get round by way of a word of encouragement, charity sponsorship or just words of faith in the days and weeks leading up to it – especially my training buddies, Deb, Sarah, Poley, Ian, Keith, Simon and all the lovely ladies who have joined me at some point this summer.

024    Poley with medal

I would also like to say a huge WELL DONE to the mega-inspiring Ian Jolliffe, as this event was actually his 100th marathon and therefore marked his acceptance into the famous “100 Marathon Club”. Ian – you are an awesome man. I feel epic this week, and I think I can finally see the attraction of long distance running…..

In conclusion

Four months ago I didn’t know if I could ever manage to run a marathon. On Sunday 9th October 2016 I proved to myself that I could. I am not super fit, I do not run morning, noon and night, I work full time and have very few days off, I do not cross-train or go to the gym, and I take inhalers twice a day for my asthma, but I did it! My one message to you all (if anyone is reading this – and thank you if you are!) is that if you want to do a marathon – regardless of your lifestyle and current fitness – as long as you train sensibly, enjoy the running and believe it is possible you CAN do a marathon! Same time next year???!!!!!

Happy running!

Jo xx

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