I used to be a marathon runner

I’ve been travelling a lot with work this year which has meant I’ve not trained or raced with the club as much as I’d like – though I’ve still been running as much as I can. As I have failed to write up any race reports for the website, I thought I’d reflect on the three marathons I competed in during 2015, which were both the highlight and lowlight of the year for me.The marathon is basically just a 10km race, but with a 20 mile warm up. I like that description as it sums up why I both love and hate the event. It’s 2 and a bit hours waiting for it to start, followed by 40-odd minutes wishing it was over.
The run up to Brighton Marathon was OK, but with the usual niggles and worries. On the day it was fine, and I slipped a couple of minutes under the 3-hour barrier, meaning that I (or at least my ego) joined the ranks of Kipsang, Kimetto, Gebrselassie and others as a “2 hour-something marathon runner”.

Getting things wonderfully out-of-perspective, chasing an arbitrary time had started to feel like my sole reason for existence. Once I’d done it there wasn’t really the expected elation, as I realised I had to do it at least once again, if I was to claim to my grandchildren “I ran sub-3 marathons” rather than I once ran one, which makes it sound like I just got lucky that day.

London was only 2 weeks later, so I was realistic about another PB. Instead I set out to try and run that holy grail of marathon runners – the negative split. Despite a big mental wobble passing a pub at 19 miles (“I’ve got a sub-3, this is hard, why don’t I just stop?”), I was pretty pleased to finish strongly with the second half faster than Brighton resulting in a not-quite-negative-split time of 3:01 exactly. While I was happy with the race, over the next week people commiserated me over those 60 seconds. It’s often said you are only as good as your last race, and so it would appear I was no longer a sub-3 runner.

After a long summer break with a bit of cycling and some shorter races, I was still in reasonable shape and decided to have another crack at the Beachy Head Marathon. I’d done the event the previous year and while I did OK, I was pretty certain I could go faster. With a good run on the last ever Jog Shop 20 (my favourite race) and then a solid race at the Bright10, I was feeling fairly confident.

The first 10 miles flew by. I lost a bit of ground in the middle bit, but didn’t worry too much. But by the time I got to the Seven Sisters I was feeling pretty much as drained as the previous year. I kept going, but one of the sisters (I’d lost count) took it’s toll and I suddenly cramped up and fell over. Lying on the ground I realised I probably wasn’t going to get the result I was after. After a minute or so, the cramp subsided and I managed to get up (which was an achievement in itself) and press on at a fairly pathetic rate. I passed through Birling Gap with the only motivation now being that keeping going was the quickest way to get to back to Eastbourne and end the misery.

With hindsight, it was a mistake not to just stop. About a mile further on, I was descending into a dip when cramp set in again quite badly in both legs. It was bad enough that I couldn’t actually walk up the fairly small climb in front. And nor could I manage to go back up the hill I had just come down. I laid down, but that only made things worse, so I got up again, which took a while and hurt quite a bit. As the main Beachy Head road was only about 100 (flat) metres away to the side, I decided the best option was to get there and hopefully find some help. About 50 metres later I needed to lie down again.

An elderly couple who had been bird-watching appeared and asked if I needed help. I got them to haul me up and then basically hold me upright on to me for a few minutes. They were a bit unsure of what do with somebody who seemed to have the motor skills of a jellyfish, so the husband went to see if he could find a marshal, leaving me clinging on to his wife for support. “It’s a long time since somebody’s held me like this!” she (I think) joked. I changed the subject and we discussed a nearby kestrel.

With no marshals about, the pair decided to drag me the remaining distance to the road. Luckily one of the Beachy Head Chaplaincy team was there. I don’t think I was suicidal by this stage, but he took no chances and drove me back to Birling Gap (I’ve made a donation – my conscious is clear). I spent the next hour sitting in the coastguard station, wrapped in a foil blanket while persuading a couple of coastguards to push my toes back to ease the cramp. Eventually a mini-bus transported me and a few other losers back to Eastbourne.

I’ve already started training for Brighton marathon next year. However, you are only as good as your last race. After a disastrous Beachy Head, for the time being at least, it looks like I have lost the right to call myself a marathon runner…