The Yorkshire Marathon 2016
It’s Wednesday 12th October 2016 – three whole days after this year’s Yorkshire Marathon… and it almost broke me.
I’ve already blogged about the preamble to my second marathon this year (the first being Dubai back in January), and all the mini bird crap splatterings that came along to mucky my windscreen at precisely the wrong time, turning my planned weeks of rest and tapering into weeks of riding the waves of my (very mini) life traumas instead.
I had to manage my anxiety whilst being pelted by the relentless, shit splattering flying rats (pigeons for the bemused.) In truth, I was terrified of even standing on the start line this time around. MY BODY DOESN’T WANT TO DO THIS. HOW AM I GOING TO DO THIS? I AM TIRED. NO – I’M EXHAUSTED. I CAN’T BE ARSED. WITH ANYTHING. I HAVE NO APPETITE FOR A MARATHON. WRONG TIME; WRONG MARATHON. ABORT. ABORT. EJECTOR SEAT EMERGENCY REQUIRED.
But, as I said in my last blog – this one wasn’t about me. It was WAYYYY bigger than my fragile little ego. This one was for Edie. It was for Cheryl, Tom, Annie and Edie. There was no ejector seat – there would be no way out, other than to run the required 26.2 miles from the start right through to the finish line. I couldn’t – and I wouldn’t – let them down. No. Way.
A strange, ethereal calm came over me on the Saturday. All those weeks of anxiety, of overanalysis and pent up, melodramatic “what if’s” had gone. Evaporated into thin air. Maybe they’d run their course. Maybe I’d just run out of steam. Either way, I knew that in one sleep, and with a few hours of seriously hard graft (coupled with a bit of good fortune) it would all be done and I’d be through the enormous brick wall I’d built this marathon up to be in my mind.
Saturday night was race prep, and even then the nerves hadn’t really kicked in. This was about turning up, trying hard, and getting through. Nothing more; nothing less. Cheryl and Tom would turn up and have an infinitely tougher day at the office than me: my flying rat shit-storm was at best mild irritation next to the weight of their grief. I forced more stone-baked pizza down my neck Bruce Bogtrotter style (Mrs Trunchbull’s enormous sticky chocolate cake is only desirable up to a point, from which it turns into an endurance challenge of epic proportions. The same can be said for carb-loading.)
Sunday morning we were up and off early, and almost robotic with timing and general efficiency. The distinct lack of “buzz” about the challege ahead left me wondering if a complete adrenaline bypass were possible. Would it kick in on the start line? I wasn’t convinced. Jesus! I’ve turned into a Volvo of the running world! No emotion, just efficiency.
The kind and lovely people at Plusnet Run Yorkshire had offered Cheryl and Tom VIP access for the day (too bloody right!) and, as part of their entourage (more like cling-ons), me and Gav flashed our gold (yes – gold) paper-chain wristbands to access the VIP area. What would it be like inside? Leather couches? Chris Evans cavorting with Vassos Alexander and some ridiculously hot up-and-coming female artist? Maybe chill out zones with individual massage chairs and oversized headsets playing motivational running mantra? Erm, nope. In reality, we walked past the gate-keeping square-jawed Security Man (who looked like he ate marathon runners for breakfast) and into a… grey university canteen with a few sparsely scattered round tables. To be fair, they also provided child-size bottles of supermarket own-brand water and cheap energy drinks – and I think (although I can’t be sure) there were occasional balloons rising from a small paperweight as centrepiece.
And celebs? Kind of. On my walk out of said VIP area I happened across the maturing blonde one from Calendar News as she was floating past with a Minion. A thought flashed through my mind: “Crikey – the TV make up artists must REALLY know their craft; and perhaps the studio lights are much softer than these ones? Plus, don’t people look much shorter in real life? Does she stand on a box when shooting on location?” I continued on my way (an autograph felt a little unnecessary.)
So, the marathon. Eventually after chilling out at the ‘glamorous’ tables, and swigging our Asda Price bottled water, a PR/Marketing girl came to escort all of us VIPs to the starting area. This consisted of her wearing an offensively bright pink jacket, and walking whilst waving a clipboard high above her head. It was unlikely we’d miss her even without the clipboard, but maybe that’s just part of her job description.
The start line was pure comedy. A generously proportioned young girl was dutifully warming up the marathon crowd, who showed a distinct lack of interest in her semi-squats and high reaches. I jiggled up and down a bit on the spot, more out of embarrassment than anything else.
Following some understated preamble from the Lady with the Mic, we were off. Stick to 7:30s, Rach. Don’t fly off too fast. 7:30s and you might stand a chance. Don’t get caught up in an early race. Just 7:30s. One mile then another. That’s the plan. And that WAS my plan. It had worked perfectly two years earlier when I’d cruised through all 26.2 miles without ever feeling like any effort was required. No, seriously. I FLOATED around the course that day. I remember getting to mile 14 and thinking, “Take it steady, Rach. This is likely to get pretty tough, before long.” But, it didn’t. Mile 20 came and again, my head prepared itself for the worst: “We’ll be hitting a shit storm shortly, so just prepare yourself and batten down the hatches!” But the shit storm never came. I cruised in to the finish in 3:16, and part of me even felt a little sad that it was over. WHAT IS THAT ABOUT?!
This year, I felt heaviness in my legs right from the first few miles. I kept to my pace up until around mile 14, and then it began to fall apart. The bouncy lightness I’d experienced back in 2014 was replaced by a leaden, deliberate trudge this time around. Fucking hell. This is going to be a long old day. That was the reality: this would be a battle of wills. The only question would be: how far off my target pace and expected marathon time would I fall? Ego, prepare yourself for a crash landing. This one won’t be pretty.
If it were possible for a runner’s legs to dictate a race entirely, then quite simply, mine would have remained in bed on Sunday morning, like a sullen teenager refusing to take his dirty plates down to the kitchen. However, at least they did begrudgingly turn up and made some attempts to join the party when in reality they wanted to bugger off back to bed. I thought of Cheryl and Tom. I wondered how they were. I wondered WHERE they were. How could I grumble knowing how hard this would be for them? That alone spurred me on. Legs (aka little bastard sulky teenagers) you WILL do this. You WILL complete this marathon. If not for me, then do it for them. Do it for Cheryl and Tom and Edie. Do it because you can, and because this matters.
Finally, finally, the end came into sight and I caught sight of the clock: 3:27:00 Disappointment combined with exhaustion and sheer relief. All of the emotions engulfed me in that moment. I saw Gav, and I cried. I found a patch of grass, curled up, and I wept. Because of all that I’ve asked of myself and my body over the past few months; because of the sheer effort it took to even put myself on the start line; and because I’d done it for Cheryl and for Tom, whose strength had pulled me through when I felt to have lost all of my own.
Gav looked knackered. “It’s harder watching a bloody marathon than it is running one!” he jibed. He wasn’t joking – not when I’m his partner.
Back in the VIP room, we were now able to take advantage of some of the other luxuries on offer.
“Gav, you know this soup? Well it’s cold.”
“Yeah, well that’s Christine Talbot over there.”