My first marathon
A year ago I ran a beautiful half marathon on the Suffolk coast, and after it signed up to train with a coach (Sophie @runswritescode) because I was finding it really hard to stay motivated, and after working on my fitness for twelve weeks I didn’t want to let that slide.
I booked to run my first marathon in the summer. I’d injured my knee in the spring but by July it was feeling mostly better, and having watched my old university friend complete marathons and ultra marathons for many years I really wanted to have a go myself.
I booked the marathon in the same place as I’d run the half. It was very flat, but very pretty, off-road and by the sea. The problem I was struggling with a bit was that it wasn’t very adventurous, as I’d already done most of the route! My favourite kind of running is exploring somewhere new.
The week before the marathon my eldest son brought back a really horrid cold from school, which I caught (of course!). So race day dawned and I was still lying around the house coughing a lot. The day passed in a haze where I felt like some alternate universe version of myself was running a long way, but I wasn’t.
We had plans to go camping on the Isle of Arran with my aforementioned friend (Rachel @powderach), her husband and their new baby. After all the work I’d put in, I really wanted to run the marathon distance, so suggested a plan B of a marathon length run on Arran. In a matter of hours Rach and her friend Nicola had planned two route options, with, they promised, as little elevation gain as they could manage while still making an interesting off-road route. Rach would meet me at set points along the way to cheer me on and provide water and snacks.
We arrived on Arran in our folding camper and campervan and had a great few days exploring the village of Lamlash and catching up. We’d decided I’d do the run on the last day of the holiday, in case I was too tired to enjoy myself thereafter.
The night before the run I went over to converse with the race directors (Rachel and Will, plus baby) about the plan for the next day. “Do you have waterproof trousers? Gloves? A hat? Your bag isn’t waterproof?” My answer was a no to all of these things, and I started to fret as Rachel and Will exchanged glances. “What’s your fuelling strategy?” I was able to answer with slightly more confidence (Veloforte energy chews, tailwind in my water, cheese and ham wraps and two rice crispie squares) and they nodded sage approval and assured me they would lend me the kit that is not usually required for southern races, but is definitely required for Scottish ones! We then checked the forecast. Strong wind and heavy rain, but clearing in the afternoon. “How long did you think the Suffolk marathon would have taken you?” Five hours…maybe “How long do you think this will take?” Erm…I optimistically opted for six. We decided to start as late as possible to avoid the weather, without me having to run too much in the dark, and to start at Whiting Bay at 11am
I went back to my tent feeling a little uneasy about the following day, and it took a long time to fall asleep.
I woke in the dark to the sound of rain falling on the camper roof. It was 7.30am. I had brought shorts and leggings, but opted for the leggings and high socks. I packed my loaned gloves, waterproof trousers, and my own foil blanket, waterproof jacket and buff into a dry bag, along with my snacks, earphones and at the last minute I remembered to make my wraps and pack those. I emptied the powdery energy drink into two litres of water. By the time the necessary preparations had been made it had started to brighten up, and the rain was stopping.
We packed the kids into the car and van and drove ten minutes down the road to Whiting Bay. The rain had stopped by this point and I was feeling very apprehensive as we walked along the road to the starting point next to a cafe. I stood at the bottom of quite a steep looking hill and gulped. Rachel handed out cow bells which the boys rang and I headed off from the start point, with people in the cafe staring out the window wondering what all the noise was about. Then the boys started howling as they often do when I leave! And so I started my first marathon, to the sound of cow bells and howling boys. Up and up…
After running uphill for twenty minutes I stopped and walked. There are no hills in Suffolk. I was exhausted already and was only just over a mile in. I wondered about turning and heading back to join my family and friends. I knew they were going on a seal hunt and to the local distillery. That sounded much more fun than walking uphill with a heavy backpack. I told myself no, how lucky it was that I was getting to spend the day exploring this beautiful island on my own, and tried to shift my mindset a bit. I wasn’t going to be fast, but I was going to have a good day out.After forty minutes the trail started to go back down and I had a great time running downhill, a big smile on my face as I flew down listening to the new Taylor Swift album. I stopped to check my OS Maps app fifteen minutes later to find I was very offcourse already. Shit. I had to go back up the big hill I’d just gaily run down…
Back on track, but more and more uphill really wore down my spirits, and I had to tell myself that I always find the first three or four miles tough, until I find a rhythm. The uphill then seemed more worthwhile when I was treated to some beautiful views and blue skies looking towards Holy Island.
I ate one of my wraps walking up another hill, and had a rice crispie square, then enjoyed a lovely run down alongside waterfalls in a woodland full of the most stunning autumnal colours.
I eventually reached Lamlash and ran through the now familiar town, heading out around the coast path. Rachel had warned me that she wasn’t sure about the next section of the route and when I got there it was pretty sketchy looking. The path was slippery mud and very close to a steep cliff and rocks. I opted for an alternatively marked route that led me almost vertically up the cliff. Hard going but I had the most amazing views, and that part was a real highlight. I reached a trig point and looked out across to the mainland. This was awesome!
I then had a text from Rachel saying they were on their way to Brodick to meet me as I ran through. I felt spurred on and ran down the hill until I reached some very boggy fields, squealing as my shoes sank under the mud and trying to engage a sheep in conversation to ask which part of a stream I could cross without being swept away. She didn’t answer…
I finally saw my husband, boys, Rach, Will and baby, the boys running to meet me full of smiles and cheers. Rachel handed me some jelly babies and I was away again. I’d run 14 miles by this point. I had a bit of a wobble here as I left them all again, especially as I had to backtrack again as the route was underwater in the high tide. I decided now was a good time to eat my second wrap and rice crispie square, which cheered me up a bit.
Then came another very long and winding hill, which I walked up and spent some time texting my brother saying everything hurt and I didn’t want to do it anymore. At 18.5 miles my head was swimming and I stopped and spoke to Rachel on the phone. “I think I’m going to come down and not do the next bit. I’ve done 18.5 miles and I don’t think I need to do the next bit. I’m just walking. Im really tired. My phone battery is low. Can I come down now?”. The next section looked uphill again, around the side of a mountain, and there was no easy way out once I’d started it. I felt sure I’d added enough miles on from my backtracking that I would still have done enough without that section, so it was decided that I could come down and start on the route back to the campsite. Rach, Will and baby met me in Brodick again with the best tasting can of coke I’ve ever had, plus more jelly babies. Some quick calculations showed that I would indeed do the required mileage if I headed back now, as I was at 19.7 miles already
Buoyed on by seeing friendly faces I started on the final stretch back feeling for the first time that I might actually complete the distance. I hadn’t quite believed in myself until then, which is unlike me. There were a few more uphill sections which I walked, including past a creepy abandoned caravan, but I also saw a red squirrel and a little clutch of fly agaric mushrooms.
I met Rach and Will one last time as darkness fell and with three miles left to run. At this point I was just feeling cross and determined and shouted at Rach “why is this taking so fucking long!? I just want it to be done!” (Sorry friend). They loaded me with a head torch and borrowed GPS watch as mine had died, and sent me on the last section downhill into Lamlash. I ran through the streets listening to Kesha (after going through Taylor Swift’s Midnights three times I needed something very rousing).
Finally, I reached the campsite to see they’d strung up a big FINISH sign on the camper and my youngest ran out to meet me. Rach gave me a big hug and I couldn’t quite believe I’d done it. The boys had made me some medals and I was presented with a finishers goody bag with an Arran t shirt, new buff, sweets and all sorts of other bits and pieces. We put the kids to bed and enjoyed fish and chips!
I’m so grateful to my friends and family for helping me make my marathon dreams come true. I felt so humbled that everyone went to so much trouble - especially with a little baby in tow.
I’m so thrilled and more determined than ever to get stronger and go further. Watch this space for ultra adventures!
Total distance: 26.2 miles
Total time: 6 hours 45 mins (approx, everything died!)
Total ascent: 3000ft (approx)
I think it’s the elevation that makes me feel the most amazed. Just so pleased!
If you made it this far thank you for reading :)