I don’t do a report for every race, but this was my first marathon, so it seems relevant …
I followed my own plan, doing a half marathon at least every month from September 2015 then building up my distances on my long runs each week, mile by mile. I was up to 16 miles on Easter Sunday when disaster struck and I fell over a dog, bruising and possibly cracking some ribs and getting a lot of scrapes and bruises. Six weeks off running, then 4 to 14 mile long runs in the next 6 weeks, followed by adding my yoga back in, and I was back on track. I added a bit to my long run every week, three weeks on, one week off, and did 2 hours of yoga per week. I had to train for endurance rather than speed, and would have added some track work, hill work and interval training had I not had the fall, but I did an 18 miler, two 20s and a 22.5 and felt ready.
The other important training was practising with the gear I was going to use – clothing, shoes, underwear, hair (I know, but a damp long ponytail end can give you a sore bit on your neck and anything else that can rub will), gels and food, drink, etc. I even set up a fuelling station in a bag in my recycling bin and went via the house at 13-16 miles to replicate that aspect.
This all paid off well.
Being a careful (or paranoid) person, I packed two lots of everything, wore my old trainers and made Matthew carry a pack of gels through security, too. But I did forget my water bottle! Fortunately, I had practised drinking Powerade out of their sports bottles, and was able to get that from the supermarket, so added my squash to that bottle for the first half of the race.
I also packed food for the night before – mixed beans, chopped tomatoes and a portion of brown pasta, plus Shreddies for the morning. I’d trained and raced with these foods, so went for it. My packing pile was a bit unusual, though …
I wasn’t nervous travelling and flying for once, which must have been because I was quite nervous about the event by this time. I’d had a long “taper”, which is where you conserve energy while keeping your legs ticking over, so as to reach a peak for the race, but a slightly misguided weekend in Cornwall followed by a frantic work week did for me a little.
The Expo, where we picked up our numbers, was in a sports hall in Laugardalar. I’d never been to an expo before, and this was quite unnerving. I felt very small and old as seemed to be queuing up with a million tall young American boys.
But there it was done, number picked up, scanned for no apparent reason, Tshirt collected, exhibition looked round and done. Oh, I almost forgot to give in my pack of gels and food and drink which they were to give me at 21k. Oops. (Hollow laugh, see below). I checked with the info lady – yes, that would be there however long it took me to get round. Can you see where this is going?
We met up with the lovely Sushma from my running club and said hello – she was over for the half marathon with her whole family. Matthew then decided he needed to find the half-way point where he’d be waiting with my alternative fuelling pack. So he went off to do that and I settled down to some final training, drinking a choc milk and reading a running book.
I actually ended up walking down this path to find Matthew as he’d discovered a nice shopping centre with a cafe. Very Icelandic it was, too, no menus in English, and Tonight With Jimmy Fallon on the telly with Icelandic subtitles – very good for my language learning! It was nice but scary walking down here, as I knew it was on the race route! Here’s the view, on a greyer, cooler day than it turned out to be on the day.
We went back to the guesthouse we were staying in, on the bus, and I reaheated the meal I’d made for myself at lunchtime, and ate that fairly grimly, getting a bit nervous now but also excited. I accused a German couple of doing the marathon when I found them in the kitchen making pasta later – no, just Germans making pasta!
I settled down for an earlyish night – here are my essential pre-marathon supplies!
On the day
I got up at just before 6 and had a bowl of Shreddies and oats from the supplies brought with me. I was jittery but OK. Got dressed in all my kit and was ready to walk the 5 minutes to the start at just after 8am – the start was at 8.40. I got really emotional seeing all the people all ready and excited! Here’s a general view of the start, me indicating that I am a member of a running club, and my Before photo:
I actually burst into tears at one point, but managed to say goodbye to Matthew, pull myself together, find the loos and get into my Purple Pen for the Slow, noting that “Slow” meant over 2:05 half-marathon so I’d have to be careful not to go out with them! I met a lady from nearby Telford Harriers and a lady from Essex doing her first half, and also ran into two American girls I’d met at the expo, one of whom had had her shoes stolen and was frantically looking for some to borrow! Oh no!
Lots of announcements in Icelandic and English (“a gun will be used to start the race” and it was) and we were off!
We started in central Reykjavik and ran across the lake and through a residential district where lots of people were out banging pots and pans and shouting encouragement. I yelled Goðan daginn to lots of them and got smiles, waves and laughs back. I also managed to have a conversation in Icelandic with two Icelandic runners, so that was one aim achieved right there! I also accidentally spoke wholly in Icelandic at a water station. There were quite a few half-marathoners with me, lots of nice Canadians. Water stations with water and powerade came quickly, and we were soon (dodging the traffic!) on the south coast of the peninsula, heading round there for the first time (so there was overlap but no laps as such). Memorable music from this part – “Love Will Tear us Apart” played by a live band, as well as the usual “Uptown Funk”. Hm. Not the first time I heard it, either. We took the shorter route across Seltjarnarnes this time, and the excitement and crowds started to diminish. Running up the north side of the city, along the coast, the views were AMAZING and made me well up – the view of all the mountains across the bay was exactly what I’d been looking forward to through all that training.
But. It was hot. Very hot. Reports say 16 – no way. I got sunburned and I never get sunburned. I realised it wasn’t going to be wonderful and I was going to have to look after myself.
As we approached the out and back you can see looping across the top, I got chatting to a lovely chap called Hardeep from Walsall, running in memory of his grandparents and for Stroke Association. We kept together for much of it, drawing apart then catching up, as happens. I also chatted on the way out with a lovely lady from a running club called Femirun in Norway. As I went, I told people about Lisa Jackson’s marvellous book and Ben the 401 marathons man (I was wearing a branded headscarf and Matthew had on the wristband I was given when I ran with Ben back in December). Going out, I spotted Sushma running back and we managed to shout to each other – hooray!
After the out and back was a nasty bit of hot road with no one else around me and I had a little “moment” here (OK, a cry). But I pushed on. That, at about mile 11 was the worst bit, I think. I had a little walk and told myself it was OK to walk-run from now on. So I did. Ran through Laugardalar and saw Matthew! Oh, the joy! See how much botter it was than in that photo from the previous day. This chap, from Hong Kong, there with his sister, was last finisher.
I then pushed on round the wiggly bit into the park you can see on the map. On my own but trotting along, found the 20k water station and had a banana segment, but where was my fuelling pack? They’re not here, they must be at the next one. OK. Round the wiggly bit and there’s Matthew, my hero, with my spare fuelling pack. No sign of any others so I took that, stopped for a chat and a hug, worried him by being quite warm, and pushed on. That was 14 miles and 3 hours in, so I had 3 hours to do 12 miles and not hit the cut-off time. Eeps!
I carried on through the parks – the next bit was where parkrun was run a few times and I remembered my friend Dave’s tales of getting lost there. I remembered his race position a bit wrong and it encouraged me to start picking off people. I was chasing a lady in pink for ages, then caught her, and that was the lovely Bente, from Norway again, who I ran with from about 16 miles to 24. She was brilliant, with her daughter on a bike riding up and down, and she was about my pace and level of exhaustion, so we encouraged each other along, round the big loop to the south, which ended up on the geothermal beach area – I knew this from a long walk with Matthew last time.
Bente and I picked off people as we ran, encouraging them to run with us and chatting about all sorts. We did the big loop round the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula – here’s me the next day in PERFECT running weather modelling an attractive green road arrow.
Matthew had manfully marched back across Reykjavik by now and was in Harpa, the opera house, sheltering from the sun and watching the tracking. We’d found there were timing mats every 10ish km and they updated to a page that recorded split times. All well and good, and he found there was a 37.2k one, i.e. 5k from the end (it was weird but nice having km markers, they come along a lot sooner than mile ones!).
By this time, Bente and I had tracked down “naked man” – a very nice Romanian chap called Adrian who was a little undertrained and deeply uncomfortable in the Tshirt from the Expo, so had taken it off – and Dave From Alaska, who was running this a second time. They were both run-walking too and we pulled them along with us so we were all together. But Bente wanted to hit that cut-off and could do it, whereas I knew I couldn’t (see below for Learning Point on this) and so she went on ahead.
This pesky 37.2k mat then didn’t update online for 20 minutes! Matthew was doing his nut, knowing I’d finish if I’d done 32k and wondering where I had gone. Sushma was also tracking me, again with no luck. Here’s where it was, picture from the next day.
I was pleased to find that, although I was going slowly and was hot and tired, I didn’t hit the “wall” at all, keeping nicely fuelled, and I didn’t find the bit after 22.5 noticeably worse, so that shows I got my fuelling and training quite well arranged and was an achievement. Dave and I let Adrian go and he caught up with Bente. We plodded on, where’s Reykjavik, where, THERE it is, there’s the harbour. Here’s Icelandic Fish + Chips! Where are we going? What’s that truck doing? OK … one last walk for me and a run for Dave with a promise to photograph him at the end. And then I ran, not as emotional as I thought I’d be.
I ran up the finish straight, all alone! I could hear shouting from lots of people at a crossing all cheering me. I saw Matthew! I could hear Sushma, who had leapt the railings and got near the finish. Here I came …
I crossed the finish with head held high – gun time of 6:04:54, chip time (start line to finish line) of 6:01:13 and time spent in motion around 5:53:00. I managed not to look at my watch as I crossed (for the photos) and had a hug from Sushma, babbling “Do I still get a medal?” which I did, then went up the funnel, found Dave From Alaska and was given my medal by a volunteer. I then found the promised pretzels, which I’d been excited about then forgot – v salty, no thanks!
Sushma took some After photos – behind me is Bente, who did make it in the cut-off time, hooray! She was absolutely fine, as we chatted to her after I’d gone up to the guesthouse, realised I hadn’t given in my timing chip off my shoe and come down again!
So all was done, all was fairly good. I have to say I was NOT disappointed by my effort and achievement, but I was a b it disappointed that the weather was so different from what I’d expected, really like a June day here rather than the Octobery one I was expecting.
I can do a marathon. Wow. And I didn’t really have any trouble with it apart from a few tears at desolate places. I was OK being on my own, but happy reacting to crowds. The big one for me was this, though: I cannot push myself. I have such a strong risk-avoidant personality and self-preservation strategy that if it comes to pushing it such that I might have to lie down afterwards or slightly hurt myself, I can’t make myself do it. I kind of knew this from parkrun and various races, and it does mean I don’t get hurt (I have been fine after the event), but it means I’ll never be much of a competitor. But I’m tough and determined and I’ve done a marathon.
I didn’t ask for sponsorship before the run as I didn’t want the extra pressure.
I’ve since donated to four charities that mean a lot to me in celebration of completing the marathon – if you would have sponsored me if I’d asked for sponsorship, please do pop to one of them to make a donation (and mention it’s for this reason if you feel like doing that). The 401 Challenge,LUCIA (Life Uplifted by Change in Africa), Anawim and Gilgal Birmingham – links below if you’d like to donate.
The 401 Challenge is a guy running 401 marathons for Kidscape and Stonewall http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/…/showFundraiserPage.action…
To the Kings Heath Running Club, Cannon Hill parkrun folks and all the rest of the running community who have supported, advised and encouraged me, Dave and Claire from yoga, 401 Marathons Ben for inspiration and author Lisa Jackson for last minute pep talks (emails). To Sushma and family for their support on the day – amazing. And to the wonderful Matthew for putting up with all the training, 3am breakfasts, moans, dirty running kit and stress on the day.