Monday, 28 April 2008

Race report

Pre-race: Friday night we packed up. I was really antsy. I bought two bags of Percy Pigs for the weekend and taped 5 20p coins to one bag for toilet stops along the race course, planning for the second to go in my post-race kit (insert foreshadowing times two here). We took the train from London to Blackpool on Saturday. Once we arrived, we dropped our things at the Warwick Holiday Flats. Honestly, I could have chosen better for a place to stay, but when I was making my selection I was looking for a place my sister’s boyfriend could join us at and a place our dog could go as well. Plus, I didn’t want to spend a ton of money. Neither my sister’s boyfriend or the dog came along, and I think it would have been a good investment to spend a little more money to have a place with a bed that, to quote Meg, didn’t have a bed that “felt like £34/night.” But it was clean, and convenient, and what more can a girl ask for?

Next we went for a walk in search of the race expo. As you should all know by now, my sense of direction leaves a little something to be desired. I was completely convinced that the race headquarters was south of our home for the weekend. We walked a good part of the promenade, and asked a couple of people where the Hilton hotel was. The first people we asked were the little old ladies volunteering at the lifeboat museum. They didn’t really understand my American accent, or weren’t sure where the Hilton was, or something, so they vaguely pointed north but I didn’t really believe them. We started walking north, though, and then asked one of the horse & carriage drivers. He also said north, and said, walk, and then walk some more, and then walk some more, and you can’t miss it. I think he was angling for a fare to the hotel, but whatever – I’m about to run a marathon – how far can it be? Anyway we walked north about a mile, and lo and behold, there it was!

Race expo: a little disappointing. It was maybe an hour before closing, and they seemed pretty ready to pack up. One set of tables, with things for sale in plastic tubs and no one staffing it. One lady handing out bags for your kit. A couple people offering pre-race massages for a donation. A few more stuffing race bags. The end. I get my kit bag, and we leave. I was glad we found the hotel/race start/finish, but otherwise a totally miss-able experience. Dinner at Tiramisu on the recommendation of both the internet and our hotel proprietor – delicious. I suspect this is the nicest restaurant in Blackpool, a town which is home of fried fried. We then attempted to buy something resembling healthy for breakfast. All the big stores were closed, and the off-licenses specialised in beer, cigarettes, and lotto tickets – if you’re lucky you can get some crisps. Home again – having walked a good portion of Blackpool, I feel much better equipped to analyse the race map and try to understand it but we’re still confused.

Race morning: No breakfast to be found. No grocery stores open – most people here were coming home from the bars as we were getting up at 6:30am. I arrive at the race at 7:30 hoping someone there will be selling something other than Lucozade bars. No dice. I dig the Percy Pigs out of my post-race kit bag and eat them. I drop off my kit bag and Meg asks me how it’s organised – will I have to dig through piles of bags to find mine? I say that by the time I finish I suspect there won’t be that much digging to do. We wander around. The race commentator is talking to or about most of the people who walk by, especially if they’ve got a big contingent of supporters or are wearing shirts that say which charity they’re running for. I have neither. He ignores us. Slightly before 9 it’s time to line up.

Race: I find a couple women who are talking about planning for 12 minute miles and line up near them. There are 1900 people here, around 700 (actualyy 502) for the marathon and the rest for the half marathon. Maybe 5 wheelchair participants between the two events. They set up at the front. The race commentator says the gun will go twice – once for the wheelchair racers and once for the rest of us. I faintly hear the gun go off and assume the wheelchair racers have started. We start shuffling forward. I think that we’re just getting up to the mat for the start. Suddenly people in front of us are jogging and I realise we’re off.

Mile 1 is at a 10:30 pace. Too fast, but it feels comfortable at the time, and I’m staying with my companions and most of the back of the pack. (In retrospect, I’m glad I adopted this strategy – I think I would have quit if I’d been last from the very first mile.) Mile 2 finds my left foot going numb, but I’m determined to run the first 3 miles before breaking into the planned run-walk so I do. Around the 2 mile mark I see Meg before she sees me and I run up and give her a slightly sweaty kiss and she takes a photo of me way too close. At mile 3 I stop to retie my shoe and walk the first minute of the next mile.

For the first 10 miles I’m walking 1 minute out of every mile, eating a Percy Pig during this minute, and doing 11:30 miles or so. Then the lack of breakfast starts to get me. At the halfway point I call Meg, say “I’m at the halfway and fading – can you get me a banana?” I see her at mile 15 or so. She brings me a banana and a big water. I think I snapped at her. Apparently someone behind me commented on what a great support she is. The racers are thinning out, but I’m definitely still in it. I get her to take my phone out of my back pocket because my lower back is really hurting and I don’t want to have anything there that isn’t absolutely necessary.

My iPod has 4+ hours of unique songs on it, plus my book. I’ve listened to OAR’s Old Man Time about 7 times at this point, and several other songs (including more OAR) are in heavy rotation. This is already irritating so I try out the book. That lasts about a half hour before I need the beat again, and put my iPod back on “shuffle” so I can listen to the same 6 songs over and over. (I’m looking at my playlist now, and there are songs on there I KNOW I didn’t hear, and lots that I heard over and over and over.)

The run-walk strategy means I am constantly running past people and then being passed by them, so I see my 12-minute-mile companions quite a bit but in general we don’t run together much. From the crappy pre-race map I knew that this was a two-lap marathon, but I didn’t really realise how disheartening it would be to be lapped.

I make the first turn on the second lap, and the traffic cops drive by saying they’re going to open the road again. I say something unrepeatable in front of a family with 5 kids under 8. I’m sure the parents were less than impressed – sorry. I pass a woman going the other way who is shuffling worse than I am, and I shout to her “Hang in there, we’re going to finish this!” Some crazy drunken stag weekend guys repeat this at me. I ignore them, mostly because I don’t have the energy to give them the finger. The race marshals are encouraging me to run in the road as it’s easier on the feet but the cops are telling me I have to run on the “pavement” (sidewalk). I’m hitting the wall hard, and walking as much as I’m running. Miserable. Wondering why I’m doing this, and if I can do it. There’s no one from the race around – hardly any race officials and I’m just shuffling past the holiday-makers by myself. Lots of people who have already finished are walking back. Some of them cheer me on, most think I’m just jogging off an earlier finish and ignore me.

Mile 19 – I see Meg. I’m walking. She gives me another banana and asks how I’m doing. I say that everything hurts. She says “do you want to keep going?” I snap, “I’m going to finish.” I suspect she could have outwalked me at this point, but I made it pretty clear I didn’t want her to walk with me, taking off at a shuffle until I can’t pick my feet up any more and walk some more. I think I was probably the last racer at this point, and the marshals look bored and I have to ask where to go several times. I finish my (second bag of) Percy Pigs somewhere in here and drop the empty bag – the one that I had taped my toilet money to. This will come back to haunt me around mile 23. My hamstrings and lower back are really cramping up and I have to stop to stretch a couple of times.

I’m off the road and onto the sea wall now, which I know from reading previous years’ race reports is often the toughest part for people because it’s about 3 miles of concrete in each direction. Race officials or cops or Red Cross people or someone keep driving by, checking out my race number – I can only assume this is so they can radio back to the finish line as to how many people are still out there and how much longer they’ll all have to hang out. I think they were saying things to me but I was inside my head and with my headphones on so I would mostly just smile and keep slogging away. Part of me hopes they’ll make me stop and say I’m doing too badly to keep going, because everything hurts and I don’t know how much longer I can do this but I am too tough quit without someone to be angry at about it.

Mile 21 or so I start to rally but I also start to have to pee. I realise I’ve thrown out my toilet-opening coins. I consider ducking behind any number of structures but am afraid to stop moving forward. I consider peeing on the run, but don’t really want to piss myself for a 5+ hour marathon. I catch up with a guy that I think is walking off his already-finished marathon, but somewhere around mile 23 I realise he’s still slogging through it with me. I pass a couple guys who are walking, and fading faster than I am. I haven’t seen shuffling lady for a while. My original race companions see me about to make the second turn of the second lap and give me a shout. I’m getting hungry. I’m walking about half the time and leapfrogging with the guy I thought had already finished.

At mile 25 I start running/jogging/shuffling more than I’m walking again but I’ve lost the guy – he’s still in my sights but when I walked up a hill he got away from me and I know I can’t catch him at this point since we’re on roughly the same pace. At mile 26 I “sprint,” but have started this too soon and have to slow down from 26.05-26.15. I manage to run across the finish line, and Meg is there, cheering her head off for me.

The race officials look bored, but give me a “congratulations” anyway. I get a medal. The guy who cuts your chip off has moved up to just after the finish mat and I’m not really ready to stop moving forward at this point so when he tells me to stand still I almost bowl him over before steadying myself on his shoulders and bracing myself so he can lean down and cut my chip off. The race commentator has gone home – apparently he was there until his buddy finished at 4-½ hours and then he left. I get water and a t-shirt and some Lucozade and a bag full of snacks. Meg tells me that I got the second-to-last medal – apparently they didn’t order enough and they were going to have to give a couple of people 2 half-marathon medals or give them the option to wait 3 months to have more sent to them. She tried to get the officials to give her one, but they wouldn’t because I “can’t get one unless I finish.” Meg tells them they don’t know me, and that I will finish even if I’m crawling across the line. The race officials promise that if it’s close I’ll get one and they’ll make someone else wait. Good thing, because I think I might have killed someone at that point if I didn’t get my medal right then.

We walk back to the race headquarters. I manage to make my way up the stairs to the portable toilets. We go inside and I get my kit bag – I was right, there’s no digging to be done because there are only 3 other kit bags waiting. I’ve lost all shame and change my clothes in public. I put on the shirt from my favourite sushi place and my medal and a pair of pyjama pants and flip-flops. Meg takes pictures. We shuffle back to our hotel where I shower and find every single place on me that’s chafed.

I eat a bunch of snacks and we take the tram down to Pleasure Beach where we ride the tallest and fastest roller coaster in Europe and stop in the casino for a very delicious beer. We try to find someplace decent for dinner but everything is deep-fried grease. Finally we go to a local Italian chain-type place. I finish my pasta and say, I don’t think I want dessert, but Meg says she’s ordering some for me anyway and we order the toffee & brownie sundae for 2 to share and it’s all I can do not to slurp up the melted ice cream out of the bottom of the bowl. A half an hour later we’re trying to watch a movie and I’m asleep by 10.


*This race report was heavily edited by Meg, because she has a better memory of what happened when than I do.


crankygirl said...

Congratulations on finishing. Great accomplishment and I am glad you got a medal. I HATE how they run out of "stuff" during so many races!

Meg said...

Congratulations on finishing, that's awesome! Think of all those people that didn't stopped after 13.1!

Laurie said...

Awesome! And way to finish! You rule!

londonjogger said...

you did a marathon and then went on the pepsi max!
what a day! congrats on your achievement...

jogblog said...

"I say something unrepeatable in front of a family with 5 kids under 8."

Ha ha, classic!

Well done, great report. Can't believe you almost didn't get a medal. I'd have cried. I'd definitely had said something unrepeatable.