It’s over. And I’m aching.
Given the background, and how nearly I didn’t run, I’m very happy with how yesterday’s marathon went, even though my finishing time (over 5 hours) is more than half an hour outside what I expected.
The first thirteen miles were incredible: my knee (which I was trying to protect by running on the outside edges of my feet) didn’t twinge even once, my lungs felt strong and I was hitting or bettering my pace at every mile. Bizarrely, I started getting blisters about 9 miles in but even though I did stop for a breath at mile 12, after that I didn’t really have any problems till mile 17. That’s when both quads cramped so hard that I could barely lift my legs. I started over-compensating with my calves, which soon tightened up too. The end result was that between miles 17 and 23 I had to stop no less than 3 times to stretch and massage my legs (more on that later), which altogether totalled about 20 minutes of wasted time. By mile 21, my knee started to give too, with the muscles tightening up to the point that I couldn’t bend my leg (no sharp pain like before, though). Needless to say, I was doing a lot of walking at this point. Just after mile 23, though, excitement got the better of me and, with the adrenalin flowing, I managed to start running again. My lungs still felt strong, so the only thing that was holding me back were my legs. And even they couldn’t stop me from making a dash for it when we turned on to The Mall for the final stretch :)
Around mile 19, I pulled up to stretch my quads. One of the St. John’s Hospice workers saw me and told me there was a massage spot a little further down so I stumbled down and had my calves massaged for five minutes. That made my legs feel so much better that when I saw another massage spot around mile 21, I decided to stop there too. This one was different though: they made me lie down on the grass and insisted on starting near my shoulders even though I had clearly explained the pain was around my knee. And when the lady started, instead of really kneading the muscle, she just lightly passed her hands over my shoulders and back. I had no clue what she thought she was doing but lying down felt so wonderful I let her do whatever she thought she was doing for a good 10 minutes! When I finally got up (no better for the ‘massage’), I asked what organisation they were with. That’s when the lady reached into her pocket and pulled out a card that said ‘Scientology Volunteer Minister’. Umm, OK that explains a lot.
I have to say, the event was brilliant. The logistics of just providing adequate security and water is mind-boggling in itself, but on top of that the masseuses, the energy gel stations, the vaseline (note: being hirsute means not having to worry about chafing – ’nuff said!), and everything else was available in abundance and arranged perfectly. The only gripe I have is that Lucozade ran out of energy gels at their last station, which is what led to me finally giving in and taking whatever sweets and jelly beans the crowd was offering.
Oh yeah, the crowd. I honestly remember only one 100-yard stretch where the sidelines weren’t absolutely packed with people. It was remarkable, and their support was invaluable. And by support I don’t just mean the constant ‘Come on, Spinal Research, mate!’ but also the orange slices, jelly beans and sweets many of them offered. And the live bands all the way along were great for morale too.
Oh, something cool occurred to me while I was running: if the most you’ve ever run before is 11 miles (as I had), then by running 26.2 miles you’ve effectively established uncountably infinite personal bests! The proof follows from a simple application of Cantor’s diagonal argument. Yay!
In conclusion, I’m very happy with how things went: despite injuring my knee and not being able to run at all for the month before the marathon, and despite being stranded in continental Europe the week before the actual run, I finished. I think I’m going to run another one — soon — but for now, I’m going back to bed to nurse my aching legs and the inch-long blisters on my feet.