As some of you might know, it’s been a bit of a rocky road reaching the penultimate long run. At the end of last week I had sudden abdominal pain in the middle of the night which culminated in fainting and damaging both the radiator and my head! We spent a long night in A&E and got the all clear, but obviously had to take it easy with the head injury. They couldn’t find a cause for the abdominal pain, but as soon as I mentioned that I was in the latter stages of marathon training, the doctor asked me about my fluid intake – and was fairly unimpressed with my response! She thought it was quite likely to be bladder and kidney pain due to inadequate hydration and electrolytes. I have always struggled to take in enough fluid, and now with such a hectic job it is even worse (I think I count the number of cups of tea I make rather than the number I actually drink)! I also go for ridiculously long periods of time without going to the toilet when I’m at work, in case people can hear me pee. To summarise my clinical history: woeful hydration, marked physiological stress from training, a hot pod yoga session (in thirty seven degrees: cue extreme sweatiness) and infrequent urination. Basically, if I was a cat, I’d be a UTI waiting to happen!
I was starting to feel quite panicky. I did my whole training for the London Marathon but had to withdraw a few days before due to illness; I couldn’t bear the thought of having picked myself up, done the entire training again from scratch, and not make it to the start line – again. But I tried looking at it rationally, like maybe a non-runner would. Whatever was going on it probably wasn’t very serious, so with 5 weeks to go it would almost certainly be resolved by race-day – not exactly a disaster. Unless of course I was really dumb and took my concussed dehydrated self out for 19 miles, unsupported, and did some real damage.
At this stage it was starting to dawn on me what an extreme physical challenge training for a marathon is. You’re messing around with some pretty serious miles, and mistakes with hydration or nutrition can have very real consequences – particularly for us slower runners who might be out for 3-4 plus hours. By Tuesday I was feeling much better and was pretty sure I was ready to take on the big run, but if I’m honest my confidence was a little shaken by the health concerns. Thankfully I’m extremely lucky to have a very supportive and long-suffering boyfriend; he offered to accompany me on a bike for extra support. This meant I could to load him up with water and snacks, and he was there for safety in case of anything unexpected. We were also on holiday in Norfolk, and I have below zero sense of direction (I am so unadventurous I usually run to work and back on my long runs!) so he took responsibility for route planning and navigation. Three and a half hours of cycling as slowly as humanly possible whilst your girlfriend gets progressively grumpier and more unreasonable: an ideal holiday activity. Lucky Tom.
We set off from Burnham Market and my legs felt fantastic, the time-off had done them the world of good. After a few miles Tom asked me if I “found it annoying how little effort he was making on the bike”, I replied “no, I’m just really happy to have you with me”. To which he responded “yeah, but I literally haven’t pedalled for five minutes”.
After quite a long stretch on a very busy road we reached the beautiful Holkham Estate. The summer holidays are over and it was a miserable day with continuous drizzle, so we saw very few people- just some hardy old folk and a few soggy dogs. The estate is huge and it was amazing to be in the middle of such an open landscape– I always find that kind of space so mentally freeing.
Once we’d finished the loop of the Estate we crossed the road to head towards Holkham beach and tried to find the coast path. We didn’t. We found marshes, big sand dunes, and quite a lot of sand. Tom discovered the road bike wasn’t all that after all and ended up spending a few miles running after me carrying the bike above his head getting progressively sweatier and angrier. Although this was Karma for his previous comment, I did feel pretty bad as he had been an incredible support: doing all the navigation, photo-taking, and reminding me at regular intervals to drink, have a snack or eat a Jelly Baby. He was a truly excellent mobile tea trolley.
Up to half marathon distance I was feeling pretty good, but around the 15 mile mark we hit a really unlevel track and it absolutely hammered my fatigued legs. I entered the slow, shuffling hobble phase, including involuntary facial expressions and sound effects. Tom, quite sensibly, suggested calling it a day, not wanting to risk an injury. But I’ve learnt these really long runs are a journey. On a 5-10km run it generally gets progressively harder the further you run, but you crack on because you know you’re reaching the end. So it’s pretty terrifying when you hit a bad patch on a really long run, because you quite logically assume that in two, three, ten miles you’re only going to feel even worse! But my training runs have taught me that this isn’t true, you might have a couple of bad miles, but it almost always passes. It is possible to feel better than you do right now, even though you’ll have run even further. I think this is probably one of the biggest values of the long run in training, gaining the faith that things can pass.
Now, I have literally no sense of direction, but at one mile out I began to realise we were definitely more than a mile from home. And I also, definitely, could not go any further than 19.00 miles. But this time the Gods were on our side: at exactly 0.63 miles to go a sign (both literally and metaphorically speaking) appeared for a café in 1000m! I pulled up outside the door at 19.01, having exceeded my expectations by 0.01 of a mile. Tom deposited me with a coat and some money before cycling the short distance home to fetch the car. And I had the best cup of tea and packet of Monster Munch ever.
With special thanks to the Mobile Tea Trolley, without whom I may not have survived.