Marathon du Medoc: The Boozy One

You don’t need to be an experienced runner to know there are a few basic rules to marathon running.  Stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, get a good nights sleep, eat a hearty breakfast and make sure you’ve trained in your race kit.  Pretty simple.  So, when I turned up on the start line of my 12th marathon with a hangover, on 4 hours sleep, an empty stomach and a leopard print skirt, I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the finish line in one piece…

Marathon du Medoc claims to be ‘le marathon le plus long du monde’ (the longest marathon in the world).  And now I know why…

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Medoc is one of those races on every marathoners’ bucket list, quite simply, it’s the craziest marathon on earth.  Rather than the usual water and electrolyte stops, there are around 20 wine stations hosted by different châteaus around the beautiful Medoc region in France, proudly waiting to let you sample their finest red whilst you have a dance to a live band before you run along to the next one!

Gourmet food stops including oysters, steak, cheese and croissants line the route, as well as the usual banquet of fruit, crisps, crackers and fig rolls you seem to get at every European marathon, and everyone is in fancy dress.  Fancy dress is the Marathon du Medoc law.

Whilst it’s certainly a race with a difference, it’s now so successful, this year was the 31st event and it sold out within 24 hours!  In all credit to the organisers, despite its huge popularity they still limit entries to 8,500 to avoid compromising the race experience.

Gemma, Martin and I had been excited for months, we flew to Bordeaux (the nearest main City where we were staying) on the Wednesday, which would give our bodies a chance to get used to the toxic levels of wine that would be necessary for success (sensible training approach).

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Friday was registration day, so we headed to race HQ in Pauillac where they had set up a little race village with a few stalls and a bar (obvs).  Registration was a little chaotic but the queue was short so could have been worse!

We had a few beers (and maybe a champagne…hey, we were on holiday!) and walked along the river where there was some wine tasting and various food on offer (the snails did not look happy).  Martin and Gemma had a plate of oysters (my previous history with oysters is that they always make me throw up, today was no different but I tried) and we enjoyed the sunshine.

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Part of our race package included a pasta dinner party and, this year, it was hosted at Château Senilhac.  On arrival we were greeted with a live band and several tables of wine and crisps before being invited into the marquee for dinner.  The best way to describe the whole look and feel of it is exactly like a wedding!

Dinner was chorizo pasta to start and duck and pasta for main (not ideal if you don’t eat chorizo or duck but I worked around it!), and some kind of foamy meringue thing for dessert.  By this point, we’d made some new friends and all had way too much red wine (to add to the white wine, beer and champagne…) so Martin decided it would be an awesome idea to have a few games of ‘who can inhale their dessert the fastest?’. 5 desserts each, another magnum of wine, and a fireworks display later, it was definitely time to go home.

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It was a pretty long drive back to Bordeaux which meant we didn’t stumble into bed, a little worse for wear, until 1.30am.  With a 5.30 alarm it wasn’t ideal.  The next morning was a bit hazy and a bit rushed but we headed out in the dark and rain to get the coach back to Pauillac for the start.  The coach was 40 minutes late. The driver was lost. It was raining. We were not impressed, especially as we’d rushed out without taking breakfast (5 deserts might not have been a bad idea after all).

Finally, the rain had stopped and we managed to arrive hour before the 9.30 start.  We quickly realised our hangovers weren’t alone, but the atmosphere was thick with excitement as people buzzed around all smiley and wide eyed in their fancy dress outfits, it was a far cry from the solemn seriousness that usually graces marathon day morning.

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This year the theme was ‘dressed to the nines’ but there were a real mix of outfits from dresses, shirts and bow ties to a full on Moulin Rouge cart, if you were in regular running clothes, you really hadn’t understood the spirit of the event!

The entertainment started early – a giant silver ball suspended over the start line dangled acrobats on aerial silks as they twirled above the crowd and, before we knew it, we were off!  The start was slow going but we weren’t in any rush.  The official cut off time is 6 hours 30 so, for those who are serious about it, the ideal finish time is 6:29:59!

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It wasn’t long before we reached the breakfast stop at 2k, tables of mini croissants and pastries, I was starving!  Buttery pastries aren’t my usual choice of marathon day brekkie so I conservatively picked up 2 mini croissants and we ran on, I didn’t want to be sick in the first 30 minutes!

Wine was served from the 5k marker, it may have only been 10am but it was delicious! We knocked it back and jogged on.  The wine stations came thick and fast for the first 9 miles and we revelled in the novelty of legitimately boozing whilst running, what was technically, a race.

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Each station came with well dressed waiters in the château grounds, some with live bands, but all with plenty wine and snacks as we guzzled back glass after glass.  There was a section in the middle with fewer wine stops and this is when the rain hit us, there was a LOT of rain!  It was around this time we realised that a marathon is still, errr, a marathon and it’s still a bloody long way!

Around the half way mark I started to feel quite sick, probably not surprising, but I was seriously weighing up the risk of splattering the vineyards with the very grapes that had once grown there.  Luckily, the feeling passed!  The second half saw more fabulous châteaus, amazing red wine, entertainment and beautiful vineyards, but the rain wasn’t going anywhere.

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Our paced slowed as we spent more and more time at each wine station, we started having 2 or 3 glasses each time and, at 20 miles, we were even given a healthy shot of whiskey…when in France right?!  The gourmet food came in the last 4 miles, I guess they didn’t want too many people feeling sick when there was still a fair way to go.

We dined on oysters (kept this one down), cheese, steak (not me), more crisps, and (if they hadn’t run out by the time we got there), ice cream!

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I’m not sure whether it was the wine, lack of sleep or my post ultra legs (can I still use that excuse?!) but, by this point, my legs were feeling pretty stiff and all I wanted to do was walk.  Martin insisted we run so, giving it my best shot, I broke into a jog, but all I heard were fits of giggles behind me…apparently what I thought was an elegant jog was actually a very stiff shuffle. Drunk, soaking wet, and slightly broken, it looked like the Marathon du Medoc had got me exactly where it wanted me, a bit of a mess.

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We managed to jog the last mile or so and crossed the finish line together in 6:28:59, couldn’t have timed it better!  Tired and happy we headed to the finishers tent, obviously it was time for our free beer!  The beer tent brought more carnage as we bumped into a fellow Chaser, and we inadvertently got ourselves involved in one too many rounds of drink downing with a big group of rugby lads. Well, what else would you do right after you finished a marathon?!

The evening brought more wine, more champagne, more live music and a pretty spectacular fireworks display.  Another very late and drunken night, but an exhilarating experience with 2 of my favourite people!

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Despite the nature of the event, we only actually saw one person in need of medical attention which is far fewer than any other marathon I’ve run.  There’s plenty of water when you want it and, as long as you’re marathon fit and in good health, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a really enjoyable run and take advantage of everything on offer.  Do it with friends, do it in fancy dress, do it with a smile on your face and do it with a glass of wine in your hand, but make sure you do it.

It’s clear Medoc are very proud of their marathon and they certainly should be, it’s a beautifully extraordinary and unique event and they’ve found the winning formula.  We absolutely loved every minute of it (well, almost, Martin got stroppy in the rain at 15 miles) and I’ve already decided it won’t be my last time.

Medoc, you were glorious, until next time, merci et bonne nuit.

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Vanguard Way Marathon: Just a training run

With only 4 weeks to go until my first ultramarathon it’s probably an appropriate time to panic.  Since the London Marathon (over 3 months ago) I have only managed 3 runs over 13 miles with the longest at 17…and they were all on the road.  Ideal prep for a 36 mile off road ultra, right?!

Yesterday was the Vanguard Way Marathon, an out and back trail route in Surrey from Lloyd Park to Limpsfield.  I realised this would be an ideal opportunity to get some more trail experience and force myself to cover a good distance so, somewhat reluctantly, I signed up a few days before.

I was quite apprehensive about the distance, 26.2 miles is a long way and I had only run up to 17 in recent weeks, could I actually cover that distance?  After a very restless night, we were on our way to Lloyd Park where I would attempt marathon #10 and my first ever trail marathon…

Bryn (enjoying a day out with the ladies) me, Daisie (who was on her 2nd marathon of the weekend), Jasmine, Cat & Frankie

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It was a small field of around 100 people so registration was simple and we were on our way pretty swiftly.  Luckily for me, Jasmine had made a last minute decision to join us and, as she’s preparing for the NDW100 next week (errr, yep, that’s a 100 mile run along the North Downs Way) she was happy to take it easy and we agreed to run together.  This was the very best thing that could have happened!

Bryn, Cat & Frankie were planning to run together but there was no chance I could keep up with them so I had assumed I’d be running alone.  I had also (wrongly) assumed that, as an out and back course, it would be pretty straightforward.  The race organisers had posted a map but, as I was unfamiliar with the area, it just looked like a map that went through some green areas.  Relying on course markings, I didn’t pay much attention to the map or the 5 pages of instructions they gave out.

We took a wrong turn early, there were at least 15 of us at this point, but we knew we were off course.  After talking to some locals we eventually found a marshal and were back on track.  The route was pretty, we headed through shaded woods, along gravelly paths, up hills, down (some very steep!) hills, over turnstiles and through fields, including a field full of bulls.  Kinda wished my hydration pack didn’t have any red on it…although maybe being charged at by a bull was a legit reason for a DNF…

This hill was a lot steeper than it looks!

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It was quite challenging, the sun was very warm and it was tough.  We took it easy and walked a lot of the hills but I found it quite hard to get into a rhythm.  By mile 11 I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through at all.  Having Jasmine with me was a huge comfort.  She’s an experienced trail runner, tough as nails and familiar with some of the route, I honestly think I would have given up and turned around if she wasn’t there and I most definitely would have got hideously lost.

We reached the turnaround with 13.7 miles on the clock, this would mean we could reach 27.2 miles before the finish line, not what I wanted to know!

Unsurprisingly, I felt mentally stronger on the way back but the miles were ticking by slowly.  The steep downhills on the way out needed to be tackled the other way and it was a tough climb! Jasmine started to bribe me with sweets… ‘let’s just get to the top and we can stop for a drink and some sweets’, it worked and Shot Bloks never tasted so good!

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Plodding along, we adopted a ‘little old lady jog’ approach which was better than walking but sounded very gentle and easy, it was all a mental game by this point!  It wasn’t until around 26 miles that we weren’t sure where to go anymore, there were no course markings and the instructions weren’t helpful.  I didn’t really know how far away we were from the finish but I just wanted to get back to Lloyd Park.  A local pointed us the right way and I didn’t even care if we were off course, we just ran in that direction.

Eventually, after wasting about 10 minutes, we saw the finish and ran straight for it.  We accidentally took a short cut across the field but I was way over 26.2 so I didn’t care.  Grabbing Jas’s hand we went for the finish into the cheers of the others.

26.6 miles and 4,439ft of elevation gain, first trail marathon, DONE!  Thanks Jas!

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The point of this run was to give me some confidence ahead of SBU, some more experience on the trails and to learn a little something.  So, what did I learn?

  • Do not worry about the time on your watch
  • Be prepared to get lost
  • Getting stressed when lost does not help the situation
  • Be prepared to run further than the race distance (due to point above…)
  • Talk to other runners, trail runners are friendly folk!
  • But trust no one…make your own decisions & don’t rely on others to guide the way
  • Take lots of sweeties – ideally plan ahead and place sweets at the top of hills, but this may not be practical…
  • It’s absolutely fine to walk the hills
  • It’s absolutely fine to be a little scared in a field full of bulls
  • Look forward to the aid stations, they have smiley people and sugar and Quavers and cola
  • Having a friend by your side is one of the most valuable pieces of kit you can take
  • Do NOT worry about the time on your watch
  • Do NOT give up
  • Give your all on the sprint finish – people will be watching you!
  • Do NOT give a s**t about your finish time, it’s pretty much irrelevant
  • Going to the pub after makes everything OK again

It’s less than 4 weeks until the SBU35 and I either become an ultrarunner, or crash & burn on the trails of the Lake District.  It’s OK to be petrified.

Vanguard Way Marathon Finish

The Vanguard Way Marathon is not only a lovely, scenic run with friendly marshals, but an absolute bargain at £20 with a medal and technical t-shirt at the end – I would definitely recommend it if you like a bit of off-road hilliness!

London Marathon: The Big Jog

I was disappointed not to run a London Good For Age qualifier last year but I was over the moon to be successful in in the ballot, it’s a rare occurance!  Last Spring, the Rome Marathon didn’t quite go my way so I made a last minute decision to enter Manchester 2 weeks later.  I ran better in Manchester, but it was tough knocking out that kind of distance again so soon and I believed myself when I swore I’d never attempt such a thing again.

Not expecting a place in London I had already entered the Brighton Marathon, but October rolled around and I came home to the coveted ‘You’re In’ magazine on my doormat…pain and consequence long forgotten, I wanted to do both.  Obviously.  Why It's Like A Dream

The London Marathon is hands down the best day of the year and if I’m not running, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than cheering on the sidelines.  I first ran London in 2011, it was my first ever marathon and is completely responsible for giving me the bug.  In 2013 I qualified for a GFA entry, I went off way too fast and suffered in the later miles, it was a tough run.

This year I really wanted to enjoy London for the spectacular 26.2 mile street party it is and I didn’t want my over ambitious dreams to ruin my enjoyment. The only way I could guarantee that was to make Brighton my A race because I really can’t be trusted!

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I’ve been in limbo the last 2 weeks, it’s odd trying to strike a balance between recovery and taper and in a shockingly sensible approach I simply listened to my body. There was a bit of running, a lot of rest, a lot of early nights and a lot of hand sanitizer, I was really fun to be around.

On Sunday I woke up to the best good luck message ever!  It immediately put me in a good mood despite the 5.45am alarm, how could it not be a good day? I was sooooo excited!

My new little niece Chloe. She’s going to be a runner 🙂

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The weather was pretty damn perfect.  It’s been getting warmer over the last few weeks and London Marathon day nearly always ends up just a bit too hot.  But it was grey and drizzly on Sunday morning, it looked ideal!  Zoe, my housemate, was running her first marathon this year so she was an excitable bundle of nerves, we made our way to the start at Blackheath in a sensible, calm manner…

It was actually pretty cold when we got there but there wasn’t too much waiting around after a couple of trips to the toilet and dropping off our bags. I met up with Laura who was in the same start pen as me and then it was time to line up. Whhhaaaaa, good luck!!

Me and Zoe before her first marathon

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I usually know exactly what I’m going to do on marathon day – what my goal is, what my back-up goal is, what pace I’m going to start at, what I’m going to do if, if, if… What was different about today was that I didn’t have a game plan. I really didn’t.  Today I was going to turn up at the start line and see what my legs would let me do.

Could I pull off another 4 hour marathon 2 weeks after Brighton? Maybe 4:15?  4:30? A bit slower?  In my heart I knew I’d be disappointed at anything over 4:15 but I needed to be realistic that it was a very real possibility, especially if I was going to achieve my ultimate goal of enjoying every second.  I wasn’t entirely sure how I would deal with a disappointment though.

Suddenly, the gun went off and we were moving forwards!  It only took about 2 minutes to get across the line and there we were, running the greatest marathon in the whole world!!

The first few miles are always quite congested but not so much that you can’t run, if anything, being held back slightly is a good thing.  I just went with flow and enjoyed the atmosphere, we’d only got up the road before someone was shouting, ‘3 cheers for Paula, hip hip…hooray!’

I didn’t want to go off as fast as I did in Brighton, I wouldn’t be able to hold it and I knew I’d be in for a tough ride later, but, although today was about having fun, I still wanted to do justice to all the winter miles.  As Paula said:

You can’t come to the London Marathon and not give it an honest effort

With the image of little Chloe in her ‘Go Auntie Katherine’ outfit firmly in my head, all I knew was that I needed to be able walk away today knowing I did the best I possibly could.  I didn’t want to feel like I let myself down and I didn’t want to be embarrassed by my effort.

I started off comfortably, I was running under 9mm but wasn’t pushing it.  After a few miles I  could tell my legs weren’t fresh, but I was still hitting a fairly good pace and I was happy.  I remembered to high-5 a few kids and smiled at everyone who cheered me by name. Fun, remember, FUN!

By mile 10 I knew I was running slower but it felt much slower than the 9mm pace my Garmin was telling me so I was quite pleased. 9.04, 9.02, 9.04, they kept ticking by consistently, hey, I was doing OK and I was enjoying it!

The crowd support is pretty good in the first half, but it really thickens when you get to Tower Bridge between 12 and 13, you really know you’re in London when you turn the corner and see that Bridge!  Running across the river is freggin awesome, the atmosphere is buzzing and I remembered to look up and take it all in, I almost forgot we were nearly half way already.  My legs hadn’t forgotten though, they were starting to ache earlier than I would have liked…I ignored them.

I knew the Chasers would be somewhere around 15 miles and I couldn’t wait to see them, there’s nothing like a Chaser Cheer to give you a boost and I really needed a boost.  Luckily there’s so many of them you can’t miss them and they let out a huge roar as I trotted past.

Chaser Support Crew…complete with Ingrid the inflatable Chaser (I find it best not to ask…)

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Before I knew it I was at mile 16 and I re-evaluated how I felt, it was getting harder but I was still OK, it was the the flippin London Marathon!  I was a bit slower by 18 miles but I told myself I absolutely needed to get to 20 before I could even consider a walk…I kept going.

True to my word, my legs made it to 20 miles and I rewarded them with a timed 2 minute walk, trying not to make eye contact with the crowd.  They wanted me to run, they didn’t know about the deal I made with my legs, they didn’t understand, ohhh the shame!

I saw the Chasers again around mile 21 and they had split into smaller groups so there were more cheers (except Gary, Gary ignored me to talk about bananas with a stranger, even Ingrid gave me more attention…)

It’s all mind games after 20 miles.  I don’t like 20 miles, it means there’s still 10 whole kilometers to go, I like 21 miles because there’s only 5 miles left…make sense? Of course not!  But, by the time I’ve worked out in my head how exactly I feel about having 5 miles left I’m at 22, and, today, that meant another teeny little walk.  Don’t judge me.

The walk didn’t last long, the crowds just wouldn’t have it, ‘you can do it Katherine, you’re nearly there!’, they didn’t come out to stand on the streets all day to watch me walk.  People at home were tracking me, they’ll see my splits.  Chloe’s wearing a special outfit, don’t let her down.  There’s a sodding TV camera in my face, OK, MOVE.

The next few miles were a bit of a blur but I didn’t stop running, I couldn’t, not only was it too hard to get going again, at this point absolutely anyone I knew could be on the sidelines and I didn’t want to be seen walking, it’s the friggin London Marathon!  The crowds are totally wild by this point, they cheer and shout and yell ‘go on Katherine, you’re looking awesome!’  Errrm, I’m really not am I, I’ve probably never looked less awesome, but thanks!

It was really starting to hurt along the Embankment but my legs were ticking over and I was still enjoying the atmosphere, I just wasn’t sure why the miles were getting longer, why would they do that?!  Eventually I turned the corner to face the home stretch along The Mall, it was the best sight ever!

The flags were flying high, the crowds were roaring and I could actually see the finish line. Just. Keep. Running. I finally crossed the line in 4:05:52 and was totally overcome with emotion, I don’t know how I got through the last few miles, I just wanted to sit down.

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Collecting my medal and shuffling along I quietly reflected on what I had achieved. It was slower than Brighton but it was well within ‘you-can’t-be-disappointed-with…’ time.  So why was I a little sad?  I really didn’t know.  It wasn’t a bad time, especially after Brighton, but I have so many fast friends it’s hard not to think you’re a little bit rubbish.

I’d really enjoyed the run, enjoyed the atmosphere and loved the Chaser support, it had been a brilliant day.  Plus, I genuinely don’t think I could have put more effort in, I couldn’t have tried any harder today, I had to be pleased with that.

I slowly made my way to the finisher area to wait for Zoe and hoped she would come in under her target time. When I saw her she looked in much better shape than I did at the finish and was really pleased with her time. I reckon she’s hooked!

Then it was a quick turnaround and off to the pub for Chasers marathon celebrations with cider and some sensible sambuka.  Another weekend, another marathon and another London medal, that’s pretty awesome right?!

Whatever happens, the London Marathon is always a special day.  It won’t be the last time I run it, not a chance.

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7 Reasons why I LOVE the London Marathon

This weekend London hosts its 35th Marathon and some 36,000 people will line up for one of the most exhilarating experiences of their life.  This is why I love the London Marathon.

1. The atmosphere is electric

I’ve run a lot of big races over the years, including several marathons in various big cities across Europe, but nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the atmosphere of the London Marathon.

Energetic, upbeat, loud, happy, powerful, and ever encouraging, they’re not far wrong when they say the crowd will carry you the last few miles.  They’ll pick you up when you’re down, go wild when you’re running strong and they’ll push you harder than you ever thought possible, it’s a 26.2 mile support crew.  Soak up every second.

2. It’s the sightseeing tour of dreams

Starting in Greewich and Blackheath, the London Marathon takes you past Cutty Sark, Canary Wharf, the Tower of London, the Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and, of course, the magnificent finish along the Mall by Buckingham Palace.  Quite frankly, London is one of the best cities in the entire world and I can promise you there is no better way to see it.

For me, running across the iconic Tower Bridge never fails to send shivers down my spine and it also means you’re nearly halfway!

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3. We’re nice to each other (and not just because we’ve had one too many and it’s the last tube home…)

City life is pretty cold and unfriendly.  You rarely get kindness from strangers and you certainly don’t get the warm smile and wave you get from a fellow runner in the country.

On Marathon day something changes.  Londoners unite and flood the streets in their thousands to cheer and shout and wave banners in the air.  Hell, they even come out of their houses to stand on the street in their PJ’s and bunny slippers to offer you a selection of fruit and sweets!

It’s one of the few days of the year when everyone rallies together to celebrate the achievements of others and it makes me proud to be a Londoner.

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4. It’s the best street party you’ll ever go to

I don’t know how many spectators the London Marathon attracts but it’s a LOT.  Whether people are out to marvel at the elites as they fly past, offer support and sweaty hugs to loved ones, or just admire the sheer grit and determination of the masses, they come out rain or shine to holla at you and enjoy the entertainment, often with a pint in hand.

There were over 35 live music sets adorning the route last year, numerous charity cheer points that go nuts when one of their team runs by and 80 odd pubs which helpfully open early so spectators can enjoy a pint with breakfast, there’s never a dull moment.

Sure, Notting Hill Carnival has people shaking their jelly in bejewelled bikinis and feather headdresses but we have 7ft dinosaurs, Sponge Bob Squarepants, men in mankinis, enough superheros to save the world, and people running 26.2 miles with an actual friggin’ FRIDGE on their back.

Notting Hill ain’t got shit on the London Marathon

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5. You run in the same race as some of the finest athletes in the world

As a World Marathon Major, London attracts some huge names to the start line, including current WR holder Kimetto who’s racing this year.  And you get to run right there with them!

OK, so you’re unlikely to be keeping up with any of them, but everyone runs the same course at the same time with the same roaring crowd.  It’s an honour.

6. You’ll be a hero

If you’ve ever come to watch the marathon, or even seen it on TV, you’ll know what I mean.  Running the London Marathon is on the bucket list for many people but it takes true strength of character to be able to tick it off.  Each year thousands are inspired by the relentless determination of those who make it to the finish line but most will never find the dedication needed to prepare for such a gruelling task.

Cold dark nights, rainy lonely mornings, endless tiring miles, it’s nothing but hard work and you just can’t cheat your way through.  If you run any marathon you will be a hero to someone.

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7. It’s HOME

I don’t know what it’s like to run across the finish line to win Olympic Gold at the Queen Elizabeth Park, or bang in the injury time winner at Wembley, but I do know what it’s like to do the thing you love the most, in one of the best events in the world, that’s televised across the globe, with all your friends and family around you, in the place you call home.  And when that thing is the London Marathon, well, quite frankly, you’re buzzing off your face as soon as the alarm goes off.

The London Marathon? Yeah, it’s pretty special.

If you’re lucky enough to be taking part on Sunday, don’t forget to take a step back, look around, take it all in and appreciate how amazing it is because it will be over all too quickly.  GOOD LUCK!

2011 – my first ever marathon, finished in 4.13

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Two years later – finishing in 3.50

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Back in the Game: Brighton Marathon

I’ve never really been interested in running the Brighton Marathon.  I always thought London was the only marathon worth running in the UK.  But, last April I found myself signing up for the 2015 race after failing to run a London GFA and realising my ballot chances were incredibly slim.  I knew my jealousy would know no bounds if I was the only one not training for a spring marathon.

Yesterday I realised how foolish and short sighted I had been because the Brighton Marathon is a well organised, high profile, worthy event in a vibrant seaside city with incredible crowd support.  It’s an all round bloody brilliant race and I’m sorry I ever thought otherwise!

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On the drive down to Brighton on Saturday the rain came down thick and fast and I was a bit concerned how the weather would pan out the next day. Heavy rain and inevitable wind on the coast would be challenging to say the least!  It seemed to clear by the time I arrived and I headed to the Brighton Centre to pick up my number.

The expo wasn’t too busy, it was quick and painless so I found myself doing the usual fossicking through the various stands. I came away with a bright pair of coral shorts, 3 pairs of socks, 5 protein bars and 3 bags of Honey Stingers. What are Honey Stingers? Well, they look like little jellies…

‘Are these like Shot Bloks?’, ‘Yes, but better’, ‘Oh, OK, I’ll have 3 packs then please’

I then made a swift exit before I bought anything else…

My Mum and Dad were coming to support and my Aunt and Uncle, who live in a nearby village, had kindly agreed to let us stay for a couple of nights.  I had my usual plain pasta for dinner and got an early night (despite my uncle trying to convince me to get on the wine!)

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The alarm went of at a painful 5.40am but I had already been awake a while, it was marathon day! Again!!! I forced down my porridge (and chia seed, new addition to mara day brekkie) and banana and hurried out the door. Because I’m so clever I didn’t read any of the emails I was sent in the lead up to the run (well, none of the boring bits anyway) so by the time it came to planning the journey to the start I realised that you were supposed to book parking 2 weeks ago. And I hadn’t.  Luckily my cousin lives not far from Madeira Drive and offered me a parking space for her awesomely located house.  Perfect, thanks Carol!

It was a short walk to Preston Park where the race started and the sun was starting to feel warm in a nearly cloudless sky…I guess I didn’t need to worry about driving rain!

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Marathon runners were milling around and there was the usual long queue for the toilets, but there was plenty of time to chow down some Honey Stingers and drop my bag off.  I hadn’t seen anyone I knew so was delighted to bump into my friend Jasmine who was doing a wonderful thing and pacing her (super) mum round all 26.2 miles, a friendly face was just what was needed.

I was in the red start which seemed to be the first wave (the sub 3.15 runners were starting somewhere else) so I was over the start line in a couple of minutes.  I was nervous.  I knew I wasn’t going to get a PB, and I was fine with that, but I desperately hoped I would be able to finish in a strong time and shake off the Amsterdam demons.  I didn’t know what was going to happen, what if I fell apart at mile 9 again?

The race was started by Jo Pavey and there was a fabulous atmosphere.  I made a really conscious effort NOT to start too fast so was pretty pleased not to be running my 10k pace which I often seem to do in all the excitement.  I tend to panic at the start and worry that the crowd will hold me back, but of course they don’t, I just go tearing off like a lunatic wasting a lot of energy stressing and weaving in and out.

Not today.  Today I felt like a marathon grown up, totally in control and calm.

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The pace felt comfortable.  It felt easy and quite slow so I was surprised that I was averaging under 8.30 which was faster than PB pace.  I tried to slow down as I knew there were a few hills on the way and wanted to hold the pace.  The hills are in the first half as it takes you round Preston Park, past the Pavilion, and away from the sea for a couple of miles before running past Kemp Town and the Marina.  There’s an almost continuous incline between mile 5.5 and 9 but there is a welcome decline for about half a mile or so.  A turnaround at mile 9 brings the course back to the seafront along a fast stretch.

The crowds were truly awesome.  I made a last minute decision to get my name printed on my Chaser top at the expo and was very glad I did because I’ve never had so many people cheering my name!  I wasn’t expecting such strong crowd support so it was a real lift.  I saw Mum and Dad at miles 3, 5 and 13 and I definitely heard some Chaser support along the route as well.

image The water stations were frequent and well marshalled, the organisers made the decision to use cups this year which I know some people weren’t keen on but I didn’t mind.  I think this change meant they could increase the frequency of the stations (which were almost every mile), I appreciated this on such a warm day.

At mile 16 the sun was getting to me and by mile 18 I had noticeably slowed…it was getting tough.  By mile 20 I was adamant I was pulling out of London later this month, I didn’t want to do it again.  Mile 20 to 23 were pretty dead miles as we ran towards Shoreham and past the power station, there weren’t many crowds around, just us runners focusing on the road.  Why was I doing this?

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The last 3 miles were thick with screaming crowds.  They lined either side of us as we trudged along the sea front to the finish line and it was the only thing holding me together as I desperately tried to keep jogging.  I saw Alex with the Chaser flag at mile 24 which gave me a boost and Mum and Dad saw me again at around 25 but I didn’t see them.  I tried to smile at everyone cheering me but it was getting harder…and harder.

Finally, with the finish line in sight, I tried to calculate if I could finish in under 4 hours. It would be close.  As I approached the mile 26 marker I picked up the pace, my god it hurt, why was it 100 degrees?  The clock was ticking and I wasn’t going to make it, I couldn’t run any faster.

I crossed the line in a happy 4:00:12, certainly not a PB but definitely a time I could be proud of.  I’d worked hard to get back here and it was a huge improvement on my performance 6 months ago, I was pleased.

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Shuffling along, I picked up my medal and goody bag and headed to the Beach Village to meet my parents. It hurt. Everything hurt.  I really wanted to sit down, to lie down, maybe to cry.  That means I worked hard right??

Mum and Dad dragged me through the crowds and we made it to the pub with my cousin for a cold cider and a little sit down.  Marathon number 8 was done!  I didn’t want to do another one.  I really didn’t.

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But in the car on the way back to my aunt and uncles house I thought it might be silly not to do London…I could just jog round and enjoy the experience, I didn’t have to race did I?  Yes, maybe I would do London if I recovered well.

That evening my Auntie Mareline cooked up a a delicious roast chicken with all the trimmings and Uncle Ken made sure my glass was always topped up with some kind of booze.  Perfect recovery 🙂

It was an all round brilliant weekend seeing family, jogging round Brighton and collecting some more race bling.

Brighton Marathon. 4 hours dead. What did I learn? I’m baaacccccckkkk!

The Brighton Marathon 2106 is open for entries. I kinda want to sign up. SOMEBODY STOP ME. Please. Please?

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Running from the Heart

Standing on the start line, everything fades away
Excitement has been building, just waiting for this day
Now you stand on trial, there’s nothing more to do
You did your best to get here, you know that much is true

 

Lost in your own thoughts, there’s one more challenge ahead
But this will be a tough one, you slowly fill with dread
You slaved for hours and hours, the road was certainly long
But have you done enough? The doubts, they haven’t gone

 

It’s been a tough few months, nothing has been easy
But now the time has come, the gun sounds, you feel queasy
There’s no time left to worry, please don’t fall apart
The strength you feel inside you, it comes straight from the heart

 

26.2 to conquer, the prospect seems so daunting
‘You can’t do this, can you?’ the voice inside is taunting
One foot in front of the other, you remember how it’s done
A little kid high-5’s you, oh yeah, it should be fun!

 

Soaking up the atmosphere, a smile creeps over your face
The crowds roar all around you, you’re in a happy place!
The cheers are getting louder, the miles are rolling by
It lifts you higher and higher, you feel like you could fly

 

It’s starting to get tough now, you’re not feeling quite as strong
Everything’s turning hazy, where did it all go wrong?
It was always going to test you, you knew that from the start
The force that drives you forward, it comes straight from the heart

 

The crowds are going crazy, they scream as you run past
Your legs are feeling heavy, how much longer can they last?
The miles are getting slower, but the end is oh-so near
With the finish line in sight, you step it up a gear

 

Emotions they engulf you, from sheer relief to joy
You can’t believe you’ve done it!  Those doubts have been destroyed
Riding high and giddy, you feel nothing but elation
Huge medal round your neck, it’s time for celebration!

 

What a day of triumph, what a day of awe
You feel a little tired, your body aches and more
But pain will fade in time, from every single part
Pride, it lasts forever, because you ran straight from the heart

 

By Katherine French

 

10 Things I wish I knew before I ran my first Marathon…

1. It will hurt

Obvious? Maybe. But what I didn’t know was how much it was going to hurt long before race day.

Running more miles than you ever have before hurts.  Speed sessions hurt, long runs hurt, short runs hurt, even rest days hurt…when you  go to bed, when you wake up, when your alarm goes off at 7am at the weekend. It all hurts.

But trumping them all is when your friends stay in the pub for a late one on the jagerbombs, and you trundle off home with your tail between your legs because you need to knock out 9 miles in the morning.  Nothing hurts quite like that.

It’s gonna hurt. Get used to it.

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2. You will have bad days

There will probably be quite a few, marathon training is never plain sailing.  When I was training for Paris I attempted a 15 mile run after work on a Friday night.  I was under prepared, mentally and physically, I was in a rush and I underestimated the distance.  I couldn’t do it.

That night I ran 12 miles.  I came home in tears wailing ‘I had to cut my run short by 3 MILES and I’ve only run 12, whhaaaaa’.  I thought it was the end of the world, my housemate thought I was mental.  I probably was…I probably am…

If you have a bad day, or even a bad week, move on, don’t worry about it and definitely don’t give up.

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3. You may never have a good hair day ever again

I’m afraid this one is serious.  Morning runs will leave little time for a perfect blow dry and, by the time you’ve finished your run of an evening, you’re likely to be more concerned with filling the void in your tummy than sorting your hair out.

Unless you have a personal stylist on tap it’s gonna be a rough few months for your locks.  Sorry

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4. You will become really boring to your non-running friends

I mean, really boring.  There you are, living, breathing, even dreaming about running and it’s all you can do to stop talking about all the miles you’ve run, the ache in your calf, the new gel flavour you’ve discovered, your new Sweaty Betty top…but the harsh truth is, the only people that will be vaguely interested are other runners.

Whilst your friends and family will be endlessly supportive…they really don’t care.  They don’t care that you knocked 53 seconds off your Parkrun PB or that you ran your longest run ever, or that your toenail just fell off…

WHAT! You went for another run? Really?! Guess what…

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5. You need to have a little faith in you

There will be many times over the 16 odd weeks you’re training when you will think you just can’t do it.  I still think that all the time!  My friend Mike is always telling me I need to trust my training and he’s right, you need to trust all the hard work you’ve put in during the build up, it will pay off and it will see you through.

When I was struggling in the run up to Amsterdam Keith told me look back and write down my top 5 runs.  What was good about them? Remember the positives (all negatives are banned…)

Most importantly, you need to have a little faith in yourself

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6. You’ll talk about poo more than is socially acceptable

When you start running long distances you get to know your body very well and you’ll soon have a mental map of all the accessible toilets within a 20 mile radius.  Tennis courts, pubs, coffee shops, churches, bushes-where-dogs-can’t-find-you, you’ll know them all.

Whilst it’s fine to talk stomach cramps and Imodium with other runners, your friends won’t understand and your work colleagues just won’t get it, so when you bust out the poo strategy chat on a Tuesday afternoon after a conference call…well…don’t.

To be clear: Poo talk is fine with other runners, but at work? NO

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7. Respect the rest day

Would you disrespect the long run? No. So don’t disrespect the rest day!  Rest days are when the magic happens, it’s when the body adapts and improves and gets stronger.  Don’t try and make up for missed sessions by compromising rest days, just let it go.

Your days off are hard earned, put your feet up, put the kettle on and chill out. Enjoy it!

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8. It’s Emotional

Nothing can quite prepare you for the immense euphoria, relief and triumphant joy you feel when you cross the marathon finish line.  Weeks and weeks of blood, sweat, and tears all comes down to this very this moment and you’ve done it!  Add to that the sheer exhaustion, more pain and raging thirst and you may very well just cry. But that’s OK…just don’t ruin your brand new shiny medal!

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9. You’ll get the blues

What goes up must come down and after the high of finishing your first marathon there’s a fair ol way to come back down.  When the celebrations are over and you’ve caught up on life it’s normal to feel like there’s a bit of a hole in your life.  You spent so much time, energy and focus preparing for one day it feels a bit like when Christmas is over when you’re a kid.

I’m afraid the post-marathon blues are very real

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There’s only one way I’ve found of picking myself back up again, and that leads us on nicely to…

10. It’s an addiction

Sure, you might not believe me now and you sure as hell won’t believe me just after you’ve crossed that finish line, but give it a week…maybe less…and you’ll be carefully dusting off your trainers secretly plotting when your next marathon will be.  All of a sudden it’s not so secret and you’re lining up marathons like you used to line up sambuka on a Friday night.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Before you know it people will be all like…

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And it is a problem.  It’s a really big frigging problem…so good luck with that 🙂