Never run alongside a giraffe

Running Brighton Marathon

So the training had had its ups and downs - like, I imagine, most people's - and after my longest, long run I felt I could not run another inch (and as I'd measured everything else in metric, that's a bold, immeasurably unpredictable statement).

However, in the final week, refreshed from tapering and utilising my very Special Skill of Carb-Loading - my training might have been mid-table, but my Carb-loading was Champions League - I started feeling (almost) confident.

Then, two days before the marathon, a sore throat. A headache. Glands up. The hint of a temperature.

A spiral of what some might call hypochondria, I'd call measured caution, led to me having the worst mental preparation over the Friday and Saturday. I'd read horror stories of people running with colds, and already knowing that I’d experience a whole range of emotions and symptoms between mile 20 and 26, I just wanted to feel that any major changes were to do with the running.

Sunday, I woke up nervous, but glad it was the day, with the attitude of I'll finish, no matter what. Suddenly everything was fine.

High-fiving Jo Pavey at the start epitomised my mood. I felt great, although I remembered that me and the kids had watched a video the day before, outlining the Seven Moods in Running a Marathon from exhilaration to despair.

Still, even the fact that within the first three minutes I'd managed to soak with my cap with Gatorade didn’t dampen my enthusiasm (just the hat).

I'd deliberately set myself a slow target pace, having read many blogs about this, then felt unwell in the run-up, so was aiming for a cautious 11 minutes a mile. My wrist was adorned with 2 different pacing bands, one assuming I'd flag alarmingly for the last 6 miles. They were my glass half full/glass half empty options which generally I kept between for the first half of the race.

Brighton Marathon opens with an atmospheric, twisting route, round the park and then through the central streets, doubling past by the sunlit Pavilion, into the shadows of the Jubilee library. Right from the start, I was struck by the sense of community and the support of the crowds. I felt great! I was going to finish! (I was only about five miles in!)

Next, to the seafront, and The Long Slow Incline to Roedean. Which despite sounding like a Country and Western song, is merely miles six to ten. I remember this as endless blue sky and a sea( if you pardon the pun) of bobbing runners. Up round the bend of Ovindean, and then back downhill.

I remember taking my first gel around now. I hadn't particularly got on with them on my long runs - I found them sickly sweet, the consistency of kids' medicines, not that I often have kids' medicine (I am 43) - but decided to go for it. I think they helped.

Past the marina, and then back into town, and the crowds at this stage just before the halfway mark were magnificent. Running down the Marine Parade, past the wheel and round the Palace Pier, a majestic curve on a wide road, the crowds make you feel like a superstar.

Halfway. I felt fine. I also was really looking forward to seeing my wife and kids who were going to be on New Church Road. Hopefully.

Banners helped. Tupperware containing jelly babies helped. Random music from the sidelines helped. Putting a name on your T shirt helps. (I chose my own name. Good choice). "Come on Richard! Go Richard! Looking good Richard!" (OK, maybe not that one). The only time people supportively shouting your name stops is when you run alongside a giraffe, when people very much focus on the giraffe (although, to be fair, wouldn’t everybody?)

Church Road and I suddenly found myself high-fiving my kids' hairdresser. The week before she'd said they had alcohol and doughnuts in on marathon day. No, I didn't stop. Then on New Church Road, I saw my wife and the kids holding banners. It was a real boost, I remember telling them the good news (that I thought I was going to finish) and then on I went. I knew they were now setting off to park at the Marina and then walk back to be near the finish line.

Whether it was that small stop at 15 miles, or simply how much I’d been looking forward to seeing my family, I found the next mile one of the hardest. But then I got back in my stride and as I turned down a side street at the end of New Church Road, a couple were wearing Royal Family masks. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. I’m no royalist, but just the oddness of that sight provided a fillip/Philip. Yes, pun intended.

Back east into central Hove and then down The Drive. Onto Kingsway and West. I was at the 18 mile mark. Just by the lagoon, one of my favourite places to run normally, something odd happened. I may have been imagining this, but everyone seemed to stop running at the same time. There was probably a water station, but it seemed more extreme, and even though I was not clamouring to stop, my brain was saying ‘Should I? It’s normal’. I just knew that if I stopped once, I’d be constantly doing so, but thankfully I overcame it.

Right. Shoreham Harbour. It's bleak at the best of times, it coincides with the dreaded 'wall', so it was always likely to be a struggle. Was it that bad? Maybe because I’d assumed I’d be wanting to give up at this stage, it wasn’t anyway near as bad. On my practice runs it had been just me. Now, everyone else was going through the same struggles. Oh, and there was drumming. In fact the combination of the drumming and the weary hordes made me feel like I was in some sort of apocalyptic Mad Max film re-imagined in lycra. Sponsored by Runkeeper.

According to my pacing band, I was about 5 minutes behind my aim of 4 hours 45. My primary aim was simply to finish, but my new aim was to be under 5 hours....

I enjoyed the turn, I was pleased to see the big screen at mile 23 which signified the end of that stretch, and I distinctly remember the little sloping curve bringing you up onto Hove Prom. This final, familiar stretch that I'd run so often.

The crowds here were close and virtually pulling you along to the finish line. I really wanted to know the exact mile markers - just about my only criticism of the course is I hardly saw any of the markers, was that just me? - and I was actually disappointed when the course diverted away from the West Pier, simply because I'd lose my sense of distance.

But again, the crowds were huge, cheering you on along Kingsway. My aim had been simply to finish, but I was going to make it comfortably under 5 hours.

My memory of the end was it was just me. I don’t mean I've outpaced anyone, just that a gap happened to be both before and after me. However, according to the little video clip you get emailed after, I'm merely one of a conveyor belt of washed up runners wearily crossing the finish line.

Whatever. I had done it. I'd completed my first marathon. It felt great, the atmosphere had been magnificent. And yes I enjoyed it. I really had.

Then my legs seized up....

If you'd like to sponsor me

.... my chosen charity is the Rockinghorse Children's Charity. It is the official fundraising arm of the Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital and also supports the Trevor Mann Baby Unit.

I am personally grateful to the staff at the TMBU as ten years ago, our elder son's life was saved by the expertise of the staff in that unit. He suddenly stopped breathing an hour after being born, but thankfully, the staff at the Trevor Mann Unit - based in the floor above - rushed down and were able to resuscitate him.

He was transferred upstairs and spent the first few days on his life in the TMBU while they monitored him, and we are lucky that he is now a perfectly healthy 10 year-old.

We witnessed the dedication and skill of the staff, looking after children much iller than our son, often born prematurely and/or with with much longer-term needs.

I would therefore like to make my own Drop In The Ocean Thank You to donate any money raised to Rockinghorse. Here's the link to the Just Giving Page: Just Giving Page.

Thank you

Richard Hearn 2015

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Distracted Dad - The Training

On April 12th, I'm running the Brighton Marathon.

I have just completed my final 'long run' - that's a technical term - and completed twenty miles. And to be honest, I didn't think I could make it through another inch.

I now know that the full 26.2 miles - and I reckon I'll know about the point two when I'm running it - is a Very Long Way. (Yes, that's another technical term, hope you're keeping up with the jargon, you can tell I've done my research.)

I've threatened to enter the Brighton Marathon before but haven't due to a mixture of poor admin and laziness. I know the atmosphere is great (as a spectator). I like running - or should that be past tense, 'Liked' - and it's a good excuse to try and stretch myself. I've genuinely enjoyed increasing distances over the last 6 months or so, but well...I think the official phrase is Enough is Enough.

It's now real. It's both A Long Way and A Bit Too Close. However, I'm determined to do it, simply to make up to those around me having to listen to my moaning about lactic acid, achilles trouble or cross-training (which I used to think was simply normal training, but in a bit of a bad mood).

I've been doing my research, especially now that I'm at those distances where you run out of natural fuel. I've investigated sports gels (which have the sickly consistency of kids' medication), and I've bought jelly babies for the first time in about thirty years, if I ever bought them at all. I've started to practise Carb-loading, which is like the horrifying Meal in the Attic of someone on the Atkins Diet. I've lessened the wine.

One foot in front of the other. Repeat. How hard can it be?

I used to run because it would allow my mind to both relax and concentrate. Creative thoughts. Problems solved. Now, I simply make calculations around pace and percentages to take my mind off the pain, and converting between imperial and metric seems to be my new special skill. I imagine I'm great fun at parties.

Everyone says that the crowd and the atmosphere help get you through the last few miles, help to drive you on. I'm relying on it. This column too is all part of the plan. It's my IOU to myself and others, my writing it down so it must come true, the words that will come back to haunt me if I don't finish. Let's hope they get me over the line.

f you'd like to sponsor me, my chosen charity is the Rockinghorse Children's Charity. It is the official fundraising arm of the Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital and also supports the Trevor Mann Baby Unit.

I am personally grateful to the staff at the TMBU as ten years ago, our elder son's life was saved by the expertise of the staff in that unit. He suddenly stopped breathing an hour after being born, but thankfully, the staff at the Trevor Mann Unit - based in the floor above - rushed down and were able to resuscitate him.

He was transferred upstairs and spent the first few days on his life in the TMBU while they monitored him, and we are lucky that he is now a perfectly healthy 10 year-old.

We witnessed the dedication and skill of the staff, looking after children much iller than our son, often born prematurely and/or with with much longer-term needs.

I would therefore like to make my own Drop In The Ocean Thank You to donate any money raised to Rockinghorse. Here's the link to the Just Giving Page: Just Giving Page.

Wish me luck.

Richard Hearn 2015

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Copyright 2016 - Richard Hearn. You can follow me on Twitter if you like. Here I am!