Newport Wales Marathon
I woke up on Sunday at 5:45, feeling more relaxed than the day before. My hip-flexors were still aching (I had managed to get them inflamed just one week prior the the marathon) and my back felt very stiff. However, I knew, that I was fit enough to at least start. I had been so scared, that I'd have to withdraw last minute - so already starting felt like winning the jackpot. My friend Andy came to pick me up and managed to calm down my nerves immediately (he got up tat 4:30 and drove for more than two hours to come and support me). The weather was perfect - sunny, 8 degrees and hardly any wind. We met up with my PMG Coaching team mates Lydia and Laura at the start area and it was great to share the pre-race excitement and loo visits with them. We managed 4 toilet stops within an hour prior to start 🤣.
Around 8:45 the gates opened and we immediately made our way to the pens. Laura and I started in the second wave just after the championships starts and managed to line up in the second row. The start area was very well managed and I loved that the race was not too crowded. One last good luck hug with Laura and the start pistol went.
Crossing that start line was so emotional. All the injuries and setbacks, disappointments and the hard work flashed in front of my eyes and I couldn’t help but to shed some tears. That was what I had worked so hard for - and I decided to fully enjoy the race. I had read about Eliud Kipchoge smiling throughout his races and I wanted to do just that (it actually really worked for me - I was more relaxed when I smiled and got the bonus of some really nice race pictures) .
I really appreciated the fact that I could run my goal pace right from the start without having to wiggle my way through the pack. My plan was to run around a 4:43/km (7:36/mile) pace for the first half and then to define my strategy for the rest of the race. I quickly settled into a good rhythm and tried to ignore the runners who overtook me. in previous race, I always started too fast and struggled in the second half. It was hard not to get too competitive and speed up but I tried hard to stick to my plan. 5km in, I saw Andy, Martha and Daryl, which gave me a big boost. At mile 4, I took my first gel and felt absolutely great. I had decided to take on a gel every 4 miles. That meant carrying 6 gels, which seemed like a lot, but I know that it worked for me and just went with it (I shoved 4 gels down my bra and carried two in the back pocket of my shorts).
6 miles in, my hip-flexors started to really hurt and I got a bit worried. I focussed on just running one mile after the other. I had read Aly Dixon's Instagram post about dividing the race into three parts: the first 8miles you run with your brain, the second with your legs and the third with your heart. So I tried to do just that, kept a cool head and focused on my pace.
At 7.5 miles, I saw Andy again. He handed me my sports drink, I had a sip while he ran a couple of meters with me. I told him that my hip was on fire but that other than that, I was feeling fine. With new energy, I pushed through another 0.5 miles before I took the next gel. While I took it, I told myself that now it was time to run with my legs. I focussed on my technique, consciously engaged my glutes and just took one step after the other. The course lead to the village of Magor where the support was absolutely amazing. Everyone was out on the streets cheering and I enjoyed it massively.
Then followed the lonely stretch. For around 4 miles there were hardly any people and I only saw a few runners. The views though were fantastic, we ran through endless fields and I saw many sheep and horses. During that time I enjoyed my playlist. I had asked friends to give me one song to add to the list so I could think of them while the song was playing. That got me through this stage.
Took my third gel at mile 12 and one mile later I crossed the half marathon point and realised that I was still on track to run 3:19. This was my platinum goal (gold was sub 3:20). as my brother’s PB is 3:19:23. We made a bet 3 years ago that if I ever beat his time, he’d have to run another marathon... If that's no motivation, I don't know what is 🤣.
I saw Andy for the last time on course around 14.5 miles in. He ran a bit with me, I had a few sips of my sports drink, we joked, took and short video and he yelled l: see you at the finish... the finish - this was the first moment where I believed I could actually do this.
I still felt good, despite my aching hip-flexors. But the next three miles seemed long. Very long. I tried to relax and listen to the music. Finally I got to mile 16 and told myself that now it was time to run with my heart. I took another gel and started feeling stronger. I sped up a tiny bit and started to overtake one runner after the other. At mile 20 and after another gel, I said out loud: that’s the warmup done, time for the 10k race (my coach Jordan once mentioned that a marathon was a 20 mile warmup followed by a 10k race). I might have annoyed some fellow runners around me who were struggling, but I needed to give myself that push. My pace now was around 4:35/km (7:20/mile) and I felt strong. Another mile ticked by and I knew that it was only 10k to go. I could do this. At the next water station I passed Laura, who was struggling. It broke my heart seeing the disappointment in her eyes and I tried to motivate her to stay with me. She gave it her all and fought so hard but had to stick to the pace she knew would get her through to the finish. Another 5k went by and now the finish line was within reach, I gradually increased my speed and ran around 4:25-4:30/km (7:10-7:15/mile) .
My lower half was on fire. Every step hurt like hell and felt like someone was stabbing me in my hips. But nothing in the world would stop me now. Just a parkrun to go, I told myself and enjoyed the cheers along the course.
Close to the finish, the course led one mile down a street and back. That was the toughest pat of the race. I hurt so much and the out and back was mentally challenging. I wanted to finish strong and slowed down a bit in order to be able to sprint at the end. I took my last gel at mile 22 and got ready for the final push. At mile 25, the course lead over a bridge with a tiny incline. That was the only time in the race when I wished it was over. It hurt so much. Clinching my teeth I managed to smile through the pain and turned into the home straight. I looked at my watch and it showed something just over 3:15. I shook my head in disbelieve. The whole way I hadn’t realised that I was going that quick. I remember thinking 'bloody hell' and almost burst into tears. I spotted Andy in the crowds and started my final sprint.
The emotions were just overwhelming. I could not believe what just happened. I crossed the finish line and was in shock. 3:16:22 - a 21 minutes PB and 13 minutes below my silver goal (sub 3:30), 3.5 below my gold goal (sub 3:20) 2.5 minutes below my platinum goal.
After that, all is a bit of a blur. I remember walking down the finisher funnel in shock, shedding some tears of joy and congratulating other runners. Every step hurt like hell but I was still cruising on cloud number 9. Then finally I spotted Andy who gave me the best hug in the world. And he told me that I became 7th woman and 3rd in my age group. We danced a little and I still could not believe it. We waited for Laura to finish as I wanted to give her a hug. She fought so hard but just didn’t get the race she deserved. I could see her disappointed and it broke my heart again. The marathon is such a brutal distance. Not to get the time you set out for is incredibly tough. We all work extremely hard for month, sacrifice so much and then on the day, it sometimes just doesn’t come together. But she still managed to run a PB and qualified for London. I am sure that she will run the race of her lifetime. Can’t wait to see her smashing her goals. We took some pictures and hugged good bye.
Andy and I went on to take some more pictures. I just could not stop smiling and still had a hard time processing the whole thing. It was invaluable having Andy with me who asked questions and let me share my experiences. I can’t thank him enough for coming to the race to support me.
Then it was time to get changed and most important, time for FOOD! Andy and I shared some more stories over the most amazing gluten free burger and the best tasting beer ever.
We also called my friend and coach Jordan and we had an emotional facetime chat. I can't thank her enough for all the support, the amazing training plan and for the fact, that she believed in me.
Even now, two days after the race, it still feels like a dream. In July last year, my doctor told me that I would never run again due to my achilles. Well, take that, doc...