Q. So Nina, how come you decided to run the Marathon?
There is something about the event of the Marathon. What is it that makes all these people turn up and run further than they’ve ever run before? What makes all these people put themselves through it? There is some strange commonality that we find in humans, to amass together and run for 26.2miles. Born To Run would argue that we feel some strong invisible pull to re-enact our ancestral running hunting traditions.
The first ancestor that I know to run the marathon is my dad. He ran London in 1992. The year before, we’d just got back from watching it go past the end of our road, and my dad sat on the stairs and announced that he was going to do it next year. I remember looking at him in awe, and fear. Awe that my dad could even think about doing it. Fear that he wouldn’t survive it. Well he did survive it. In 6 and ½ hours. And, as he always points out, it had taken him over 20mins to get to the starting line (days before chip times people!). They had started opening the roads, which made me really angry. Didn’t they know that my dad was out there being a hero?! I didn’t know it then, but the day that my dad ran the London Marathon was going to be my first step towards it.
Then my brother ran Brighton a couple of years ago – on the hottest day of the year. He had done almost everything Russell told him to do as preparation. Apart from staying free from injury. He stood on the starting line, totally undercooked and never having run more than 16miles. I hated seeing him in so much pain over the last 800m that I jogged with him (I thought he’d like me to talk to him encouragingly, but he politely asked me to shut-up). He finished in a time of 4hrs and 1min. I don’t think he even vaguely registered Russell’s lamentations about how close he was to breaking 4hrs that day. Michael’s not that kind of guy. He doesn’t even care that if he trained properly for it, he could possibly break 3 hours. Me? I just couldn’t stop thinking what a hero he was. He said that it was the inability to walk the following week that was the most scary and painful bit of the whole experience.
This year, a friend Tom went through hell and back in London. And Russell’s mum Geraldine ran a heroic marathon in Sunderland in the most terrible race conditions I’ve ever heard of. Wanting to give up with 800m to go, it was Maggie’s screaming from the finish line that got her through in 4:48. As the year has gone on, and marathon season has again highlighted these amazing feats, I’ve found myself getting more and more emotional hearing about them. Even shedding a tear or two (can you believe it? me?!)
Q. That’s very interesting and heart-warming. So I guess the stakes were high last Sunday?
Oh yeah! I wanted first of all to break the ‘Othen Family Record’ and go sub-4hours. But the way training had been going, Russell said I was in shape to smash it.
Q. So what actually happened on the day?
There I was on the starting line, waiting an interminable time for the gun. I started to relax down after the bout of nerves that had gripped me earlier in the morning and I felt pretty confident actually, just let’s get started. I had underestimated my predicted time when I entered, and so found myself at the very front of the ‘2nd class’ start line. But it’s always nice to be in the front of something. Next to me a girl was laughing hysterically with a friend. How can people do that? How can you be so flippant as to find something funny when you’re just about to run a marathon? I was deadly serious. I’ve been training for months and I’m going to do my best today. Finally they let us go.
The first few miles were all downhill and zipped by, all in under 8mins. The two starts began merging within the first mile and I found myself running into the back of the first start. I would continue to overtake for the rest of the race.
Taking on water and energy gel, I ran a slow mile 6-7 which was enough to shock me into fighting to pick up the pace again. I crossed 10km in 48mins and ½ way in 1:48. That’s on track for 3:36. My feet were feeling more than usually battered, probably due to the heat. And my legs felt a little wooden. But generally I was keeping good and strong. I began to see the front of the marathon pass me on the other side of the road on an out and back section. Disaster struck around mile 18 when the course took us through rough track that was harsh on my thin plimsoles (see Wilmslow). This slowed me down a lot, and I clocked up a 12 min mile!
My biggest hope was to reach 20miles with enough life in me to really go for the final 6. I shouted to anyone that would listen that “apparently the marathon begins at 20miles” and sped up with enthusiasm.
At about 22miles, I suddenly felt that my right calf was about to twang. It tried to cease up. I’ve never felt anything like this before, or been seriously injured, and it scared the hell out of me! I immediately adjusted my flailing form, ensured I was putting my weight through my heels and tried to keep the impact in my abs, glutes and hips. Then my left calf started playing up. If I was to so much as scuff my foot, or even press a button on my watch to get my split times, this would be enough to cramp it.
I had wanted to get back to my 8min mile pace and leave enough in the tank for a strong finish. But I had to decide to be conservative, rather than risk a tear. I couldn’t think about anything else. The rest of my body wanted to give it everything I had, but my calves just weren’t having it.
At about 150m from the finish, the race organisers had decided on a covering of stiff studded rubber mats for us. Not a problem for anybody wearing soles thicker than rice paper on their feet. I experienced something akin to trying to run with one of your legs in full plaster. Here is the photograph to prove it.
The medals are massive and weigh a ton. The hundreds of them were all clinking in the breeze which made for a finishing song that I hadn’t expected. One of the kids handed me mine. I handed it back to her and asked her if she wouldn’t mind putting it over my head for me, like a real winner.
Q. Oh that’s nice. Are you going to tell us your finishing time?
3hrs, 45mins and 27seconds
Q. How pleased are you out of 10?
9. It’s exciting to think that with better nutrition, and I have to admit it – more foot cushioning, I could easily break 3:40!… hmm maybe even get 3:30? Which is a championship qualifying time!
Q. Did you get a curved sunburn mark across your forehead from your headband?
Yes. Who told you about that?
Q. Do it again?
Yeah – I think I’d rather do a trail mountain marathon next, or maybe break 20mins for 5km
Q. Eating doughnuts?
Q. General sense of wellbeing?
Q. Any feelings of anti-climax?
I have to say that running the marathon has given me a new found respect for my dad’s 6 and 1/2 hours. It’s definitely a race where the quicker you do it, the easier it is! When I had been heading for home on the out and back, and I could see the runners at the end of the marathon, laboring at a slow trot, I couldn’t believe how far they still had to go. Now that’s really impressive.
It feels really great to have achieved something that is so tangible for me. Funnily enough, I happened to come across the race report I had written for Annapurna about 18 months ago. There must be something deep inside me that makes me want to run. And run long. And I’m really happy to have discovered it.
And so, even more funnily enough, it bears mentioning that Michael, Tom, Geraldine and of course myself, have all been coached to run marathons by Russell Bentley. Who has sworn he will never himself run a marathon and prefers the lighter distance of 800m round a track. As opposed to round a whole city. But seriously, he did me so proud. He even roped in the help of John Gilbert (2nd fastest marathon runner in the country) to finalise my preparation. Thanks to Russell for always pushing me to the edge (!) And to everybody else for putting up with my needs, whims, diets, exhaustion, and the tears that come along for the ride. I REALLY appreciate it.