I ran the Bristol to Bath marathon 4 weeks ago, and after sharing all my training with you, it’’s only fair that I also tell you all about race day. I need to put a warning on this post if you are not a runner. Runners are pretty open about speaking to each other about digestion issues etc and this post certainly have some of that, although I tone it down. Sorry!
As you will know if you have been reading my training updates, the last month of training was really minimal. I am not sure why. What started like a recovery week after my 31K run transformed itself in a 4 weeks taper. Unfortunately, due to my studies, I only see my husband at the weekends. I try to work hard during the week in order to have 48h off at home. Although doable, I did not feel like training hard before/after a day at the hospital, and although Lawrence is very supportive of my running, I did not feel like doing any long runs at the weekends. Breakfasts in bed are far more appealing.
So how did I feel before the race? I just could not be bothered to run it. My 4 weeks taper seemed to be dragging on for ever, I just wanted for it to be done. It also seemed like an inconvenience to not go back home and see Lawrence for the weekend (I told him not too come as the effort for him to come and support seemed disproportional to how much I would actually see him). I have to admit that I was slightly worried about how much fitness I could have possible lost during these 4 weeks. However, with no time pressure, I was confident that I could complete the distance, even if I had to walk.
On the Saturday before the race, I met up with Julie (read her interview here) and Steph and I have to say that their enthusiasm was very contagious. Plus pre-marathon night means carb loading and we had planned to meet up with Lucy and Claire at Pizza express and I was really looking forward to that too. However, for reasons I will explain a bit further down, pigging out at pizza express was not my smartest idea.
The race took place on the day we changed time for daylight saving and it was amazing to have an extra hour in bed. I had bagels for breakfast and it was a short walk from Julie’s house to the start line. The race booklet was very vague about the start line organization and where the different starting pens would be. I was aiming to be in the 4h-4h30 wave but did not find it so ended up in the 4h30-5h one with Steph and 3 other friends. That being said, the bag drop was amazingly quick to brownies point for that.
This seems like a good time to let you know the strategy Steph and I had for the race. When I signed up for this marathon, my goal was to run in sub 4H and have Steph pace me for it. However, in the space of 1 year, my running goal had changed. Running a sub 4h marathon was no longer my focus. I had a very busy year between completing 2 years of med school in one, preparing a wedding while being abroad, managing a long distance relationship with my now husband and moving to different cities in the South West to complete my medical studies. My aim was to complete the distance and have Steph for moral support. We agreed on running between 5’45 -6’00min/K for the first part of the race in order not to burn myself out too quickly and save my legs for the second part of the race, which was very hilly.
The first part of the race was the same as the Bristol half marathon, which was my favourite race last year (check out the race recap part 1 and 2). Having not run in Bristol for a month and just not run much in general, I was super excited to start racing. In fact, Steph had to regularly tell me to slow down. My strategy was to fuel approximately every 8-9Km and to take my gels in very slowly over 1km. For some reasons that are still mysterious to me, I started feeling nauseous from the moment I took my first gel. I have run all of my races this year with these gels, I really like them, never had an issue with them but on that marathon day, they just would not sit well in my stomach. The problem is that with a marathon to run, you need to keep fueling somehow in order to complete the distance. We crossed the half marathon distance in 2h, which I was really pleased with as the pace still felt confortable. We then exited Bristol to make our way to Bath. The hills started immediately. Luckily my hill training was put to good use and I could tackle the hills OK. However, having started taking my 2nd gel by then, I felt even more nauseous.
The next 20miles / 16K were like an outer body experience. I was somehow enjoying myself. The scenery was amazing and the public support in all the villages on our way to Bath was outstanding. Steph was a great trooper checking on me and giving me lots of encouragements. However my mind went blanked. I was focused on just moving my legs and trying to breath the nausea away. At some point I had to stop what felt like every 200m because I was feeling so sick but just couldn’t be sick.
The hills were a bitch (excuse my French) but surprisingly the downhills caused me more trouble. I had a knee pain that developed in my right knee when the downhills were really steep. What the F? I have NEVER had any right knee pain in my running ‘career’ however this developed on that day too.
Steph suggested to me to try fueling with real food i.e. this Trek banana flapjack. I refused saying that I was feeling so nauseous and that I would probably be sick if I ate it. However a couple of km later I was like “hang on, I need to be sick to lets have the trek bar’ (twisted I know). What it did though is that it settled my stomach for a couple of km, I felt so much better until I didn’t. I think that I was eventually sick at mile 23 / 38 km, after which I felt SO much better and shouted out “ Steph, I can do this, I feel like a new women, lets finish this”. Steph wipped out her music and started playing Taylor Swift on her phone (thank you Taylor for your pop music).
By this point we had 3 miles / 5 K to go. It’s the distance of a parkrun, I KNEW I could finish it. We got into Bath, I might even have (what felt like) sped up. It felt so good to be in beautiful Bath, although the end felt like ‘junk miles’. Same as for the Bristol half marathon this year where we just kept going round in circle near the finish line. We just kept turning around little streets, UPHILL and it just seemed endless. Horrible. At some point Steph shouted that we only had 200m to go except that we still couldn’t see the finish line. Actually, we probably had 500m to go and after the last hill I had it, I just stopped running and started walking. I never understood how runners could stop so close to the finish line and yet I was one of them. I just couldn’t think anymore and moving forward seemed impossible. I finally saw the bloody finish line, gathered the little strength I had left in me and finished the marathon running and not walking.
Marathon number 2 done! I felt so weak, the banana I had at the finish line was the best banana of my life. I ate it in 2 sec and then proceeded to eat all the awesome stuff from my goodie bag. In retrospect, I think that I was massively dehydrated and hypoglycaemic from not taking all my gels, not drinking enough and vomiting.
I sat on the floor, not really understanding what I had just accomplished, got emotional on the phone talking to my husband and then got a text message telling me my time for the marathon. 04h38. 11 min faster than last year in Paris. I GOT AN 11MIN PB! I couldn’t and still cannot believe it. After all this walking. After feeling so miserable! Incredible. In the second half, my split ranged from 5’44min/k to 10min/k!
I know that some of you might wonder: recently married + nausea = pregnancy? No I am not pregnant. For years and years I had some sort of IBS, which I just put up with. However I got some tests done in June and got a list of ingredients to avoid eating. I kept ignoring it as I stil had lots of ‘forbidden’ food in my pantry. However, in September when I moved to a new hospital accommodation and had to start my pantry from scratch, I became better at eliminating some of my trigger food i.e. almonds, spinach, eggs, gluten amongst a few. I think that I over did it with the carb/gluten loading before the race (plus my pizza which was so delicious had spinach on it and was not gluten-free) and after 1 month without any sports gel, my stomach did not seem to appreciate the overload. I still have to adjust to my new diet. Also, I have to start reintroducing some of the ingredients from my list slowly to understand which ones still need to be banned and which ones I can get away with.
Now the big question is, will I do another marathon? The answer is yes, but not next year and perhaps not until I finish med school. Indeed, due to the circumstances described above, I am finding life too busy to fit in another marathon. There is always a way, there are some people way more busy than me that manage to do it, I just don’t want it enough. Also, if there is one thing that I have understood over my years of running, not running marathon does not make you any less of a runner.'If there is one thing that I have understood over my years of running, it's that not running… Click To Tweet
Nevertheless, I want to do another one because I really like long distance running. I really enjoyed my training for this marathon. I even enjoyed the race despite the nausea. Also, I would like to run a marathon with no digestive issues at least once so I can fully enjoy the race! My recap makes it sound like a horrible experience but actually, since I did not have a time goal, nor a watch for that matter, I was only focused on enjoying the process and the scenery. That’s it. It certainly made the whole day more bearable as I do not think that I would have mentally been able to finish the race if I had a massive time goal and I had realised early on that I was not going to achieve it. I asked Steph our time twice only. At the half marathon point to see what this ‘comfortable’ pace corresponded to and I think at mile 20 as we stopped to take a picture.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Steph for her amazing support, but also all of you who have been reading my training journey for this marathon. As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I am focusing on becoming a stronger runner with lots of cross-training in order to ace my 2016 race season.
Big hugs to all of you
How do you fuel for your marathons?
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