In a month’s time, I’ll be running a marathon

Suddenly, what seemed like a faraway goal is becoming very real and very imminent. Just over a year ago I managed to finish a Parkrun without walking any of it for the first time and now I’m 31 days away from doing 26.2 miles in full view of an awful lot of people.

And as it gets closer, it means there are a lot of firsts and lasts as the days tick by. I’m closing in on my last really big training run (next weekend) which follows on from running my first organised half-marathon last weekend.

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The proof!

Yes, last weekend was the Colchester Half Marathon and after several years of seeing it pass by the end of my street, this year I instead got to run past the end of my street along with a few thousand others. I’d done a few runs of this length or longer in training, but it’s always a lot different doing it with people around you on the same run on a set route, lots of people there cheering you on, and all with the knowledge there’s an official clock ticking off your time as you run.

The Colchester Half is probably the biggest event in the local running calendar, and it was an odd and somewhat disconcerting experience to be surrounded by thousands of people when I got to the stadium at the start of the race. I’ve done organised races before, but nothing as large as this and the number of people and level of noise was a bit disorienting, so apologies to anyone I saw before the start if I was a bit off with them!

Once we set off, though, the race itself was a great experience. Beginning at the stadium means the race starts at just about the highest point on the course, so there’s a long descent through Mile End at the start that was good for getting myself into the right mindset for a long run and getting used to having lots of people there to cheer us all on. It’s not long before you realise what goes down must also come up and there’s soon the fun of having to ascend North Hill. It’s not too pleasant, but it isn’t too long and there’s the reward at the top of turning into the High Street and being greeted by a big crowd, all cheering us on — and another long descent down East Hill.

As had happened with other races I’d done, I found I’d got into a pretty regular and easy pace, going at about twelve minutes a mile and feeling pretty comfortable as down became up again and we headed up Ipswich Road. I’ve run this a few times in training, so was used to the vagaries of it as a long uphill of varying gradients, but my training runs hadn’t featured so many people giving out free sweets to everyone passing by.

My main aim for the day was to enjoy the run and not push things too hard, so once Ipswich Road was done I started breaking up my running with some patches of walking when I reached the water stations. That gave me the chance both to properly take on water and also relax a little before running again. Generally, that worked pretty well for me, and if anything I probably should have taken the first walking break earlier rather than waiting until I’d done five miles and an hour’s running. For London, I’m definitely planning to break it up a little more from early on, just to keep myself from pushing too hard, especially at the start, and then having to suffer for a long time because of it.

Probably one of the odder experiences for us slower runners on this course is around halfway, coming out of Severalls and into the countryside section. That’s the point at which you can hear — if not see — the PA at the stadium again, and you become very aware that there are people who’ve already finished their run, while there’s still quite a long way to go. However, it’s also a reminder that you’re soon going to be experiencing the same reception when you get there and having done the Langham 10K last year, I was familiar with most of the route we were about to follow.

I wasn’t trying for any heroics on this run, and not trying to make any huge pace or a particular time, so this section was just a case of me trying to go as steadily as I could while watching the miles tick down, The only time I felt like I was struggling was just outside of Langham where there’s the last little dip and rise of the course. I’d done this on the 10K last year (where it’s in the first couple of kilometres) and gone easily through it, but this time the uphill section felt immense and pretty draining and I was really glad when it finally flattened out.

After that it was just the matter of getting through one last 5K run as the road headed down through Boxted and then onto Straight Road, which I’ve heard nightmare tales of from others but wasn’t too bad for me. It’s probably not the greatest way to finish a race — two miles of almost completely straight and flat road (they don’t use irony in naming roads round here, you know…) heading into Colchester — but there were enough other runners around the same pace as me that it was more about focusing on those around you than the road. By this point, almost everyone was combining running and walking, which meant there was lots of passing and re-passing each other, urging each other on as we started to hear the noise from the stadium again.

And then the stadium was there, and so was the noise of the A12, and it was just abour getting over one last bridge while being cheered on by everyone heading back to the car park after finishing. Somehow, once I’d got to the top of the bridge (which felt a lot steeper than it actually is) I had the energy left to accelerate to the finish line and actually finish at a decent pace, not just limping over the line. Maybe all that training and distance work is actually having an effect?

So that’s my last big race before the London Marathon completed and I’m feeling pretty confident about it. I’m confident that running the Marathon is going to be tough and it is going to hurt, but I’m also confident that I can take it and complete the race. I’m not setting targets beyond completing it, but even that will be a pretty amazing achievement given the levels of unfitness I’m rising from.

So, help me make it all worthwhile by sponsoring me to do this. Yes, it’s going to hurt, but knowing that I’m doing it to help fund research which will help people with brain conditions makes the pain worth it. I know how much they’ve affected my family, and helping others avoid that pain makes it worth it.

EDIT: One thing I forgot to mention was that the Half Marathon is organised and run by volunteers who give up a lot of their time both so we runners can have a great experience, and to raise a bunch of cash for local charities. Thanks to everyone who helped out, and everyone who came to cheer along the way.

Many, many things. PhD student at QMUL. Councillor. Ran the 2019 London Marathon for Brain Research UK. @nickjbarlow on Twitter.

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