On a chilly Saturday morning at the end of what would become the wettest June on record I found myself at the start of The Wall Ultra-Marathon. Over the next two days I would attempt to run 69 miles on mixed terrain along Hadrian’s Wall between Carlisle Castle and Newcastle.
I had first thought about running along Hadrian’s wall a couple of years ago when I was first starting to run regularly. At the time I the furthest I’d ran was a 10k. I but the idea to the back of mind and started looking a half marathon events. Move forward about a year and just after my first full marathon my colleague James sent me a link to The Wall. I studied the event a few times over the coming weeks but it wasn’t until about six months later and after marathon number two and some off road running practise that I finally booked my place on the 69 mile two day slog.
TRAVELLING TO THE START
I travelled up to Carlisle on the Friday night with my wife and supporter Abigail. After stopping off at Carlisle Castle to register we checked into our hotel a couple of miles. I was excited and nervous about my first ultra run and I checked and re-checked my kit before finally getting off to sleep just after midnight to the sound of rain driving at the window. I was resigned the fact that it was to be a wet weekend.
I was up and dressed pretty quick on Saturday morning and I couldn’t wait to get to the castle and get going. Arriving at Carlisle Castle about 30 minutes before the big off I felt relaxed as I stretched and checked my kit. Due to the immense amount of rain that had fallen the start of the race was delayed while the route out of Carlisle was checked for flooding. Whilst standing in the crowd at the start listening to a race marshal shout instructions at us my mind started to wonder. It seemed strange to think that the race I was about to start wouldn’t finish until tomorrow afternoon. If all went well.
At about 0820 and after a short countdown we were off. Stage 1 would consist of a 15 mile mostly road run before reaching the first pit-stop at Lanercost. The crowd shuffled out of the castle and I made a quick stop off to kiss Abigail as she cheered me on my way. I wouldn’t be seeing my wife again until I arrived at the halfway camp site at Vindolanda in 32 miles time – the furtherest I would have ever ran in one day in my life.
Heading out of Carlisle I was pretty soon tiptoeing around puddles in an attempt to keep my feet dry only to be met with a shin deep water crossing less than two miles in whilst running through a park. I wasn’t to concerned about my soaked feet however as I had a change of socks in my pack. As we left Carlisle I was able to set a steady pace and enjoy eating up the miles before finally reaching pit-stop 1 in Lanercost.
The Lanercost pit-stop consisted of a tent full of food and drink which was a welcome sight. I tucked into some flapjacks, a sandwich and a banana. After a bit of stretching I refilled my two litre bladder and changed my socks. I was now ready to get going again but it had started raining so I stepped under the tent to wait it out for a minute or two. The rain fell harder so decided to change into my wet weather trousers and jacket. By the time I was all water-proofed up and ready to go the rain had stopped. I decided to leave my water-proofs on as I was sure I’d not seen the end of the wet stuff.
I made my way across the field to the exit on the far side the the start of stage 2 which would take me 17 miles to the mid-way camp site. The 17 miles past quite well and I walked the steep up hills and ran the flat and down hills. This system seemed to work well and gave my legs and feet a good rest. After quite a few miles of hills and intermittent rain I arrived at the first checkpoint. The checkpoints were small tents set up along each stage providing water and sweets. I grabbed a handful of Harribos and a couple of cups of water and headed back out along the wall.
The next few miles seen the first real bit of trail running and it was very enjoyable after the miles of road that had past under feet so far. The scenery was beautiful and I enjoyed seeing some sections of the actual Hadrian’s Wall as I plodded along. At times I was running across open fields and climbing over stone walls using wooden ladders. Some of the people in front of me struggled to get over the walls as the twenty plus previous miles started taking their toll. I felt OK so far and I was able to tackle the walls without looking too much like an old man. I had passed through another checkpoint a few miles before which had a small cafe and as the tiredness set in I was now regretting not taking the chance to get a coffee down me. The thought of meeting Abigail at the camp site kept me going. That and the thought of a good sit down and some hot food.
Checking my watch and trying to remember the route details I was sure that I had about a mile to go before the camp site. I spoke to another runner as we walked up a hill and I told him I thought we only had one more mile to go. He said that he thought it was even less than that. He was right. As I passed over the top of the hill the half-way Vindolanda camp site opened out in front of me. I ran towards it feeling a great relief and a suddenly feeling the heaviness in my legs. I heard my name and turned to my left where I seen Abigail cheering and clapping me home. I got to the end of stage 2 and Abi came over and gave me a big long hug. It was great to see her after what had felt like a very long 7 hours and 32 miles.
I headed into a large tent with Abigail and joined the other tired runners as we all sat around with our hot soup and coffees and tasty flapjack like snacks. It was only now that a noticed how bad my chaffing was in my private areas. It stung and was quite painful with every movement. I hadn’t noticed it too much when I was running but now it was bad. I would have to be careful on day two.
Eventually I dragged myself out of the warm food filled tent and I was ready for my next challenge – putting up our tent. The wind and drizzle made the tent erection difficult but Abi was great and before long we had our home for night. I left my one woman support team to sort out the inside of our tent and I headed towards the showers. The chat amongst the tired dirty runners in the shower queue was up beat and friendly. We all had the same sense of a job well done but as yet unfinished.
Despite my fears the showers were brilliant and I was soon feeling very clean and relaxed. We headed towards the food vans and we’re soon sat in the camp site bar with our vegetable currys and another coffee. I was tempted to sink a beer or two to help me sleep but I resisted and opted for an early night and some much needed rest. Tomorrow was another day, and another 37 miles to go until Newcastle.
When I eventually got off to sleep I slept well but woke early. Abi slept as I ate my museli and prepared my backpack and mixed my drinks and it wasn’t long till I was at the start ready for the 13 miles of stage 3. The Rat Race official pointed up to the top of the massive Barcombe Hill top which had dominated the view from the camp site and told us that was where we would be heading. Shortly after 8:00 we were off. We walked out of the camp site and headed up a slight hill. It wasn’t long before all the runners were queuing up to pass through a small gate in the fence at the foot of the massive hill we were to scrabble up. We all formed a single file line as we made our way up, sometimes on all fours.
I felt a great sense of achievement as I reached the top and paused for breath. I looked back down at the line of tired runners steadily climbing to the top. The old Roman fort could be clearly seen as could the camp site. Somewhere down there were a team of wives, husbands, friends and supporters packing away tents and loading up cars.
I ran on along the top of the hill and eventually joined back on to the road I had left at the bottom of the massive hill a few miles earlier. The road was long and undulating and past through some small villages. Eventually the route took me off road again and I headed across fields and through woods. Looking back this was one of my favourite stretches of the whole run. I tall man with a beard over took me a couple of miles from the end of stage 3. I fell in behind Beard and ran with him for the last couple of miles to the end of stage 3 and the first pit-stop of the day.
Abi was waiting for me at the pit-stop. She got me a coffee as I tucked into a sandwich and a snickers. The sun was shinning for what I think was the first time over the weekend and I fished my sunglasses out of my bag. Sun cream was applied and socks were changed as I sat on the grass sipping my coffee. When I stood up again I had a slight dizzy spell. I steadied myself and thought about what could be causing my spinning head. Was it dehydration? Hunger? Fatigue? Probably a bit of all three. Once I was sure I was OK I said goodbye to Abi and set off on the next stage.
Stage 4 was 17 miles long and when inspecting the route in the months previous I had decided that it might be the toughest. I was right. By now I had ran about 45 miles over the last two days and I still had 24 to go. Mentally and physical this was going to be difficult.
I felt a bit sad as I said my farewells to Abi. I wouldn’t be seeing her again till the end ans I felt a bit anxious about the last two stages which stretched out ahead of me.
During an uphill walking section I got talking to two runners who were also using the hill as a chance for a rest. Once the uphill ended we ran on together. Once again I found the company comforting and I was able to eat up a few miles whilst chatting to my temporary running friends and we only parted company when I stopped for a “comfit” stop in a nearby field.
The next few miles were tough. I carried on walking the up hills but each time I started up again my legs felt very heavy and stiff and I was feeling very tired. My under-carriage chaffing had returned with a vengeance and I tried my best to block it out. I’ve done a lot of running over the last couple of years and most of what I was experiencing wasn’t new to me. I was experiencing something new however. As I dragged myself along listening to my bag rhythmically bouncing up and down on my back I started to fantasize about home comfits. My mind drifted as I imagined hot home cooked meals, a comfy couch and a cold beer. As I passed couples out for a Sunday walk I glared at them in jealousy wishing it was me strolling hand in hand with my wife.
Looking back now I think these feeling came from the fact that I had spent so much time over the weekend in a state of discomfort. I hadn’t eaten a decent meal or been able to relax in what felt like ages. These feelings came and went over the next couple of hours and I actually found it quite an interesting experience.
I eventually arrived at the mid-stage check point and stopped for a drink, some Harribos and a chat. After a couple of minutes I noticed the steward at the check point was a dead ringer for Prince William! I told him of his likeness for His Royal Highness and asked him if he’d ever heard this before. The roll of his eyes and his labored nod told me that he had heard this particular comparison many times, maybe even many times today.
I started back on my way, slowly loosening my legs over the first mile. It wasn’t long before I had befriended another couple of runners. This time it was Andy and Martin from Southport. We chatted a lot over the remainder of stage 5. Ever so often Andy would slow down or break into a walk and we would make some distance on him before waiting for him to catch up. Andy and Martin had ran many races over the previous couple of years mostly together together and they had even ran the Wales Marathon only a couple of weeks earlier.
I enjoyed meeting these two runners and swapping running stories and tips as we pushed on towards the end of the stage and our final pit-stop. Only a few miles out from the pit-stop we past a young runner who looked like he was really struggling. He was shuffling along and his feet looked as if they were the focus of his pain. As we passed we asked him if he was OK and I tried to spark up a conversation. He assured us that he was good although he obviously wasn’t. We ran on making a mental note of his race number and decided we would mention him to the stewards at the pit-stop.
Eventually the final pit-stop of the weekend arrived. It was small but had all the refreshments we required. Andy and Martin didn’t stop for long and were soon gone. I stayed behind at the pit-stop and filled up on flapjacks and fruit and filled my water bladder for what would be the last time. After a quick visit to the port-a-loo to apply some moisturiser to my chaffing areas and I was ready to set off the final stage of my epic run.
When studying the course prior to the weekend I was always looking forward to this pit-stop. I always felt that if I could make it this far without any major problems then I would be OK. The final stage was 7 miles long and I would happily walk it if I had to.
Off I set on stage 5. The final stage of The Wall Ultra Run. Just 7 miles between me and the finish line. I ran on feeling relaxed and happy and very tired. The scenery was now very different from the start of the day as I got closer to the centre of Newcastle.
Sometime before the end of the previous stage the battery on my Garmin Forerunner 305 watch had given up. I had noticed at the last pit-stop and set my Run Keeper iPhone app up for this final stage. It felt quite good to have out run my watch battery in the one event. My phone was tucked away in my waist bag which meant I couldn’t check my time and distance without fishing it out which was a bit of an inconvenience. About half way through the stage I caught up with my running buddies from the previous stage Andy and Martin. They had stopped two put their wet weather gear on when it had started raining and now they were taking it off as the rain dried up. I had ran on through the rain, not because I was conscious of my time but simply because I felt that if I stopped to fish out my coat It would be very hard to get my momentum back. I slowed to a walk and chatted to Andy and Martin for a while. After a few minutes I caught sight of the river which spurred me on. I left my running buddies behind and ran on.
Over the next couple of miles I mostly ran but also walked occasionally to rest my aching body. Martin wasn’t far behind me and he caught me up when I stopped to cross a road. Andy was struggling a bit and was some way behind us. We ran on together along the River Tyne. Eventually Martin left me when I popped into a near by bush for a quick unscheduled pit-stop. When I emerged from my rest stop I carried on running and around the next corner I spotted the Tyne Bridge off in the distance complete with it’s Olympic rings and behind that the Millennium Bridge – the finish line! This sight gave me a massive boost and I actually felt a bit of strength return to my legs. I had felt this “return of strength” before at the end of marathon races. The realisation that the end is there right in front of you seems to send a message to the whole body which responds with an energy you had not previously been aware you had. Sports psychology is fascinating.
I ran past the fishermen who lined the river as the Newcastle Millennium Bridge grew larger. As I got closer I could see the finishing area on the other side of the river. I would have to run over the bridge, the last hurdle before the finish line. I thought about Abi waiting on the other side of the river. I glanced across as I approached the entrance to the bridge and to my amazement I spotted Abi frantically waving at me across the river! I suddenly filled up with emotion and waved back with a massive grin from ear to ear. Abi stopped waving and then ran off out of sight to take her place at the finish line.
I ran onto the bridge and past a newly wed bride and groom happily having there photos taken. I think I actually ran between them and their photographer as I gave them my congratulations. When I reached the middle of the bridge I could here the PA announcer at the finish line shouting my name. “We have Chris Brown on the bridge!” he shouted. I raised my arms and the waiting crowd cheered me on. “It’s not Hadrian’s Wall any more!” he continued, “It’s Chris Brown’s wall!”. Abi had given him my name and I was loving hearing it being shouted out as I crossed the line arms aloft.
I had ran 69 miles across the country from Carlisle to Newcastle. My total time was 16 hours and 6 minutes over two days.
I stopped and was hugged by Abi. My wife had been immense over the previous two days and I couldn’t have done it without her support. The thought of her waiting for me at the end of the difficult stages had driven me on and her willingness to get stuck in with the tent and drive the car around muddy fields and up and down and across the country had enabled me to concentrate on my running.
My body was very tired and I knew that there were aches and pains ahead but for know I was elated and had a great sense of achievement. I past through a small tent and was congratulated and handed my medal. I spotted Martin and made my way over and we shook hands. He informed me that Andy was due over the line any moment and we both waited and clapped him in.
Before long I was in another tent tucking into some hot vegetable soup and a coffee. It was the best soup I had ever tasted.
Any idiot can run a marathon, but it takes a special kind of idiot to run an ultra-marathon!
I just entered The Wall; a 69 mile ultra distance running event along the length of Hadrian’s Wall. I have opted for the challenger category which means I’ll be attempting to run it over two days camping at the halfway point. I’m incredibly excited at the thought of this challenge and also a little bit scared. Although I’ve ran marathons and further, this weekend spanning the north of England will be incredibly tough. But as long as I respect the course and distance and I’m careful to take my time I should be fine.
As always with my long distance runs goal number one will be to finish safely. Goal number two will be to enjoy it. At times both goals will require hard work to achieve.
The Wall’s website proudly states that this run is “the UK’s most iconic ultra” and “you’ve had 2000 years to train”. Well the former may well be true, but I know the latter isn’t. Good luck me.
At the end of my first marathon I said I would never do another one. Five months and two days later I found myself standing at the start of my second; The Blackpool Marathon. Despite the emotional and physical pain I endured during the Liverpool Marathon back in October I just couldn’t give up running and I found myself craving the challenge of the 26.2 once more.
The night before I found it hard to get to sleep. This was due mostly to excitement but also due to the small but nagging doubt I secretly harbored regarding my training and condition. Last time around I had trained for 5 months but this time although I had kept running in the months since, I had only been building my distance since the turn of the year, three months ago. Added to this I had suffered a heavy cold which meant I had missed a week worth of training including my warm up event the Great North Western Half Marathon.
Eventually I got off to sleep and when I woke up I was full of excitement, all the small doubts of the night before had gone and I couldn’t wait to get ready and head out.
During the short journey from Preston to Blackpool I felt relaxed as I was driven along by my biggest supporter and wife Abigail. I listened to music through my headphones as my thoughts turned to my race plan.
Although we left with plenty of time and made it to Blackpool a full hour before the race start, we were lucky to make it into the car park and we got one of the last few places. I ate my breakfast of a wholemeal bagel with peanut butter and a banana washed down with half a litre of electrolyte drink.
We headed to the Hilton hotel where the race would start from and I met up with my colleague Christian would be running the half marathon that would start at the same time as the marathon I was taking part in.
As with the Liverpool Marathon my in-laws Janice and Stuart had made the journey up from London to cheer me on and keep Abigail company whilst I was running. It was great to see them at the start and they assured me they would seeing me again during the race
Christian and I took are place amongst the crowd and awaited the race start and chatted about all things running. Only five minutes late the race was started without so much as a starting pistol and we all shuffled off.
I knew Christian would be running at a faster pace than me and it didn’t take long for him to start pulling away. I kept my eye on him as he weaved through the crowd and disappeared off into the distance. I concentrated on my race plan which was to run at 9:00 minute miles for the first half and then try to quicken my pace to about 8:45 minute miles for the second half. Experience told me however that the last five or six miles would be a case of digging deep and that I might not be able to control my pace as I would like.
As we ran south down the famous Blackpool golden mile I enjoyed the changing scenery of the Blackpool sites. I ran past the Pleasure Beech which was just getting going and screams could be heard amongst the roar of the Big One as it flew down its tracks. It wasn’t long till the course took us around a small loop and then sent us north back the way we came towards the tower. As I ran past the Big One for the second time it felt strange to think I would be running past it another two times in about two hours time!
By now I was settled into a comfortable rhythm and I was keeping to my 9:00 minute miles pretty well. It was along this stretch that I notice a blind runner on the opposite side of the road heading south. He was running with a guide and a small length of rope held between them kept them in touch with each other. I thought about this for a while and I thought about what running meant to me. I decided that one of the great draws of running for me was the simplicity of it. If I felt like going for a run I could be ready and out running within 20 minutes, including my warm up. I didn’t need to book anything, I didn’t need any specialist kit (besides shoes) and I didn’t need anyone else. Running is different for a blind or partially sighted person of course. They do rely on other people. I was impressed with the blind runner and his guide and I appreciated my running freedom.
About six and a half miles in and the route took me away from the main street and down along the front right next the sea. This was lovely running and I really enjoyed sound of the sea lapping up against the wall. Apart from my fellow runners the only other people were a few early morning dog walkers and a string of fishermen.
At about the 10 mile point I turned back south and was faced with a few miles of gentle undulating hills. Although a few of the half marathon runners (or least I assumed they were) struggled along this stretch, I was fine. I did wonder however what I would make of these hills the second time round.
Just before the half way point the halvers veered off right down the front and I caught a glimpse of the finish line. Back up on the road the halfway point was a little strange. It was quiet as a lot of the runners had now headed to the half finish and I could here the muffled congratulations over the pa as they crossed the line. One lap down, one to go.
The next few miles passed without incident. There were less runners on the road and more people on the pavements. People seemed less interested that there was still a run going on and they leisurely crossed the road at will causing a few runners to have to swerve or check there runs.
It didn’t seem long until I was back running along the front past the fishermen. I realised that during both my trips past the fishermen, who had now grown in numbers, that I hadn’t seen a single fish landed.
This is where it started to get difficult. My time had slowed and my legs started to feel heavy and stiff. I had been keeping to my race plan and had been running approx 8:45 miles since the halfway point and 9:00 miles prior to that. I was happy to let my pace slip a little however and a quick calculation meant I was still on for a sub four hour finish.
A few miles further on though and I was starting to feel the distance. This was a tough time but I had been expecting it. By mile 23 I was struggling to maintain a 10:00 mile and my legs felt incredibly stiff, especially behind the knees.
Thinking back to my first marathon I was concerned about a complete cramping up and I contemplated slowing to a fast walk. I’m not afraid of walking during a long run and I knew that a short walk could be the difference between me finishing or not.
Although in a small about of pain and feeling very tired and having pins and needles in both hands I realised that this was what I wanted to feel like. This was the reason I decided to run another 26.2. Not to feel terrible, but rather to just feel on the edge. To say I enjoyed this tough part of the run would be an overstatement but its quite a unique experience. Its quite a feeling to be physically and mentally exhausted yet still find the desire to drive onwards towards the finish line. The only way I know of to reach this high (or low) is to attempt a marathon.
As I hit the small hills from lap one I notice they seemed to have grown in size and become a lot steeper since my last encounter. I slowed to a walk a couple of times and checking my watch I realised that I wasn’t going to make sub four hour target.
I swung right towards the finish line as I had seen the half marathon runners do two hours earlier and I felt the familiar surge of strength that comes from realisation that you only have a minutes worth of running left to go.
I crossed the line arms aloft and stopped my watch at 4 hours 4 minutes! So close to the sub four! I felt disappointed that I couldn’t find that extra four or five minutes but I knew I had ran well and I had got home safely and a whole 35 minutes faster than last time! Two out of three ain’t bad.
I scanned the crowd looking for my supporters but couldn’t pick out any familiar faces. A smiling girl handed over the medal and another gave me goody bag. I walked over to a small slope, sat then lay down on the grown. My supporters turned up shortly after this, they had missed my finish by a few minutes only. At the time I was upset that my wife Abigail had missed me crossing the line, but I soon forgot about it as everyone congratulated me. I tucked into some recovery food and drink and soon started to feel more human again as I pulled on my tracksuit bottoms and hooded top.
Ten minutes later I was sat in Costa coffee changing my socks. Since my wife, parents in-law and aunty Julie and Jessica (more in-laws) had made the trip to support me the event had turned into a bit of family get together.
After our coffees we all walked along the Blackpool front where I had been running not long before and popped into a couple of arcades and handed over our hard earned coins. Although very tired I enjoyed this post marathon stroll and I felt very content at a job well done.
We eventually said our goodbyes and all headed off in our different directions back towards Preston, Yorkshire and Surrey. My mind drifted in the car on the way home and needless to say I was looking forward to my pizza and beer reward which awaited me.
Despite a 50 minute delayed start, sunshine, wind, rain, severe leg cramps, never ending hills, being overtaken by Scooby Doo and a magical mystery tour around two parks I managed to complete my first full marathon: The Run Liverpool Marathon.
I’ve done a few race events now and for me the most stressful part of the day is getting to the start. Running a 10k, half marathon or full marathon for the first time involves lots of training over many months and the anxiety of making to the start line kicks in a few weeks before for me.
“What if I get injured?”
“What if I get a cold?”
“What if I sleep in?”
“What if I wake up in 28 days time and everyone has turned into a zombie?”
Thankfully, my last few weeks of training past without incident and after setting and checking my alarm a couple of dozen times the night before, I was up and ready in plenty of time on the day. My wife Abigail very kindly agreed to drive me to and from the start/finish and provide moral support and we set off on time for our journey from Preston to Liverpool.
An hour later we had parked up in one of the designated Run Liverpool Marathon car parks and arrived at Moorfields train station for our short trip over to the race start at Birkenhead Park. We joined the massive ticket queue that stretched out of Moorfields station and I nervously checked the time; it was just before 8 o’clock, plenty of time till the race start at 9:30. We eventually made it to the head of the ticket queue and I think we were amongst the last people to buy tickets before it was announced that they would let people through and tickets could be bought at the other end at Birkenhead Park Station. Down on the platform I tucked into by breakfast, two pieces of wholemeal toast with peanut butter (I still don’t like peanut butter after eating it for 5 months).
After a bit of a squeeze getting out of Birkenhead Park train station (where no one was asked to buy a ticket by the way) we arrived at Birkenhead Park and met up with my parents in law Janice and Stuart would had kindly travelled up from Surrey to lend their support. With my immediate family supporting me from afar down under in Australia, I was very grateful for Janice and Stuart’s attendance and it meant a lot to me to see them there. We all made our way towards the start and I got changed and smothered my feet and inside thighs with moisturiser.
I jogged across the field and back and went through my stretches and then headed towards the blue zone to take my place amongst the waiting crowd. Half nine came and went and we were all still standing there waiting to get moving.
It was a strange feeling standing with all those other runners at the start of my first ever full marathon. Although I was surrounded by strangers, we all had at least one thing in common; we were about to attempt a full 26.2 miles of marathon. I looked around at the faces that surrounded me, some worried, some nervous, some relaxed. I thought about all the hours of training that had gone into this crowd. I thought about the people who wouldn’t make it. I hoped that I would.
Soon it was announced that the start had been officially delayed to a chorus of groans as runners headed back out onto the fields to keep warm and start their preparation all over again. I wasn’t too bothered about the delayed start and was able to find Abi and her parents again for a chat while I stretched again. Forty five minutes later we were given the 5 minute warning and I headed back over to the blue zone to squeeze back in.
I waved goodbye to Abi as the crowd squashed up waiting for the start. At about fifty minutes late the start was announced and we slowly shuffled forward. I kept my eyes on the right hand side of the barriers to try and spot my friends Mark and Charlie. As I approached the start I spotted them and headed over for a high five as the shuffling crowd broke into a run. A few seconds later I past under the start and I was off, I’d started my first ever marathon!
I said out loud “I’m running a marathon” as the realisation set in. After five months of training and a few weeks of fund raising I was on my way. My chosen charity was The Willow Foundation which provides psychological and emotional support for seriously ill 16 to 40 year olds through the provision of special day experiences. For more information about the good work The Willow Foundation do visit www.willowfoundation.org.uk/Home.
Just 26.2 miles to go then I could call myself a marathon runner!
Whilst I had been waiting for the start of the race (for 50 minutes) I was under the shade of the trees. Once I got out in the open however I realised that the sun was actually out and it was quite warm running through the Birkenhead Park for the first mile or so.
Once I was heading out of Birkenhead and crossing the first of the bridges out towards Seacombe, I was hit by a wicked side wind which threatened to swipe my vest clean off me! I’ve always hated running in wind so I just got my head down and carried on.
The next few miles seemed to drag as we all headed towards New Brighton up a never ending hill. We reached New Brighton and turned left to run along the coast. On our right the runners that were ahead of us could be seen running back in the opposite direction. It was at this point that I spotted Scooby Doo, or rather a runner dressed as Scooby Doo, and he was about 25 minutes ahead of me!
A couple of miles further on and I was running along the bank of the river Mersey. This was a very pleasurable and flat 2 mile stretch with excellent views across the river towards the Liver Buildings; my eventual finish.
We headed back into Birkenhead crossing to same bridges as we had several miles earlier and towards the Queensway Mersey Tunnel. I was looking forward to running through the tunnel as I have driven through it many times and I was expecting a unique running experience. As I entered the tunnel My Garmin Forerunner 305 beeped its complaints as it lost its satellite signal leaving me with only my heart rate and time to monitor. Entered the tunnel everything seemed to go very dark while my eyes adjusted. As I headed steadily down hill towards the centre of the tunnel and the centre of the marathon the atmosphere was quite eerie as individuals and groups randomly shouted sending echoes bouncing off the walls.
Half way through both the tunnel and my first ever marathon, suddenly I was running up hill and towards the tunnel exit. This was by far seemed like the longest and toughest hill I had ever run up but I was determined to keep going while people around me were slowing and dropping into a walk. I took a left and as I headed towards the exit I could literally see the light at the end of the tunnel and I could certainly hear the drums.
Leaving the tunnel, the huge Royal Liver Building which I had admired from the other side of the river miles earlier loomed over head. The cheering crowds contrasted nicely against the quiet loneliness of the long tunnel. My legs felt heavy after the long ascent out of the Queensway tunnel but I now knew I was over half way through which felt great.
Just a few minutes out of the tunnel I heard my name called and I looked to my right to see my wife and my parents in law shouting and waving frantically. I ran over with the intension of stopping for a chat and a stretch. As I approached Janice shouted “well done, keep going” and I found myself taking her advice and running on past them. I was glad to have left the tunnel behind and the climb out had left my legs feeling heavy but it wasn’t long before I would be facing another hill challenge.
Turning left onto Parliament Street I could see a huge hill stretch out in front of me. I kept a steady pace and got my head down and plodded on. The Hill seemed to go on and on and I could feel the heaviness returning to my legs. I was determined to make it up the hill without stopping and about ten minutes later I finally reached the top and levelled out allowing my legs to recover slightly as I headed towards the first of the two parks.
Entering Princes Park my legs were tired but apart from that I felt fine. I made the decision to stop and stretch at some point in one of the parks. I passed the 19 mile mark and closed in on the big two zero.
My left leg was aching quite a bit so I decided it was time to stretch. I pulled over on the right hand side and stretched against a tree. It felt strange to be stood still after more than 3 hours of continuous motion. After quite a painful stretching session I continued on my quest. After another ten minutes or so of winding around the park the ache in my left leg had grown into quite a pain so I decided to stop and stretch it out again. I moved over to the side of the path and found a tree. As soon as I stopped my whole left leg cramped up! The pain was immense and shot up and down the front and back of my leg as I slumped against the tree unable to even walk!
A concerned lady on her daily dog walk through the park approached me with some advice “keep moving son, not long to go now”. Without looking up I thought to myself what is she talking about, there’s still loads to go! I took her advice however and started to stumble forward as best I could. I turned around to thank the woman but she was gone. Each step was painful and my leg felt on the verge of another full cramping. When I tried to run the pain was too much and I thought my race might be over. I thought my marathon could be over and I felt terribly sad that I might not be able to finish.
I walked slowly for about another five minutes then eventually broke into a steady run. I ran for about five minutes then the pain in my left leg became too much and I had to slow to a walk for a few minutes while the pain faded away.
This was to be my routine for the last five miles of the Run Liverpool Marathon. I would run for a while as the pain (now in both legs) increased, slow to a walk to let the pain fade, then run again.
Once the winding pathways of the parks were behind me I knew that I was only a few miles from the end. I headed down a very welcome downhill section back down the Parliament street hill which gave my legs a bit a recovery as the crowds spared me on. At the bottom of the hill I turned right and I knew it was in the home straight.
The crowds all along the course had been brilliant and their kind words of encouragement really helped in the tougher sections and they were needed and well received in these last few miles.
I knew from studying the course layout that there would be a final left turn a couple of hundred yards from the finish line and I strained my eyes trying to spot it.
I struggled on through the drizzle and when I finally did spot the last bend I felt a huge relief and great sense of achievement. Almost an hour earlier I had been slumped against a tree unable to walk and I thought the marathon had beaten me, but now I could see the end, the end of five months of training, dozens of early mornings and hundreds of lonely miles.
As I rounded the last corner I heard the familiar voices of my personal fan club, I looked over to see Abigail, Janice and Stuart smiling and waving fanatically. I managed to raise an arm and wave as I turned to face the finish line.
Crossing the finish line I slowed to a walk and then stood still as the fenced off crowds around me clapped and cheered.
I’d finished, and on the same day that I’d started!
I struggled through the finishing area with the rest of the other satisfied finishers. Someone put a medal around my neck, someone else gave me a banana, another person gave me a bottle of water and yet another person wrapped a futuristic foil blanket around me and then I was released out into the crowd.
I met up with my supporters and posed for some photos. My legs were killing me as I stretched them out and I needed a sit down so we headed to a nearby coffee shop.
After a rest and meeting up with my best mate Gaffa and his daughter Ava I said my goodbyes (and thanks) and Abigail and I set off home.
The next day had been booked off work to allow me to recover. I spent the day sitting on the couch watching DVDs apart from a two hour trip into town to prevent my legs from stiffening up. It was painful to bend my legs and I felt generally very tired.
It was a few days until the aches disappeared and I started to feel normal again and a week after I was missing running and looking forward to getting back to the gym and back out on the road.
Below is a screen shot from my RunKeeper activity from the Liverpool Marathon…
The obvious question which I’ve been asked quite a lot is “are you going to run another one”? My answer for the couple of days immediately after was “no, definitely not”, then after a few days it was “well, maybe”, then a full week after I found myself looking at a calendar and list of upcoming marathons in the north of England. As I write this I am currently not booked in for any other events but I think it’s only a matter of time until I get the urge again.
Thank you to everyone who sponsored me, donations can still be made here www.justgiving.com/chrisbrownliverpoolmarathon.
This brilliant marathon pace chart came as part of the Run Liverpool Marathon race pack and was included in the race instructions booklet.
It enables runners and spectators to assess where runners may be depending on their marathon pace and expected finish time.
Last week I took part in the Preston 5k which was part of the Run Preston 10k event which also contained a fun run. I viewed this run as my marathon warm up event giving me a chance to fine tune my race day preparation.
I ran the 5 k with my wife Abigail who had been training for 8 weeks for her first race event.
Living in Preston it was nice to be able to walk to the start of the race in plenty of time and not have the stress of travelling on the morning of the event. We arrived at Preston flag market as the 10k runners were starting to arrive back after their trip around through the parks and back. We picked up our chips and attached them to our shoes. I would much rather have had the timing chips posted out to me with the race pack allowing me attach it to my shoe in plenty of time instead of having to sort it all out just before the start.
The start was delayed a few minutes while we waited for (and welcomed home) all the 10k runners. Once the inevitable man/woman in a gorilla suit had crossed the line the organisers set us up for the 5k start. I felt very relaxed and I was enjoying the feeling of not worrying about the distance or the pace or the time, this was really my recovery run after my 12 miles the day before and should be well within my comfort zone.
Abigail had trained for the previous 8 weeks and this being her first race event was a little nervous and very excited. After a countdown (which I quite liked) the starting horn sounded and we were off, heading out of the flag market and towards Avenham Park with Abigail setting the pace and me running along side.
As we left the noise of the city centre and through the quiet side streets quite a lot of people were over taking us, I knew Abigail had been training with a running watch and that she would set a steady pace along the whole of the 5 kilometres so I was sure we see some of these early sprinters again later on.
The pack stretched out a bit as we entered Avenham Park down a very steep hill and then right just before the Japanese gardens towards Miller Park. Turning left along the river we over took a couple of people who were now slowing or walking which always gives me a bit of a boost.
Abigail maintained the pace we had started at as we snaked back through Avenham Park. Heading out of the park meant that we had to tackle the first of a few big hills and I could feel the previous days twelve mile run in my legs. Abigail had experienced hill running in her training and even though she found it hard she battled against the urge to walk and carried on up all the hills overtaking walkers on the way.
We headed back through the city centre and as we took our last turn into the home straight Abigail opened up for a sprint finish! She streaked ahead as the announcer read our names out and crossed the line in 33:26 minutes, an excellent first every 5k time.
All in all the Peston 5k event was very enjoyable and as far as could tell it was very well organised and went off without a hitch. I am already looking forward to next year’s 10k!
I was just having a look around the Run Liverpool Marathon website and I came across this amazing time-lapse video of the marathon route, looks like a bloody long way! check it out…
My marathon training has just peaked with a massive 20 mile run which took me 3 hours and 6 minutes and it took part mostly to a backdrop of heavy rain, very heavy rain.
I started the day sat in front of the T.V. at half five in the morning eating peanut butter on toast (I hate peanut butter) and flicking through the channels trying to find that beach volleyball I was watching the week before (strictly for sporting interest you understand). An hour later I was stretching on Penwortham Bridge with my waterproof jacket on having done my slow warm up run.
The first couple of miles were fine and the rain had slowed so I decided to take my jacket off and tie it around my waist as I was getting quite warm. Ten minutes later I was cowering under a tree hastily getting back into my jacket and feeling the cold. The rain grew steadily heavier until it was bouncing off the pavement and my feet were soaked. Soon after the dampness of my feet reached their maximum level my “waterproof” jacket took early retirement and my soaking was complete – with only about 12 miles left to run.
The beauty of early morning running is that you often get what would normally be a busy road all to yourself. I checked around to make sure there were no early morning dog poo collectors and then I raised my gaze up to the heavens and shouted at the clouds:
I had decided to meet the weather head on and not let it beat me. I was as wet as I could be and I was as tired as I’d been on a run in a long time but I was still going, it hadn’t stopped me, and it wasn’t going to.
In the last mile before the turn around (I run out and back) I had a couple of quick pains down my left calf. The pain was sharp and quite intense but it came and went in the space of about two seconds. I stopped and stretched out my calves and temporarily pealed my t-shirt and jacket away from my body. This seemed to solve the calf pain which occurred only once more before the end of the run.
The rest of the run slowly past with the rain alternating between heavy and heavier. My hips started to ache and neck and shoulders went through their usual periods of pain before loosening up a bit. Annoyingly I had to stop to tie my shoe laces a couple of times and each time I did a mixture of rain and sweat dripped down the inside of my jacket sleeves and down on to my hands.
I one point I ran past a house that had a full breakfast on the go. The smell of bacon cooking made my stomach turn summersaults and the hunger kicked in. I promised myself that I would have a bacon sandwich before the weekend was out (which I did).
Eventually my Garmin beeped for the twentieth time and I slowed my run to a fast walk. Within seconds I felt the cold and my legs started to stiffen. I stretched, walked, stretched again and walked again until I was home. I pealed of my soaked clothing at the doorway and my wife appeared with a towel and a sympathetic expression. Now for the fun part of the big run, replacing those lost carbs.
This was the furthest I have even run and the worst weather I have ever run in. Although the summer has been really bad I have been quite lucky when on my weekend long runs and this was the first time I had ran in heavy rain, and I’m glad I did. When I start my big 26.2 I can’t choose the weather and should the rain start to pour I know what to expect and I know I will be able to cope. Someone once told me that nothing worth doing is easy, I hope they’re right.
I’ve got my marathon race number – and it’s a corker!
The excitement of receiving your first marathon race pack through the post is… well, about medium. How is excitement measured anyway? Assuming excitement is measured on a scale of one to ten with ten being the most excited I’ve ever been… actually, I’ve probably only ever got to about four, but pretend I’m the excitable type, then a marathon race pack dropping on the door mat is about a 5-ish.
The race pack was easily identifiable as it was marked with the Run Liverpool Marathon logo on the front. I didn’t open it straight away instead deciding to go out for my 6 mile run and let the excitement build. Whilst running I fantasised about what my number could be. Maybe “1234” that would be pretty special. All the 7’s well that would be awesome! I just hoped it wasn’t just a random order of four numbers that didn’t mean anything, how disappointing.
Once in from my run and re-lubricated I opened my Run Liverpool Marathon pack and pulled out my race number, I wasn’t disappointed. “5432”. Brilliant! What a number! I’m tempted to write a “1” on the end, or maybe I’ll find runner “0001” and run along with them constantly on my left hand side.
For those that are interested the race pack contains:
Race Instructions Booklet – Containing race day information, spectator tips, route maps and a brilliant pace chart to help you work out where you might be at any given time dependant on your pace, great for spectators wanting to cheer people on.
A Letter – Containing all sorts of useful information about how to get to and from the event.
Advertising Material – Including flyers for gyms, running magazines and bizarrely a postcard advertisement for the Run Liverpool Marathon, for which I have received the race pack for, and for which entries closed many months ago, strange.
A Super Cool Race Number – See above.
Well, once the race number excitement dies down (which will probably take a couple of days) I’ll consume the race information and start planning my race day. I’m running in the Preston 5k as a warm up event. I’ve a lot to consider. I only live an hour and a half away from the start line so I could travel down on the morning of the race or originally being from that part of the world I have good friends in the area and could crash over at someone’s house the night before maybe. I also need to choose a pub to down some pints in after the race (only joking).
The problem with running is it can become addictive. The feeling of progression and the achievement of setting yourself a target and training towards and ultimately meeting that target can leave you wanting more. Over the last year or so I’ve run a couple of 10Ks and a half marathon and soon I will be attempting my first ever full marathon; the Run Liverpool Marathon, the long and winding road race in aid of The Willow Foundation.
I’ve been running seriously for about a year and I’ve been training specifically for the marathon for the last 17 weeks with just a few weeks to go. A few days ago my training peaked in terms of distance and I ran 20 miles, mostly in heavy rain. The peak in my training means a peak in effort and ultimately a peak in fatigue. I regularly have the urge to go to bed immediately after my working day is over.
I recently received my race pack which was quite exciting and has provided me with all the information I need to start planning my race day. The race pack popping through the door gave me a boost and made everything real and reminded me how far I’ve come in my training and how close the big day is.
The next few weeks will see my distances slowly reduce while my body recovers and rests ready for the big 26.2. This decrease in distance prior to a big run is called a tapering period, and I’m looking forward to it. A reduction in miles, a winding up at the gym and the growing excitement (and nerves) means I might even be able to stay up past nine o’clock!