What an incredible experience!
My IT bands were still playing up a couple of months ago so I decided to get some sports therapy from Oakham Sports Massage. They also did kinesiology taping for them which has been incredibly effective with the sports massaging too. I got a couple of long training runs in including a 20 miler. That was only a couple of weeks ago though, it should have been more like 3 weeks ago to get maximum benefit but I didn’t really have much choice. It felt good though and it was a boost in confidence since it was the furthest I’ve run and my IT band issues were practically gone.
We had a long drive to Wales on Friday night, I went and registered and got to bed at about midnight. There was a couple of other runners in the B&B. One guy had been on the beers and didn’t get to sleep until 3AM. I thought that was stupid, why put all that effort in training to arrive at the day before and risk having a bad race for the sake of a few beers. Save it until afterwards!
We went to see the charity that I was supporting just before walking to the start. They have a couple of support trucks that they use to visit cancer patients near their homes and carry out chemotherapy among other things. The money I’ve raised will go towards a new truck with a lot of new technology including computer controlled levelling, touch activated privacy glass and sound proof counselling rooms. Seeing where they money will go gave me more reason to do my best. Lined up on the start line I was nervous but not as bad as I’ve been before for the Rat Race, I felt much more prepared aside from anything else and my IT bands were much less of a worry. It was pretty overcast but not raining and there was good visibility. We set off, I was a fair way towards the back—a total of about 2200 runners.
The first few miles is a climb to about 1300ft. I was pretty conservative with my pace because I didn’t want to burn myself out. With two big hills it was really hard to judge my pace at first, quite a few people went past me but I would come across them later on out of breath and exhausted. I reached the 5 mile mark in 53 minutes, quite a bit slower than my usual pace which would have got me there in 45 but I was pleased with that considering the hill.
The next 10 or so miles were really amazing. At the bottom of the first big hill we went off road on to a trail mostly made up of loose rock with a slight decline. I felt like I was running fast and free with ease. I wasn’t out of breath and I had no aches or pains. I felt like I could have run along there forever, the view of the mountains from the bottom of the valley was amazing and I went past a lot of people. A helicopter flew by, presumably filming for the highlights that will air on S4C.
I reached 13 miles a little over 2 hours which was excellent. I was ahead of my plan and felt good. I wanted to finish it somewhere between 4:30 and 5 hours and I was on track for just under 4:30 although I knew I had the huge hill at the end to tackle. By the time I’d reach about mile 17 though I started to feel my calves cramp up and I knew I’d made a mistake, I hadn’t drunk enough water at the first few feed stations! By this point I started drinking a lot more at each fuel station and I stuck to having a gel every 30-40 minutes. The pain came and went in waves from mile 17 through to about 20 where I came across the guy that I saw at breakfast at the B&B! He had cramped up and was reduced to a hobble. I wasn’t really that surprised given that he’d had little sleep and 4 beers the night before.
I stretched as best as I could for a couple of feed stations leading up to mile 21 where the big hill starts going up a winding single track road. I’d chatted to several people along the way including a few that have done this marathon a few times, they’d all walked up this hill at least once. I decided to try and run a bit of it and got some of the way but was reduced to walking. There wasn’t anyone else running it at this point and I’d caught up with a few people that went past me at the start. My cramp was getting really painful now and I was finding it difficult to put one foot in front of the other. I managed a shuffle at times which made me less aware of the pain strangely but I couldn’t keep it up for long.
I eventually reached the summit and started to run again down the other side for about half a mile, we were off road again now on a rocky trail. Then it got really steep and we were running a trail through fields. The wind was incredibly strong, stronger than I’ve felt for a long time! My legs were in agony and I was really, really struggling to fight the wind and stay on my feet at times. The trail changed direction which made it worse, the wind was now behind me, pushing me down the hill! I was really struggling to walk down the hill and the wind was torture.
It felt like an eternity going down that hill but eventually I reached Llanberis where the start and finish line were. I saw a guy that I’d been chatting to, it was his first marathon too. He said “Well done Joe mate, glory is just round the corner!”. I congratulated him and started to run again, the crowds were cheering and I knew I was close now, the pain didn’t matter. I crossed the finish line with my hands in the air, what an incredible feeling.
My official time was 4:55 which is on the slower side of my target but I’m really, really pleased. It’s one of the hardest marathons in the UK with roughly 2500 feet of ascent. I will be back again one day without a doubt, it’s an amazing race in an amazing setting.
I have to thanks Karis too for all her support during my training and getting me to and from the race totalling about 8 hours driving!