.....it would appear 'Extreme Marathon Running' is now a bonafide race category or at least it should be!
After the worst conditions in 40 years at the 122nd Boston Marathon, May Day Bank Holiday decided it would up the anti and become the hottest May Day on record!
Extreme conditions don't normally bother me, I adjust and plan accordingly, after all, with our climate it's so hard to plan for the worst extremes of weather as they seldom occur. I didn't think conditions could get any more extreme than Boston, but hey we all know what assumption is! The day started in a negative vain when I realised I'd forgotten to put on my tags. The tags are Lloydy's ID tag and a special one from Charlie and I wear them all the time, everywhere. I was also very aware that my new cap replacement wasn't feeling completely secure.
Anyway, prep was the same as always, 2 tins of Ambrosia Creamed Rice (although shared with Charlie) for breakfast, and despite the predicated weather I felt ok. I'd had an issue the evening before where I'd felt a significant discomfort in my back and couldn't decide if it was as a result of the infection I'd been suffering from or from lugging Charlie about that afternoon. I went to bed slightly concerned that for the first time ever I was contemplating a 'DNS', but hoped I'd wake up feeling ok.
The alarm went off at 7 and much to my relief the discomfort had gone, so I cracked on. Caz and Charlie dropped me off at 9 and I made my way to the start, where I met up with fellow Black Sheep Jules and Alex. I was already baking bread!
This year I was in the Red Start, the previous two years I have run 3:41 (2016) and then followed that up with a 3:26 last year. I had hoped before Boston, that I'd be hitting the finish at around 3:20, but the impact those conditions had, both mentally and physically hadn't quite lifted and I resigned myself to settling for 3:30 and would have been pretty content with that.
That plan didn't even survive the first step! For the first time ever I found myself at the start of a race in a real negative frame of mind, normally I'm buzzing but I just couldn't shake the apathy. The day before I'd done the 'Warm up 5k Rocket' and had felt pretty decent, but at the start line of the Marathon, I felt lethargic and was talking myself out of running well for the sake of allowing myself to be mentally beaten by the conditions, as opposed to what I normally do, which is use difficulty to show strength of resolve. My resolve had up and gone and had left me on the start line feeling bereft!
The gun went and I went with it. Trying to keep pace with my start pen and trying to be conservative don't work, I opted to keep my pace at a level where my HR wouldn't go above 140 as an average. Again though, all that happened was it allowed the negativity in my head to grow further as I watched guys going past me and looking far happier and more comfortable than I.
As I settled down into the race I began to think a little more clearly about the miles ahead and the strategy I'd need. I knew I was set with fluid and salts for the first half, but with the water stations at every 3 miles I decided I'd aim to refuel properly at 12 and then again at 18. Up until the 12 mile station I was running around 3:35 pace and relatively happy, but stopping seemed to have the wrong affect. I laboured getting my water bottles filled and by the time I'd got my salts and tailwind into them 4 or 5 minutes had gone. By the time I'd got the hydration vest back on and started running again I think my body had decided to take a holiday!
The legs were lead and the heat was beginning to take it's toll, it got to the point where at every chance to grab water, I was drenching my body to bring my core temperature down, I could feel the affects of the heat quite significantly in the second half of the marathon, and I knew if I didn't look after myself properly, it would be a potential disaster. At that point any consideration for time went out the window and it just became about getting it done. I'd seen and heard so many runners pitching up to stewards knocking it on the head, because "they weren't going to hit the time they hoped for." And whilst I know at every mile I thought about throwing in the towel, I couldn't and I wouldn't and unless there is a serious issue I don't understand that 'snowflake' mindset. If you're genuinely in trouble, sure get out of dodge, you're putting yourself at risk and that's the right call, but just to knock it on the head because the conditions have bullied you a bit, I just don't get.
The support as always on the course was great and the shouts of "you're looking great" and "you look strong" were welcome but I knew that was far from the truth but the words did what they needed to do and kept me plodding on. I'd slowed to a pace that was not much more than a stroll for me and was just longing for the race to be done. Luckily in the latter miles I was greeted with hugs and friendly faces, firstly Steve Moore at around 21 accepted a sweaty hug and it gave me a massive lift seeing him, then around 24 saw my mum & dad-in-law and treated them to the same.
Seeing both of them gave me that extra lift I needed and as the course got back onto Coffee Hall the end was in sight and I was anticipating seeing my wife and boy. As I turned into the Stadium approach I heard a big shout of "daddy" and instantly my heart popped out of my chest, I stopped to give my boy a hug and Caz a kiss and with that renewed vigour, strode out the last half mile and finished the race like I would have expected to race the event, strong as an ox. Just in that one little moment, life helps you realise that difficulties aren't forever and those precious moments make the discomfort worth it. You don't get that if you throw in the towel, there is nothing more bitter than the taste of disappointment. Records will show, that was my slowest ever Marathon effort (4:13:27 and a long way outside expectations and capability), but you know what? That doesn't matter, thankfully as always my mind was king and although my resolve may have deserted me at the start, it was certainly there at the end.
Which leads me on to a topic that affects many, myself included, it's Mental Health Awareness Week I want to share my Instagram post from a couple of days after. My performance at both Boston and Milton Keynes, despite the ridiculous conditions had left me feeling very flat and disappointed in myself. What I want it to reflect though is, that there is nothing wrong with feeling that way, especially when things don't go to plan, but hey ultimately failing (if it is failing as such) is part of the process. In my mind I had failed because of the levels I'd attained previously and the expectations I have of myself and my body. In those two events in my head I'd come up short.
.....this is a post that I know will resonate with some, some will shrug and think so what, and others will probably say seriously don’t be so hard on yourself. This time of year begins to get tough so it’s also a bit of sign off from social media and documenting the journey for the time being.
The truth is, after two tough marathons in recent weeks, I can’t help but think I need to reassess and reset. They were tough, mentally and physically but I could have made them easier and I know I also put a lot of pressure on myself.
In truth after The 100 Peaks I’ve lost my way, I’ve become complacent and used the ‘come down’ and then the injury to not push myself in the same way I would have previously.
It’s become easier sometimes to think “you know what, not today!” That’s not me, when I think back to what I’ve achieved in the last few years, I know since 16.06.17 I’ve been coasting and expecting that I can perform and achieve my goals without the same level of dedication, focus and commitment and the reality is, I can’t.
So for the moment I will have some downtime, reflect on what I have achieved in the last few years and go back to basics and do what I know I’m capable of and get back on track. It’s time to find the right balance, time to rebuild, without distraction and in silence. It’s time to hold myself accountable to me and remember my dreams work only when I do! See you on the other side guys!
After the downtime, I'm back where I was. The reality sometimes is that with the pressure we put on ourselves to achieve our goals and the expectations we have, the natural reaction is always going to be one of disappointment when we don't attain the standards we set ourselves. And you know what, that's ok, because things don't always go to plan, shit happens that means you have to adapt and as long as you adapt and you overcome, that's every bit a success as if you'd had the perfect race in perfect conditions.
Sometimes, we allow the fog of negativity to rule our thought process, but thankfully time, our family and our friends enable us to put such times in to perspective. Remember tough times don't last, tough people do, and by tough I don't mean, that we keep things locked up, to not show a 'perceived' weakness. By tough I mean, we use tough times to shape us and help us grow, and always remember you have people around to help guide you through the fog, and I know I couldn't get through it without them and never forget how far you've come!
I want to thank you all once again for the support, especially the people of MK during the Marathon, my awesome friends and of course my wonderful little family xxxx
Blue skies little brother, thank you for always being the wind at my back and the voice in my ear pushing me on xxx