Ten days ago I had never heard of Oulton Park race track but now, having run around the course ten times, I feel that I know it very well! I can explain in great detail the track, the bends and the hills!
I started the year with a dream to achieve six stars and 7,000m – running in the Tokyo marathon on 1 March before heading to Kyrgyzstan to climb Peak Lenin in August 2020. I am doing both to raise money for the wonderful Cancer Research and am writing blogs along the way to share the physical, mental and emotional journey I am on.
As I explained in my last blog, the Tokyo marathon was cancelled less than two weeks before the event because of concerns about the impact of the coronavirus. My husband and I therefore decided to head north to the only UK marathon on the same day, which was part of a ‘running Grand Prix’ at Oulton Park near Chester. We were two of only 75 runners taking part in the marathon distance. There were over 1,500 runners in total, running a variety of distances – marathon, 20 miles, 16 miles, half marathon, 10km and 5km.
Whilst I was very disappointed at not being able to run Tokyo, I tried to put that out of my mind and focus on the marathon I was able to run. Since the Amsterdam marathon in October 2019, I had run a further 500 miles in training, overcome an injury and most importantly, had been sponsored by so many kind and generous people and I didn’t want to let people down. I had said I would run a marathon and so that was what I would do.
One of the benefits of running a small marathon is that we could sit in our car until ten minutes before the start time! Which was very good as it was bitterly cold and incredibly windy. Storm Jorge had well and truly arrived in Chester and I wanted to keep as warm as I could for as long as I could!
We made our way to the start line next to the pit lane and bumped into someone else from PwC who had also planned to run Tokyo. It was lovely to meet in person and we wished each other good luck.
This time there was no big start, it was simply someone saying ‘off you go’! And so off we went! Normally when I run a marathon, there are timing strips every 5km and I like going over these as I know my family and friends who are tracking me will know where I am. For this marathon, there were only two timing strips, at the start and at the end. I didn’t know if my husband would pass me during the race – he is quicker than me but we weren’t sure if the timings would work to allow him to overtake me. There were only about five people on the course who were doing a great job of cheering us on but otherwise I felt very much on my own. A very different experience to usual but one that I enjoyed.
What I hadn’t appreciated when I booked this marathon was that car race tracks are hilly! I had thought it would be flat but how wrong I was! There was more elevation than any of the major marathons and I am not good with hills! When I had realised this, I thought that at least the downhill bits would be nice. I hadn’t counted on the wind which was so strong in parts that going downhill was a huge effort as the wind was literally blowing me backwards up the slope!
On lap one, I assessed the hills and ran them all but knew that I would struggle to do so throughout the race. I also assessed the wind and realised that it was going to be a very hard marathon. There were three big hills and it seemed that the downhill bits afterwards were all into the wind and so any benefit felt minimal!
Lap two was interesting as the 20 mile and 16 mile runners had joined us and so there were more of us on the track. By lap three, the half marathoners had joined us and by lap four, everyone was on the course. I liked it as you had no idea what distance anyone was running and so you could just focus on your race. I saw a couple of visually impaired runners and was, as ever, so inspired by them. What strength of mind to run for hours without seeing where you are going.
I passed the half way point, the end of lap five, in two hours, which was quick for me. I felt ok, although still very cold. The wind was bitter and whilst it was a gloriously sunny day, it wasn’t warm!
Laps six and seven were hard. I struggled to run up the hills and decided I would walk up to conserve physical and mental strength. The wind seemed to be getting worse and by now, I felt I knew every inch of the track! I don’t really remember lap 8 apart from the end when one of the amazing helpers cheered me on and I said to him ‘two more laps to go’ and he told me I was doing wonderfully which was a huge boost.
I had read a message beforehand from a friend which had stuck with me. It said that in a marathon, in the first 5 miles you must be patient, in miles 5-10 you must be controlled, in miles 11-15 you must be committed, in miles 16-20 you must be strong and in miles 21-26.2 you must be courageous. It is so true and as I headed off on my ninth lap, I said to myself ‘now is the time to be courageous’.
I never go into a marathon with a particular time in mind as I’ve learnt that, for me, the conditions have such an impact on my performance, that to do so, can often end up in me feeling disappointed despite having run a marathon, which, in my mind, is an amazing feat. This time, my training had gone well and I had hoped for a faster time than in my last couple of marathons, which had both been 4:40ish. With two laps to go, I knew that if I could continue at a steady pace, I should beat 4:30 which motivated me.
As I completed my lap nine, my husband still hadn’t passed me and so I knew he must be on his final lap which meant he would be about to break 4 hours, which is what he was aiming for. I looked behind me to see if could see him but I couldn’t so I carried on running. I looked down at my watch at the 4 hour mark and a smile crossed my face as I was confident that he would be finished.
I also now knew that I was running well and that I would be very close to my PB. In the conditions, both weather and course, I would never have dreamed that I would be close to my PB. I did, however, feel quite sick and I knew I was pushing myself battling the wind. I therefore was careful until I reached the one mile to go marker. I looked at my watch and knew I had ten mins to break my PB. That speed is hard for me at that stage in a marathon but I ran my heart out. As I came up the final hill (which I ran!) and saw the kind helper again, he cheered me in and I crossed the finish line in 4:13, a minute inside my PB, with my arms aloft. I was exhausted but so elated.
At the finish, my PwC colleague came to find me and congratulate me. He had done incredibly well and had won the race – what an achievement!
I hurried to our car to find my husband who hadn’t expected me to be finished so soon and was sitting in the warmth. He had indeed broken 4 hours and also achieved a PB. I was so proud of him. We had a huge hug, some tears and lots of smiles.
Another benefit of running a small marathon was that I, the slow runner, ended up second in my age category! Admittedly I was an hour slower than the category winner (!) but it was very exciting for me. It was an amazing day and I felt incredibly privileged to experience a different type of marathon. It didn’t end with a six star medal but I hope that will come on 7 March 2021 in Tokyo. It did, however, end with another life affirming experience. We can absolutely push ourselves to do whatever we want to with hard work, commitment, courage and a huge amount of support.
One of the quotes on the course said: ‘Your speed doesn’t matter. Forward is forward’. This is so true in marathons, as it is in life. My six star journey may be slower, with another year to wait, but this weekend I moved forward and that was more than enough.
Thank you so much to everyone for the kind support. Knowing that I had so many people wishing me on made such as difference. It is hard to explain the impact it has but it is wonderful.
And now, the training continues for Peak Lenin! I’ll keep you all posted.