I RAN A MARATHON!
Did you know that only 1% of the world's population will run a marathon in their lifetime? Well, I can now proudly say that I have joined that 1%.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you will know that since October, I'd been trying my best to get in best possible shape to run my first ever marathon - the 21st Logicom Cyprus Marathon. Unfortunately, my training didn't quite go to plan, and during my second week of training I sustained an injury that caused me to miss five weeks of training. But I managed to recover, and cram as much training in to what time I had left as I possibly could.
Before I knew it, we were on the flight to Paphos - luckily I had a few days of relaxation ahead of me before the big day, which was exactly what I needed. Also, thanks to my in-laws having a car, I even got the chance to check out parts of the route beforehand, giving me some idea of what was in store.
Race day arrived and I was ready to take my place as one of the 3,500 running across all races in Paphos that day. The marathon was due to start at 7.30am, so that meant a particularly early start, and getting up at 5am! I started the day off with a bowl of oats, a banana and some peanut butter to get my energy levels up, as I had a feeling I was going to need it later. I also started getting plenty of water inside me, without overdoing it as I didn't want my bladder going out of control in the early stages of the race! And with that, I was showered, changed into my race kit and ready to go.
We hopped in the car, and my father in-law drove us out to the starting point at Aphrodite's Rock, which was around a 40min drive from our apartment. When we arrived, the starting area was already buzzing with excitement - there were people everywhere, warming up, taking photos and there was even a live DJ to get us in the mood. There was still around 40mins to the start of the race, so I used this opportunity to get in the already long queue for a final toilet break. This is probably where my only gripe with the organisation with the race comes in, and it's something that I see too often - there was maybe only around six portable toilets for all the runners, which was nowhere near enough in my opinion. I queued for around 30mins, and by the time I got to the front, they were in a pretty poor state, with no paper or hand wash left.
Anyway, enough of the negativity, and back to the buzzing starting area. I made the most of the final few minutes to take some photos, do some final stretches and receive my good luck wishes from my family. Then, before I knew it, I'd taken my place at the starting line, and we were off!
I had a 4-hour goal in mind, so I had a plan worked out in my head how I needed the first half of the run to go. I also decided not to take photos during this run, as this was my first marathon, and I wanted to try and achieve the best possible finishing time.
Things started quite well, and despite some hills early on, I managed to navigate my way through the first few miles at a reasonably brisk pace, whilst taking in the stunning scenery. The bright start continued, as we worked our way inland, further away from the coast on our approach to the 10km point. I was feeling good and averaging around 8:30/mile which was the required pace I needed to cover the first half of the run. I was also starting to take advantage of the many water stops that were on offer, with one every 3k, which was perfect as it was already starting to heat up.
The good start continued as we passed mile 8, and turned down the long three mile stretch of road towards the airport, where we would eventually double back on ourselves at the bottom. This was the part of the race I was least looking forward to, as I had learned from parts of my training that running back and forth along the same stretch of road is incredibly mentally draining. On the way down this road, we passed the half way point, which was on the other side of the road, where I also spotted the eventual winner on his way back up, way ahead of the pack. I'm not too sure if this was encouraging, or depressing, but at least I knew I was only six miles behind the leader! It was a long slog down the road to the airport, and we made our way past two water stops on the way, which was a welcome reprieve as the temperature had started creeping closer to 20°C, and we were quite exposed to the sun here. Everything was still going to plan as I closed in on mile 10, and I was still feeling good, maintaining a decent pace along the way. Now, I don't know if you can sense it or not, but there's one big but coming up...
Just before I reached the turning point at the bottom of the road, on mile 11, I felt a sharp pain in the arch of my left foot, resulting in sudden tightness, and causing me to start limping. I could still run, but not very fast, or gracefully. I spent a few minutes wishfully thinking I'd be able to shake it off, but it didn't seem to be going anywhere soon. In our race pack, we were given a sachet of Bio-Freeze gel, which I'd packed in my Flipbelt - so I made the decision to stop at the side of the road and apply this. I removed my shoe, and sock, then applied the gel before giving my foot a bit of a stretch and putting my gear back on. I was soon off again, and I'd actually managed to regain some sort of pace, and even managed to find the 4-hour pacer and keep up with him for around a mile. This didn't last too long, however, and the pain was back, causing me to slow down significantly.
Now, this was a sucker punch of the highest proportions. I can't really describe the feeling - it's hard to put into words, just how mentally draining the feeling of sustaining an injury at that point in the race was for me. I was so hyped for the marathon. I'd trained so hard. I was feeling great. And then this happened. It took so much out of me at the time, but I knew I couldn't let it get the better of me - I could still run, not quite as normal, but I could still run. I knew it could get through it, I just had to take my time. So I slowed it right down, and was running between 10:00-12:00/mile, a pace which lasted pretty much for the rest of the race. For the next few miles, I was trying to manage the pain by running for as long as I could, before giving myself a brief walking break through the water stops to let the pain subside.
Eventually, the sharpness of the pain went away, and I stopped taking any real notice of it. But by that point, the race had taken its toll on my legs, and they were feeling really heavy, and I couldn't really pick up the pace. However, at least I was starting to enjoy myself again and when my watch alerted me that I'd reached mile 17 - I even had a slight smile on my face... we were down to single figures. This continued through the following miles, and as we reached the main roads, crowds of people were starting to appear, offering some much needed encouragement along with live DJ's, and more refreshment stops. Around mile 23, I also took full advantage of a Bio-Free stop, where I was able to get the gel applied to my calves and thighs, to help me with the final push - I can't state enough, just how much of a relief on my legs that was!
I was soon back in familiar territory, making my way along the main strip of hotels in Paphos, with cheering tourists and locals all round. Now, while this was all very encouraging, it also felt a bit daunting as I knew I still had around 2.5 miles of running to go before I reached the finish line. As I made my way towards mile 26, I passed the hotel where we got married, The Annabelle, and it gave me the right amount of inspiration needed to pick up the pace for the final push. The crowds really picked along the home stretch on the harbour front, and by this point, I'd taken out my headphones so that I could soak up the atmosphere - I even managed my first sub 10:00/mile since I picked up the injury!
The finish line was in sight, but there was one final sting in the tail, with an ever so slight hill to traverse before the home straight - I'm fairly certain I let out a curse at that point! But I got to the top, and as I made my way round the final corner, the crowds were roaring, and I managed to spot my cheering family, which gave me everything I needed to push for the finish line.
I DID IT!
Crossing the finish line is a bit of a blur. There were so many thoughts and emotions running through my head, that I can't really remember it fully. I do know, however, that the sense of relief, happiness, and most of all, achievement, that I felt when I crossed the finish line is unlike anything I've ever felt. It was incredible. One of the volunteers put my medal around my neck, and then I think I picked up a banana and a bottle of water as I made my way through the crowds trying to find everyone. I know that I soon found myself in the queue for beer, as I eventually spotted Kerry, whilst I was trying to phone her. I was greeted with huge congratulations along with a big kiss and a hug, and my mother and father in law wasn't too far behind, offering their congratulations too.
We then took a much needed seat, and enjoyed the FREE BEER that was on offer, as we watched the prize giving ceremony, celebrating the runners and their achievements. I really was in awe at what some of the other runners had achieved, especially the older runners - it really was amazing.
Overall, despite the slight setback that I suffered, I am absolutely delighted the way things went. The fact that I was able to suck it up and get through over half the race, whilst carrying an injury left me extremely proud of myself. It may have not been the sub 4-hour marathon that I'd hoped for, but it gives me something more respectable to beat in New York in November. Oh, in case you didn't already know... I'M RUNNING THE NEW YORK MARATHON!
As for the Cyprus Marathon itself, I would 100% recommend this race to other runners. It is such a well organised event that caters for all levels of ability, whilst set against the stunning backdrop of Cyprus - I can guarantee you would enjoy it. All that's left for me to do is thank the organizers and volunteers for putting on such a great event, and most of all, thank everyone for their support - especially those that were there waiting for me at the finish line - it really meant a lot to me.
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