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The 12in12 Challenge #4: Virgin London Marathon

By Sarah O'Neill, Apr 24 2012 03:14PM

Virgin London Marathon, Sunday 22 April. Time: 3:20:57 (Personal Best), 337th female, 220th in age group and 3278th overall. Not bad stats and yet in my opinion the worst I have ever tackled a race, and without a doubt the most unimaginable pain I have ever inflicted upon myself. Do I honestly do this 'for pleasure'?

My race in a nut shell....

Fundamentally I broke the first rule of marathon running: I tore off like a lunatic, attacking a pace that would be best suited to a 10k or half marathon distance. Hitting it hard at the start means the latter miles are going to be agonising. Most people slow down by the end, but there's slowing down and sloooowing down (/crawling). When it starts to hurt by mile 10 you know you've done something wrong. By the time I saw Meredith and John at mile 15 I felt in a sorry state. Apparently I looked OK...I felt like shit. Plus I was mad at myself and couldn't block out of my head how stupid I had been running off so fast. Now it was just a case of holding on for dear life and hoping my body didn't give in. It may have been the fastest I have ever run a marathon but it felt like the longest race of my life.

Some days you can run and some days you can't. My legs felt heavy from the off. I wasn't 'gasping for a run' like I usually am after a taper, and in all honestly could happily have plumped for a cappuccino and a good book instead. Coupled with this the weather had mysteriously turned from a week of heavy showers to ridiculously hot and a bit windy, which burnt my face, dried out my mouth and sapped my energy.

I was so dehydrated by the end of the race (in spite of taking on much more water/Lucozade than I usually would) that the back of my body cramped up - hamstrings, calves, lower back in searing agony. If I tried to stretch my muscles went into spasm. By this stage I was so drained that all I could do was sob and shuffle along in a daze (with intermittent collapsing on the barriers and kneeling down on the gravel). Boo hoo poor me.

I also ended up peeing behind the toilets in front of loads of people before the race as the queue for the loo was ridiculous and I didn't want to miss the start. Irrelevant but thought I'd throw that in there just to show how committed I was to this event.

I could moan on and berate my performance for much longer but essentially this race made me realise, once again, just how tough the marathon is. I have enjoyed the other 3 marathons I have done but sadly can't really say the same about this year's VLM. Both the crowd and fellow runners were as ever phenomenal; I loved the atmosphere and enthusiasm of runners and supporters, and I loved meeting up with the HOPEHIV team after, and collapsing in a heap with my team mate 'Matt the morph'. I was delighted that people came to support me and buoyed up by their wonderful cheers and signs! But in all honesty the best bit was when it was over (and when I had managed to rehydrate enough to reduce the muscle spasms).

A marathon really does sap every last bit of you. Once your legs run out (which for me was pretty early on) it takes every ounce of determination and will power that you have, and then a little bit of lunacy to will your body to keep pushing on when it desperately wants and NEEDS to collapse in a heap. Cramps, dehydration, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, little voices in your do you keep going? How do you push past this sort of pain?

The answer: I have no idea. An iron will perhaps. Stubbornness. A little bit of crazy? Being inspired by those who have gone before you and didn't give up, even if they had to crawl across the finish line. Being inspired by people like Kate Berry, fellow runner for HOPEHIV, who passed out for 2 HOURS at mile 18 and STILL continued the final 8 miles as she was so utterly determined to finish. Knowing that people are behind you, have sponsored you, are proud of you and are willing you on.

I have the utmost respect for those people who complete the marathon in six hours plus - just experiencing that level of pain for half that time is excruciating, so being on the course for half a day really is something else.

Highlights of the day were being interviewed by Colin Jackson at the end (BBC iPlayer 5.08.49), making fellow team 12er Nicki Petitt cry at her Lucozade station (happy tears I think...or sympathy!), hearing cheers from my Dad, John, Meredith, Celia, Fiona and also a girl I used to go to school with (thanks Jenny Morgan!), the huge burger I ate when I got home and also watching John's footage (apart from seeing my dodgy marathon hair). Check it out here:

I pushed myself to my limits on Sunday and I'm going to pay the price for a few more days yet! But this year isn't meant to be easy, else why would you sponsor us, right?! If you haven't then a donation of any amount on my page would go a long way towards easing the pain I am currently in!

Now off to stick my toe nails back on.

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