So my spring challenge, fuelled by total marathon addiction, is to run 5 marathons between April and May 2014.  So far, I’ve managed to get round Brighton and London, a week apart!  Next up is the Milton Keynes Marathon, on the 5th May, followed by a three week break before another double – Liverpool Rock & Roll then the Kent Roadrunner Marathon at the end of May.  Both Brighton and London went well in their own ways, so here’s my race report for them both.

I was really hoping for a sub-5 finish time for Brighton, and things were looking positive.  I’ve trained at a 11.25 minute mile for the long runs, including a 20 miler at that pace.  My final long run, the Surrey Spitfire 20, was slightly slower, but it was hilly, and a hot day.  I was sure that with a flat course and cooler weather a sub-5 would be achievable.

I headed down to Brighton and met up with a couple of friends from parkrun – Ben and Wai Meng.  We’d actually all marshalled at parkrun that morning, but skipped the usual post-run coffee and cake to pack and catch the train!  Got to Brighton and enjoyed a nice carb-loading lunch, before heading to the expo to collect our packs.  After dinner (pasta, of course!), it was an early night to prepare for the race the next day.  I spent the late evening in the Jacuzzi in the hotel spa which was great, but the highlight was seeing Paula Radcliffe at the hotel and getting our photo taken with her!!  Awesome!

The next morning, we were all up early, having breakfast and sorting our gear for the millionth time.  It was a bit of a walk to the start of the race at Preston Park, but would make for a decent warm up.  We got to the start in plenty of time, and did the usual faffing about and queuing for the loos.  Finally, it was time to get to the starting pens – and soon we were off!

My plan was to take it easy at first and go slow for the first mile or two.  With the first mile being mainly uphill – a loop round the park – this wasn’t difficult and it felt very easy.  The first 10k or so was quite interesting as there was a lot of looping round, and we went past the Royal Pavilion twice which was great.  The atmosphere was brilliant, with loads of crowds out, and they were even better along the sea front as we headed out of the city for the first long out-and-back stretch.  I was feeling good, but finding it a bit difficult to get into a proper pace.  The route was pretty flat, but there were undulations in the first half – which I expected, but my body didn’t seem to like them.  I was trying to keep an even pace, but kept running miles that were either a bit too fast, or too slow.  I was a little behind my target time at about 8-10 miles, but hoped that with some gentle downhills I’d make up for this.  At half way, we went past the finish line and saw the elites on the other side of the road.  The crowds were better than ever here and it was a lot of fun.  I was literally just on target at halfway – at 2 hours 30 minutes, so I really had to maintain that pace and try and shave off a few seconds if I wanted the sub-5 hours finish.

The second half felt quite tough and my mile splits were gradually getting a bit too slow.  There was a long out and back through a neighbourhood at about 15-18 miles, which felt like it went on forever.  Worried about my time, I took several gels, but I think I had too many in a short time as I could feel them in my stomach and needed to drink a lot of water to wash them down.  It was also heating up a lot more now – we’d been really lucky so far as it was not too hot and even drizzled a bit at first – but now I could feel the heat beating down.  At 20 miles, there’s a pretty depressing part of the course that goes round an industrial estate.  It’s not much fun as the scenery is pretty grim, plus it stinks of fish.  My Garmin decided now was the time to run out of battery too – at mile 21 after just over 4 hours!  Was really annoyed as I was sure it had a full battery that morning!

The last 5 miles, I had no watch/time to go on, so just pushed on as best as I could.  I was determined not to walk at all during the race, although I was very tempted to and had to banish any thoughts of walking if every i found myself slowing down.  The final 5k is very nice, a long final path along the sea front, and finally to the marina where you finish in front of thousands of spectators.  I had no idea of my time, I was pretty sure I was over 5 hours by now, but I still felt ok and managed a sprint finish.  Very happy to finish and got a gorgeous medal too!  Found out my time – 5.05.43.  So did not quite beat my target time, nor was it quite a PB, but second best out of 6 so far so I was happy.

The week in between Brighton and London was very surreal.  I was recovering from the first marathon, and was sore and stiff for a good few days, but was also really looking forward to London.  I had decided not to worry about a time, and just take in the party atmosphere and enjoy the race.  Friday night I went indoor skydiving, which I love but I think it worked my legs too hard.  On Saturday my hamstrings were really tights and sore, and I was a bit worried about walking round the expo all day, not to mention running another marathon!  I enjoyed the expo though, it’s always great to take in the atmosphere and meet loads of other runners, not to mention the shopping opportunities!  In the evening, there wasn’t much to do apart from sort out my gear, have a baked potato for dinner and then relax.

Marathon Day came (again) and I woke up really early, like I was a little kid at Christmas.  It was a bit early to get up, so I went on Twitter for a while chatting to other London runners who were also up at the crack of dawn!  I couldn’t stay in bed for long though, and was soon up, getting dressed, breakfasting and heading to the station.  The platform from St Albans wasn’t crowded, but it was pretty much only runners and a few spectators around at that time.  I chatted to a group about how we were all feeling and what our plans for the day were.  The train to London didn’t take too long, and by the time we changed at London Bridge, the trains were filled with runners, all with the tell-tale red baggage bags and orange chips on their shoes!  I was in the red start this year, so went to Greenwich and followed the hundreds of runners up through Greenwich Park to the start.  Although I was in the blue start last year, the atmosphere was just like I remembered from last time – it was very exciting to hear the helicopters buzzing overhead, the music and PA system pumping out and the sign of thousands of runners, some in fancy dress of various degrees of absurdity – and as this was the red start, all running for charity.

I queued up in my starting pen just before 10am, and chatted some more and took photos with my fellow runners.  I saw the run/walk pacer up ahead, and for a moment was tempted to follow them, but didn’t think I’d be able to sustain an average of 12 minute miles for the whole race.  So I hung back, and went at my own pace.  Soon we crossed the line, and what a feeling it was!  To be running the London Marathon a second time!  I felt so lucky to have been given another chance to run it and in my opinion, was worth every penny of the fundraising and donations I made to secure a place again.

I went really slow for the first 5k – a bit of a shakeout to make sure my legs weren’t going to seize up from being put through the pain of 26.2 miles again.  I enjoyed the first few miles, as it was a slightly different route to last year’s blue start, and a bit more undulating too.  I felt there was a bit more fun to this start line, as with most people there on a charity place there was more of a party atmosphere rather than more of a serious club atmosphere like on the blue start (but both are brilliant!).  At 3 miles, we joined up with the blue and green runners, but as the red start is so huge and I was quite near the back, there weren’t many green or blue runners still coming though (even though the red was still quite crowded).  Now I began to recognise more of the route, the Vineyard Church, the first official pub, and the corners and roundabouts through Lewisham where the crowds started to get really deep.  At 10k, the first epic sight – Cutty Sark!  This section is a real thrill, we ran right round the old ship in front of thousands of people, and camera crews too – it was one of my favourite parts of the course last year and this year was no different.

At around 8 miles, I had to keep stopping, as annoyingly my laces were too tight and I was getting a blister.  This followed with them then being too loose, and having to re-tie!  Really annoying but at least the blister did not get any worse.  But other than that, things were going well.  I was running roughly 12 to 12.15 minute miles, which my legs seemed to be happy with, but I had started taking the odd walking break after about 7 miles and would continue to do so.  This seemed wise, as it stopped me from going out too fast and meant that later on I was still strong enough to run the final 5k without walking.  At 11 miles, I saw some of my friends for the first time!  I was so excited I sprinted towards them, grinning manically as they took photos, and high-fived them all!  Then came Tower Bridge, a fantastic part of the course and one I’ll never forget.  I knew it was coming up just after 12.5 miles, and remembered there is a sharp right-hand-turn before you come to it, but even when I knew it was coming up it was still a shock to suddenly see it in front of you!  It was a fantastic experience, a wall of noise and colour and brilliant to run through.  And over on the other side, I even got to see my parents for the first time!

After half way, the going gets tough, but by keeping it slow and steady I did not find things as painful as last year.  I have to admit, I was still very jealous when I saw a family all out having a BBQ on the side of the road, sunbathing and enjoying a cold beer at about 15 miles!  Could have done with a bit of that myself!  I saw another friend soon afterwards though, which was another boost.  My Garmin battery was getting low again (I really did ensure it was fully charged this time but it still only lasted 4 hours!) so I turned off the GPS and set it to timer mode when I passed through 17 miles.  I was walking fairly regularly now, but they were timed walked, either 30 seconds or a minute each time, and strong, purposeful strides to keep the pace up and stretch the muscles.  It was really warm now, and I think a lot of people really struggled in the heat.  I was hot, but didn’t feel it like I did last year.  I took on plenty of water and ran through the showers, and kept to the shadows when possible.

Soon I was out of Canary Wharf and back onto the long, final 10k stretch along the Embankment to the finish at Westminster.  This is a very long section, even though I told myself it was “only two parkruns” I still had over an hour of running to do.  At 20 miles, I saw my parents again, much closer this time and they got some good pictures, too.  At 23 miles, I did my final walk, stretched out my legs then set off again, determined to run (well, slowly jog!) the final 3 miles.  Even through the Lucozade tunnel, where lots of people, have a sneaky rest,  I carried on running.  At mile 24 I saw Ben, Rich and Wai Meng, so another good boost, and soon after that my skydiving friends again.  At 25 miles I couldn’t believe it was almost over!  I really enjoyed the final mile this time, unlike last year when I just could not wait for it to be over and done with.  I took in the sights of Big Ben, Westminster and Buckingham Palace, and loved the huge crowds in that final 385 yards – it was like being in the Olympics!  At long last, I crossed the line, elated, in 5.28.02.

Very happy with both marathons!  Ok so I may not have quite got under 5 hours just yet but hopefully someday, and in the meantime I am happy to have been able to run two marathons a week apart, both being under 5 and a half hours.  The medals are both stunning this year, and I have to keep looking at them to remind myself what I did.  A week or so of rest, then back to some very gentle runs and cross training.  It’s not long now til the MK Marathon and I get to do it all over again!  My goal for this one, again, is just finish, and if I can do it under or around 5.30 then that would be great.