Well, there we go, I’ve done it. Having ambulated the full 26.2 miles under race conditions, I can finally call myself a marathoner. Not that the race went entirely to plan, however I stayed in an upright position, said ‘thank you’ to the marshalls, smiled for the cameras and crossed the finish line after approximately 4hrs 30 minutes. After a good 48 hours or more, I can still scarcely believe I made it round…
Mrs Trenthamfolk and I had arrived in the ancient walled city of Chester the day before the race. I visited Chester a lot as a child, but had not been for a decade or so. It was smaller than I remembered, but no less familiar. It felt good to be back, and we set about settling in and getting our bearings. Chester Racecourse, the host of the event, was a 20 minute walk away, through Saturday shoppers… ideal. Sunday morning at 8am it would be a short walk to the start.
After a hearty early breakfast courtesy of the Mill Hotel (Staff were buffed and ready at 6:15 am for us marathoners… great service folks) we made our way through the stillness of the City Centre and down towards the racecourse. The traffic was already chaotic, and we were glad we’d stayed over. I was nervous, having run a maximum of 20 miles prior, this would be a new experience for me… I knew I could do it, I believed in myself, but the uncertainty of the unknown was as nerve-wracking as it was enticing… Me and fellow Trenthamer, Graham, stood on the grass of the racecourse and waited for the off. This was it… A bloody marathon! Three years ago I couldn’t run 3 miles… what the hell was I doing?
The first ten miles passed by pleasantly and uneventfully. Through the City, onto the Cheshire plane and out towards Wales, at mile 11 I found myself in a bunch of people glued to the 4hr pace runners. There was a comforting, almost metronomic drumbeat to the footfall, but it was all a little too close for comfort. I caught another runners heel, someone trod on mine… I moved to the outside and within half a mile I was clear of the group, but only just. I was happy as we approached the half-way mark at about 1hr 55 mins… 9 min mile pace… Good.
By 11am the morning had broken into a beautiful autumnal day, and out in the Welsh lanes there was no shade. It was hotting up as I passed Trentham Shaun as he ran back in the opposite direction to me… He looked hot, but in good form. I didn’t see Graham, so knew he was somewhere ahead of me out on the ‘loop’. I was in a little group of runners, one dressed as Queen Victoria, and another with a top that said ‘plodders’ on. For several miles we would rotate: I would overtake them, they would overtake me… Provided I kept with these guys, I thought, all will be well.
At mile 15 the problems started. I had taken on fluids at every water station, but was starting to get telltale twitches in my right calf… I knew what this meant, and I tried my best to put it to the back of my mind. But by this stage I was concentrating on running, and running alone… the prospect of cramp loomed as we passed through another village, and as we ran up a hill on the other side, the lady wearing the plodder t-shirt slowed to a walk. I had been in her shadow for the best part of five miles or so, and called out encouragement… from that point we became a team.
LoopyLou was, it turned out, a seasoned marathoner… having competed in a mind-boggling double marathon weekend last January, and become hideously injured in the process, she was also suffering from calf-cramp related issues. We chatted as we ran, slowed with each-other, and talked life, career, and love of running. Lou is a leader of a running club called Runcorn Plodders, and there were several of them running in this event. She was astute and knowledgeable, and despite her own injury based woes, kept a watchful eye on me… ‘Don’t be the hero Dan, listen to your body’ she hushed. This was the single most important piece of advice I could have hoped for, and she being there to enforce it, I did what I was told.
It all goes a little fuzzy from then on… I didn’t hit the wall, I had no hunger pangs and he mind was willing, but the body was faltering. I remember the mile 24 and 25 markers being too far apart. Garmin’s were beeping, but the sign’s were nowhere to be seen… ‘They’re messing with our heads!’ I thought, but for the most part, kept my head down, listening for Lou’s instructions and listened to my legs. My left calf was also now beginning to cramp, probably as a result of overcompensation in my gait, and although we were close, I couldn’t feel the end. Half a mile… it could have been five hundred… I was forced to walk downhill towards the banks of the River Dee to prevent over-striding. The river was lined by hundreds of supporters going mental, and cheering us on, including my Mum and Dad…. Upon seeing them we picked it up once again. The finish was just around the corner.
Cobbles turned to grass, and once under the bridge we could finally see the finish, 200 yards or so away. Lou was still with me… ‘Keep it going Dan, don’t sprint, bring it home’ she called… and so we did. How I appeared at this stage I can only guess, but it must have been horrific. The lovely Mrs Trenthamfolk was waiting, and cheering… I heard our names being called by the tannoy man, and the crowds roared us home…. High on emotion, burnt out and ready to drop, me and Lou shook hands with the organisers who congratulated us, hugged each-other and had a photo taken. It was done.
Nothing had prepared me for the marathon. It was the single most challenging physical exertion I had ever undertaken in my life, a consequence of which has called me to redefine both effort and discomfort from this point forward. I broke down long before I expected; I found new, as-yet untapped reserves of willpower, energy and fortitude; I made a new friend to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. Loopylou maintains I helped her as much as she did I, but I know it’s people like her that make the running world go round. For a Stokie context and those who know him, a female version of Frank Murphy.
I gave Chester everything I had. It was both the worst and greatest running experience of my life. At the finish I was distraught and elated, delirious in distress… I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. Taxi Lee was right… those extra six miles have some kind of evil about them. I salute his wisdom, and to quote my marathoner friend Richard, only those who have completed a marathon will understand the monumental effort required to complete one.
I entered Chester in the uncertain belief that the chances of getting into London were slim to non-existent. However, ten days before Chester, the magazine fell through the letterbox with the coveted proclamation ‘You’re In!’ emblazoned across the front. So, whilst I can’t say ‘never again’ quite yet, knowing what I know now, I can count my experience at Chester as a blessing in disguise. And I’m hooked.