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Wednesday 17 October 2012

Liverpool Marathon, Urine Hurling and My Very First 26.2

Got to Liverpool early on Saturday morning and apart from a couple of false ‘Code Brown’ warnings from the toddler, the trip was pretty uneventful. The room was nice and the hotel was about half a mile from the marathon finish line – perfect! The view was over a square and although there were bars and clubs, we were on the 4th floor and the rooms were apparently soundproofed ...

... At 2am I heaved a sigh of relief as the bass from the bars and clubs finally switched off. I had considered hurling containers of urine at the partygoers outside to make them disperse more quickly but thought the screaming might have disrupted my sleep even more. Besides I didn’t want to start the marathon dehydrated ...

Slept really well, then woke at 3.39am ... and couldn’t get back to sleep. Farted a couple of times in the hope that the Mr would wake up and make me a cup of coffee but no joy. Finally started dozing again and the alarm went off. It was 6am.

Got organised and managed to fill up the kit bag with things that I would probably never need but were in there ‘Just in Case’. Emergency Mars bar – check! Shuttle tickets – check! Spare change in case they were charging to wee – check!

Put my specially designed wristbands on and I was ready to go.

Left the hotel at 7am and walked a mile to the Debenhams bus stop to get the race shuttle bus which left from there. There were only 2 people on the bus that obviously seemed to be runners – including me! – but it soon started filling up with lycra-clad, sleepy eyed people. It was reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only one not happy to be sitting on a bus at 7am – nobody seemed very wide awake yet.

The bus weaved through a few streets – some still full of kebab boxes and litter from Saturday night and then the bus entered the Mersey Tunnel. It seemed to go on for ages. Then ages more. Then more. It was a sharp downhill into the tunnel, then a sharp uphill back up again. However, the tunnel felt fairly straight which seemed to bode well for not having to start and stop the Garmin too much. I didn’t even consider that this might not be the tunnel we were going to run through...

The shuttle bus driver finally got to Birkenhead Park ... then went past and stopped randomly at a kerb. He turned around and said “I have no idea where to drop you. They didn't tell me where to go." Brief wave of laughter around the bus and we all started piling off and following the person at the front of the queue as he seemed to know where he was going.

Walked about half a mile to the park which we entered between high stone posts. There were 2 tents pitched on the wet grass … and shining in the morning dew like Beacons of Hope – an enormous line of Portaloos. And best of all ... no queues. Perfect. What more could a runner wish for?

Visited the Portaloo and then was treated to a great big steamingly hot cup of coffee. The morning was very, very cold and our breath was steaming out into the chilly air. I was wearing all my race gear, a warm top and my bin bag and a buff over my head as a hat. I was offered a jacket but declined as I didn’t want to get too cold standing around in the start pens after having removed all my layers. 

The kit lorries weren’t obvious and there weren’t any signs to them so The Mr went off to investigate. He returned with wet feet – thanks to the sodden grass and flooded middle of the park – and news of 2 large lorries parked in the opposite end of the park. Dropped off kit bag and realised that This Was It. I would be running a marathon very shortly. Or at least starting one. The Mr got another coffee and gave it to me to hold but my hands were shaking so much – from nerves that I couldn’t hold it. It was almost comedy shaking – the coffee was waving around like a cocktail shaker.

An inaudible tannoy announcement and everyone started streaming towards the start pens. These were all in pace rather than finish times as there was a 10k happening at the same time. Positioned myself in the 8 – 8.30 minute mile pen as this is what I’d practised at and what I would do at least the first half in.

A woman came and stood next to me and we chatted briefly. She had done 3 marathons: Berlin, Paris, New York and this was to be her 4th. We were in front of a chap in a Warwickshire T-shirt which gave me a boost but he confirmed he’d completed a triathlon there rather than lived there. Flippin’ running tourists! I waited until the very last minute to ditch my bin bag as I was still so cold, even with all of these people around me huffing their morning breath everywhere. 

The start was very organised and I got over the start line in less than a minute and a half. I saw the Mr faffing with his camera waiting for me just past the start – I shouted and he looked up and saw me. I knew the next time I’d see him I would be past the 9 mile mark. That sounded a very long way away.

The park was beautiful and everything felt fresh and new in the morning sunshine, but because of the cold, my knee was very stiff and sore. It didn’t ease until about mile 2 but it was ‘crunch’ time. I was going to run on it however it felt. Getting to this marathon start point was the reason for all the physio and strange stretching exercises. I also couldn't feel my feet for a very long time. They were completely numb from the cold and running on them felt very strange.

Running along with the others, the atmosphere was great, almost a festival feeling. I passed a chap with a top on stating this was his 100th marathon so congratulated him. The chap next to him who he was leading with a strap said “He’s a novice! This is my 200th marathon!”

Running down the street, there was a man running with Greek-style sandals on – a thin leather sole with thin ankle straps! Gave him lots of respect for doing a marathon in those. Well, I say respect. I actually thought what a bloody lunatic. He’s going to have blisters like boiled eggs!

I was doing a steady 8 – 8.05 minute mile at this time which was about 30 seconds a mile slower than my half marathon pace a couple of weekends ago, however I was struggling with my breathing. I couldn’t seem to be able to get a proper breath and I wasn’t enjoying the run as much as possible. I put this down to nerves but it was very unsettling to feel like this so early on in such a long run. Especially with 23 miles to go …

The route went down some residential streets lined with an occasional shop and cafe and there were lots of spectators out to marvel at these idiots running on this cold morning in the equivalent of their underwear. Although I DID see a young boy of about six standing on the front step of a house with just his underpants on. Exchanged looks with the bloke running next to me and he said “Well, this is Liverpool…”

Down a hill past the 5 mile mark. Chatted to older chap running strongly next to me and said “Well that’s almost a fifth of the race done already!” It was a nice feeling realising we had done such a big percentage already, but I was still finding it harder going than I should have.

Came into New Brighton which felt like a seaside and was lovely. There was about half a mile to go before the runners completing the 10k turned off and a lot of spectators were cheering them on including a chap shouting “Not far to go for the 10k finish!” So I shouted back “ How far for us marathon lot?” Let’s just say my maths isn’t at it’s best when running. 

The 10k finishers turned left at the roundabout and the marathoners went straight on. I can’t say I wasn’t slightly tempted by the idea of finishing now but I was working out the percentages of the distance completed and by the time I’d incorrectly worked out we were almost 1/3 of the way there, we almost actually were 1/3 of the way there. Good going cheese for brains.

An enthusiastic spectator was cheering us on, completely oblivious to the fact that his dog and someone else’s was having a bit of fun while he was distracted. At least there was someone having fun.

We turned off the road and ran along the pier and through 2 or 3 piles of drifted sand – a bit of cross country running for a brief moment just to remind us we were near the sea. Then we all went along the side of the Mersey following the promenade. It was straight for miles and almost completely flat. An older gentleman was keeping pace with me just behind my left shoulder – I could just see his red top in my peripheral vision. After half a mile he was on my left and another older chap in dark blue ran on my right like my bodyguards. We lost the chap in blue over a hill, but the gent in red ran alongside me for about 4 miles which helped me keep my pace to 8.03-05. It was at a time I was struggling and having someone running alongside me helped me. It really felt like an angel helping me – someone there when I needed it, No words needed or looks exchanged, just running shoulder to shoulder.

I saw The Mr almost exactly at the mile 10 point. He was standing on a bollard to wave and so I could see him easily. It was a big morale boost to see him.

We went across an industrial estate area and over an iron bridge and people were standing with outstretched hands offering jelly babies and wine gums. The gent in red disappeared from my left then reappeared a few seconds later with a wine gum and holding out another to me.

The route came into the town a bit more and into a picturesque square with tall towers and we passed signs saying ”Water bottles not allowed”. So I belted my water bottle away after a quick sip and went into mouth of the tunnel. It really felt like a mouth swallowing us all. We went down for ages and the chap in red sped up and I quickly lost sight of him.

My Garmin quickly lost signal in the tunnel. I had decided not to pause it as the tunnel on the way in was fairly straight, but as I quickly found out this was a different – and wiggly - tunnel so knew the pace and distance would be all wrong. I tried to increase my speed while keeping my shoulders relaxed – a tactic that had worked very well in my hill run as I felt that I would need all the speed I could bank on the way down as the uphill would be so steep.

I passed the halfway point – finally! And I knew that I was on the home stretch. I didn’t know what pace I would be running the second half, but I had kept the first half pace reasonably constant and hoped that this would see me through. The uphill lasted a very long time and was very steep. People all around me started walking – the first time that multiple people had done this and I started passing people in droves as I refused to walk but knew that my pace was suffering. The uphill seemed to last for an hour and we turned left into a side section of the runnel so I knew that the Garmin pace would be a long way out.

As we drew closer to the exit mouth of the tunnel, a loud banging noise overtook everything else and we emerged into a wall of sound and about 25 people drumming and dancing! And wow – the noise from the crowd was incredible! People were cheering and shouting encouragement. It was very emotional after the struggle in the tunnel.

Looked at the Garmin and it was showing my pace as 8:38 from 8:05. No idea what pace I was doing in the tunnel so could have been right for all I knew. Was quite demoralising seeing the jump from 8:05 to 8:38 even though I was aware that the Garmin had lost over a mile underground.

There was more uphill after the tunnel exit and it was hard. I could see runners coming the other way after the double back and spotted my previous running buddy in the red shirt and I really started struggling and hit the wall between 14 and 16. I felt as though I just had so far to go and I was actively looking for people walking in front of me so I could join them. However, it obviously not as bad as I thought as when I did see people walking I just put my head down and pushed on through. I thought maybe I needed more fuel. I was running low on gels so had a slice of chocolate but the mars bar tasted too sweet and sickly - urgh. Kept pushing on. Kept telling myself that if it was easy, everyone would run a marathon and kept looking at my wristbands to keep me going. I was over halfway. I WAS going to do this.

I came past the tunnel mouth again on the double back and started down the hill and saw the Liver Building. This was it – a real boost. I knew my family would be in view soon. I made myself look a bit more cheerful and push a bit harder. Coming past the original White Star building and we did a square block through town and then past the expo building I saw the parents and The Mr and Toddler all cheering madly for me. Even through the noise I could hear Toddler shouting “Mummy!” and see her smiling. It was wonderful especially after the hard section. 

I pushed on past Albert Docks and the road turned into a gradual uphill and then into a steep sheer upward push up Parliament Street. People were walking and it seemed as though 2 in 5 people were walking now. It was so, so hard. My run slowed down dramatically and I doubted I was running faster than a 12 min mile. I got to the top and saw the faster runners coming the other way on their home stretch. Wasn’t sure whether to be happy that they were almost home or tempted to floor them with a well-aimed trainer for being so quick.

Ran through the tree-lined Princes Avenue. It was flat but after the tunnel and then the sheer hill of Parliament Street it was difficult to get my legs to move at any decent speed. People were stopped at the sides of the road stretching out their cramped muscles and there were quite a few walkers now. Was I tempted? A quick glance at my wristbands: Don’t be shit. Walking with this tiny percentage to go would be stupid.

We came into Princes Park and it felt like we ran a long, long way through the park. The paths were gently sloping but the surface was hard tarmac and quite fragmented and broken and it really hurt my feet and my toenails felt very tender and sore. Came out of this park and into another with high gates called Sefton Park. Another long slog through this park and onto the main road bordering it. It was scenic and pretty with a lot of families enjoying the area but every little bump made my feet even more sore and it seemed to take forever to get through the park.

We eventually made it back to the avenue. I was counting down the mile signs at this point but my brain wasn't functioning so I kept losing count of where I’d got to. I’d pass the 20 mile sign but couldn’t remember whether I was looking for 21 or 22. I knew the run was practically done though. And that however hard it got I would keep going and complete a marathon. I kept telling myself that if marathons were easy everyone would do one. 

I made it to the top of Parliament Street and pushed on down it as fast as possible and made up a bit of time. I was going slowly but even speeding up this small amount made me pant like a terrier. I passed the 25 mile sign and knew I was finally on the home straight. I got the average time down to 8:49 and although I knew that this was wrong after the tunnel I just wanted to keep pace as steady as possible and not let it drop lower. Just needed to keep going. Pushing and pushing. A colleague who had run this marathon had mentioned strong winds coming off the Mersey along the seafront but there were no winds and no more seafront to run.

I followed the runners in front of me and turned left onto Mann Island and past the expo building and I could see finish funnel. I COULD SEE THE FINISH FUNNEL. Gave a final push but couldn't manage a sprint finish. I belted my water bottle away and put my arms up for a finishing photo. The time on the clock above the finish tunnel said 3:46:40. Couldn't believe I'd made it home in the 3:40s! 

 Final Results:

Chip Time:   03:45:11
Position:      665
Category:    Female open
Cat Pos:      33rd

Also, I got this AWESOME cake from my family:



  1. brilliant achievement speedy !!!

    1. Thanks Paul! All my toenails are still attached too - I count that as a WIN!! :)

  2. Brilliant Sarah so many familiar terrors (Parliament Hill!!!!) & nicer running (Sefton Park) at last weeks half, so all the more credit for the full every best wish for Paris, your story is an inspiration!!!!