So here we are, approaching the end of 2020, with my running goals for the year long since fallen by the wayside. Like so many of us, I found the early lockdown quite a struggle, trying to work effectively from home whilst home schooling my two little boys. One by one, my dream races were cancelled, and I attempted to salvage what I could by signing up for the virtual versions of the races if they were offered. Anything for a medal, hey? Race dates were rearranged and pushed closer and closer together in the autumn, until I had somehow ended up needing to run my three marathons for the year, all in the month of October! This wasn’t going to be easy….
Running the marathons in a virtual format took some of the race-day pressure away. People could treat these runs however they wished, whether that meant going all-out for a new PB, or just enjoying the challenge of covering the miles over the day with as many breaks as they wanted. For me, I had stopped marathon training in June when the real races were cancelled, and spent a large portion of the summer out of action with an injury. I had done nowhere near enough training to aim for a PB, so instead, my personal challenge was just to complete the distance, three times, on three consecutive Sundays.
First up, on the 4th October, was the Virtual 40th London Marathon! I really loved this day, which I wrote more fully about at the time here, a surprisingly sociable occasion for a virtual run, with so many other runners out on the canal paths, and my lovely Parkrun friends helping me to the finish line. Splitting the distance up into two chunks, with a long lunch break in the middle, was a good introduction to my busy October of running, and I was surprised at how quickly my legs had recovered by the next day.
The second Sunday was the turn of Chicago! I had supposed to have been flying to Chicago for the real race on the 11th October, but as a small consolation, the organisers allowed registered participants to complete the distance virtually in return for a t-shirt and medal. I ran 9km up the Lea valley canal to meet my friend Molly, before we set off on a long journey all the way down the towpath to the Olympic stadium, before turning back towards home. By the time we reached the Walthamstow turn-off where we would part ways, I was up to 33km and really starting to feel it! My legs were getting tired and I felt totally out of energy. I staggered home, taking several walking breaks along the way, and called in for some food and water. I was beginning to realise one major challenge with running a marathon by yourself like this was the issue of supplies. My only previous marathon races last year had been organised mass events, with water and fueling stations every few kilometres along the route. However for this run, I had set out with just what I could carry in my running belt (250mL water and some energy bar pieces), which had long since been depleted. I would definitely recommend planning a route that goes via the odd cafe or convenience store in future! Completely exhausted, my quick stop at home had turned into a 30min rest. I was almost in tears at the thought of getting up again and running a further 7km to finish the distance. Determined not to quit, I dragged myself out to the local park, single-mindedly trudging around the pathways until the distance was complete. The Chicago virtual marathon was finished in 4h26 of running time, but with my breaks taking the total elapsed time well over 5hrs. I had really enjoyed running the middle section with Molly, and we had put in a great (for me) average pace, however in hindsight maybe this was a touch too optimistic, and had contributed to me hitting the wall before the end.
The third Sunday rolled around before I knew what was happening, and it was time to finish things off with the final virtual run: New York! Again, this run should have been the culmination of a lovely family holiday to the Big Apple, but as with many things this year, all plans have gone somewhat out the window. For this run, I was on my own. In an attempt to learn from the challenges of last weekend, I had decided to stick closer to home, running loops of my local area, which would allow me to pop back home for water and bathroom breaks whenever I needed. I put on my audiobook, the final two hours of a suitably epic 47hr Murakami novel I had been ploughing through while training, set out the door and immersed myself in the storyline. The first half flew by without a hitch, I stopped for water, and moved on to a few podcast episodes. 30km came around, and once again, I started to flag. The final hour was a struggle to say the least. A well-timed supportive message from a friend flashed up on my watch and I forged ahead, running in ever-decreasing and ever-slowing laps of the park while my Strava nudged agonisingly towards 42.2km. Finally, it was done, in a total time (including breaks) of 4hr49min, and my best total elapsed time of the three efforts.
So what have I learnt? Well, for one, I am not a natural marathon runner! This distance remains a huge challenge for me. I see so many of you runners, knocking out marathons for fun, in half the time it takes me, but everyone has their limits, and this was just about mine! I gave this challenge my absolute all, and I’m delighted to have made it through in one piece! I’m really looking forward to my hard-earned medals appearing through the post in the next few weeks, and having a nice break from the long distances for a little while. Next year, assuming the races are back up and running, I intend to throw myself into my training plan, work on improving my endurance, and get to those autumn starting lines in the best possible shape. But that’s for next year! Tonight? Let’s start with a pizza! 🙂
Hugest of congratulations to all of you who have completed virtual marathons this autumn. It’s not easy on your own and I’ve loved seeing all your achievements!