Monday, November 18, 2013

twentysixppointtwomiles:a race report.

This is the story of my first marathon.
When I was 16,  my mum finished the NYC Marathon and was so elated that we decided to run a marathon together for my 20th birthday. In July we signed up for the Marathon des Alpes Maritimes,42k from Nice to Cannes; unfortunately during the summer she overtrained and decided not to race to avoid  exacerbating her tiredness. My dad, however, was in top form for the race and i suspect he was hoping for a smashing sub-3 hour PB.

On Sunday we woke up very early to get ready and eat another carboloaded breakfast (lots of cornflakes for me). Mum drove us to Nice (we were staying in a little village 20 minutes from Nice) and wished us good luck. I don't know how she felt about not running, as for me, i felt a bit lonely because this was supposed to be our big race, the coronation of hundreds of runs together over the past 9 years. I guess that this is a reminder of how life can turn and twist without any warning.
(just between me and you, I wasn't thinking to the ironies of life: I was too busy getting nervous and wondering why my dad was so chatty when normally before the start of a race it's hard to extort a meaningful sound out of him).
The sun was rising as we were getting ready and the sky was breathtaking:
We dropped off our bags, had a quick last trip to the toilet and headed to our own corral, in my case the very back of the 3:45 wave.

I must confess i felt really emotional standing in that crowd of somewhat 12000 runners in a disposable painting suit (no picture sorry) to keep me warm and i really did wish my mum was there with me.

Paula Radcliffe was patron of the race and after a brief talk she fired the gun, setting us off.
here's an outline of the course.
I must admit that the race is a bit of a blur to me and I remember only little moments or people who came into contact with me during this 26.2 miles long journey.
-the guy who was running barefoot (yes completely barefoot);
-the very tall Danish man who sheltered me from the wind;
-the lady about the age of my mum who asked me how old I was;
-the elderly French ladies at the sides cheering "Allez-y les filles!" (Come on girls);
-the couple that kept pushing each other on.

I didn't manage to stick with anyone and from the beginning my pace was fairly lively (5.20 min/k) and I kept worrying I had set off too fast too soon. I kept repeating like a mantra the advice my parents were given at the start of this same marathon by a French veteran of the 26,2: "Pas accelerer!", do not speed up, not until you are well clear of the 20 miles/32k mark and the hills which lay before then. I was at least 5-10s quicker than the pace I was planning to keep and tried to slow down but that felt a lot like an imposition and my legs kept going back to that 5.20ish pace by themselves. So the halfway point went and really didn't feel as if I had already run a half marathon. The support on the sides was very warm, loads of people were out in the streets cheering us on by our first names, especially in the little town of Antibes. 
Up the hills of the cape we went, to enter the gulf where Cannes lie.

Turned out that I did well to keep a more lively pace at the start, because as soon as we cleared the 18 mile mark a furious wind struck us with gusts so strong they would stop the lighter runners and raise up sandstorms from the beaches close by. As it turned out, it was almost impossible to pick up pace at that point,-the best we could do was hang on and try to keep constant. Instinctively we formed little packs to get shelter from the wind  (hence the aforementioned Danish man). 
This marathon prides one of the most scenic in the world, unfortunately the strong wind prevented me from enjoying it: I had to grip very hard on any positive mantra i could think of and try to block out all the rest of the world, from the spraying white sea to the blue clear sky. 

One last hill, a strong headwind and finally la Promenade de la Croisette was stretching ahead of us with the feeling of the finish line being close. the crowds grew denser and louder, the grin of determination on our faces more pronounced, the strides longer and more aggressive. I stayed on the left hand side of the course to see my mum and sister and waved at them before focusing on the finish: at around mile 20-22 i realised that i could optimistically aim for under 3:50.
The digits on my Garmin were flying as i pushed on for the last sprint. I clocked a first marathon time of 3:49: 36, hitting fully my sub-4 hours target.

Across the finish line, we were given our medal and Finisher rucksack, plus water, fruit and French bread! I realised all of a sudden I was starving and wolfed down the little wholemeal bun packed with dried fruit and good!!

It took ages to get our bags back and I was getting a bit chilly by that point, plus my legs were caked in sand and didn't make a pretty picture.

Dad found me as soon as I stepped out of the arrival zone: he managed to get 3:08, a course PB, in spite of the wind.
We made our way home where Dad, Maria and I went to the beach for a swim and Mum went home to rest.

We ate lunch, napped a couple of hours and headed off to see the sunset at the lighthouse on the Cap Ferrat, a glorious conclusion to an amazing weekend

I feel proud of what I accomplished, finishing a first marathon in tough conditions with a good time and all by myself: I did alone what had started off as a two (wo)men job, with no experience, without hitting the Wall nor slowing down and even getting a negative split.after 26.2 miles/42k, plus ticking off one the "to-do"things on my bucket list. I felt great, strong and confident because all my hard work paid off. As in all of the most important things in my life I had the support of people who love me which is essential. Especially my Mum, who overlooked every moment of my training, from long runs to the food before the race and acted promptly on my almost injury earlier in the summer, my Dad who wrote my training plan and encouraged me to push harder, my sister who kept it all very real, my boyfriend John, my friends Claudia, Suzie and Mareike and all the people at Tyne Bridge Harriers, who helped with my training.

Thank to all of you and to me , now, 26 miles, 3 hours 49 minuted 36 seconds and 2631 calories later, I am a marathon runner!!!


  1. You are amazing!!! I love this. You are so speedy!! I hope to someday run a sub 4. I'm just not gifted in the speed department. It's going to take some hard work.

    I love that your parents are both runners. That is incredible. Your Dad is awfully speedy too. I hope that you're still basking in your marathon-ing awesomeness.

    1. Thank you Crystal! I am sure it will come, my mum's first marathon was 4h27 and it took her sometime before going sub 4 but then she managed wonderfully in May, with 3h44:)

      They got me in the game of running and I am extremely grateful for this!