Can anyone ever say they loved every single second of a marathon? I am not sure I genuinely can, and of the ten marathons I have completed before, there have most definitely been periods when I hated running/myself/my legs/my own decision to chose to run 26.2 miles. However, marathon number eleven was very different for me, and I can honestly say I enjoyed every moment of Peterborough Marathon. The race was also a very different experience for me compared to my previous marathon events…
Firstly, let’s not ignore the obvious; Covid-19. Peterborough Marathon was my first event of 2021 and my first race since October 2020 due to lengthy periods of lockdowns and restrictions. For someone whose weekends used to be dominated by events, this is a huge chunk without a race. However, Covid is also one of the reasons why I decided to run Peterborough Marathon.
Over the past year or so since Covid entered our lives, my running routine has inadvertently changed. With lack of events and event cancellations I have found myself with lengthy periods not following a training plan for once and simply running whatever I wanted. This has seen me develop a consistently strong basis of mileage over a number of months, often averaging 30-40 miles a week, with a few weeks closer or exceeding the 50 mile mark. I have felt fit and strong, but I was not specifically marathon training – which for me would usually involve following fairly rigidly a 16 week programme. A few conversations shared with a friend from Run Club on some long Friday evening runs – a real escape after a week of home working – started to inspire me to think a marathon could be possible.
After deciding to enter Peterborough Marathon I also made the decision to keep my entry fairly quiet, apart from a handful of people. I wanted literally no pressure or the feeling that I would suddenly need to ‘panic train’ for the race. In the lead up to the event I did not change my approach to running at all, the extra motivation did mean I joined some Run Club buddies for a couple of longer weekend runs, but nothing like what I would normally tackle in the lead up to a marathon. In fact, it was a conscious effort to remember to taper in the days preceding the event! On race week I did have mixed emotions though; was I being complacent and slightly arrogant that I could run 26.2 miles without having really trained? I had to keep reassuring myself that I was just approaching the race as a long Sunday run taking place somewhere different in the UK, and a chance to actually leave Lincoln for a day!
Race morning felt calm – a couple of texts from people who knew I was running to wish me luck and an early alarm for a quiet drive down to Peterborough. Peterborough as a location and an event was very different to any of my previous marathons, which have tended to be big city affairs and occasions - no offence Peterborough, but my last marathon was in Chicago surrounding by tens of thousands of people, towering skyscrapers, and over enthusiastic Americans cheering me on. Instead I arrived in Peterborough and parked in a muddy field which I hoped I could get my car out of later, and stood at the start with a socially distanced cluster of around 500 other runners, listening to 90s dance music over a small PA system. It was exactly how I wanted it to be though; calm, quaint and perfect for reducing any form of nervousness or pressure within me. I had no goal as I crossed the start line, I almost just wanted this race to be a form of sign off from the Covid era (fingers crossed), which I could recover from and then look to focus on tangible goals again.
The relatively small scale nature of Peterborough Marathon was not compromised in its delivery, nor did Covid rules seem to put a dampener on aspects. The Race Maker volunteers provided enthusiastic support across the course from the very start, and plenty of local people came out to cheer along the course, with members of the public taking part in their regular Sunday stroll seeming really happy to have the entertainment of some mad marathon runners to wish good luck to.
The course itself was a perfect patchwork of different aspects around Peterborough, including lakes around Nene Park, the Cathedral, local riverside cycle paths, and resident streets - it must have taken some planning to map out the route, but it really worked. I split the race into 5-mile chunks, half intended due to the fact this was where each aid station was positioned and I knew I would remember to take on water/fuel. This mindset really helped and I practically approached each five mile block as a new run in my head. The first two blocks – 10 miles – were really comfortable, I was enjoying my running, taking in the race and surroundings. I had no real concept of pace and just ran to feel.
The next five miles also passed quite quickly, with some enjoyable riverside stretches, and crossing the halfway point I felt strong and in control – pleasing! As I edged closer to the 20-mile marker I began to feel my hamstrings tightening a little and a few protests from some muscles develop, but these were easy to override in my mind, and spectators kept telling me I looked strong, so I believed them!
After 20 miles I could feel the strain on my body hit almost instantly as I passed this milestone. This is where my ‘no pressure’ mantra I had adopted from the point of entry into this race really paid off. I simply said to myself – slow down. I was not chasing the clock or a time and by easing back – probably only about 10 seconds per mile - I felt more comfortable and more confident I could not only enjoy the final 6.2 miles, but also complete them. These miles were by no means a breeze; I had to remain mentally resilient and physically strong to stick to a rhythm, but with each mile I ticked off the happier I felt knowing I was going to complete this marathon. With a couple of miles to go, I really felt a rush of determination hit my body, passing a few slowing runners also renewed faith that my body could hold out – although perhaps the biggest challenge of the course was to come. A technically tricky part was saved for a muddy stretch on the final mile that felt particularly hard work on tired legs. The actual finishing meters were on tarmac though – which after navigating the almost trail like terrain, felt amazing.
The finish straight was lined with a good crowd of people, and as I saw their lined pathway guiding me toward the finish arch, I instantly felt emotional. I could feel it welling inside me like something I have never quite experienced in any race before. A combination of emotion and people cheering me on meant I found a vague form of sprint finish from my tired limbs and surged toward the archway, not really sure what time I was heading for. Before even passing across the finish timing mat I had burst into tears – I couldn’t hold back the emotion anymore. There will be a great finish photo of me somewhere I am sure, stood at the finish line sobbing my eyes out, whilst the marshals stand looking helpless at me, unable to enter my 2 metre sphere of protection! I have never cried at the end of a marathon before, and did not expect this to be the day. What brought the tears I think was the sheer overwhelming realisation I experienced along that finish stretch - the realisation that after possibly the most challenging times we have all collectively lived through, that there was still hope and humanity out there. Personally that finish stretch also brought a feeling of pure strength in both my body and mind, those few metres of running – and the 26 miles which proceeded them - felt almost a release after so many months of battling through, and gave me a renewed sense of self again.
Time was not my goal, but I am pretty proud of what I ran by the way; 3:43:52. My third fastest marathon and only 14 seconds slower than my second quickest finish time! Peterborough Marathon did not have the most orthodox of build ups, but it will remain a significant moment from my running memories I am sure.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...