I had been signed up for the Rock n Roll Liverpool Marathon for many months; having taken part in the half marathon distance for the past three years, my curiosity to take the challenge and step up a distance was there. I had my London Marathon place, but with these two marathons falling just four weeks apart, I thought it could be a back up race if for whatever reason things did not go to plan in London. The final factor was my sister, who lives in Liverpool, could actually get me free spot in the race and therefore there was not too much financial investment if I decided nearer the time I did not want to take up the place.
I was completely happy and proud of my 2018 London Marathon performance in those brutal conditions, I loved the day and will cherish the memories forever, but if I am honest I felt I had trained for better, and the heat had prevented me from reaching my full potential. Once I had come down from the emotion of London Marathon day, Liverpool beckoned and I will admit thoughts crossed my mind that perhaps I would be able to PB in this race and get the sub 3:45 time I had worked hard for. However, as Liverpool race day neared I began to feel this hope may be unrealistic for two factors. Firstly, whilst initially my recovery following the London Marathon had been good, I had been struggling with a bad cold in the two weeks leading up to Liverpool and it had totally wiped me out, leaving me feeling very apprehensive about how strong my body actually was. Secondly, I was quite literally scared of this challenge. I had never attempted two marathons so close together before, preferring the safety of having sixteen good weeks of training behind me, and the logical side of my head kept telling me it was a crazy idea. I was so fearful of running Liverpool I barely told anyone I was planning on running it – which was quite hard!
Arriving in Liverpool for the Rock n Roll weekend I was still very nervous about attempting the marathon. My sister and her boyfriend were taking part in the half marathon, and I was hit by waves of anxiety that I had not just opted to join them. However, my overriding feeling was this was my moment to try this challenge and to attempt a second marathon relatively soon after running another. If it was horrid and I hated it, I would know it was not for me, and I would seek sanctuary in my sixteen-week plans. I pushed out all form of time goals from my head and the mission was simply to finish – in one piece.
Race day was very warm – again – trust my luck to have another 26.2 miles to complete in 20+ degree temperatures! However, before I even began to run, I knew it felt nowhere near as intense as London conditions; if I could cope with that I could do this. I think London was a learning experience for me, I had never run any distance in that heat before, but now I had, I could draw on coping strategies.
We met up with my sister’s running club at the race start – the Dockside Runners -and I was pleased to be wearing my own ‘Dockside’ club vest year. I have run with the club a few times, and met them at a few at races, they are such a friendly bunch and so welcoming to me as an occasional member. After a group photo, the half marathoner runners took their place in the pens, I wished my sister and her boyfriend luck and then had a nervy hour to fill before the marathon was due to begin. Time went relatively quick, and I was soon taking my own place in the starting line-up. I messaged my friend and long-suffering running buddy in the start funnel only minutes before the race began; I missed her being with me, I missed her calming influence and her emotional understanding of both me and of marathons. In that moment I wished she was by my side about to complete a long run together. I tried to adopt this mentality as the start gun was fired – it was just a long run.
The race starts close to the dock in Liverpool and the first mile winds through the city centre, the same as the half marathon course. We soon forked off my more familiar route though and began a new loop of Liverpool I had never experienced, heading out towards Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs’ grounds. This first section was hot and hilly – very hilly. I tried not to let this bother me though and instead took the climbs in my stride and soaked up the new sights I was seeing. I kept myself doused with water from early on, never without a bottle in my hand in case I felt I needed a sip or to pour some over my head. A particularly touching moment was a gentleman driving a car near Everton who was leaning out his car window handing bottles to runners completely off his own back – what a nice thing to do. I enjoyed running around Everton’s ‘Goodison Park’ stadium and literally running through the stands of Liverpool’s ‘Anfield’ stadium, with Stanley Park a very beautiful setting to link the two sections of the route. I was in a good place.
After leaving the football landmarks, the marathon route then headed back toward the centre of Liverpool again, and between seven and eight miles I suddenly had a little wobble. The warmth of the day hit me and the thought that I still had a lot of miles to go crossed my mind. Can I actually do this? It was here I made a strategy in my mind – break the race down into two 10 mile sections and a 6 mile finish, and just focus on each section at a time. It worked, and making it to ten miles I then started a new race in my head. It also helped that I was now back on the half marathon route and was enjoying running past sights like the famous Cavern Club, which I was more accustomed to running past, and which somehow just helped me feel more under control again.
Just after the 11 mile point I got a real boost. It suddenly dawned on me as I passed this marker that I would be running past my sister’s flat soon – why had we not arranged to see each other here? – I questioned in my mind. Both her and her boyfriend would have finished the half marathon by now, it would have been perfect. As I passed her street though, there they both were standing on the roadside. The same thought had crossed my sister’s mind (maybe it’s a twin thing!) I was ecstatic to see them, waving madly as I neared them. They joined me either side as I ran, which felt a lovely surprise. The relative quietness of this marathon, compared to say the streets of the London Marathon, and the more relaxed tone meant it so nice to be able to do this. I asked about their half marathon experience – hot and hard - and they asked how I was feeling. I can remember my positive response - ‘Good… I am feeling good!’ I beamed, and I meant it. I now felt fully in control. My sister and her boyfriend probably ran with me for half a mile through China town but dropped to the side as yet another long hill approached – funny that! In all seriousness, having their support left me with a smile, and I strode up this next hilly challenge with added belief.
The next section of the course very much focused on two of the beautiful parks Liverpool has; Princes Park and Sefton Park. It was peaceful running around these, with the tranquillity only broken by the occasional live band which are dotted around the whole course to give an extra motivational boost.
At around 18 miles I did have another slight wobble though; tiredness crept up on me and I could feel things suddenly becoming harder. This coincided with the section of the route which loops round to include a venture up ‘Penny Lane’ made famous by The Beatles. The novelty of running a few hundred yards up this street, which is nothing too special, to hear ‘Penny Lane’ being blasted from a speaker has worn off me now, the song gets stuck in my head and it is also hilly leading up to the street – I just wanted this section done!
After beating the Penny Lane test, I had completed my second ten miler – 20 miles in the bank. I now knew I had 6 miles and two distinct parts of the course to go. The first section was an extra loop which differed to the half marathon course, taking us through some residential streets. This was quite cruel as it featured more long drawn out hills, not what tired legs need at 20+ miles! My legs and my feet were hurting now, my glutes felt lazy and my toes hurt with each step, but I just tried to keep going consistently. You might notice I have not spoken about my pace much during the race, and that’s because I was not especially focused on it. I would say I ran more to feel focusing on keeping steady, especially in the heat, rather than stressing about how fast I was moving. 20 miles is usually my marker though in a marathon to assess what finish time I may be heading for, and I had passed this in under three hours, so knew even if it took me an hour to run 6 miles, a sub 4 finish would be achievable. I just needed to keep ticking off the miles.
The final section of the race, about 4 miles, is virtually a long straight path to the finish set alongside Liverpool’s Dock and the River Mersey. It’s the same for both the half marathon and the marathon route, so I knew well the mental challenge it can be. The finish looks miles away and at times a cruel headwind can blow. Thankfully there was not even a breeze today, which whilst it did make it feel much warmer, at least offered no added resistance! I was hurting now; nothing in particular, but my body was just saying - stop running! I was never going to stop though. I could feel the real tiredness in my legs through the fact my knees were now knocking together and actually chaffing; obviously my weary limbs no longer had the strength to keep apart from one another! At around mile 24 Dockside Runners had a cheer station and they lifted my spirits with their friendly support for me. My sister and her boyfriend said they would also be along the dock somewhere, so the thought of seeing them was also keeping me focused and driven.
I spotted my supporters at the mile 25 marker and let’s just say I was not quite as energetic and enthusiastic as when I saw them all those miles ago! The sight of them reassured me I could keep going, despite the final miles now feeling like a bit of a death march. They joined my side again – the ultimate final mile support. Even in my exhaustion I found some energy to laugh at my sister, she struggled to keep up with me as her post half marathon fuelling of copious water and Lucozade instantly gave her a stitch. ‘I don’t think I can run’ she said, ‘what do you mean?’ I joked ‘I am the one who has just b****y ran 25 miles!’ We laughed as she urged me on and stopped at the side to walk and meet me at the finish. Her boyfriend stuck with me though; ‘just three corners to go now’ he said, as we cut off the dock onto a main road. This road seemed to go on forever, it was mind over matter now. ‘When are we ever going to turn?!’ I complained. Eventually we did, turning three times back toward the dock and the finish stretch. The finish arch appeared in the distance - ‘is that really the finish?’ I asked in almost disbelief. ‘Yes, go for it Alice!’ and my active supporter dropped to the side. I went for it; from somewhere I found a tiny kick in my legs and with pure gritted teeth I fought as hard as I could to get to that line as quick as possible, the crowd urging me on.
As I crossed the line and stopped my watch I had two thoughts. First, I was hit by pure shock – had I actually just done that? I really didn’t believe I could, and the time on my watch was even more pleasing. 3:48:39 - my second quickest marathon and only 35 seconds off my actual PB. I was so unexpectedly happy. My second thought was I wanted a hug from my run buddy; I felt lost without her being there. I stopped to take a pretty awful looking selfie with my medal at the finish line and sent it to her, but it did not feel the same. I contemplated ringing her but was sure I would just burst into incomprehensible tears. My marathon medal hung proudly around my neck I found my sister and her boyfriend and they ‘enjoyed’ a rather wet hug with me instead. They had been amazing and I thanked them and properly congratulated them on their half marathon performances too. All three of us had earned ‘Encore’ medals, which you receive if you run the event on consecutive years – the Rock n Roll Race series loves its medals – and we were now three runners with a lot of bling between us!
Liverpool Marathon was different to all my other marathons so far – less emotional, less build up, less pressure – but no less of an experience. It was a pure running challenge. I loved the route; a proper tour of the beauty Liverpool has to offer, just with a lot of hills thrown in to make running 26.2 miles that little bit tougher! Writing this blog I still cannot believe I did it. I cannot believe my body had it in it really; I really doubted my legs and I am not playing down how scared I was about this test. I was not really in a great headspace pre-race either, with race fears combining with other general life worries, so I am proud of the mental strength I showed to master a marathon. My sister and her boyfriend were super support and gave me the boosts and motivation I needed – to smash out half marathons and then dedicate their support to me meant a lot. This was the first marathon I had completed without my run buddy and friend being there in some capacity, and whilst it felt like a piece was missing at times, they never made me feel alone. To have people so dedicated and invested in what essentially was a personal goal for me, felt special.
Whilst I did not run Liverpool Marathon for a time in the end, my finish result makes me believe that not only can I cope with marathons in close succession, and seemingly in hot weather, but it has also given me more belief that I can get my elusive sub 3:45 time one day, maybe when I have fresher legs and not so many hills and heat to contend with! I will keep believing in this because I never would have believed I would be sat here telling you I had completed seven marathons a few years ago - but I have.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...