Well I haven't actually but I did on Sunday. But that's at the end of this story.
In the beginning there was insomnia. Saturday night to be precise. And the day had started so well! My wonderful sister-in-law took my energetic 6 year old out all day. I resisted all tempations to go and meet friends for lunch in London and instead, after a brief 1.6 mile loosener in the early hours, I sat on my bed and watched the Wire. I had a brief nap, and sipped some more water and ate some more carbohydrates. Evening came and then night. I fell asleep for 30 mins but when I woke at 10pm and that was it. I was wide awake. The adrenalin was coursing through my veins and I just could not sleep. This never happens to me - when I do suffer from insomnia it takes the form of waking up at 4am and worrying. This was not sleeping. Midnight came. 1 o'clock. 2 o'clock. I was tossing and turning trying every trick I knew and still - ping! - my eyelids shot open. I must have fallen asleep, finally, after 2. The alarm woke me at 5:30 and I was wide awake. At this point I felt no ill effect from my broken night and I was jangling with nerves. After my prerace breakfast (granola, banana, honey and yoghurt) I woke up my husband - who I had kept awake with my tossing and turning - and he drove me to Charing Cross station (and he sort of kinda woke up and defrosted enough to wish me good luck) where I caught the first train out to Maze Hill. In the past years trains have been cancelled and broken down, leaving runners to walk 2M to the start, so I was taking no chances. This train was still fairly empty and finding our way to the start in was easy. I saw the 10 rhino costumes from some way away and whiled away the hours before the race chatting to other rhino runners, particularly Kenneth, who had run the Atacama desert race and the Marathon des Sables, both in a rhino costume. We talked about race strategy and he told me that Mike Gratton, a former winner of the London marathon and now a more mature, pot-bellied superfast runner and coach, had told him that all this "holding back until the half-marathon point was nonsense – the beginning is when you feel strong and you should just go for it”. Fateful words? Perhaps.
I have not been totally honest with anyone really about what my race strategy was before the race. Not with you all on my blog – because I knew the wiser among you would advise against it. Not to my running friends because, well, the wiser would counsel against what I was intending. My strategy, of course, was to see how fast I could go. I knew I had got faster, I knew that I could get within shouting distance of a BQ. I knew that, if everything went my way, I might even get my BQ. And dammit – I wanted to know how fast I could run.
So after the usual queueing for loos and lining up at the start I crossed the line fairly quickly and – stopped for a potty break within the first mile. Mindful of all the notices warning against soiling public property I wasted a good minute (believe me, this minute will haunt me) waiting for a portapotty. But after that – well I went off like a bat out of hell. I just ran fast. I had been given a good starting pen so there wasn’t too much weaving about – most people were sort of at my speed – but I realized pretty quickly that my Garmin was slightly off the mile markers. Nonetheless Miles 1 – 11 flew by (quick Garmin splits – 9:51 (damn that potty!), 8:02, 8:03, 7:41, 8:17, 8:11, 8:17, 8:16, 8:16, 8:21, 8:23). The bit I dreaded – around the Cutty Sark – was congested but not to0 bad and I emerged across Tower Bridge and headed for the halfway point. Mile 12 went by in 8:18, mile 13 in 8:26 and passing the halfway point I realized I had broken my PR in the half marathon (which I set in March of this year). Now when I ran that half mary I was disappointed because I knew I could go faster but I did not intend to PR in the full. I knew that I was going too fast if I was doing this. But by this stage it had got hot, I was in the full sun and I all I could think was “well if I blow out I blow out. I’m going to stretch this out as long as I can". And I did. All through the hot sunny bits of East London I powered ahead, barely looking around me, grabbing water and popping Enduralytes and managing to wedge down one gel. Mile 14 8:25, mile 15 8:28, Mile 16 7:46, Mile 17 8:45, mile 18 8:42, mile 19 8:57, mile 20 8:32. By this stage I had finished the long quieter bit out to the East of London back and was beginning to roar along the Thames embankment where the crowds were 10 deep and roaring out my name. I was panting, counting to a 100. I could hear people shouting out my name but, unlike other races I did not reach out and thank people. I just went on, gasping for the mile markers. I kept checking my pace band and I was still on course for the 3:45. Mile 21 8:19, mile 22 8:33, mile 23 8:36, mile 24 8:19, mile 25 7:54 and then.
Then it was over. As I rounded the corner at the House of Parliament I noted, to my surprise, that everyone was suddenly overtaking me. And then I realized this was because I had gone into slow motion. My legs had completely seized up. I had felt bits of cramp earlier on, and had even pulled over to get a spectator to open my little case (because I couldn’t manage it) to get out some Enduralytes. But this was it. And just as close as it came, I could feel my BQ going away. And the real struggle began. I staggered up Birdcage Walk, barely able to think from the effort of moving ahead. At this stage I was pumping my arms hard just to move. I fell, and it was relief not to be running, but I willed myself up and back on my feet again. And then I fell again and I could not get up – my legs were sticking out straight and shaking. The ambulance people shot up to me and I screamed at them (I was primal at this stage people, not my normal polite self) to ask them to get me up. They said they would put me on a stretcher. “Not now” I thought, “not after all this effort”. I screamed to the crowds, piled up deeply behind the barriers, to jump over and help me. Two men did immediately – defying the police who I could hear shouting at them to get back behind the barriers – and then I shouted at the crowds again “Help me to get going”. And they roared my name. “GO PETRA GO”. And so off I limped. I remember seeing the 600M to go sign and thinking “I can’t do this” but I staggered on and on and finally I crossed the finish. 3:47:17. 2 minutes and 17 seconds off a BQ and an automatic good for age entry to London 2010 (clarification - I was 2 mins and 17 seconds off an automatic entry. No automatic entry for me). . But 25 minutes ahead of my previous personal record, and about 70 minutes ahead of my first marathon.
I staggered to the luggage area, asking everyone for bottles of water and drinking them as soon as I could. I told myself I could not stop till I got to the Save the Rhino area and I must have looked like a zombie wandering around until I found it. But then I did and it was like coming home. I was embraced and led to a massage table where people took off my shoes and worked on me for half an hour until my legs had stopped shaking. Despite the heat – by this stage it was an amazing 25 degrees in London, bright blue skies – I was shivering and so I sat in foil blankets in my sweatsuit munching on crisps, a sandwich and drinking a beer. Slowly coming back to life.
I am going to end this race report here – there are so many reflections to be made and so many thoughts I have had since – but that’s for another post and a bit more time. For now – this is what happened.
And before you say anything – I am thrilled. Yes I pushed it too hard. Yes I did not fuel correctly during the race. Maybe, if I had slept better and hadn’t peed, I could have done a BQ. But I know that, for the first time in my life and given life’s uncontrollables, I gave this race absolutely everything I could possibly have given it. There was NOTHING left in the tank. Nothing. And so I am thrilled. That BQ will come one day. But for now, I am my own champion. For all the times where I feel I mess up – and believe me, these moments come thick and fast – this time I didn’t. I did the absolute best I could do. And that is a fantastic feeling.