The weekend began with an easy drive up to Manchester. My Travelodge was only a minutes drive from the M602 motorway where I exited by Media City, and where the BBC and ITV television studios have relocated to at Salford Quays.
There were five of us from Caerleon RC running in this race and there had been a bit of banter going on the Facebook messenger group page that had been set up, and we used that to arrange to meet up at Nando's for dinner from our respective hotels at 7 pm.
Sunday morning arrived and I was up early so that I could have my porridge two hours before the start of the race. There was also plenty of prep to do also with the taping of my calf's and filling my Camelbak with water etc.
I met up with my sister in the hotel lobby who had driven that morning from Blackpool to watch me run, and then Michelle and her husband Simon joined us and we began the short walk down towards the starting area.
|Ness, Michelle & me|
We met up with Vanessa whilst Ian and Jason were way ahead of us in the faster starting pens, then Michelle and Ness decided to move into a pen ahead of me.
I don't really like that part of the race when I'm just standing there in my starting pen and waiting for the gun to go off, I just get fired up and want to get on with it.
And then we were away! Surprisingly there weren't too many people viewing the start, and I tried to get into my preferred pace as quickly as I could as we ran a 3 mile loop which took us back towards where we started and I just kept my heart rate at a steady 140 - 145 bpm. But by 6 miles something very unusual happened. My heart rate had crept up to my maximum of 162 bpm but my pace had not altered and I was still running the same average 09:40 minute miles as I had done over the previous miles, but I was feeling good without excessive, heavy breathing.
My half marathon time was good and about where I wanted it to be at 02:09 and I was still feeling comfortable apart from the occasional cramp twinges.
At 15 miles tiredness was beginning to set in, the cramps were becoming more frequent, but worse than that, I needed a pee, so I had to stop at the portaloos for a much needed comfort break. By this time it was obvious to me that my hoped finishing time of 04:30 wasn't going to happen and so all I could do was plod on.
At 20 miles I was out in the countryside, and it reminded me very much of my training runs when I headed out towards Goldcliff and the Newport wetlands, which is all very flat farming land, with a few posh houses thrown in here and there.
Whilst out in this section, (and my cramps were still bugging me big time), I glanced over to my left and there was a young lady who was looking a little tearful, and understanding her plight I said hello to her and I told her that I was also struggling, having to run and then walk when a cramp attack took place, and so I asked her to run with me, which she did.
|Donna and myself|
With about 1 ½ miles to go, Ness and Michelle were beginning to leave me behind, I just didn't have the legs to keep up with their pace, and cramp or no cramp, I was going to continue on, non stop, to the finish line.
Barriers on the pavement stopped the public from encroaching onto the road and there were plenty of spectators there, cheering and encouraging on runners they didn't know, and in the distance I could see the finish line.
I continued my slow but steady progress but that finish line was just taking an age to get closer, but of course eventually it did and I crossed the line with a huge sigh of relief. I didn't feel elated, proud, excited, nothing like that, just HUGE relief as I walked very gingerly into the finishers enclosure to collect my goody bag and meet up with the others.
|Spot the Steve approaching the finish line competition|
A very slow and painful walk back to the hotel followed, although I really did have to laugh about it, but another strange thing happened. Although I had put on my hoodie and I was warming up, my hands were freezing, so much so that my fingers went numb, and this was something that I had never experienced before.
I stripped down to my shorts and lay back on the bed. Oh the relief! This was bliss! I laid there without moving for about an hour before dragging myself to the shower.
|Michelle and I enjoying a|
Once home again, my thoughts returned to Donna and yes, I was feeling guilty for leaving her alone, and if this had been a training run and not a race, and also my first marathon, that would NEVER have happened. I would have stuck with her to the very end, encouraging her all the way. So how could I find and contact her to see how she finished? Facebook seemed to be the obvious solution at first, someone on there was bound to know her.
I am part of a closed group on Facebook called "Did you run today?" and so I created a new post and included a picture of myself and saying that I was looking to make contact. I also contacted Guide Dogs for the Blind but they replied saying that due to data protection laws they were unable to help. But on Monday evening there was a post from a lady who said that she new Donna and she gave me her surname, which allowed me to find her on Facebook and then I was able to make contact.
At mile 25 Donna met a friend who crossed the line with her in a time of 05:10, so I am happy that it all turned out well for her in the end.
As for my own time? 04:56 which was way off the 04:30 I was predicting. Having analysed my own race I now think I know what my issues were, and it may be down to my electrolyte drink tablets having caffeine in them, and also popping the occasional half a dozen chocolate coated coffee beans into my mouth. I used the coffee beans on the two 20 mile races with no ill effect, but with the caffeine in the electrolyte, I think this sent me over the top, increasing my heart rate and also possibly giving me the cramps. So on the 29th April I shll be running in the ABP Newport marathon, which is flatter than Manchester, and I will not be using any caffeine at all.