It took a while, but we got there in the end. On 24th October 2021, Newport Marathon finally went ahead. And it was glorious.
This was my first marathon, and I should have ran it in April 2020, but we all know what happened in March 2020. So the world changed, and I expect we have all changed with it, to some degree. But throughout all the lockdowns, all the uncertainty and stress, I have clung to this constant goal; train for my first marathon.
Back in March 2020, I was well prepared. I was training with my daughter, and we’d got up to our 20 mile long run before the race was cancelled. This time around, my training had been interrupted by various other commitments, including a 50K walking event and a bout of Covid. The 50K walking event was, of course, still a good thing to boost my fitness, although it meant that running gave way to walking training for a while. But the bout of Covid, just four weeks before the marathon, was not helpful at all. But I am fortunate. I recovered sufficiently to run on the day, and I am very grateful to have finally got my chance to become a marathon runner at last.
I decided before the race that I would celebrate getting to the start line, no matter what happened afterwards. And that I would take my time and “Jeff” (timed run/walk intervals) right from the start. I had no time in mind. When I trained for the marathon originally, I had aimed for 5 hours 40 minutes (I am a slow runner and proud of it). This time, finishing at all would be enough.
So why Newport Marathon? Newport had been recommended to me as a good first marathon, being flat and fast. It was also reasonably close to home, being an hour and twenty minutes drive away. It’s big enough to offer good support, closed roads and a great atmosphere. However, it was also small enough to not be overwhelming or complicated to get to the start line. We stayed in a hotel in the city centre, and only had to stroll for a few minutes to get to the start line. I was worried that we’d have difficulty finding parking, or somewhere to eat the night before, but my worries turned out to be unfounded. Lots of parking was available and there was a good choice of places to eat.
So, on the morning of 24th October I was finally there, lined up towards the back of the last pen, with all the other leisurely runners. I’d said goodbye and good luck to my husband, who was going to be running the 10K race. Sadly, my daughter was unable to run due to an ongoing injury.
It was a chilly morning, which was fine by me, with some rain promised. Runners stood around shivering in bin bags and old clothes which could be dropped (and collected for charity) along the way. I had decided to wear a jacket even if I ended up tying it around me for most of the way. I know that towards the end of a long run I can get quite cold as I slow down. My main concern, though, was not the weather. I was more concerned about being scooped up by the sweeper bus for being too slow. Even so, I was excited, and I felt (finally) ready. Then we were off. Walking initially, until we approached the start gantry. The crowd support was wonderful and I felt fabulous as I passed the start line for my first marathon.
I had decided to have a run/walk ratio of five minutes running, one minute walking, right from the start. However, you can’t really stop and begin walking when you’re still being cheered by the people spread out along the start line. So I did keep going for a while longer until we were away from the crowds.
I have seen it mentioned in reviews and on social media that Newport Marathon can be a bit lonely, or lacking in crowd support, as it quickly leads out of the city centre, through a sort of industrial area, and then into the countryside. For me, this really wasn’t a problem. I quite like a bit of peace and quiet, and I was happy when the runners thinned out a little, and I could focus on the surroundings, and my own thoughts. I live in Somerset, just over the other side of the Bristol Channel from Newport, and the terrain reminded me of the Somerset Levels. In fact, it reminded me very much of a 10K race that I’d done near Glastonbury back in May. So I felt very much at home. From time to time, we passed houses or went through villages, where people came out to support and cheer the runners. The village of Magor was a particular highlight, as the whole village seemed to have turned out. And then of course there were the wonderful marshals. The race was extremely well supported by volunteers who absolutely went above and beyond, standing out in what was quite grim weather at times.
The only point of sadness for me was thinking about how much my daughter would have enjoyed the race. But I kept her in my thought as I ran round, and imagined how far ahead of me she would have been.
I managed to keep my planned run/walk ratio going for the first half of the run, and then I reduced the runs to four minutes. I reached the half marathon point at around 2 hours 45 minutes, which I was very pleased with. My fastest half marathon time is about 2 hours 38 minutes, so I wasn’t far off that, even with all the walk breaks. During my next walk break I messaged a few family members to let them know how it was going. And then I phoned my husband, to see how he’d got on with the 10k race and congratulate him. A little while later I was chatting to another women runner who commented “it’s soul destroying when they can do it in half the time, isn’t it?” Thinking she was just talking generally, I said something about how our marathon is just as far, but that we should get double medals for keeping going for twice as long. It was only afterwards that I realised she must have overheard me and thought my husband had finished the marathon. But I didn’t correct her, because I believe in what I said. Running for five or six hours is a different sort of endurance event altogether and we should be proud of it.
The miles rolled by. Some seemed faster, some slower. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a run more. I was certainly on a runner’s high for most of the way round. I noticed I’d passed 18 miles still feeling good, and was thrilled; 18 miles is the furthest I’d done in this round of training, before Covid struck. Then 20 miles, the furthest I’d ever ran, and still feeling great. I did begin to struggle a little by about 23 miles. I still felt, to be honest, euphoric. But my legs and feet, and my toes in particular, had had enough. By this point I was probably walking a minute for every minute ran. But I kept going, knowing that the more time it took, the worse my toes were going to feel. I managed to pick up the pace a little over the final half mile.
As I approached the finish line I noticed there were a whole load of timing pads. I focused very intently on getting over every one before I slowed. Then I realised I’d done it. I whooped and cheered. I just couldn’t quite get my head around the fact that I, the fat kid, the kid no one ever picked to be on their team, the un-sporty one, had just ran a marathon. A whole marathon. And I’d not only beaten the sweeper bus, and the cut off time, but I’d done it in 5 hours 41 minutes.
I then looked around to find my husband, who I realised would have been cheering me on. I’d been so intent on getting over the finish line, I hadn’t even bothered to look for him. And there he was, complaining that I was walking too fast and he couldn’t keep up. We congratulated each other and swopped stories about our races. We looked at the bling and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the medal has a triforce on it. A marshal handed us bananas and told my husband he should try the marathon next year. I’m sure we’ll both be back. All in all, a fabulous first marathon experience.