177½ days. Or, 25.4 weeks; a shade under six months. That is the time that elapsed between entering and starting the Liverpool Marathon 2011, the “long and winding road race”. 4,260 hours to be more precise, or 255,600 minutes even. Nearly half a year of worrying senseless that it would be the last thing I ever did. A whole summer of worry, of pain, of sweating. And then, October 9th came and went, and I ran a marathon. A whole fucking marathon. 26.2 miles, all the way from Birkenhead to Liverpool, via the strange seaside town of New Brighton, a tunnel deep, deep below the River Mersey, a visit to Sefton Park which felt like an eternity, and onto a finish in the shadow of the Liver Building with thousands of people cheering me on. My first ever marathon; I came, I saw, I conquered.
It had been a strange start to the day. After a fairly restless sleep, I went through the same pre-race routine I had been practicing every Sunday for several weeks now. Up early, quick bowl of porridge and a small, but strong coffee. Race clothes on. Only this time, I had to drive over to Liverpool instead of popping out my front door, and instead of running an absolute maximum of 20 miles, I would have to run a full marathon distance which would most likely take me well over three hours; the longest amount of time I have ever run for. Assuming I didn’t need to be carted off by the paramedics first.
Arriving at the startline with half an hour to spare, all sorts of thoughts were going through my head. Fear. Need a wee. Cold. Some more fear. Had I eaten enough? Had I eaten too much? Most importantly: FEAR. How on earth was I supposed to run a bloody marathon? I felt so unprepared. I looked around for people in fancy dress to make me feel better. There were none. My yellow race number had me placed waiting at the start near the front with loads of professional-looking types wearing all sorts of expensive looking equipment. I was stood there looking like a ’70s tennis player. And I was panicking.
And so the clock moved onto 9:30: the time had come. The start klaxon went and we shuffled forward. This shit was on! And then…we stopped. And we waited. I only had a couple of hundred people in front of me; surely it wasn’t taking this long to get over the line? And still we waited. We stood there for a full 45 minutes waiting to go, while some bloke on a broken PA system told us every couple of minutes that we would be setting off in a couple of minutes. Now, I never thought I’d say this, but I wanted to run a marathon. I wanted to go. Almost everything in my life for the past few weeks had pointed to this moment. I had literally had nightmares about this moment, and now I was stood here on the startline, worrying about the moment that wasn’t a moment, because I was stood still, cold and needing a piss, and not running.
Finally, after what seemed like an age, at 10:15am and 177½ days almost to the exact minute since I signed up for the damn thing, a countdown appeared on the tannoy, cutting through the general resentment of the crowd. Whatever it was that had held us up had been resolved. Allegedly, it was because one of the Parkeepers had lost the keys to one of the parks on the route. It mattered not; we were on our way. I was running a marathon.
The first bit was pretty damn good truth be told. It was sunny, I was running around a nice park, and people were cheering me on. I had a carrier bag full of some sort of energy gel crap and nothing could stop me. And so around The Wirral I went, trotting around at a steady 7:30 per mile: target pace. Even the wind at the most Westerly point, right on the coast with the Irish Sea couldn’t dent my progress. I was steadily cruising along, not too fast, not too slow. Just right. And then, an hour and half in, the first big challenge was looming into view: the tunnel. Just before though was the first moment that really got the adrenaline going. Running through Hamilton Square was the first big, big crowd of the day, with loads of people all cheering like mental. A running theme of the day to be honest: them Scousers sure give good support.
The tunnel was a different kettle of fish though. There were no crowds. There was noise at all in fact, other than the pitter-patter of runners’ feet, down the incline and under the River Mersey. I held back on the down slope, hoping to have enough in the tank to get up the dreaded up slope. Some bloke started talking to me as we went down, his pearl of wisdom was essentially “run as fast as you can and don’t hold back”. As soon as we hit the incline I cruised past him while he went bang, completely, and I never saw him again. And so, that incline. One of the main things I had been fretting over since that fateful day on April 14th when I first signed up, and after all that lost sleep, it actually wasn’t so bad. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say it was bloody awesome.
I kept my head down, I didn’t look at the slope, and I got on with it, and before I knew it, I could hear drums, echoing down the tunnel. I could hear crowds cheering, and then bursting out into the daylight with a vast crowd of people cheering me on while these twenty or so girls were smashing out some sort of tribal drumbeat, is honestly a moment that will live with me until the day I die. It was amazing, and for one short minute, I forgot I was 14 miles into a marathon. I felt no pain, no fatigue, I felt brilliant. On top of the world: Seeph 1, Liverpool Marathon 0.
And then I fell over.
That’s right – I stacked it. Not once on any of my 81 training runs had I come remotely close to taking a tumble onto the concrete, and yet here, on Marathon Day, I was on the deck. It must have looked worse than it actually was as people rushed over to ask if I was OK. Luckily I was, and I picked myself up and got on with it, the only thing hurt was my pride. £10 says the official photographer was stood there though.
So, over half the race was now behind me and I cruised onto The Strand and headed towards the next of the challenges: the hill on Parliament Street. This was a weird one as everyone had told me it would be hell, and yet I had no idea what to expect. I had never been there, I had never seen it. I had never even heard of it until about two months ago, but I had swatted the tunnel away, and I was ready to smash this too. How hard could it be?
Turns out very. Fuck. Ing. Hell. Even using the hill technique I had developed in the tunnel (head down, eyes shut, think about the pint at the finish) failed miserably. I made it to the top without stopping, but then I was shattered. For the first time I posted an 8-minute mile and my target time was drifting away. Even on the flat after the summit, I was exhausted. And yet I still had 10 miles to run. I did another 8-minute mile and then decided that I wasn’t going to hit my target, which I might as well tell you now was 3 hours 15 minutes, and accepted that the best thing, other than stopping at the first pub I saw, would be to simply to get round. To finish the bastard, and to justify the incredible faith that people had put in me. I plodded round Sefton Park, which seemed to take an eternity as my legs began to feel like they were dropping off, and suddenly I saw the 24 mile sign and I realised I had just over quarter of an hour to go, mostly downhill, and I would be done.
It didn’t even seem to take that to be honest. Storming back down Parliament Hill and into the City Centre, heading back into the crowds of adoring fans, I completely forgot about the all-encompassing pain threatening my entire body. I forgot about the aches, the strains, the exhaustion. The adrenaline, the roar of the crowd and most importantly, the finish line, all combined to get me over the last few feet, and then I had done it. I had run my first ever marathon. My stupid, wispy, pipecleaner limbs had carried me over 46,145 yards, from Birkenhead to Liverpool, in 3:19:07. I had come 150th. And I didn’t even need a ferry to cross the Mersey.
I’m so chuffed. Even now, I can’t believe I’ve done it. I know that thousands upon thousands of people do this every year, but it feels like such a massive deal. “The long and winding road race” is the tagline for the Liverpool Marathon; I first wanted to run a marathon when I was knee high to a grasshopper. My Uncle and Cousin both ran the London Marathon in the ’90s and I remember saying to them, just you wait until I’m 18 and I can have a bash at that. It turns out it took me over a decade longer, but I bloody got there in the end. The long and winding road indeed.
There were so many highlights of the day (and one or two lowlights), but I have to be honest and say that the amazing support was definitely the official Best Thing Ever. The turnout all over the course was genuinely overwhelming, and I feel bad now for saying a few weeks back that this marathon perhaps lacked the prestige of some of the bigger ones. Liverpool got behind their marathon, and it helped me in so many ways. Every shout, even the scores of “go on Messi!” gave me an extra spurt. Best of all though was the fact that my Mum and Dad had travelled all the way from Biggleswade to Liverpool as a surprise just to watch me sweat, struggle and cry. Thankfully, they didn’t have to see me fall over, but they were there, at 15 miles and most importantly, at the finish, cheering me on as I staggered over those last few feet.
So, to sum up, a great day. I missed my target time, which is a shame, and I also fell over in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people. But the important thing is that, along with this fella, I ran a marathon. And I’ve raised, at current count, £1,856 for doing it. I’d love to hit a round two grand, so if you’re feeling generous and you haven’t already, it’d be real nice it if you could chuck a few quid into the kitty. For now though, over and out.