The Storm Before The Calm (Huddersfield Marathon)

April 30, 2015

Coming off the back of a tough birthday week, which began with a breakdown in the capital and didn’t really get much better as the Huddersfield Marathon had all the hallmarks of being a ‘make or break’ race, especially as it describes itself as ‘probably the toughest road marathon in the country’ with over 3,000 feet of elevation. Taking place just a week before the London Marathon common sense would dictate that it would always be a case of taking it steady, but when I crossed the finish line it felt more like a race I had survived, than finished.

As part of an early birthday present I had a short trip down to London for a few days for a couple of gigs, Blind Guardian on the Sunday followed by a special one off Devin Townsend gig at the Royal Albert Hall on the Monday. I’ve mentioned previously about how I struggle to relax and enjoy myself in most public, social events like gigs. Social Anxiety affects me on an almost day-to-day basis, whether it’s struggling to do the food shop by myself or being unable to talk to people on the phone, but it always seems to be at its most prevalent at gigs.

About half way through Blind Guardian’s set my mind began to wander and I started zoning out. I felt completely detached from my body, I could just about hear the music, but it was a struggle to focus on any of it.  It was a bit like a dream state, like I was watching myself watch the gig through someone else’s eyes. I started feeling very uncomfortable, started to panic a little and knew I had to leave. I ended up spending the remainder of the gig slumped against the wall at the back of the venue, staring at the floor, trying to hold myself together. It’s not the first time I’ve had to physically remove myself from a gig to try and cope with the situation, it most likely won’t be the last either. Fortunately the gig the next day would pass without (m)any issues.

The darkness would rear its ugly head on my birthday a couple of days later however. Recently I find the overwhelming weight of expectation for both Christmas and Birthdays too hard to handle. The two days a year where everyone expects you to be at your happiest and most social, but more often than not I’m left feeling miserable and wanting to disappear into a dark hole. This year was no different, after surviving the day at work by the time I got home I was both physically and emotionally exhausted. Within moments of stepping through the door I was overcome and fell into bed, before spending the evening losing the battle against trying to force myself to sleep and stop myself from breaking down.

Fortunately I wouldn’t have to wait long before getting a chance to put these negative emotions aside, for a while at least, as on the Sunday I was faced with the challenge of running the Huddersfield Marathon. ‘Challenge’ might not even do it justice, it was definitely up there with one of the toughest marathons I’ve done and at points even felt tougher than the two Ultras I’ve ran so far this year. The morning got off to a tricky start, with it taking me three attempts to find the car park for the Race HQ, despite remembering reading similar in someone’s blog on last year’s event and also reading on the race’s own website to research the car park beforehand. After parking up, collecting my number and chip, there was enough time for a couple of trips to the toilet before lining up at the start on a cold, Yorkshire morning. The first few miles went by without too much incident, for a one of the toughest road marathons in the country I was expecting a far less steady start, but it wouldn’t be long before I rued those thoughts.

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As I approached mile 4 I could see a massive hill looming in the distance, I knew the course would be hilly, but I was innocently hurtling towards the toughest climb of the race, 500ft+ of incline in just over a mile. When you stood at the base of the hill the sheer magnitude of the climb that awaited was hidden behind the winding roads. Throughout the race I was caught in two minds between wanting to give it my all and taking it steady to leave me in good shape for London next weekend. I started running at the bottom of the hill, managing to overtake several runners who had tactically chosen to walk, but after each twist and turn my legs were asking me to stop and join them, before I eventually obliged. Once we reached the top it would level off for a little bit, long enough for the race’s first aid station and a relatively short, ‘flat’, stretch along the M62 before continuing up hill again until the 9th mile. Looking back at the elevation map suggests that the next 2 miles had a significant decline, but I’m having trouble remembering it. After the mammoth, almost endless 5 mile climb my legs had just endured, nothing but magically teleporting to the end would have felt like relief to my legs.

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The first lap would, typically, finish with another climb back to the finish/start. At the halfway checkpoint an overeager marshal attempted to stop me to take my chip off me, either I looked completely fucked, or they could read my mind, but I soon informed them that I was running the marathon, and whether I liked it or not I was going back out for another lap. Multi-lapped courses are always as much a challenge for the mind, as they are the body. Whilst some people might try to argue the case for them, as you know exactly what is coming and can prepare for it, I’d argue against for exactly the same reasons. Despite starting and finishing in the same place I knew I was in for another 13.1 miles of tough, mostly uphill road, with the massive climb at 4 miles that would try and finish the job it failed at on the first lap. I finished the first lap in little over 2 hours, but although a steady pace for a half marathon it soon became clear that I had little left in reserve for the second half.

In the next 13 miles only 3 of them would be under 11:00 minute pace, there was no reasoning to be had with the hills I had ran up in the first half. It felt like there was no point even trying to run them, they’d only leave me in a worse state, so when the monster climb came again at 17 miles I took one look up at it and began walking. Everything was hurting, by mile 20 it felt like I could barely lift my feet and I was simply shuffling forwards relying purely on momentum. A month ago at this point in the Canalathon I still had another 26 miles to complete, but even just taking the next step felt daunting enough. I had to stop several times over the remaining miles as I felt sick and the running was only making my stomach feel worse. I had more than made sure to keep hydrated over the race, but the difficulty of the course combined with potential hyponatremia made the last few miles very slow and difficult.

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Stumbling over the finish line

If there’s ones thing to be said for hilly races, it’s that typically the climbs come with some great views of amazing scenery and Huddersfield was no exception. In between looking at my feet and swearing there were some amazing views over West Yorkshire to be had, I was just not in the frame of mind to be enjoying them. I’ve always taken a sense of pride from never walking up hills or at all during marathons, but the Huddersfield marathon was by far the most I’ve walked during any race. Each passing mile took longer than the last, but the last two miles were especially bad taking me well over half an hour combined, as my legs had no answer for the last big climb towards the finish.  Eventually I crossed the finish line just under the 5 hour mark, with a time of 4:49, one of my slowest marathon times yet. It wasn’t just a case of finishing the race, but surviving the battle.

In the lead up to this month’s London Marathon I’ve started a publicity blitz in an attempt to raise awareness of my fundraising and more importantly money for charity. First to get back in touch was the Telegraph & Argus, a local newspaper which ran a good piece on my 15 in 2015 challenge, and even featuring it on the frontpage of the county-wide edition.

On Wednesday I was invited onto BBC Leeds to discussion my running adventures this year and depression. Unfortunately the fact that it is all for charity never got a mention, but I’ve been invited back next Monday, post London Marathon, to discuss how the race went so hopefully I’ll be able to get the mention in then. If you’ve got 3/4 minutes spare you can listen to me ‘um’ and ‘err’ my way through the interview here (from 2:24). Then, for some bizarre reason I was contacted by a producer of the Mark Forrest show (a BBC Radio show that airs on ALL BBC Local Radio stations) to discuss running last month’s Canalathon, to tie in with their piece on the 200th anniversary of the Hereford to Birmingham Canal. So at 9:45pm I was back on the radio again talking about the what it was like to run along the canal, you can listen to that one here too (from 2:40).

Next up the race I’ve been looking forward to for most of the year, and for two years since I last ran it, the London Marathon. Here’s hoping it’s a good one.

All this suffering isn’t just for fun, it’s part of the 15 marathons/Ultras I plan to run this year for Mind. So if you have any spare pennies, please visit my JustGiving page.

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