It’ll be the last time Louise Collins ever messages me on a Thursday afternoon asking whether I was going for a long run on Saturday….. “For sure” said I, “fancy a marathon attempt?”
So the plan was made, neither of us having properly trained for it but after a run of races being cancelled, me wimping out of Langdale Half due to the weather and a fairly solid summer of training for not very much, it felt like the virtual Saturn Run was an opportunity for us both for a first marathon.
We started early, Louise in her customary tiki shorts and t-shirt regardless of the weather and me wrapped up for Jack Frost (with my snowstorm tiki’s on to boot). We had agreed a 10-minute mile plan which I was super keen for us to stick too. It was going to be a tough day as it was, for me, and Louise is a considerably stronger runner than I am, so pacing was going to be key to my success.
We had a brilliant time. Starting from Durham we followed the lines all the way to Bishop which although a bit dull did allow us to tick off a lot of relatively easy miles. We particularly enjoyed telling someone we were running to Durham – when we were quite clearly going in the wrong direction! Arriving at Kynren was a bit of a shock for us having not really known where we were for some time and a few stops for photos (including many poppies) followed.
I had planned three different possible routes and the one we chose was the flattest. I don’t know Bishop at all but the maps on my watch had us, and as long as we followed the map line we were good. I think Louise was questioning this as we embarked on quite a long climb up Durham Road which, for those who don’t know Bishop, is definitely not flat. Louise was a trooper and ran the whole way – pausing to wait for me to catch up each time! I think the hill took quite a bit out of me and I must admit around mile 15 I was quite head down. My right leg was hurting and it was feeling like hard work with a long way to go. Louise still appeared to be super fresh and it was probably the only time I was a bit worried this wasn’t going to be.
Thankfully we arrived into Spennymoor and to Louise’s parents waving flags and cheering us on. I think I was the one who needed and benefited from it more than Louise to be honest! It was an enormous pick me up and I actually felt my legs get lighter as we set off again. Onwards down Tudhoe Front Street and more support just as we hit 20 miles from Terry and my very excited children. My leg still bothering me but we were keeping pace really well and I was delighted to be able to confidently tell them we were going to make it.
Heading over to High Shincliffe via Sunderland Bridge we spent much of the last six miles telling each other we were nearly there, trying to calculate whether we would need the loop of High Shincliffe planned or whether the detour to Louise’s parents would be enough and continually looking at our watches. Neither of us wanted to have to do that extra loop and the sense of relief when we worked out we didn’t need it was significant. Maths like that at 23 miles in is pretty impressive too I think! Our pace was still really good but it felt like a very long parkrun home and we’ll both admit to hanging-on as we headed down the A177 – by this point comparing which parts of us were hurting the most. I would have burst into tears on the hill outside Maiden Castle if it wasn’t for the fact we were only 0.5m from the finish line but even then I had to walk it. Absolutely nothing left. The finish line did arrive though and the lamppost after the parking meter on Quarryheads Lane will never be looked at the same again by either of us.
Just a short walk back home including one of the steepest hills in Durham (sorry Louise!) but by then it was all done and we had finished bang on pace. Emma Piasecki nearly causing a crash on the A690 to pull over and give us a well-done cheer was the cherry on top of the cake.
It feels somewhat strange having a first marathon being a virtual one. We definitely stopped which you wouldn’t do in a race, but it does leave me keen to experience a proper one and see what’s possible with more dedicated training – we can only hope for races like that at the moment though. Having said that though, the team-work was so much fun and there is a heck of a lot to be said for shared experiences like that in this lockdown world. Thank you Louise.