What you're likely to discover about yourself - and humanity - while pounding the pavements
26.2 miles. It’s a tear-inducing distance. And if it’s your virgin race, you’re in for a rollercoaster of running emotions: exuberance, despair, regret, self-loathing. I ran my first ever marathon in Brighton last week and went through all of the above. So here’s what you’re likely to discover about yourself – and humanity – while pounding the pavements
1. Maths isn’t your strong point
If you’ve trained, the first 8 miles will pass rather pleasantly. You’ll be content in the knowledge that you’re not even worrying about what mile it is, or how fast you’re going. You’re IN THE MOMENT; too busy high-fiving small children and smugly waving for the cameras to care about mileage. You. Are. Loving. Life. By half way though, it dawns on you that you’re only, well, exactly that: half way. Fast-forward to mile 14 and you’re definitely calculating how long you’ve got left. ‘OK, just 1 more mile and then I’ll only have 5 more miles, and then I’ll have run 20 miles. 20 miles! Amazing! Then it’s just 6 miles more. I’ve done 6 miles a hundred times. That’s just 3 miles, twice. This is going really well!’ By mile 26, you’re genuinely confused, because at absolutely no point have you factored in the last 385 yards. And those 385 yards are a bitch.
2. You actually paid to do this
When you put all the money raised for good causes, the huge sense of personal achievement, and those feel-good endorphins aside, running a marathon is essentially a socially acceptable form of self-harm. And it takes over your life. For at least three months beforehand, expect to see a glazed look in your Mum/friend/partner’s eye every time you bring up just how great your new foam roller is. At best, they will be vaguely interested the first time you mention it. But here’s the thing: at around mile 16, you’ll realise that you actually volunteered for this and then paid for it. Out of your own money. You’ll recall willingly deleting a pair of cropped MiH jeans from your basket so that you can torture yourself. Nice one, genius.
3. The ‘signs’ – you can’t knock ’em
At mile 4, I became completely and utterly convinced that I would finish this marathon in a good time, despite the fact I had a dodgy knee and next to no sleep the night before. This sudden and resolute understanding had absolutely nothing to do with training (I’d only run 17 miles once before the race) or a Haribo overdose. It was because I’d just run past a cafe called Lucky13 (which happens to be my lucky number) on a street near – not even on – Hastings Road (which happens to be my boyfriend’s surname). Those two ‘signs’ gave me an unwavering (and ridiculously illogical) belief in my abilities.
4. To lube or not to lube?
It doesn’t matter how much Vaseline you cake your feet/nipples/thighs in, the blisters will come. And they will hurt. But the good news is that by that point, so will everything else, so they become almost entirely irrelevant. You may pass helpful First Aiders holding out huge blobs of Vaseline for you to slather on en route. Unless your nipples are in seriously bad shape, I’d advise against this or you’ll be smeared in the stuff – locking in the sweat and salt and despair – for what will feel like an eternity. Mistaking it for something edible is, I can confirm, also disastrous.
5. Don’t trust anyone dressed as an octopus
At some point, probably around mile 17, a guy dressed as a rhino/scuba diver/giant nipple (I haven’t made that up. There’s an actual giant nipple costume out there) will overtake you. He will be laughing and waving at the crowds, and he will look fresh – as though the last 16 miles never happened. You will hate him. And worse, you won’t be able to keep up with him. DON’T COMPETE WITH A GIANT NIPPLE. This is your race. Stay focused.
6. You can find a disproportionate amount of joy in just about anything
PMA is a powerful thing, and staying super positive is key to finishing a marathon. I quickly took to counting highlights along the route, many of which related solely to the weather. Highlight #1: a sudden, unexpected breeze. What a total treat! Highlight #2: we’re definitely going downhill for a bit. Ah-maz-ing! Highlight # 3: A few delicious drops of rain just fell on me. Winning! (On reflection, this was actually just someone else’s water splashing up my leg). Make the most of these moments. They mean everything.
7. Humanity is amazing
Somewhere near the beginning, the crowds will make you feel like a superstar. You will suddenly know exactly how Kim Kardashian feels when she steps out for a pint of milk. Spectators will wave and cheer and you’ll actually oblige in ‘punching for power’ because the atmosphere is electric and You. Are. On. Fire. But later (for me, it kicked in somewhere near Brighton’s bleak, desolate power station), you’ll start to take in the tributes some of your fellow runners have pinned to their vests, dedicating their journey to lost loved ones, and appreciate the time and effort that has gone into making this day special. You’ll realise that the strangers screaming encouragement from the sidelines for five hours non-stop – and the competitors forgoing their target time to help injured runners over the finish line – embody what this event is really about. And you’ll feel proud to be part of it.
8. Wine is even more amazing
The lure of a large glass of Malbec carried me the last 7 miles. I’d have probably run another 7 if someone had promised to throw in a strawberry Cornetto. Yep, expect to lose your shit.
9. Can I social this?
By mile 24 the end is (almost) in sight, and thoughts will turn to the loved ones waiting for you. For me, these thoughts quickly morphed into the photos they had taken of me along the route. Would there be some profile pic contenders of me looking semi-frameable? Would I look exhausted and sweaty, or powerful and euphoric? (It was the former, just in case you’re wondering.) And where would I hang my medal? The bathroom, à la the A-list’s Oscars? Or is that too cliché? More importantly, would it clash with my new White Company ladder shelf? This last thought genuinely consumed me for half a mile.
10. Never, ever again
Marathons are akin to childbirth. As soon as you haul yourself over the finish line, you’ll vow never to put your broken body through that agony again. Six days later, you’re googling ‘New York marathon entry form’ and telling everyone you want to do the next one in 4 hours or under.