...I've done it: I have completed a marathon!

Sunday 26th April 2020 should have been the date of the 40th London Marathon. Having applied for - and subsequently secured - a place in the charity ballot, I announced last June that I'd run it as a fundraiser to mark Feba's Diamond Anniversary. That was a bold move, given that I only ran my first ever 10km in April 2019; 42km is a whole different ball game and would certainly be a tremendous step up for a complete novice such as me!

I gradually increased the frequency and distance of my runs. Between Christmas and the marathon itself, I covered a total of 700km in training by running four times most weeks. We had some truly foul weather, work commitments and travel meant that I ran at some interesting times of day and in unfamiliar places, and I picked up a couple of minor injuries, but I did keep going! If you'd like to know more about the training journey since last summer, then please click here for a series of short blog posts.

By the time the London Marathon was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, my training was well advanced and 26th April seemed almost within reach. After careful consideration, I decided to run a solo, unsupported marathon on the original target date. I devised a local course along the seafront from the mouth of the River Arun (Littlehampton) to the mouth of the River Adur (Shoreham-by-Sea) and back again, which totalled just over the regular marathon distance.

In order that my wife and sons could comply with the current 'one outing per day' restriction, I cycled alone to the starting point and simply set off when I was ready; they would head out later to meet me when I finished (- my son then rode the bike, whilst I got a lift home!). It was a beautiful clear morning with a light breeze, and the forecast was set fair. The seafront was quiet, and so it was that with no fuss I simply started running eastwards!

The magnitude of the challenge is no secret or surprise to anyone embarking on a marathon - at least it shouldn't be, but there is something particularly daunting about the realisation when you pass the first kilometre that there are 41 more still to go! The absence of any cheering crowds, and having no refreshment stations to supply water and snacks, make it considerably harder too. I was aware of that before I started but resolved to go ahead and was determined to give it my best shot.

My training runs in previous months had covered the entire route in various sections. I found it really helpful to be at least slightly familiar with the course, and to be able to break it down mentally into different parts - enabling me to focus on a series of mini goals. Once I got into my stride and established a reasonably constant pace, I started clocking up the miles and Worthing Pier was soon in my sights. I was feeling fine as I passed that, and then it was on to Lancing. Another tick. Next stop Shoreham - and that would be half way!

I did make a point of keeping an eye out for taps near the various beach huts along the route on the outbound leg - in case I needed to refill my water bottles. In the event, the 1.3 litres I was carrying proved sufficient, with some left to spare. Aside from the water, I refuelled on Jelly Babies and homemade flapjack stuffed with seeds, nuts and fruit for good measure. The 'carbohydrate loading' of the previous couple of days set me in good stead, as did the porridge and bagel I had eaten before leaving home. What I did find, however, was that towards the end I simply could not stomach any more sweets and found it increasingly difficult to chew them - let alone swallow any!

It has been said that the first 32km (20 miles) of a marathon is 'just transport' and that the 'real race' begins thereafter! In my case, that was about the point in the course at which I reached Goring heading west. And yes - I can confirm that I was was most definitely flagging! The remaining section of the route included some grassy sections as well as a little shingle, before finishing on the prom at Littlehampton. Aside from the impact on joints, tarmac surfaces are much easier to run on than soft grass, and the shingle stretches are not pleasant at all! The more open areas - and being closer to home - meant that a few local colleagues and church friends had been able to track me online (thanks to Garmin) and then plan their daily exercise to coincide with me running past towards the end. It was such a boost to see and hear them, especially when I was beginning to question my ability to keep going. There's no hiding the fact, however, that my pace dipped quite dramatically from the 32km mark!

A special treat was having my elder son come and join me to run the final five kilometres or so. He is a much faster runner than I am, but plodded beside me very graciously! Seeing him as I approached the Bluebird Cafe lifted my spirits markedly. Aside from the immediate company, it meant that the end really was now pretty close.

There is a saying: 'Run if you can; walk if you have to; crawl if you must; just never give up!'. I had set myself the goal of keeping running if I possibly could - without resorting to walking or crawling! As Littlehampton harbour wall came into view and felt within my grasp, I felt empty and each step was quite a struggle - but I was not going to let the marathon beat me.

One last mental hurdle was passing the 42.2km mark: I had to run about 900m further than a marathon to complete the neat out-and-back course I had set myself! Knowing that I had already 'gone the distance' but not finished was tough; knowing that my family was waiting for me helped me to dig deep. And there we were - with my younger son as well - at the end of a gruelling 43.1km. I had done it!

I was running for just over four and a half hours in total, and my actual marathon finishing time was 4hrs 24mins 29secs. If you had asked me at pretty much any point beyond 35km whether I'd ever want to run a marathon again, I think I would probably have said "Not likely!" without too much delay. It is surprising, though, just how quickly the memories of the struggle fade, and so the prospect of taking part in the London Marathon - when / if it is held later this year - is something that still interests me! It remains to be seen whether or not the Covid-19 situation will allow it to go ahead on 4th October, and I would need to think seriously about the training commitment for the four months preceding that, but at least I can now say with a clear conscience (- and some pride) that I have honoured my pledge to run a marathon for Feba!

[On a lighter note, and to put my efforts into context, my family penned a brutally honest limerick that illustrates just what an unlikely marathon runner I am!]

In addition to people's kind words of encouragement, I am really grateful for people's extremely generous gifts - especially at a time of some financial uncertainty. At the time of writing, my fundraising effort has reached just over £3,000 (plus Gift Aid). Raising funds for Feba does make this worthwhile for me personally, and it really does make a tremendous difference to know that I'm not doing this alone. If you could possibly make a donation of whatever value then I would be so very grateful. Thank you.

Finally, please do send any comments, questions, encouragements, or suggestions using the Contact Form or calling the office - it would be lovely to hear from you.

We'll see what October brings...

If you would like to sponsor me, please see my fundraising page.

To read more about my marathon efforts, please click here.

Thank you!

Photo/video credits: Arun-Adur-Arun Marathon © Bob Chambers.