Yesterday, I walked my first marathon.
My preparation for this included thinking "gosh, that's a long way" a few times in the weeks beforehand, and making some homemade energy bars (recipe below). Training? You don't need to train to go for a walk, do you? I mean, it's not like running... it's just putting one foot in front of the other.
Umm, yeah. This might have been a mistake.
Still, we were raising money for the Meningitis Trust. This disease almost killed me when I was four years old, and every day I reflect on how lucky I am to be alive and able to do stupid things like this, so I had plenty of motivation to make up for my lack of experience. We're using the online fundraising website JustGiving, which accepts international donations in a variety of currencies, so don't be shy about throwing a few pennies in the jar if you'd like to show your support! (Or if you have an event coming up, click here to set up your own online fundraising page.)
The Cheltenham Circular Challenge is a series of footpaths which encircles the town of Cheltenham (about half an hour from where I live). For the marathon, the course was divided into four stages, with various water stations along the way, and buses back to the start from each of the quarter-markers. I walked with Andy and three other friends (plus a friend's nine-year-old daughter for a quarter of the way).
I really enjoyed the first section of the walk, and was surprised to find that I passed the first stage bus stop without even half-wishing I could hop on board the bus and stop already. I had a nagging feeling it wasn't all going to be so straightforward. The second quarter had a rather vicious hill, but it was the short-and-steep kind, and over soon enough. We were rewarded for our efforts with beautiful views over the city. The weather was perfect - grey, not too hot, but with barely a couple of raindrops all day.
Then, lunch. We'd left our picnic with the aforementioned nine-year-old (and her dad), so we had sandwiches delivered just as we needed them. We headed off again feeling refreshed.... but starting to ache in all sorts of weird places. The third section of the course was fairly flat, but featured one particularly evil field, with holes to fall into every other step. By the time we reached the third (and final) staging post, my hip was in agony, and for at least three miles I was seriously considering giving up.
One of our friends had already decided to stop at that stage. I sat on the floor, head between my knees, and thought very, very hard. I've had ongoing problems with my knee and my back... would I be doing myself more harm than good by going on? There's stubbornness, and then there's stupidity - and it's not always easy to know which is which. In the end, a couple of things swayed my decision. One, my husband assured me that there would be plenty of roads along the way, to which he could bring the car if necessary: going on wasn't an irreversible decision if things got too bad. And I was hurting worst in my hip, one of the few joints I actually haven't injured. If it had been my knee playing up, I would have known to call it a day while I could still walk. Determined to take as many breaks as I needed, I set off again, trying to fill my head with happy thoughts to distract me from the pain.
As the miles ticked on - agonisingly slowly - it got less and less likely that I would let my body get the better of me. With only three miles left... two... one... it was getting too close to the end to quit. And then, in a final act of course-setting cruelty, we had to walk through the car park. Past our car. For the second time, I seriously considered giving up. Only a few hundred yards to go. An insidious little voice nagged at me: surely I could count that as a win, and stop? Surely I could just send Andy to the end to get my medal? I could almost see the finish line, but it took every ounce of willpower to force myself to continue. Unable to stop the tears of pain mixed with relief, I stumbled the last few steps. I didn't even have the energy to argue when Andy sprinted ahead to get a photo of me crossing the line - nor was I able to force a smile or even wipe the tears for the camera. I was proud enough that I just managed to stay upright.
My final time was 10 hours and 55 minutes, making me one of the slowest marathoners of the day - but on the bright side, this gives me loads of scope for improvement if I do it again next year.
I got almost no sleep last night, because every twitch woke me with shooting pains. Today, I spent the morning curled up on the sofa in my pyjamas, trying not to catch my impressively large blisters on anything as hard and unyielding as a cushion. But by this afternoon, I'd managed to rig up enough blister-padding to wear shoes again, and went out for a celebratory afternoon tea with Andy. Walking is still slow, and somewhat painful, but it could be a whole lot worse. And it's all completely overwhelmed by the knowledge that I actually did it - a whole marathon.
If you can spare a couple of quid, please consider sponsoring us to raise money for the Meningitis Trust. We've raised over £300 so far, but every penny counts. Knowing people were sponsoring us (and cheering us on via Twitter) definitely helped us through the hardest miles.
Happy smiles at the start line: Emma, Glynn, Jane, and me.
Directions along the route.
The circular route is a year-round footpath.
Walking through the fields.
It was nice of the Red Arrows to do a fly-past just as we were coming in for lunch.
A much-needed tea break.
Crossing the finish line.
Here are a few views from along the route, with many thanks to Andy for carrying the camera all the way:
Date & Brazil Energy Bars
Makes 20 bars
Calories per bar: 150
1 cup (140g / 5oz) brazil nuts
2 cups (340g / 12oz) whole dates
1 cup (200g / 7oz) apricots
1 cup (140g / 5oz) raisins
2tbsp golden linseeds
2tbsp sesame seeds
- Finely chop the brazil nuts in a food processor. Remove to a large mixing bowl.
- Whizz the dates, apricots, and raisins in the food processor until fairly smooth (a few small lumps are okay).
- Add the pureed fruit to the mixing bowl, along with the nuts, and add the seeds.
- Knead the mixture until the nuts and seeds are evenly distributed.
- Line a traybake tin with greaseproof paper, and push the fruit mixture into the pan from one end, compressing it as much as you can by hand. Depending on the size of your pan, you probably won't fill the whole thing, so wrap the paper up over the spare edge.
- Chill in the fridge for an hour.
- Top with more greaseproof paper, find something large and flat (like a chopping board) that fits within your traybake tin, and use to compress the mixture by piling with heavy objects such as books.
- After a couple of hours, you should be able to neatly cut the bars with a sharp knife.