The Alzheimer’s Society is one of the many charities that Grant Thornton supports during the year. It really is a wonderful charity that both helps individuals suffering from this terrible disease and also funds projects researching treatments and possible cures. So when I was offered a chance to run the inaugural Brighton Marathon for Alzheimer’s Society by the Corporate Responsibility Executive in my office, I agreed instantly.
It was until a couple of days later that the gravitas of what I had agreed to do sank in – a marathon. 26.2 miles of running. Wow. At this point I had been training for some time for my Ironman attempt, and so I wasn’t in too bad shape, but even so, the marathon is a race that will eat you alive unless you train specifically for it. Fortunately, the internet is inundated with loads of great websites offering running strategies, training plans and nutrition advice for the prospect marathon runner! I can remember that I spent most of my lunch breaks trawling through running websites scribbling down every bit of relevant information I could find!
The Corporate Responsibility people in my office were fantastic throughout the preparation period, offering help, advice and fundraising tips – all of which were much appreciated as the big day got closer. In marathon training programmes, the last week before the big day is called a “taper” week. This basically means that you have to completely scale back on training time and intensity and rest your body. Although this is very good for you physically, psychologically it’s awful. Resisting the fear-driven urge to get out and train is enormously difficult, and in my case, had the unfortunate repercussion that I spent this newly acquired free time engaging in large amounts of sport related retail therapy. Boxes of PowerBars, Gatorade, energy gels and glucose tablets began arriving at my house on a pretty much daily basis.
The big day finally arrived, my alarm clock went off at 3am and I literally had to throw myself out of bed to get up. I was unbelievably nervous, and didn’t feel like eating anything, let alone the massive bowl of porridge, 3 PowerBars, 2 bananas and litre of Gatorade that sat waiting for me downstairs. I somehow managed to finish breakfast, and after nearly brushing my teeth with shampoo (I was that distracted!) I grabbed my kit bag and headed to the station. As the train got nearer to Brighton, it quickly began to fill up with people in running kit and trainers. They all looked just as apprehensive as me, which helped calm me down – we’re all in this together.
Finding the start point of the marathon was much easier than I had anticipated. In fact the crowds of people making their way over there were so large that it would have been difficult to fight your way through them to go anywhere else. When I got to the park where the start was, I was taken aback by the sheer raw energy that was radiating from the place. Thousands of runners, spectators and supporters completely covered the area, music and announcements blared out from loudspeakers and groups of first aid workers weaved through the crowd offering sun cream, water and plasters to the runners. I turned away; I needed somewhere quiet to prepare myself. I turned on my iPod and jogged off. I found a quiet street about a mile away from the park and spent twenty minutes there calmly warming myself up and mentally preparing myself for what lay ahead. When I was as ready as I knew I could be, I headed back to the start. The race clock showed that there were fifteen minutes left until the start and the ushers were already shepherding the runners into the starting chute. I gulped down my last pre-race energy gel, checked my laces one final time and made my way over. The last five minutes before the start felt like ten years. I consciously tried to zone out from my surroundings and focus my mind, which is not easy when you’re surrounded by jostling runners and have got helicopters circling overhead.
The last thirty seconds were counted down and then …. we were off! Well, more accurately, the race started. At mass start events like marathons, you never “start” when the starting gun goes off. Due to the sheer number of people in the chute in front of you, it can be a couple of minutes before you even move. When you finally do move, at first there’s only enough space to progress at a walk, then a trot, then a jog, then a slightly faster jog until finally… you’re running. The first few miles were pretty good. The weather was perfect – a bright sunny day with a gentle breeze.
Despite Brighton being one of the nicest coastal towns in the UK, it wasn’t until mile 4 that I finally saw the sea! The route was lined with supporters cheering us on and Heart FM had set up stages along the course to play music for the passing runners. Six miles, seven miles, eight miles, the course passed slowly, weaving through streets and along country lanes. I made sure to grab water bottles and energy drinks at every aid station and gulped down an energy gel every three miles. At mile 10, the course turned and took us along the Coast Road which offered us stunning panoramic views of the sea. Mile 13 was the halfway point and was absolutely swarming with spectators screaming encouragement. Miles 14 to 19 were pretty uneventful, I was mainly focusing on just staying upright and keeping one leg going in front of the other.
I had heard lots of terrible stories about “hitting the wall” (which is basically the point at which your energy stores are so depleted that your body says, “I’ve had enough” and seizes up). Hitting the wall often marks the end for many marathon runners, and I really hoped I wouldn’t be one of them. Fortunately, I didn’t hit the wall and was able to complete the last 6 miles of my marathon in relative comfort, finishing with a time of 3 hours 39 minutes. Not a bad time, but still leaving lots of room for improvement for the 2011 Brighton Marathon!
In total, thanks to the collective efforts of the Corporate Responsibility team in my office, £580 was raised for Alzheimer’s Society. A very good result!