Wow. To be honest I’m still in a state of shock. Not that I’ve completed another challenge, as I’ve 12 under my belt now, but that I’ve completed the Dubai marathon; 26.2 miles in Middle Eastern heat. As my debut entry to the world of marathon running (December doesn’t really count as I was stationary), I’m pretty damn impressed with myself. It was also a bloody brilliant way to kick off 2012 – the year that sees one of Britain’s biggest sporting events ever!
So after an extremely busy January, I flew out to Dubai to stay with Tricia & her daughter Sian, two people I’ve known for nearly 10 years, but who I’d not seen in nearly 6. Needless to say there was lots of catching up to be done. In order to acclimatise to the heat, I made sure I had a few days in Dubai prior to the marathon, which afforded me some time for some true rest & relaxation. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.
It was actually the first time in a VERY long time, that I was truly able to switch off from my day to day life. We get so caught up with work and our daily pressures, we often don’t have time for ourselves, time to sit back and take a look at what is important. During said rest period (I’m using the excuse that I had to taper down for the last week before the race, rather than I was just being a bit lazy), I spent time reading a great book called Survival of the Fittest. As quite the Darwin fan, the title alone appealed to me, but I managed to finish the book the night before the race, which considering its content was pretty awe inspiring.
Stroud intertwines his tales of amazing achievement (reaching the South Pole, completing a multi-terrain eco-challenge twice, running the Marathon of the Sands race in the Sahara and completing 7 marathons in 7 days in 7 continents) with the science & anthropology of human physical performance. In summary, we are biologically & genetically programmed to be able to withstand great feats of endurance, but the last 200 years has made us incredibly lazy. I’d absolutely recommend it as a read for anyone who is starting out with a physical challenge or anyone who is too lazy or afraid to get off their arse to get active. Anyway, I wanted to highlight this, as it gave me phenomenal inspiration in the run up to my first true marathon.
Friday morning finally arrived. I was woken up at 05:30 to have a quick breakfast and shower, then heading out to the marathon start line. The race was due to start & finish at the bottom of Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building, standing at a mighty 828 metres with more than 160 floors. Needless to say, when the UAE does something, they don’t mess about.
As we arrived and started to see the other runners, the severity of what I was about to undertake really started to sink in. But equally, there wasn’t a lot I could do about it – especially with 15,000 plus people starting to queue up. Not to mention some of the world’s fastest marathon runners! As the time drew closer to the gun, the final shuffle towards the start line happened, and then BANG! We were off.
I’ve since heard from some that the route was quite boring in terms of usual marathon standards. As I haven’t got anything to compare it to, I can’t say for sure, but in my view they can sod off. The route was great. We started at Burj Khalifa, down through the financial district of Dubai (which is the biggest finance hub within the region), heading towards the coast and then down the Beach Road…..and then back.
As we set off I was looking round at all the different types of runners out there – amateur athletes, club runners, charity runners and those taking on a personal challenge. There was a great mix of people, all with incredible stories of why they were running the iconic distance. Rather than my usual, I started off steady and stayed at my own pace, really trying not to compete with anyone else, as my objective wasn’t to beat anyone – as Gavin says, unless you’re going to finish in 2hrs 2 mins, it’s just about finishing; the world doesn’t pay attention unless you break a record.
With 10k or so completed, I was very much on the Beach Road, on a long stretch heading up towards the Burj Al Arab (7 star hotel – you know the one, with the £27,000 a night Royal Suite?!). And it was soon after finishing a quarter of the marathon that the [21:21] cheer leaders came into play. OK, so there weren’t any pompoms, but after seeing me off at the start, Tricia & Sian jumped on their bikes and headed for the Beach Road. They were cycling along the majority of the course, cheering me on at various points (and snapping a few photos along the way) – Sian’s on the bike, and Tricia taking the photo.
I cannot begin to describe how amazing it was to have them both at multiple bits along the way. When the heat was kicking in, or the legs were getting sore, or when the motivation was really dropping, seeing such positive, smiley and motivating faces & cheers really helped push me along. Knowing how beneficial they were for me in terms of mental support, I will definitely be attending a marathon as a spectator in the future to cheer on the amazing runners that take part in this crazy kind of distance.
Before I knew it I’d reached the half way point, and quite shockingly had done so in 2hrs 11mins. While I was personally very proud of this, I did later find out that more than 10 elite runners had already completed the entire course by this point. Well, that’s what you get for training 3 times a day, every day!
As the kilometres kept racking up, my legs, or thighs in particular, were getting more and more tired. I had taken energy gels with me to eat at strategic points along the way, but it was really starting to get tough. I was determined I wasn’t going to hit the WALL, so made sure that I was taking in enough water, isotonic drinks, gels and not going too fast.
As I reached mile 18 my general cardiovascular system felt OK considering, and my legs weren’t too bad, but the inevitable happened. While still on the Beach Road, I was running along some low rise buildings, when the breeze suddenly stopped. It felt like someone had turned up the heat to full while we were running in an oven. With no breeze or shade, my body started to feel it BIG TIME! Luckily I’m not a fair skinned ginger European……oh wait a minute!
After some truly amazing support along the Beach Road, Tricia and Sian bid me farewell as they headed back to the start/finish line for the final money shot. As I turned back in land from the coast the pressure on my body started to kick in. Looking at my Garmin I could see my pace faltering slightly, which was when I needed to remind myself why I was doing this race. As I said in a previous post, I was the lucky one. I was only having to sweat it out for 4-5 hours, in conditions that I knew about, with water stops along the way. My brother and so many like him have to deal with 15-16+ hours work, in twice as hot conditions, with extremely heavy packs, while trying to evade being shot. Puts it in perspective really.
I’ve thought a lot about Nick’s friend, LCpl Gill, in recent weeks, as I’ve been dealing with certain personal things, and at times have felt somewhat selfish, in that I use the memory of such a brave, loyal and courageous Royal Marine to help me through times of physical and mental difficulty. But then I also think that in doing so, while I never met Gill, in a way, it’s helping keep the memory of such a man alive.
As I passed kilometre 39 disaster struck. My stupid bastard leg (the one I fractured) decided to act up. And when I say act up, I don’t mean there was a slight twinge, more it felt like it did during Hell Runner, minutes before I couldn’t physically walk. Needless to say, I was slightly concerned so slowed down to a walk. I was conscious that I had 8 future challenges to complete, and a leg to keep healthy. I walked for a short while up to the final water station, grabbing my final bottle of water.
Whether it was my guardian angel, a complete fluke or my body just getting excited it was near the end of the race, the pain subsided within 10/15 steps, just as I made my final turn into the last kilometre. As I picked up the pace, the pain of switching from walking to running really kicked in, but ran through it.
The crowds towards the finish line started to increase from one or two people, to five or six, to more than I could count. Florence & The Machine “Dogs Days Are Over” came on my iPod with the final 500 metres to go. Well that was me. I couldn’t help it. I broke out into a proper sprint.
“Run fast for your mother and fast for your father
Run for your children for your sisters and brothers
Leave all your love and your longing behind you
Can’t carry it with you if you want to survive”
For about 3.7 seconds I felt a bit bad overtaking people, but then thought sod it. So I got faster, and let rip – well after travelling in cattle class, there had to be some benefit to having such long legs!
As I approached the 400 metre mark the crowds had really increased, and as I saw the 200 metre mark I knew I only had to keep it up for a few more seconds. I could see the finish line draw closer & closer. My eyes were fixed on the finish, and while I knew there were loads of people about, I didn’t see any of them. I had my focus, my goal and it was in arms reach at last.
4 hrs, 31 mins & 58 seconds after starting, I had completed the 2012 Dubai Marathon, and finished challenge 13 – definitely in the top 10 proudest & most exciting achievements of my life.
Is it weird that a part of me never wants to run a faster marathon? Mainly because I can say that my marathon PB is from Dubai. Hopefully I’ll be able to knock the time down in the Manchester Marathon in April, but I can happily say, which no-one can take away, my first ever road marathon was in Dubai. What a bloody nutter!
After getting back home, an ice bath was followed by scoffing down some carbs and the all important celebratory glass(es) of wine, sat in the sun, by the pool. Long term [21:21] supporter Sarah Shinnick just happened to be in Abu Dhabi visiting her friend Rachel, who both came through to say hello, which ended with us all at my favourite restaurant in Dubai – the Boardwalk, sitting out over the creek. A meat platter and fireworks finished off a truly amazing day.
The following day I was somewhat surprised that I wasn’t in more pain, other than thighs aching. Maybe the last year of challenges has changed my ability to withstand a more punishing attack to the body. Either way, we managed to fit a few touristy bits in, and considering my love of the Middle East, was chuffed to get in a trip out to the desert for some camel spotting.
Before I bid you farewell from challenge 13, I can’t leave without a few shout outs:
Tricia & Sian: THANK YOU so much for having me to stay with you, during such an incredibly busy week for you both. As ever, you serve as an inspiration to all, with such a great ‘can-do’ attitude to life. I also attribute my success to the amazing cheering that took place all the way along the Beach Road. Needless to say, if either of you ever want to run the Manchester Marathon, you have a place to stay & a cheer team at the ready!
The Chorlton Runners: I don’t know how the hell I would have gone from one 10k race to running two marathons within a 6 week period without you all. Kate – words can’t describe how brilliant you have been at 6am on far too many runs to mention. Gavin – thank you for all of your advice, coaching & kit borrowing. Runners – big love to you all for all the support along the way.
Team [21:21]: There are too many people to mention, but those who are part of the amazing support team, you know who you are. Your support, motivation and general greatness is as ever truly appreciated. I couldn’t get through these challenges without you.
So, with only just over a week until the next challenge, I better get the hell off my laptop, and start thinking about getting my body sorted for Challenge 14 (Rowing the Thames) and Challenge 9 (Hell Runner revisited)…..
…..Survival of the Fittest is starting to have a whole new meaning!
Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge