Dropping out of my first marathon (Part one)


As normal as it is to have at least some level of anticipation about running a full marathon, tomorrow holds a particular significance for me; with the memory of me dropping out of my first marathon attempt two weeks ago still fresh in my mind, I know a couple of things.

First and foremost, that was the first time I have ever dropped out of a race, and just the very fact of having done so opens that particular door up. Having dropped out of an official race once, will it be easier to do so a second time? It feels as if a precedent has been set.

It was a running buddy who signed me up for tomorrow. He was with me for most of the race I quit on before and rightly intuited that I would want to give it another go as soon as possible but will I be able to deal with two failures in such a short space of time if something goes wrong again?

To be fair, the conditions on the day were horrendous, and I would be surprised if a single runner there got a PB. The particular event was the South Downs marathon held on 17th June, and it was the hottest day of the year so far. The most common word I overheard among the other competitors afterwards was “brutal”. The stops ran out of bottles of water and it later transpired that they had planned for two bottles per runner but that some runners had been drinking one, putting one in their packs and then pouring the other over their heads. I can’t say I’m entirely unsympathetic to that, even though I was feeling too guilty to take two bottles at the first stop (something I had well and truly got over by the second stop).

On top of that, apart from The Hurt, this was the hilliest course I have ever run on. I was expecting hills, but…(fill in your expletives here!) I think it wasn’t much more than ten miles in that many of the runners gave up all pretence of actually trying to run the whole course and were unashamedly walking every hill.

I promptly joined them.

Another thing that got me psychologically was my lack of tunes. I use Spotify on my phone when running and all my playlists are there. My rock/metal playlist, my trance playlist, my half marathon playlist, and so on, all carefully selected for different moods and distances, and all wonderfully out of signal on the day. Apparently it didn’t occur to me that the South Downs might not have great 4G reception.

I have run a race without music before, a 10k when headphones were banned. They’re technically banned at most races, but at this one it was strictly enforced, and I was one sulky, grumpy child when I first realised that I wouldn’t get away with keeping my phones in. However, as the race went on, I found myself starting to enjoy the quiet as I broke away from other runners and ran huge stretches with only my breath for company. At the risk of letting myself get too hipsterish it was almost meditational.

This was a full 26.2 miles though, damn it! And some banging tunes would have really helped me out.

Of course, everything above is an excuse for my own lack of preparation, setting myself up for failure. The heat was unfortunate, but I should have trained more assiduously for hills. My home town is mostly flat and hills weren’t something I particularly sought out during my training. In fact, I work on the third floor of an office and I take the lift far too often, telling myself that I don’t want to sweat under the (seemingly permanently) cranked up heating system in my work shirt.

Truth to be told, I didn’t actually check the course profile before the race, so I must have been the only runner there to whom the incredibly hilly nature of THE SOUTH DOWNS came as a surprise (!)

And why was I relying on phone reception for tunes if music is so important to my run? I could have taken a back-up MP3 player or just downloaded the tunes directly onto my phone.

It all shows me that my approach to running so far has been too casual. I have been running outside for about three years now and it is only this year that I have started stepping up the distance beyond a 10k. Basically I signed up for the Reading Half Marathon in a moment of madness after a run that went particularly well last autumn, and it forced me to do longer distances in training runs. That went well, and for the first time, the weight really started dropping off, and with a time of just over two hours (damn that toilet break), I was fast becoming a halfway decent middle of the pack runner. Therefore, it was pure excitement that made me sign-up to marathons and an ultra-marathon later in the year (more to come on that).

But this “just get out the door, that’s the main thing, who needs all the gimmicks, like energy gels and fit bits” attitude won’t cut it anymore. If I drop out of another race, a growing sense of imposter syndrome’s going to be setting in big time, and it will be my own fault – for not taking seriously what other runners put a lot more care and thought into.

I feel very lucky not to have been injured yet, and as my distances go up, I feel as if I’m starting to train on borrowed time in this regard.

At least I’ve started foam rolling after races now!

I just need to get off my arse and learn some warm-ups as well.

Could I have finished the South Downs by walking the last six miles instead of dropping out somewhere just past twenty? Probably. Would I have got heat stroke if I had gone any further without shade? Probably!

If I want to keep running I have to develop the ability to distinguish an excuse from an actual learning point, and adjust my preparations accordingly, but most of all, I need to pay the sport the respect it deserves!