I understand this is a lengthy post, so for those in a hurry I have made a special summary. Tl:dr I ran Portsmouth Half which was cold and windy, and Seville Marathon which wasn’t. Please donate what you can at my JustGiving. Pretty please.
As always, I will add that I would not be doing any of this if not for supporting the amazing efforts of the charity Anthony Nolan. Their great work sees hundreds of lives saved through their work on building the Bone Marrow Register. A little known fact is that they also collect Umbilical Cord blood. Why? Because this blood is rich in stem cells, and carries many advantages over normal stem cell donation. These stem cells need not be an exact match either, as they have not yet matured and will therefore in most cases develop to suit the recipient – all at no risk to the newborn baby. They only support four hospitals currently, which is why funding is so important. To find out more about joining the bone marrow register, you can click here, or to learn more about umbilical cord donation, click here.
I am just about ready for a break now.
This month has been an exhausting one, but I cannot complain that it hasn’t been interesting. Having completed the Seville Marathon this weekend, the running trifecta is complete: A half marathon, full marathon and ultramarathon in three successive weeks. It has felt like the longest 19 days of my life, owed mostly to the vastly contrasting backdrops through which my legs have carried me: Sunny Oxfordshire countryside, to coastal Portsmouth with high winds and beach trails, to running through the sunny streets of the unquestionably picturesque city of Seville. I think my parents might be beginning to wonder who I am.
Days prior to my half marathon, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Bath Community Awards, as Bath University Marrow group were recognised for their incredible efforts in recruiting donors since their inception late last year. In many universities around the country, universities have student-led groups who work closely with Anthony Nolan to recruit donors on campuses, fundraise and raise awareness of the Bone Marrow register – all in a place where many people may not even know of its existence.
For those who knew Alice, you may know that she put a lot of time and effort on the side of her degree to support Cardiff Marrow in their pursuit of donors while she was at university, and made a huge impact with it. It is hours of fundraising activities, planning and standing on stalls at freshers fairs, while still having their own degrees to pursue. I have a lot of time for people who can happily freeze their arses off to help others, it resonates with me on a personal level. If you are at a university reading this, please make some time to find them.
Cue the day of the Portsmouth Half Marathon, and some shameless overconfidence: “I’ve done this before, it’ll be a breeze”, I told myself. And it was a breeze. Or to be more specific, an arctic gale. Turns out that the wind temperature is colder when brushing over the English Channel in February, who knew? Adorning my winter layers, I strode over the start line with confidence; now I can get through, maybe even try for a PB…oh no, now we’re running on a beach. Rather worringly, my first concern was not that I needed to preserve energy, but that the wet sand was getting my brand new trainers dirty. I don’t know what I expected when I bought them in White and Fluorescent Yellow.
In the end I felt fortunate for the cold weather; it was apparent that the organisers needed to learn the words “water” and “station”, because two in 13.1 miles is borderline abuse. That said, my attempts to hydrate were futile – at half marathon pace, I typically end up wearing more H2O than what little makes it in to my mouth. Regardless, my body’s needlessness to sweat carried me over the finish line in classic ‘Will cannot resist sprinting’ fashion (With a grunt as per the above video). One more cold event checked off before the elusive British Summertime.
This weekend I had my second exotic event, the Seville Marathon. Due to logistical issues I was a lone wolf, armed with only mi limitado español and a can-do attitude to tackling the hopelessness of booking self-catering in a foreign country. Following a long journey and a delightful encounter with an English couple also in the city for the marathon, I arrived at my apartment. And by arrived, I mean I sheepishly hung around on the opposite side of the street like a cat assessing a threat because my front door was right on top of a busy bar. Sleep and I fostered more of a casual relationship during my stay. Thankfully, a well-timed phone call from the owner saw me scurry in the door to the safety of my own space. It was safe to say that exhaustion and overwhelming intimidation put me in no mood for a night on the town.
For anyone looking for a break to Seville, I decided to make all the mistakes a tourist might, just so you don’t have to. With that in mind, my advice would be the following:
- Just because the Seville Oranges are fresh and pretty on the trees, do not try and be edgy and eat one – unless you are really into bitter, basically-inedible fruit. In which case by my guest.
- Do not let the map fool you. The city might look small, but I
discoveredheard that it takes 2 hours to walk from one side to the other.
- If your grasp on the Spanish language is fair at best, maybe ordering takeaway by phone from a local pizzeria is not for you. They do their best to understand, but the experience is excruciating and they can’t see the wild foreigner charades you are doing with your hands to signal what you want.
Marathon day felt more like marathon week – one does not simply just turn up and run. Firstly there’s the 06:00am breakfast because eating on the start line is just obscene. Then there’s the journey. Good luck getting a taxi because the roads are all closed, and unless you pay for the expensive marathon-specific transfer, you’re either walking or camping out at the start line. Upon arrival at the start line, you find what is basically a festival; loud music, pushing for the front and long queues for the frankly unusable toilets. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome buzz to get you hyped up for the day ahead. Finally, there’s the nervous self-checking and awkward loitering before the official start.
As always, the race started on the minute and hordes of excited/nervous runners shuffle their way over the start line. I felt as light as a cloud, but 5 events and much advice had convinced me this time to resign myself to a slower pace – my body would be thanking me later. And it really did. The elation to be at the half marathon point and still feel great filled with me a surge of excited energy, spurring me on into the foreseeable distance.
Unfortunately basic biochemistry tells me there is no such thing as actual “excited energy”, and my real energy gradually ebbed away as the minutes ticked by. When you hear runners describe ‘the wall’, this is the body’s brutal flaw exhibiting itself. You do not get a fuel warning light with miles to go, nor early prediction of how many miles you can do with the energy in the proverbial tank. It is, quite simply, a wall; one minute you were happily bouncing the miles away, only the next minute the negative thoughts creep in as the muscles go in to panic mode. This, for me, was mile 22 – frustratingly close to the finish line. At this point, there were only two things keeping me going: the energy bar I shoved down my throat as soon as I felt myself dragging my feet, and the infectious enthusiasm of my new friend David as his caffeine gel started to set him off like a loose rocket in the latter stages. Sticking with him purely out of peer pressure, my legs carried me on and on until the looming shape of the Seville Olympic Stadium, and the finish line, came in to sight. Crossing the line, I felt a wave of joy wash over me as I realised I had done what I always wanted to do; run a whole marathon.
Over the next fortnight, I will be preparing for my most exciting event this year. On March 12th I will be joining Team Alice on the streets of Bath for the beautiful half marathon. As many as 30 of us are running in solidarity of a vow that Alice herself, who loved running as much as cats like water, would run one when she was better.
Safe to say it will be a day to remember.