There are things which can change a person’s life. Some of these are obvious. A death, a birth, a marriage, or a new job. Add to this list running a marathon for the first time.
Before you run your first marathon you have no idea what to expect, how you are going to feel, how you will perform, how it will affect your body... or your mental strength.
No amount of training in the world can prepare you for when you run a proper race. But after you cross the finish line, not only do you know how all of these things feel, you’ve actually run a marathon.
It’s an achievement unlike any other, giving you a feeling unlike any other.
I’ll describe later what it’s like to finish a marathon, if that’s possible, but what is it like over the 26.2 miles? If you’ve done a reasonable amount of training then the first 10-15 miles will not be much of a problem for you, but after that it becomes a battle with your own mind.
In my own case, I ran with my fellow JMU Journalism
Senior Editor Chris Shaw for those first 10 miles until it
got to a point where he needed to slow down and walk
for a bit. I resolved not to do this for as long as possible
and carried on running, leaving him behind and going
out on my own through the Mersey Tunnel.
The tunnel was one of the hardest sections of the whole
race. It felt like it went on forever, the end was never in
sight and the air was dead, with no breeze, just the
sound of panting and shoes hitting the ground.
On the other side of the Mersey, I suddenly hit what is
commonly referred to as ‘the wall’ just as I came out of
the tunnel. This was the first of many walls in a way but
nothing is like the first one.
With it comes the realisation that you’re not going to be
able to carry on running, and you’re going to have to stop
and walk for a bit.
You eventually start running again, but you’re almost certain you will have to stop further down the line, and this will continue for the remainder of the race, as much as you try to deny it.
At 16 miles I reckoned I could complete the final 10 without stopping but it just wasn’t going to happen. The stop-start nature of the final leg of the marathon was now a reality.
How do you get through that? You resolve in your mind that you will finish the race one way or another. The thought of not finishing, with the shame and embarrassment that will bring, is just not worth considering.
You soldier on, your legs ache - that’s a given - and you think about what it will be like to eventually finish, even though that seems so, so far away.
Looking around, you see that everyone else is in the same position, running a little, walking a little and generally struggling a lot.
That in itself makes it harder with everyone around you suffering. You have to try and stay above it and maintain confidence in yourself and your ability but that’s not easy.
Eventually, having navigated the maze that was the Sefton Park part of the course, you begin to hit the home stretch, and the final two miles are pure adrenalin. You’re so close and you know when you cross that finish line the feeling will be great.
And sure enough, the feeling is amazing, really quite indescribable in many ways. You’ve toiled, you’ve struggled, you’ve had a 12-round boxing match with your brain, but you’ve completed a marathon!
You’ve done it, you’ve got a medal which says you’ve done it, and your life has changed because you know what it’s like to feel so much emotion, and to put yourself through such an incredible physical and mental challenge.
It’s was a memorable day, one I’ll never forget. It was so completely amazing it’s easily one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.
Would I do it again? Right now, my joints are aching like never before and I am so unbelievably tired, that I could sleep for a week.
If you’re asking me right now, no I wouldn’t. But then, if and when I do perhaps decide to run a marathon again, at least I’ll have unforgettable memories to draw upon.
By Hugh O'Connell, Senior Editor Pictures by Vegard Grott, Photo Producer
More JMU Journalism stories
Liverpool Marathon 2011
Hugh flew in from Dublin to take part in the Liverpool Marathon and was delighted to make the finish line