It was not necessary to set the alarm on my watch because I’m awake at six o’clock in the morning. I was sleeping very lightly. I do not feel either fresh or relaxed. The whole morning reminded me of a nightmare. We’ve done well for the time – showering, breakfast and going out but I missed the fact that another few thousand people were preparing for the race, so we spend most of the time in the car trying to find a free parking space.
I forgot, of course, small change for parking, so I’m trying my luck at a booth where an old man sells pretty marathon t-shirts. I hold a five-pound banknote in front of him, politely asking for help. I am just in the middle of thinking to buy a t-shirt as a souvenir later when the old man curtly tells me to try the food stall. Not impressed.
At the food stall, I buy a coke from a nice guy who has a quick chat with me about the upcoming race and wishing me the best of luck. Finally, with coins in my hand, I can now set off straight to the end of the queue to pay for parking. My watch reports less than twenty minutes to the start, but fortunately, the waiting takes only a few minutes.
Now is time to get the race package that was supposed to arrive by post but it got lost. I do not have much time, so I start running (great warming up!) and Ondra goes next to me on the bike. There are clouds of people everywhere; we zigzag between them like mice. Even though there are crowds today, it does not change the charm of this town. Stratford upon Avon is indeed one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in England (there are no crowds at this picture as it was taken a day before the race).
The information stand is, of course, in a different location than described in the instruction email. There is another endless queue. It was not only me who needed to pick up the racing number. Fortunately, I get the number soon, and Ondra helps me to fit it on my chest. I manage to stand in the crowd of ready runners precisely one minute before the official start. As the avalanche of people progressively approaches the starting line, I try to stretch a bit, but I am running again in less than another minute.
Everything was in such a rush that I did not have time to be nervous about the race itself. Till now, my only focus was to come here on time, but I dive into the atmosphere around soon as it is excellent and the crowd’s enthusiasm is more than contagious. Finally, I’m starting to look forward and enjoy the first part of the run. I run one of the most unpleasant hills without trouble. It is a pity that the same hills are waiting for me in the second loop again. I feel cheated because the line description has shown that it is a nice run, more or less along the plain. However, the data from my watch is different:
I also became seriously worried about refreshment stations. Relying on the organiser was a big mistake. They only have bottles of water, which seems to me like a silly trick. I do not need to eat every three kilometres, but even amateurs know it’s essential to supplement your body with sugars, especially in a long distance run.
It is true that the overwhelming majority of people here only run the half marathon. Still, offering just water seems to be great neglect. My only energy bar in my pocket has no chance of saving me even though Ondra and a few local people helped me a lot. What the organisers did not cover, the locals tried to compensate for, offering pieces of chopped fruit during the marathon. Their support was amazing.
Britons are unbeatable in this. As you crawl through the countryside and enjoy the beautifully landscaped gardens in front of houses, they enthusiastically encourage and applaud you. Everyone genuinely cheers for you. Old, young children too. All conventions go aside, and you have a unique chance to see one of the pure qualities of this nation. The most powerful and emotional moment was to see how they were cheering a runner who runs along with an adult disabled boy in a wheelchair.
I made a half marathon in 2:17:11, which is an excellent time for me. Then it starts breaking like a twig, especially with that stupid hill from the first half. From that moment on, I feel like everything comes up against me, particularly my left knee. A brief conversation with a nice fifty-year-old who ran his 31st marathon helped me for a moment. His story was super motivational. He stopped smoking after thirty years and started running. Unfortunately, my pace is continually falling, so he disappears soon. I’m pulling out the headphones and playing music. I do not feel well at all, and I hope my super magic music mix will speed me up again.
I’m trying to run, but my leg is buckling instead. I feel a very unpleasant tension on the outside of my left knee. Pain intensifies so much that I have to go back to a walk. The left leg is pulling me uncomfortably, and the pensioners are soon ahead of me. While limping up the hill, the old man swiftly overtakes me. A group of cyclists standing on the opposite road laughs out loud. Well, as we say in Czech – nothing is more amusing than another’s misfortune.
The run between the 24th and the 30th kilometre becomes a nightmare for me, and I consider leaving the race. The time limit for the race is six hours, and I’m not entirely sure if I can handle it at this pace. Ondra appears suddenly behind the horizon, tightly hugging me and giving me his energy bars with the rest of the water. I have tears in my eyes and a taste for a good cry. His presence at the moment was the greatest miracle. “It’s just a bit more Aničko; you can do it!
I took Aspirin and felt that right now is the moment when I must try to overcome my limitations. Ondra’s firm hug, the bar and a song from Underworld (RezCowgirl) fortunately brought new energy into my veins. The pace is not as fast as the first section, but it’s still better than walking. I keep myself motivated by running each kilometre for someone close while avoiding rabbit holes.
For the last seven kilometres, I’m on the run with a group of two young men and an older lady. They run together a marathon for Alzheimer’s treatment. Later Ondra told me that they were two sons with their sick mother. The lovely trio escaped about three kilometres before the end. As they picked up the pace, another crisis began to come slowly. The closer I was to the target, the worse it was, yet the most important thing for me was to finish the race. I did not care how long it will take anymore. I was just happy to get to the finish, at least the medal was worth it!
When I realize that less than a week ago I was barely able to walk due to a virus, I feel even more pleased and stronger than ever because I did not give up.
Another great thing about running the marathon is that you can eat any calorie bomb without blame. I could not wait to finish a good meal. I was surprised when it was not possible, and I had to pack the rest of a great Thai dinner. Fatigue won over hunger, but I don’t mind because I am planning to grab another overeating opportunity next year right after Prague’s Marathon. See you there!
This article is available in Czech.