I’d dreamed about my first time. I had romantic visions of it being really special, a weekend away, maybe London or Paris, and obviously I would have been planning it for months in advance.
What actually happened was, I got talking to a friend, we got a bit excited, one thing led to another and before we knew it we were doing it in the city.
The Gloucester City marathon.
Completing a 10k race and a speed session the week leading into your first marathon isn’t ideal preparation. Most people have prepared, planned, and trained for several months, and are especially careful to taper, rest and carb load for a couple of weeks before. Not me – I impulsively signed up just a couple of days before the event. After all, I regularly run half marathons these days, and it’s just a half marathon, twice. It can’t be that hard, right?
Arrogant. Impulsive. Idiotic. I berated myself countless times as I was running. We joked that I hit the wall just a few kilometres into the race, as it dawned on me I’d be running for 42.2 kilometres. People had told me how hard a marathon was, and in reality, I psyched myself out before I’d even really started. I learned a lot about myself in my typicial post race self-analysis, and how I respond to mental pressure. Mental game is everything in running. The marathon took me triple the time of my best half marathon, I’m a little embarrassed to say.
WHY did I run a marathon, you ask? Why am I putting myself through all these crazy challenge races?
I joked earlier about the marathon being my first time. Innuendos aside, did you know that the average age of victims of trafficking victims is just 12 to 14 years old? That’s the average; so of course some are even younger. For many of these victims, their first sexual encounters will be marked by fear, violence and force, and they will be threatened with further violence in order to make them cooperate to service paying clients.
I’m fundraising to support the work of A21, one of many incredible anti-trafficking organisations that rehabilitate victims of trafficking. Often barely teenagers, they most likely will have complex trauma and health needs. As an advocate against sexual and gender-based violence, my role as researcher is to seek new insights for the current context so that NGOs can collaborate better to stop the trafficking of girls and women for the purpose of sexual exploitation. A21, the charity I’m supporting through my nutty 30 races for 30 years challenge, also addresses sex trafficking in their prevention and awareness work, particularly with people groups identified as vulnerable to trafficking, prosecutions and legislative work, as well as victim rehabilitation.
So that’s why I found myself on the start line early last Sunday morning with my friend Gemma (who you may remember from when she raced horses with me in the epic Man v horse), having impulsively signed up just a couple of days before.
It was a stunning day, pretty hot for the UK (yes, I got sunburned). The race started in Gloucester Park, heading through city centre, passing the famous Gloucester cathedral, before going back through town and heading north towards Cheltenham. Passing the Stavenport airport, the route continued towards Tewkesbury then turned at the halfway point to run back along beautiful country lanes, and finished back at the park after travelling through Gloucester Quays.
A couple of funny highlights. Around the 15k mark we were running with the 5 hour pacer guy for some time. There was quite a friendly cluster of runners chatting away, and pacer guy had music coming out his bum (bag). He didn’t take requests (I’d asked), and his playlist was a compilation of not exactly my favourite tunes….until Uptown Funk started. As soon as I heard the first beat, I yelled, “OOH! This is my jam!” and started rapping along, wasting plenty of energy doing excited skips and arm dancing.
Another funny moment. A male runner offered his lubricant around. “Vaseline, anyone?”, as he scooped another splodge, reached into his shorts for the umpteenth time with absolutely no subtlety, and slathered his bits in it. I know chafing is a real thing and it happens and you’ve got to be prepared. But seriously? Mid race? And then offering your Vaseline that’s had you double dip your hand in it to all the female runners surrounding you?! Um, no thanks mate!
So there you have it. It wasn’t pretty, nor heroic, and barely counts as running, but I’ve completed my first marathon! I’ll definitely be back next year – I’ve got unfinished business!
PS. Here’s a list of the other races I’ve completed as part of my 30 races for 30 years challenge:
Muskathlon (Race 9 – blog to follow!)
(Wo)Man Vs Horse (Race 10 – blog to follow!)