Completing a marathon has always been on my bucket list from a young age. However, I never anticipated competing in one with less than two weeks training! I must prefix this account of my marathon adventure by stating that I wouldn’t advise anybody to contemplate running one without a proper structured training schedule beginning at least six months before the race. I’ve played football three or four times a week for over 10 years and have a good base level of fitness which is the only reason I was able to pull it off.
It all started when I saw an advert ten days before the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon was due to start. One of my best friends, Danny Cousins, was raising funds in a variety of ways for MacMillan Cancer Support after his father sadly passed away from the disease in 2013 – so we made a spur of the moment decision to sign up for the race.
Everyone told us we were mad, and as stated above – we probably were! Danny is a talented runner who completed the London Marathon in under 3 hr 15min so I knew the short notice wouldn’t be an issue for him. However, despite my regular football sessions, the furthest I’d ever run in a race was 10km!
My good pal Chris McHardy and his sidekick Robbie Greenfield gave me a good ribbing when they invited me on Dubai Eye to talk about the “crazy” challenge I’d set for myself. Robbie had completed the Dubai Marathon in 4hr 23min after months of rigorous training, so you can imagine his reaction when I told him that my target was to finish in under 4hr 30min.
Nine days to go
I did my first training run around Dubai Marina and completed 13km in 1 hour 15 minutes.
I was feeling good about my fitness but knew that this was less than a third of the 42.195km I’d have to run in the marathon. Nonetheless it was a decent start and a good confidence booster.
Five days to go
This was planned to be my second and final run before attempting to complete the marathon. I targeted just over a two-hour run at a steady pace to see if I could last for that long. I got through it and did around half marathon distance but my legs were in pieces the following day. “If I can do half, surely I can push on for another ten kilometres and then there’s not far to go before the finish,” I thought to myself with more than a little trepidation. My editor Rick, gave me some words of wisdom: “Don’t try to be a hero.” My mum, being a typical mum, said: “Be careful, you know some people die in the race.” But I couldn’t pull out now, I was fully committed.
I had one football game to play on the Tuesday for the mighty Slugs and Goats as the last bit of physical activity before race day on Friday 20th January. It was nice to have a few days rest before the biggest challenge of my life began.
I spoke to plenty of people, including my fitness-fanatic house-mate Cousy, to gather as many tips as I could. We were advised to buy some energy gels for the race, rub Vaseline all over to avoid chaffing (big worry), have pasta the night before (which we did along with a sports massage) and get there in plenty of time.
The race started at 6:30am opposite the Burj Al Arab but we arrived at 5:30am, ready for action. I was astounded by the number of runners competing. The vibe was highly charged with music pumping out throughout the circuit to keep spirits high.
The first 12km flew by and Cousy and I were fairly comfortable, chatting away for most of it. Then the real fun and games began. Cousy then upped the pace but I held back, trying to conserve energy for the struggle ahead.
Before I knew it, I found myself at the 21km mark and half way though the race! I was feeling okay. But it’s at this point that the field gets divided and it became a much lonelier race, just me and the music. The spectators were great, giving us sweets and bananas to help keep our energy levels up.
I bumped into an old football friend an asked how he was doing. “I’m so pleased I have seen you, I was struggling massively,” came his reply. You find out just how crucial and uplifting support is when you are in the race. The smallest bit of encouragement can go a long way. We entered the most gruelling part of the race as we headed up the bridge where the Dubai Canal has recently been built. Around 30km in and you have to run up a hill – sadistic!
Running down the other side wasn’t much better. By this point my legs were in agony and quite a lot of people started to stop for a rest but I told myself that this would only make my legs feel worse when I resumed again.
But then one of my favourite running songs, Slam by Pendulum came on and it completely shifted my mindset as I found some energy from somewhere. I was over the dreaded “wall”. Cousy had told me ‘the faster you run, the quicker you finish.’ It sounds stupid but it definitely helped me at that point, as did the prospect of seeing my friends at the finish line. I was so close now, there was no way I was dropping out. Sadly, from 35km onwards many runners did run out of steam or had to stop due to injury. However, I’m not going to lie – the last few kilometres were torture but when I spotted the finish line approaching in the distance, it was like all my Christmases had come at once. I switched off my iPod so I could soak in the atmosphere and waved to friends who were dotted along the final stretch which powered me through the gruelling final stage to complete my marathon mission.
I finished in 4 hr 8min and Cousy clocked 3hr 45min but most importantly of all, we raised lots of money for MacMillan in the process.
The next day was a major struggle. I could hardly walk and my feet absolutely killed but it was worth every bit of pain. “Never again,” I thought in the immediate aftermath. But now the dust has settled, I do quite fancy running another one…but maybe this time I’ll train properly!