Over the years I’ve taken part in a variety of Race for Life events at a variety of locations. From 5km at the University of Bath campus to 10km at Bowood, I’ve pounded around fields and parks racing money for Cancer Research UK. Last year I even took part in one of their Pretty Muddy races. As a seasoned marathoner I thought nothing about doing 5km, but didn’t take into account how much you use your arms in an obstacle course! My arms were so sore I couldn’t open a jam jar the next day.
So, when I heard about the first ever Race for Life marathon, I had to sign up. Not only was it the first ever Race for Life marathon, but also the UK’s first ever female-only marathon! This had to be done. And on a glorious October morning I, along with 3,500 other women, found myself in Lee Vale Park in north London, ready to start the race.
The Race for Life team were holding a full and half marathon on the same day, and if you have ever been to one of their events you will know that they commence with a mass warm-up session. So picture the scene: several hundred women, dressed in pink, all queuing for the toilets, spare toilet roll in hand, doing grapevines, squats and lunges, with giant grins on their faces. It was a beautiful sight.
Somehow I manage to find myself at the front of the six to eight-hour group – not ideal for a walker, and when we counted down to ‘GO’ I had to do a short run to allow the runners behind me to get going. Once I’d slowed down, I was stunned at how lovely the park was – wide open spaces, sparkling lakes, hundreds of ducks, geese and swans, and we were lucky enough to have a stunning day for it.
The course was two laps of the park and this was the first time I had taken part in a race that covered the same course more than once. Some walkers like doing laps as you can prepare yourself for what is coming up on the next lap. Personally I found it a bit demoralising, especially when I realised that the nasty hill I was doing at mile five would be so much worse when I went round the second time at mile 18!
For the first time in a marathon I found myself really struggling, and by the 13.1 mile split I was ready to pack it in. My husband met me at that point and after a lot of swearing on my part (sorry to the poor marshal stood nearby!) I decided to carry on. The course was hard: dusty, uneven and with little shade, But, I realised that more than anything I was finding the race lonely. It was a small field and many more women were doing the half than full marathon. Due to the small numbers, on the second lap we were very spread out, and although the marshalls were fantastic, there wasn’t enough going on to distract or amuse me. I missed the usual camaraderie and cheering crowds of the 5km and 10km races, and I ended up listening to music (which I never do) and found myself singing out loud to the soundtrack to Mamma Mia by mile 16 (with different voices for each of the characters). I managed to get round the rest of the course high on Abba and Jelly Babies (again sorry to the poor marshal who I serenaded with Super Trouper). When I got to mile 26 I found my husband waiting for me and we crossed the finish line together – I even managed a smile and a bit of a dance.
This was an extremely well organised event: a huge well done to the Race for Life team for pulling off their first ever marathon. And for the amazing finishers’ goodie bag (the best goodie bag EVER!). My only request for next year would be for more interaction and entertainment around the course – I loved the choir on the first time round, but by the second time they had gone. If you fancy doing a marathon for an amazing charity but aren’t sure about running in the overly macho environment of a regular marathon, then this is the event for you. However, I think it would be easier, and more fun, if you run it with a friend or group.