Featuring PB silliest race start and finish & Northern Irish bumble bee
The sat.nav. in the car assured me I would get to the race by 7am. Not ideal (I had taken a little detour by mistake ahem) but ok for a 7.30am start. Then I joined the jam outside the Quarry Recreation Centre. Cars were backed up in two directions, sloooooooooooowly funneling into the park entrance – and each stopping at a booth to pay for parking. I didn’t know the area well enough to try to park elsewhere and jog to the start as I saw other people do …so I sat there, gazing forlornly at the giant inflatable start funnel bobbing around on the horizon.
Most of the cars were full of competent, calm people – arriving in good time for the half marathon and other races which started 30 mins later. There was no saving one frantic little marathon hopeful. I parked with literally 5 mins to go, ran to pick up my race bib and chip and lumbered off to the toilets where a sympathetic line of half marathoners took mercy on me and let me go ahead of them. In the background the tannoy reached an excited pitch asking if everyone was ready ‘Yes’ the crowd cheered, ‘No’ I whimpered. As the race started I still had to tackle the fiddly business of attaching the timing chip strip to my shoe. I finally got it done, clambered over bunting to get into the now deserted race start funnel and careered through it painfully conscious of how comical I must look – a disheveled, panicked idiot. I was holding my Garmin in my teeth, stuffing the course map down my top, juggling my ipod and hanky while trying to detangle my headphones ….after a few minutes of running they had snarled into the tightest knot I have ever encountered.
There are two major benefits of starting like this and one drawback. On the plus side you have your own little send off (I received a special little round of cheers) and then you are so insulated with gratitude to have made it and mortification to have caused a public spectacle you don’t feel the first few miles at all. In this case my mind was also fully occupied with the process of picking away at headphones wires. I was lucky it was a flat fire road/path race. If it had been a trail on single track I would have been in the soup. On the negative side, the luck of the Irish will always ensure that if I start a race late my chip will not work.
I passed my friend Chris Jones and waved my knotted headphones at him. We had the most typical runners’ conversation in the world. I asked after his ankle injury. He asked after my back. I warned him not to push it to hard and risk damaging that ankle, and he warned me about my back. Then off we went to mess up our ankles and backs by running a marathon on them. The difference between us is that 5.30am the next morning Chris would be treating his ankle to the OC Marathon. I love it when people make me look normal.
When I caught up to John (red shirt) and Russell (white shirt) I fell into stride with them and we ran much of the distance to the 13 mile turn around point together. It was funny they were comfortable at the same speed because I was struck by how comically different their running styles were as I approached them. Russell is what I call a Darth Vader runner – they sort of glide along close to the ground hardly lifting their feet while John is one of the bounciest runners I have ever seen, he lifts his heel higher than his knee with every step, often close to hitting his thigh -I guess Russell would need to see a rattle snake to achieve that height. No style is right or wrong of course – each to his own. In the picture here I am catching up to them. In the end this is the order we finished in. John got frisky around mile 17 and breezed so far ahead he was able to wave at us from the other side of lake. Russell got a second wind around mile 24 and stormed by him to strong finish in 5th place. (John and I believe he deployed the magical powers of his mesmorizing bright orange shoes.) Our times were 3.19.57, 3.19.29 and 3.19.58 respectively. Kinda sweet.
They were great guys and we had a few laughs and adventures on the way. At one point we jogged up behind a man dressed entirely in yellow and black and considered making bee buzzing noises as we passed by, but he looked like he was suffering a bit so we just ran up to him and told him we thought he looked like a bumble bee. As soon as he laughed I had my suspicions and when he spoke ‘me stomach’s killin me’ I realised he was from Northern Ireland like myself (from Newcastle, close to my hometown Bangor) We high fived and cheered for Newcastle/Bangor every time we passed after that.
I had worried I would find this course dull. Flat stuff by a quarry does sound grim. However, the place was really interesting. The quarry was filled with water in some places and marshland in others, the path crossed a few bridges and dipped under more so there was some variety and lots of things to look at – dog walkers, cyclists, squirrels, ducks and other birds. Above all, the set up of the turn around aid station just stole the show for me. It was at the very end of a long spit of walkway, gorgeous marshland stretched off for miles on either side. The station itself was a burst of color on the horizon and as you ran towards it and the smiling volunteers manning it you couldn’t help feel a little elated. The weather added to the special atmosphere here too. There was no shelter on this stretch and the sun was bright and hot – but there was the most glorious cool breeze. The combination just made my skin feel like silk. Truly memorable.
The marathon return retraced our steps. There were buoyant exchanges with inbound and outbound marathoners greeting each other, I looked out for Chris and Mr Bumble Bee and was of course interested to see if there were any females in front of me or sneaking up behind me. There actually weren’t any ladies ahead or very close to me which takes away the thrill of competition but does allow you to relax and run in your comfort zone -and considering my back problems that is what I am supposed to be doing! We soon reached a bigger field of runners as we met with the half marathoners. It was a welcome mental lift to have lots of people to watch but at times hard to get comfortable in your stride as you have to keep weaving around people.
Around mile 21 the half marathoners sail off downhill to the finish and he marathoners are sent as if in disgrace on a punishing little two mile detour along a straight, seemingly unending and fairly featureless lake side path. I looked at the mile 22 sign beside me and eyed the back of the mile 24 one across the track…I felt on the whole it might be more fun to fast forward the next little section of my life…and indeed these were the toughest two miles for most of us. I was praying to see the people I knew were ahead of me coming back towards the finish …you know you need body count coming back before it is possible for you to get to the turnaround. Eventually I saw the leading man, Doug.. yay. He looked very strong, so strong indeed I told him later I considered tripping him up – but he said he was really suffering at that point. I also saw Nakia Baird who was to come in 4th man at all these little interactions. He certainly deserves an honorable mention as I later found out he has had 4 knee surgerie..so I took a photo of them (see pic). The option of cutting out running has not yet occurred to him! It was so great to see John and Russell, both looking comfortable and determined, Russell just getting ready to unleash his last hurrah. I took a sports drink at the mile 23 aid station and attempted to stagger around the turn around cone while consuming it and promptly threw it into my eye (unless I stop I am just hopeless with those paper cups) so I headed off on the return winking vigorously at the people coming up behind me and trying to preserve my contact lens. I normally carry a spare contact lens in the pocket of my water bottle. When I went to take a sip of water at mile 5 I realised both water and lens were sitting on my car.
The finish was great, the course swoops down and around paths leading by an artificial beach and you can see the colorful finishers’ tunnel and aid area ready to welcome you home. I especially like that the course returns on a different path to the start route. I was really on fumes at this point and my back was very sore, I kept my eyes on John’s red shirt (still bouncing up and down in a lively fashion) a good way ahead of me …a friendly back if not face to lead me home like a harbor light. On the final turn John was out of view but I smiled when I heard a little cheer and announcement as he crossed the line.
Now at this point I have to admit I started anticipating the slightly childish but very human joy to be had in finishing a marathon as the first lady. I have been fortunate to have the experience before and they do sometimes make a bit of a fuss of you. So though I knew my family would not be there, I crossed the line ready to perhaps wave and don an ‘oh it was nothing’ expression while savoring a tender moment of personal pride in response to strangers cheering. And then I shot through the funnel to complete silence. It was so silent I wondered if I may have taken a wrong turn until a smiling lady greeted me and we started sorting out my medal. When she realised I was the first lady in the full marathon she headed off towards the tannoy operator to insist that he made an announcement. A few minutes later he did so but unfortunately ended with ‘congratulations first lady MELANIE SOANDSO.’ So here was the silliest finish in my running career. A couple of people high fived me and said ‘well done Melanie’… you can’t really not respond to a high five but in doing so you are kind of agreeing that your name is Melanie. Simultaneously I heard John’s voice saying..’.I thought you said you were called Penny?’ And ahead of me I could see the smiling lady returning with a ‘ THAT’s better’ expression on her face ………….and I’m think oh dear, how am I going to break it to her … It suddenly also seemed hilarious that we all had our names written on our chests in block capitals. It was hysterical. Bless her, off she went striding purposely back towards the tannoy.
In the end it emerged that this company has a policy of only using the gun start time for the first three male and female runners home for each event (its probably a common thing and it does make sense). So I needn’t have bothered struggling to put the chip thing on. It did turn out there was a problem with the chip technology- just covering a series of numbers including mine – how typical of me ….see luck of Irish rule at top of this blog. This problem also scrambled names – hence the Melanie. To be honest I thought John was called Brian for some reason, I started calling him John because that is what is written on his bib in the photos….and now see he is listed in the results as David. I wonder.
Overall I was delighted that I did this event, I was genuinely surprised at the beauty of the course …and the people were wonderful, runners and organizers. I think I’ve won a pair of shoes. The next humiliation will be when they have to tell me they don’t have any wide enough to cope with my huge bunions.
Thank you Brazen Racing!