So the build up to Budapest was firmly centred around a pretty dodge left ankle. Being as stubborn as I am, it was always likely that I’d at least make the start line and give it a go and just see what happens. It’d definitely started to heal up, but was nowhere near 100%, and I was also concerned about the zero running I’d done in the two weeks building up to the race.
We flew out to Hungary on the Friday morning (minus any ‘episodes’ on the flight out which I’m sure was a massive relief to Katie – I ended up in the back of an ambulance after my last flight, but that’s another story). After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we thought we’d head over to the race village to register and get all that out of the way early on.
Interestingly, they’d printed out some weather forecast ‘posters’ for the following day – 28 degrees and sunny was probably not what I was hoping for. Add in the fact that the event would be starting at the later time of 11am, it looked like we’d be running at the hottest point of the day – result!
The rest of the day was spent resting up and making sure we had a plan so Katie could pop up at various point en route to offer some much needed support/push me back to the hotel in a wheelchair once my ankle had finally given in.
After a standardly awful pre-race sleep, I got up at a leisurely 7.30am (the only bonus of having a later start time) to smash back some Alpen and begin getting myself ready for the long day ahead. We set off towards the start with plenty of time to spare, and as we got closer the Metro began to steadily fill with numerous apprehensive looking runners. After milling around the start/finish area for a bit, I said goodbye to Katie and made my way to the starting pens.
With a bit of time to spare I spotted a vest I recognised – someone representing the Wimbledon Windmillers, a running club just down the road from me. This is the first time I’d met Bronwyn, but unbeknown to me at the time, it certainly wouldn’t be the last. We had a good chat about all things England (naturally the talk quickly turned to local park runs) which made time pass quickly, and soon enough it was time to go.
With Budapest being a much smaller event than some of the big city marathons (around 5,000 runners) I thought it’d be much more spread out than races such as Paris. However, for the first few miles it was pretty hard to find any space at all. Still, there was some great crowds out and it was good to be running at last, and for the time being, running pain free.
Unfortunately, within around 5 minutes of running, I realised I needed the toilet. Now, this wasn’t because I didn’t go before the start (I did, about 20 times), but probably more so because I insist on drinking the equivalent of the Atlantic Ocean before the start of each and every event. Probably a lesson to be learned for the future, but for the time being I made do with diving in a portaloo and losing about 20 seconds. Obviously, the solution to this is to come charging out and start haring up the road like you’re in a 100m sprint to try and get back to your original position. Other people running don’t seem to take too kindly to this, apparently.
I started to settle into a rhythm after around 5 miles and tried to sit on 8 minute mile pace. That’d be good enough for a 3.30 marathon, which was probably an unrealistic goal with the ankle in mind, but I thought I’d give it a go and see what happens. I was already starting to feel the heat and knew it was going to be a tough day. At every aid station I’d go through the process of chucking a couple of cups of water over my head, before drinking one, throwing another one over me, and taking a final one to carry and drink on the road ahead. I repeated this process at pretty much every stop to try and keep cool in any way I could.
The route was pretty stunning, and a large parts of it were along the Danube river, so there was a lot of great scenery to take in, which helpfully took your mind off the task in hand. After around ten miles I noticed the 3 hour 30 ‘pacer’ just ahead of me, so thought it would make sense to run with him if that was the pace I was aiming for. I put myself just in front of him, as there was an absolute stampede of people behind him all clinging onto that 3.30 dream. In hindsight, I’m not sure this was one of my best ideas, as you constantly got the feeling that you were being chased, which was actually quite disconcerting at times.
I got to half-way, and knew I’d be seeing Katie around the turnaround at the end of the course, so started to keep an eye out for her. Soon enough she appeared at the side of the road and chucked me some Lucozade. I confidently declared to her I’d gone through half-way in 1.42, and I think it’s at this point that the whole day went wrong. I’d not been feeling great for the first ten miles, but right now I was feeling a million bucks. I decided that instead of just plodding onwards at my 8 minute mile pace, I was going to crack on. Why not? I’m feeling excellent, this is great, ankles fine, I’m pretty much Superman. So I slightly upped the pace for the next few miles, and pulled away from the 3.30 pacer and the masses that were following him. I was constantly passing a stream of people and feeling excellent about it. This is how the Kenyans must feel, surely. I saw Katie again at 16 miles and told her I was feeling great.
We then headed back along the Danube, and slowly but surely the wheels start to come off. I was still going along at a good pace, but everything was starting to feel more laboured and hard work. I started noticeably feeling how hot it was, and was desperate for the next aid station. I got to 21 miles and now I was really struggling to hold the pace. My friend from the start, Bronwyn, appeared ahead of me so I made an effort to get up to her, hoping that running with someone else may ease the pain. I ended up edging past her and carrying on up the road, but by the time the next water station came I was walking.
I was livid with myself, because I’d never walked during a race before. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with it, it’s just not my thing. I managed to get going again, but it was slower, and miles 22 and 23 went by in 9 minutes. My heart rate was ridiculously high for the amount of effort I was putting in, and I knew I should probably take it slightly easy to the finish. I had people on the side of the road offering encouragement, but there was nothing I could give them back because I just had nothing left in the tank. The heat had definitely taken it’s toll and the ankle was now starting to noticeably hurt. The 3.30 pacer sailed past me and I knew a PB would have to wait for another day.
However, it wasn’t all bad as Bronwyn picked me up for the last 3 miles. She was struggling with cramps, so we decided we’d limp home together – better to go through this with someone else than on your own! It was excellent having her around, as I think we pushed each other forwards, and without her I think I’d have walked a considerable amount of the way home. After what seemed like forever, we made it back to the park and it was just the final mile to go. I started to enjoy myself again, and take notice of the crowds and the setting.
Finally it was onto the finish straight, and briefly stopping to say hey to Katie (in a strange way it was nice to know the PB was gone, it was a lot easier to enjoy the finish), I carried on up to the finish, crossing the line with Bronwyn, which I thought was quite apt considering we started together earlier this morning.
The time was 3.37.02, so actually, 3.30 wasn’t all that far off. And on a hot day, with one leg, I’ll take that for marathon number 4. Certainly not what I’d hoped for, but there’ll always be another day.
After finishing I inevitably felt like the living dead, so spotted Katie and we grabbed some shade while I attempted to try and feel human again.
The rest of the weekend was excellent, as we just ate and drank far too much while wandering around Budapest, which is actually a pretty amazing city. The recovery day after the marathon involved walking up a ridiculously large hill because we didn’t want to be seen with the obese American tourists taking the little hill train.
So what’s the plan next? Well, muggins here has managed to rush back to playing football too quickly and injured the exact same ankle, again. So it’ll be hibernation mode for a few weeks (I’ve got a couple of pretty important exams I need to smash too – boring stuff). Hopefully after that the ankle will start playing ball, and I’ll be able to get a great winter of training in, with all roads leading to London 2015..