Last weekend saw me head to Wales with my family for the culmination of almost four months of training, 46 training runs including 3 races (Yeovil Half, Easter Bunny and Sunday's marathon) and over 225 miles (more than I've done within the first four months of a year ever as far as I can remember).
Saturday was a long day and saw us start off by heading in completely the opposite direction to the one we needed to go in order that my son could compete in the team competition for his ten pin bowling club. The drive to Weymouth did look like it was going to be a bit tight but ended up with us having almost 10 minutes to spare when we got arrived.
Waiting around for him to finishing playing I ended up sitting at a table enjoying a coffee. As I did one of the coaches from his club came over and parked her baby son in his pram next to me and asked if I would be OK keeping an eye on him while he was asleep. Of course I had no problem doing that and it did remind me when my own son was that age and we'd take him out somewhere.
If I have any regrets about being a trans female its that I'll never get to experience being pregnant and giving birth to my own baby. Even if medical science made it possible I'm getting to that age where I'd be too old now.
Eventually though it was time to leave and start our trek to Wales, but first we decided that we'd pop back via home so that we could grab some lunch. A good idea really as we'd have had to stop somewhere anyway, so why not at home.
The trip to Llanelli was pretty uneventful. We made a slight detour to visit some of my wife's family before arriving at our hotel early evening.
The chap that was on reception was very helpful and explained how to get to where the race start would be located as it turned out I wasn't the only person racing.
Dinner was in the pub next to the hotel and I made sure that I'd eaten plenty so that I'd be topped up for the following day. With all the races I've done over the years the one thing I've learned is that when it comes to food on a race weekend eating when you can is a priority. Missing out on an evening meal the night before one London marathon means that I eat what I can the day before an event. Far too many race day morning experiences mean I have back-up plans to make sure I have something to top up my energy levels.
Back at the room, race kit was put out ready, a quick shower was had and then it was time for bed for a restless night.
Sunday morning dawned and I began my race day ritual. The usual morning business of washing and putting on make-up (yes I really do race wearing foundation, eye-shadow, blush, lipstick and even mascara) was completed before race gear was donned. Then began the other race day ritual of going to and from the bathroom until the restaurant opened and I was able to pop in and have some fruit juice, coffee and a bowl of fresh fruit.
Looking around at the handful of other people eating it was obvious that they were there for the race.
After breakfast I finished getting ready before heading out to find the start, something that ended up being rather quick as I bumped into another runner who confirmed that it was a very short walk away. Returning to the restaurant where my family were now having their breakfast I grabbed one more coffee. One of the waitresses came up to me as I was doing this and told me that she'd put some paper bags next to the muffins and croissants for the runners to take some with them as none were eating a lot that morning. Such a lovely gesture.
Finally it was time to head out to the start. As I was making my way I heard someone calling my name and turned to see two friends who were also running that day crossing a field behind me. We chatted and took some pictures while we waited for everybody to enter the start area.
There are two races that day, the marathon and a half marathon. The marathon is a two lap, figure of 8 route race, with the half marathon being one lap of the route. The entire route is traffic free with a couple of roads at one end of the route being closed off but the rest of it being on paths with some lovely coastal views.
At 9am we all headed off and I found myself running with one of my friends. The weather was amazing, blue skies, warm but with a cooling breeze. The perfect day for a race. Very quickly I realised that I wouldn't need my running jacket so this was shed and tied around my race, somewhere it would stay until I eventually saw my family at the 21 mile mark and was able to throw it to them.
About a mile into the race I told my running companion that I was going to slow my pace and let him carry on, he was aiming for a four and a half hour time and I knew I'd have to have an exceptional race to achieve a time like that. From my experiences in training I'd be lucky to finish in under 5 hours.
Slowing, I soon settled into a comfortable pace. The course is pretty much flat, slightly undulating with only two places that require any real effort to climb, one if a bridge and the other is a very small hill near the start. Water stations were located at reasonable distances around the course and with it being a nice day were very much needed. Some form of sports drink would have been appreciated but I had packed a running pouch with some sweets to keep me going and provide a tiny energy boost.
Mile after mile went by, each mile I hit the lap button on my Garmin and was happy to see that I was staying under a 11 minutes per mile pace which would see me finishing close to the 5 hour mark if I could keep it going. I knew that the last few miles would be a challenge as I'd never got beyond 22 or 23 miles in a marathon without having to stop and use a run/walk strategy to get to the finish.
At 16 miles I looked at my time and found I'd been running for 2 hours 50 minutes. Some quick calculations in my head and I had a new race goal, to get to the toilets at the 21 mile mark within an hour, something that could be achieved even if my pace dropped to 12 minutes per mile. I'd decided I'd stop and use the toilets before heading on for the last 5 miles.
Mile by mile I got closer to that point. As the toilets came into view so did my family. Forsaking the toilets I swung across to my family and tossed my running jacket at my son before heading off on the last 5 miles.
By now I was struggling, my pace was slowing and as had been happening for a lot of the race I was having to dodge pedestrians and cyclists, the only drawback to an event which is run on areas that are completely open to the public. The support shown by people whether there for people running or just out for the day was fabulous. For an event with barely 500 people split over two races the support was as good as any bigger race I've done and the banter between runners and spectators was fabulous.
Heading back towards the finish I passed my friend who was doing the marathon. His legs had been causing him problems, not surprising as he'd done another marathon the previous weekend. As I asked how he was doing his reply was one that made me smile. He was doing OK, he'd just stopped to have an ice-cream before carrying on. There's not many marathons that you can say you are able to stop and do that at.
At twenty five and a half miles I glanced at my time and realised that there was a possibility if I could find just a little bit more pace that I could equal, or even beat, my personal best marathon time.
By this point I was running on shear will power. I'd long passed the point in my previous marathons where I'd stopped and started to walk, and I was still running. I had reached the point as I approached 21 miles where I was determined that I would keep running and not stop and walk, each mile I'd completed from there I'd kept forcing myself to put one foot in front of the other and not to give in.
26 miles grew ever closer and then the small hill before the finish appeared. I had found enough energy to run a little bit quicker but the hill sapped my energy and I knew that it was going to be really close. Still I kept trying.
Over the hill and down the other side. 26 miles passed by and the last several hundred yards were before me. I knew I was outside my PB but I kept going, kept trying to finish as quickly as I could. Passing my family one last time I entered the finishing straight to cheers and claps from people still waiting around.
Over the tannoy I could hear the person ahead of me being congratulated as they finished. Then I heard my name as I finally reached the finish and slowed to a halt, catching my breath before walking on to receive my medal, a wooly hat and a bag containing a carton of apple juice, a packet of crisps and a bar of chocolate. Grasping my goodies I made my way around to my family and sat down to start refueling.
As we sat there I watched as those people behind me one by one finished. I clapped each one that I saw. Finally in the distance my friend appeared and made his way towards the finish.
The determination of the people finishing after me was something to watch. In a bigger marathon they would hardly have been noticed but in an event with this small a field each and every one of them stood out, their determination to finish shining like beacons. Each one a hero or heroine.
Before the race I told my family that it would be my last marathon but one, and that one would be the last leg of the Outlaw Triathlon which is still on my list of things to do. Sat there at the end of the race I found myself thinking that I would have to make a real effort to try and stop myself from entering it next year. Something that I have so far managed to resist doing. Not very difficult to do really when your legs ache so much that you can hardly walk up and down stairs.
Maybe I'll manage to resist, who knows, will have to see, what time and a lack of aches brings.