At mile 2, my right hip started to feel a little tight.
I chose to ignore it and told myself that this kind of thing is normal and would most likely ease as the miles increased.
At mile 3, I couldn’t work out how to drink from the water pouch that was handed to me at an aid station. I didn’t dare slow my pace to figure it out.
I ended up biting a hole in the side of the plastic. Water spurted out of the side and soaked my t-shirt. Fuck it. I laughed.
At mile 9, I figured I was 10 minutes in front of the 4 hour pacer. My sub-4 marathon plan was well, going to plan.
I felt strong and confident.
I took another gel.
It felt strange, to be running through the streets of Manchester, my home city. Strange, because it didn’t feel like my home city at all, and yet I’d spent the first 18 years of my life there. Manchester had become a place I only associated with sadness and dark times – the place where my mum had died – the place I chose to leave soon after.
I’ve rarely been back.
Signing up to the Manchester marathon was my way of making peace with my past. I wanted to return, to show the city that I had changed, that I’m not angry anymore, that I’m a runner now, that I can do hard things.
At mile 11, I started to experience a pulling sensation in my right glute. Again, I chose to ignore it.
I looked out for my friend, Laura, as the course started to loop back on itself. I counted down the marathon pacers as they passed me on the other side of the road; 3 hour, 3.15, 3.30. I knew she wouldn’t be too far behind.
I suddenly saw her, ashen faced and focused just after mile 13. I shouted. She looked up and waved. Then, head down, digging deep – I could tell she meant business.
The doubts started to creep in around mile 15, “You’re running too fast”, “You can’t maintain this pace”, and so I drove my arms harder and shook my head, physically elbowing my negative thoughts to the road below.
I knew sub-4 was possible. I’d trained for it. I was capable and ready. I wanted it. So bad.
This time round, I hadn’t raised money for charity, there was no shouting from the rooftops, there was no cause, no big message to make people sit up and listen.
The marathon was about me – a personal challenge – I wanted to see what I was made of.
At mile 16, I saw Kristin and my Dad. They hollered and cheered but all I could do was grimace. I shot Kristin a look, I wanted her to know that I was in pain. Later that evening, as we talked over the race, she said she had known at that moment that something was wrong. My eyes had said it all.
Stabbing pain, right glute.
At mile 20, I came to a stand still. “This cannot be fucking happening”, I said to myself through gritted teeth.
I walked, slowly, praying my leg would somehow loosen up.
The 4 hour pacer and a group of maybe 30 runners caught me up, and like a tornado, they swept me along as they charged forward, a dizzying hive of talking and shouting instructions and times and breathing hard and feet hitting the ground.
I started to slow again, the pain resonating from my hip and glute was just too much to continue. I stood and watched as they ran ahead until they were like ants on the horizon. The 4 hour pacer’s flag flapping in the wind; an all too stark reminder that I had blown my marathon plan.
Angry at myself.
At my leg.
I walked for 2 miles to well-meaning chants from the side-lines of, “Don’t give up now, Liz”, “Go on, girl, run, not long to go”. I smiled and thanked people for their support. I high-fived kids as I passed them.
I stopped and stretched and every so often, I’d try to jog for 5 seconds or so, hoping that the pain had magically disappeared.
Stabbing pain, right glute.
I wondered whether I should walk to the finish line to collect my medal.
I thought of Boston – I worried that I was being disrespectful to those who didn’t finish that day, to those who won’t ever run again.
I played a ping-pong mind battle with myself for another 2 miles of walking: You should pull up right now/Think of Boston/You should walk to the finish line/Think of Boston/You should pull up right now. Over and over.
And then I saw him.
He walked towards me with his kind, tired eyes.
I fell into his arms and sobbed.
And in that moment, I decided to pull up.
I told him and he was shocked. “You sure you don’t want to walk? The finish line is a mile away, Liz”.
“Ok, lets get you to the car”.
(Did not finish).
Brave people run marathons. I’ve always know that. 26.2 miles is a long way. Marathons hurt, physically and mentally, but they teach us things. They show us who we are – we advance, despite knowing there will be adversity along the way – they bring us back to ourselves.
Pulling out of the marathon on Sunday also felt brave.
For different reasons.
But brave all the same.