My Belfast Marathon Adventure

John Davis – Training & HR Officer in AMH – tells us about running in his first ever Marathon – The Belfast City Marathon 2011.

John (5th from the left) and the AMH Team on race day

What a fantastic experience, the atmosphere at the start line was really great, there was a real buzz in the air.  I got off to a good start and found some space to run and settled into my pace, as I headed towards Central Train Station I looked up and saw the thousands of people running – it was a great sight.  I reached the bottom of Holywood Road (mile 3) and turned left and headed up the bypass towards Bridge End. It was fairly easy as it was a flat run, I got to Bridge End which was the 6 mile mark and my blood sugars were ok and I was 10 mins ahead of my time. This was a relay change point and it was packed with relay runners and there was also a water station so I grabbed a cup of water and found out very quickly that I cannot run and drink at the same time!  Through the coughs and splutters I ran on and headed up High Street, Castle Street and the Falls Road.  The streets were lined with spectators, kids had their hands out to be high-fived and people were offering sweets and water – really great!

I made my way from the Falls Road to Lanark Way, then down the Shankill Road and turned left and headed up Tennant Street, again the streets were packed with spectators cheering and some kids were handing out jelly sweets. There was another water station in Tennant Street so I grabbed two cups of water (marathon running is thirsty work) and walked along drinking them. At this stage I was really feeling the sun and I wanted to make sure I drank the water instead of coughing it up over the people in front of me. I checked my blood sugars (being a diabetic) and they were a bit low so I took a few glucose tabs and ran on. Up ahead in Hillview was another relay change over point and again it was packed with runners.

It was approximately mile 9 and I was still feeling ok and confident that I would finish. So on I ran, up the Old Park Road and at Cliftonville Circus took a left and ran down Westland Road, (at this stage running downhill was a real pleasure), spectators lined the streets and I saw on the Westland Road that a women had set up her own water station. I ran on and crossed the Cavehill Road and now I was on my home turf! (The hours I spent running up and down the Cave Hill Road and Antrim Road training!!!!). I ran on and at the junction of Salisbury Avenue and Antrim Road I looked out for my mum, but didn’t see her (I later found out that she didn’t see me either!). Up the Antrim Road I ran and what I lift I got….this was the part of the marathon I was looking forward to as I knew my wife and two sons were waiting at the 12 mile mark, just at the Lansdowne Hotel.

I recognised almost everyone who was out on the Antrim Road cheering.   As I approached mile 12 I was looking to see my wife and sons but they saw me before I saw them. I had a bit of reception as my in-laws where there also and our friend Peter (his daughter was running a leg of the relay). …As if I had all the time in the world I stopped to have a chat and checked my blood sugars and got some water, meanwhile loads of runners were going past me and my youngest son Aidan said “hurry up dad you’re going to be last”. So I checked my time…approx 6 mins ahead…. on I went up the Antrim Road, at mile 13 I felt a bit of a niggle in my legs but thought nothing of it and ran on. Just over mile 14 (running down the Whitewall Road) I took cramps in both my legs and they tighten up and I fell over….. was it how a professional athletic would fall with a bit of grace?……  arms and legs were all shapes, I was sprawled out on the ground….I picked myself up and the pain in my legs was BAD! I gave them a bit of a rub and tried to stretch them but it just wasn’t working. I waited for a few minutes and then checked my blood sugars, at least they were ok. I ran on and managed to get to mile 17 and the cramps came back with a vengeance along with the pain. I really thought I was going to have to pull out of the marathon as my legs just did not want to work and the pain was really bad.

At this point I saw Gavin McConvey (Fundraising Manager/Service Manager, AMH) and asked him if he would give me a leg rub (Gavin is a cyclist and would know what to do in this situation). I don’t know what caused more pain, the cramps or Gavin rubbing my legs, but this did help me and I was able to run on, albeit at a slower pace but at least I was running. Thanks Gavin!

Anyway, on I ran along the tow path heading towards Duncrue Industrial Estate, the sun was out and I really felt it (during my training I didn’t experience running in hot weather). At the end of the tow path my wife and two boys were there along with my sister-in law and niece and they had fresh water, mmm … lovely. I checked my blood sugars and all was ok, so on I went.

I got to mile 22 and the pain in my legs was really bad but there was no way that I was going to stop, at this stage there was quite a few people coping with injury/cramp but were all pressing on. I checked my watch and I had been running for 4 ½ hours, this was meant to be my completion time, I was a bit annoyed.

I reached the Ormeau Road and spectators were still cheering runners on and this did give me a lift. As I was running/crawling up the Ormeau Road I was looking out for Helen and Colette from New Horizons Belfast but didn’t see them, Helen told me the next day that they didn’t see me either. I think they both had been sitting for a few hours outside a coffee shop, but the thought was there, thank you!

Spectators were also out on the home straight down the Ravenhill Road, again I got a bit of a lift which spurred me on.

And then there it was…the FINISH LINE!!!!  As I ran up to it I saw Tara, Declan and Aidan (my wife & kids) in the crowd waving and cheering, I crossed the finishing line 5 ½ hours after I started, 1 hour over my planned time to finish.  As I walked around the finishing area to meet my family I was presented with my medal, a bottle of water and a bag of Tayto Cheese & Onion crisps, I didn’t realise how hungry I was until I was given the crisps, I ate them within 30 seconds…… lovely. We stayed on at the park and had a picnic as there was still loads of people about and the atmosphere was great.

As we walked back to the car I said to Tara “never again, that’s my marathon experience over”, as my legs were so stiff and sore. For the next three days I was walking like a penguin. I had to walk up the stairs side on and walk down backwards holding on to the banister. In work I had to raise my chair to the highest setting and I had to plan going to the toilet; as it is on the second floor with four flights of stairs to waddle up, it took a bit of time.

Now that over two weeks have passed since the marathon and all the aches and pains have gone and I’m back out running, would I do it again?

Yes I would, as I think that I could run it in 4 ½ hours. It may be next year or the year after, but I will definitely run it again…….

John’s Fundraising target of £250.00 was smashed. He raised a total of ….drum roll…………£638.62 for AMH – thank you to all his sponsors.

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