0.6miles in we saw a 1mile marker. Confused, we both agreed that it must be facing the wrong way. Great. I commented how lovely it was to finally get going and we chatted about what a nice day it was for the race. After Saturday's torrential rain it was sunny, cool but not cold and with only the slightest breeze. Nic, who shall forever be know as a pacing legend, kept a close eye on us and even with a slight incline we kept pace but reigned it in when we started to get a bit pitter-patter-happy. Out past Salford Quays and the BBC's northern headquarters, which I occasionally have to visit, we joked that we didn't know much about each other's jobs but perhaps now was not the time to discuss them.
Through 10k in 41:35 and time to take half a gel. I'd planned to fuel early and not too much as I don't use any food or water on my long runs. I took a few sips at almost every water station though because of the weather.
I'm not sure if there weren't any mile markers until mile 7 but I certainly didn't notice them. Time was flying by and though the sun was hotting up things felt really easy and fun. It was just a great day to be out for a run. BenFP had reminded me on Monday that it was just another Sunday long run and it really did feel like that. The AR cheer-squad caught us in the early stages and we saw various friends running on the route. I thought I heard Mr B shout something about 10th lady but wasn't certain so I tried to put it out of my mind. The was still a long way to go. I've had concerns about how much the no-music rule affects me in races so having friends around both on and off the course really helped. It's great to lift your head and stop those internal thoughts for a moment. However, it does seem that when I wave I get a little speed-spurt so it was good that Nic was there to remind me to keep it steady. Note to self: perhaps I should just wave my way around track nights?
At some point around mile 10 or 11 Adam from AR joined us, as well as a chap who decided to sing slightly sweary football chants. Mate, if you can complain about Pompey like that, you're not running hard enough. He eventually drifted off and Nic, Adam and I went through half way at around 1:28:46. It was feeling a bit on the warm side by now and there were a few gentle ups and downs that required a bit of thought but it still felt good. I said to myself a couple of times "breath easy, stay tall, smile" and that was enough for another few miles. We were all feeling good and still enjoying it. Nic and I agreed between us that we'd keep the pace consistent until 30k and then see where we were. For the first time I wondered if it might just be that this Sub3 goal was possible. Time for another gel, a whole one this time - the plan was that it would kick in just as it was starting to get tough in about 40minutes. The camaraderie on the course was great with everyone offering water around each time we passed an aid station. I love marathon runners, they are such a friendly bunch. 30k (18.6miles) in 2:06:28 and we agreed to still keep it steady. I wasn't going to believe until those last 3 miles were ticking down.
Mile 19 was the first marker that I remember being glad to see. For some reason I thought we'd already passed it (more on that in a moment) and I'd promised myself that the next fuel point was around then as it would give a little oomph for the last couple of miles. It was starting to feel like a bit of an effort now and I knew it was getting towards time to dig in. Some comments from Adharanand Finn's book I'd been reading the day before came to me - he'd talked about how you should run almost as if you are falling forward. It really helped to start thinking about my running form at this point.
At mile 20 it was time to start counting down. Last year loads of people pulled up with injury around 20-23 and I've never felt such an overwhelming desire to sit down! This year it was getting tough but I was still enjoying it. Still, in anticipation of this waste-land patch through fields which I knew had very little support I'd given myself a list of people to think about each mile for the last 6 miles. This list covered friends who'd had nightmare races the preceding weeks (revenge on their behalf), another couple of running ladies who'd got injured and were unable to run their goal races, some church friends and of course the Mr and family (ok some people had to share!). I warned Nic that I was going to start muttering about people and apologised for the idiocy of it. I think I only actually verbalised it a couple of times, so hopefully it wasn't too annoying. At mile 22 I switched to the next person, thinking it had come around surprisingly quickly, only to see mile 22 another few minutes down the road. This time I wasn't going mad - loads of other people noticed the double-up too. Some time around 23/24 it was starting to get tough and I noticed Nic was finding it harder too but we were still on pace. I think it was after getting some water and trying to get round someone that we got separated a bit. I called to him that we were still going to get it done and that we could keep going to the end but he told me to carry on. I know I can't compare myself to Shalane Flanagan or Amy Cragg but that moment gave me the tiniest insight into their amazing Olympic trial run where they supported each other so incredibly and then there was that moment where Cragg had to go. I didn't even know if I had it in me to hit the target but I knew that I could keep going a bit longer and so I carried on.
Mile 24 and 25 hurt (they always do) and the crowd didn't really kick back in until mile 25. There was no way I was stopping for water now so I just kept trying to think about my running form, people on the list, what it would feel like to finish and how lucky I was to be able to run, whilst all the while looking out desperately for people I knew in the crowd.
I saw Sarah and Lucy from the AR Collective , I think maybe at about 25.5. They shouted at me and my watch was telling me that I'd got the sub 3, but the finishing straight was so long that I still wasn't sure. I tried to pick up the pace but I didn't feel like I could. Looking back on the splits and after some comments from those who finished around the same time it seems that I was a lot stronger than I felt. I do remember that I was still enjoying it though and whilst there was nothing left in the tank for a sprint I didn't feel that utter desperation to finish and fear of falling over like I've felt at the end of every other marathon. I suppose that's where all the training and in particular track has really helped. I know more now what it's like to push even when you think you're exhausted.