I eventually pulled the eye mask, to black out the 24 hour sunlight, off my face at about 11am on the Saturday morning of the race. The race itself started at 8.30pm Norweigan time so my Dad and I had about 9 hours to kill before the serious business of my first #marathon began. It seemed a bit weird to me that despite all the miles I had run in the previous 12 months and all the races that I had completed that the furthest I had ever run was only 20 miles. It was a strange combination of excitement and curiosity that I felt as I ate my Porridge and Wholemeal toast that morning, and to be totally honest I couldn’t wait to just get started! My Dad and I took a very chilled out approach to the day, partly because I was trying to prepare properly and conserve all my energy for the race and partly because we were knackered from the 5 miles that we walked the previous day being tourists in and around the #Tromso city centre. I ate more porridge, pasta, energy bars and drank lots of water whilst my Dad seemed to match me litre for litre with Tea. (It’s a good job we packed all those PG Tips like proper Brits abroad beforehand!). Around 5pm I Facetimed Kristy back in the UK, jumped in the shower, got dressed, did one last kit check and then my Dad and I headed to the bus stop to catch the 6.30pm bus to the race start back at the City Hall.
Once we arrived there the whole city centre was abuzz with thousands of runners, spectators and excitement. We delivered my bag, containing all the stuff I’d need for immediately after the race, at the bag drop and then sat in the warm with the other marathon runners just trying to focus on the task ahead. My Dad and I enjoyed quite a long chat about the different journeys we had both travelled over the last 12 months, the challenges, the toughest parts, the best parts and the experiences yet to happen and had some real, meaningful, quality time together. Since we found out about his illness my Dad and I have become much closer and keep in touch much more often over SMS, Whatsapp and even Facebook, but this was just so nice, to spend these days in his company. Just the two of us, hanging out, drinking tea, talking nonsense, all rounded off with a 26.2 mile run for the end of my #12in12months challenge. It really felt as if fate and the universe had conspired to bring us together, in Norway, to experience this thing together at this particular point in our lives.
The time between arriving at 6.30pm and making my way down to the start line at 8.15pm absolutely flew by and before we knew it I was taking off my waterproof jacket and beginning to limber up. The final task before this was to logout of Facebook on my phone and allow my Dad to log into my account on his phone so that he could fire up the old #Dadcam and post updates on my progress. Everything looked rosy as Dad spoke about “filming it on my Kindle and then blue toothing it to my phone so that I can post it on Facebook” but little did I know that #Dadcam was to become the stuff of legend whilst I was out slogging my way around the course! Once logged into my Facebook however my Dad and I shared some last words, a hug and then he headed off with all his tech gear and I bounced around on the start line trying to keep warm. Despite it only just being 8.30pm I have to say that regardless of the never ending sunshine it was a very cold evening and that it took me until the very last second to make a decision on whether or not to wear my under armour – which I did. Luckily before any time at all had passed the countdown was on, 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – GOOOOO, and we were off! Finally race 12 was underway! I waved at Terje and my Dad as I crossed the start line, started my #Garmin and #MapMyRun and set about trying to think of absolutely anything at all in the whole universe other than the amount of running I had ahead of me.
The first 6 miles saw the race take a bit of a zig zag through the city centre streets, a quick pass along the waterfront, over the HUGE road bridge crossing the fjord towards the Arctic Cathedral and then 4 miles out towards the south of the mainland along/towards Innlandsveggen. I always find that the first mile of any race is solely about not getting trodden on, not treading on anyone and not tripping over. With nearly 750 runners starting the race and all of them wanting to look fit, strong, focussed and prepared in front of the huge watching crowd, this sometimes takes a lot of concentration like it did here. Soon enough though the field had naturally spread out a bit and there was more than enough room for everyone. The atmosphere of the race, and the noise and enthusiasm of the predominantly Norweigan crowd, was infectious and the first ascent of the bridge soon upon me. Having had the pleasure of walking over the bridge the day before on mine and my Dads tourist day the climb (from 6m above sea level to 46m above sea level) was slightly less daunting and it didn’t stop me from hitting a steady pace fairly quickly and easily. The views during this first 6 miles were absolutely incredible as well I have to say. I’ve been very lucky during my #12in12months #ManProject to run in some incredible, amazing places like Exmoor, Barcelona, Miami and Gansbaai in South Africa but the views here were the best. Snow tipped mountains, crystal clear Fjords, the beautiful midnight sun and the cute Norweigan houses all helped make these first 6 miles lots of fun. With an average pace of 8m30s during this first 6 miles I was looking bang on target for sub four hours and feeling strong, with little idea of what was to come.
MILES 7 -13
After reaching what felt like the Southern most tip of what I assumed was the mainland there was a turning point, of literally a traffic cone in the road, which we ran around and then headed back the 6 miles we had just come, back over the bridge and back into Tromso. As we turned back for Tromso I was still feeling good, enjoying my Spotify playlist (thanks Rike!) and thoroughly enjoying the experience. The only issue that I had at this particular time was that I was in desperate need of (and please excuse any crudeness here) a sit down toilet stop. Having eaten so much food in the previous 24 hours to stock up on ‘fuel’ I had (and please excuse any crudeness again) already been 4 or 5 times that day but the wolf was at the door again. I was definitely not planning to do a Paula Radcliffe so was desperately looking for any portaloos en route. I couldn’t remember seeing any marked on the course map and also couldn’t remember seeing any yet on the run, so was starting to feel slightly desperate. As miles 7, 8 and 9 passed slight desperation developed into desperation, which in turn became extreme desperation. I was by this stage 100% convinced I was going to have an accident in my support shorts. To make matters even worse there had been 2 portaloos along this part of the run, but 1 had 5 people queuing outside (and if I wanted to crack 4 hours I couldn’t waste 10 minutes in a toilet queue) whilst the second looked and smelled like it had been shipped in after 10 years continual use at Glastonbury. I usually have a fairly strong stomach but this was horrific. By mile 9 my extreme desperation had started to introduce some crazy ideas on how I could solve this issue into my thinking, which I am too ashamed to share even now, but just as I was about to make a very bad life choice I saw a Shell petrol station with a ‘TOILETTES’ sign. Thank the good Lord! Having worked as an all night garage attendant at a Shell Garage in Cornwall when I was younger this seemed like a sign from the gods that they were on my side.
Excuse my crudeness, my final apology, but my pit stop in the Shell garage was quicker than a tyre change during a Formula 1 race. The garage attendant looked visibly shocked and surprised at the speed at which I was in and out, but my goodness did I feel better. I had lost very little time and was perfectly set up for the last ascent of the bridge and the second half of the race back in Tromso. Just after the Shell Garage we crossed back under the bridge and then had to do a big 2 mile or so loop back up past the Arctic Cathedral before the climb back up the bridge and into Tromso for the second half of the race. As I ground my way up the bridge I still felt strong, I felt lighter and my per mile pace was consistent at around 8m30s which put me bang on for around 3 hours 45 minutes. I also knew that my Dad and #Dadcam was going to be at the top of the bridge so I put on my best game face and continued to climb.
You can watch the video HERE!
MILES 14 – 20
Sure enough there, where he promised he would be, was my Dad shouting words of support and cheering me on as I reached the top of the bridge. He was all set to take some video of me but three things scuppered this. Firstly I think I had got there slightly quicker than he expected so he wasn’t quite ready for me. Secondly he was freezing cold at this point, with fairly bad ‘white finger’, so holding and operating a fiddly little phone wasn’t as easy as we thought. Thirdly he wasn’t expecting me to throw my gloves at him. Whilst Dad had ‘white finger’ my hands were boiling and carrying the gloves was annoying me so as I got right by him I shouted “Dad. Gloves!” and launched them at him. The resulting video can be seen here – classic #Dadcam
You can watch the video HERE!
I was laughing about what had happened as the bridge flattened out and I looked up at the amazingly beautiful view of #Tromso ahead of me. At this moment I felt so lucky to be running this race, with my Dad there to support me, and thought about how grateful I was to Kristy and Rachel for allowing Dad and I to go off and do this! As the flat of the bridge became a downhill I was sharply brought back to reality as I felt a twinge in my hamstring. “Oh f**k no!” (For those of you that aren’t regular blog readers, I have been struggling with my hamstrings since before the #Barcelona #HalfMarathon back in February and tweaked them again just a few weeks ago.). As I continued down the bridge the twinge continued and I could feel it starting to pull. I stopped briefly, gave it a rub, did some stretches and set off again but I could immediately feel it pulling again. Desperately trying to ignore it I carried on through miles 14, 15 and 16 but the pain was getting worse and my per mile splits were getting slower. At mile 17 I was convinced that the heavy strapping I had put on before the race had slipped down and was cutting into my hamstring so I stopped to check and adjust it, but it hadn’t – it was just the pain in my hamstring.
Now I had a decision to make. Could I even finish this race now? I had so many thoughts firing through my mind! Could I make it another 9 miles in this condition regardless of whether I could run it or would have to walk it? Could I get 9 more miles out of my broken hamstring? How long would 9 miles take to walk? Isn’t it embarrassing to have to walk the rest? What about all those people who have sponsored you? Dad will be expecting me at the finish line at the 4 hour mark? I don’t want to let anyone down! It was horrible I have to tell you. Knowing that cracking 4 hours had just gone in the twinge of a muscle and now the question was simply ‘can I even do this?’ was heart breaking for me. After 12 months, all that training, all the sacrifice and all the effort, it seemed (at this particular moment) like I wasn’t going to finish what id said I’d do.
So I did what I’d done way back at the beginning of the whole #ManProject I didn’t focus on this being the 12th race, I didn’t focus on how I was going to get to 26.2 miles and I didn’t even focus on running even just the next 100 metres. I focussed solely on taking one step, and then taking another, and then another. I actually remember saying this to myself at the time. “Just stop standing still and feeling sorry for yourself and move forwards!” And you know what, I did! As I was having this debate in my head a few people running past me patted me on the back and gave words of support. Likewise spectators shouted my name and words of encouragement and before long I was striding along at a pace that can only be described as a brisk walk. Once I was walking my brain started questioning my spirit again. “Look, I know your hamstring hurts but you can walk along at quite a pace. Are you sure you can’t run a bit, even if it’s slower than usual? Maybe you can just run to that road sign?” And that’s what happened. I’d walk a bit, convince myself that I could run if I tried, run a bit until my hamstring hurt to much, then walk a bit more until I convinced myself I could run again, and repeat ad infinitum. I was trapped in a mental battle loop between pride and pain. Pride would make me run, then pain would get on top and make me walk, but then pride would make a comeback and I’d start running again. This is how the next 3 miles panned out. Walk, run, rub hamstring, walk, run, etc. I was in my own little world of pain and anguish, destined to have to slog the remaining 6 miles like this trapped in my own head and restrained by my own body and then I noticed someone else going through the same hell! Rob!
MILES 20 – 26
Though we started running and walking together properly at about mile 20, I had noticed Rob at around mile 17. As I made my first stop to rub my hamstring, do some stretches and generally try and figure out WTF had happened to my leg I noticed a guy in a blue t-shirt just ahead of me seemingly doing the same thing. As I then started walking and this developed into a run/shuffle I overtook him and ran until the pain convinced me to stop. As I then walked along with my pride trying to convince my pain that we could run another 500m, this guy in the blue t-shirt came running/shuffling past me and out of sight in the distance. Then as I’d eventually convince myself that I could run again, I’d set off on another 500m run/shuffle and (slowly) re-overtake this guy who was walking again. This pattern happened a few times and then I remember him going past me at about mile 19, when pain was having a particularly strong round against pride, and when I eventually started running again I didn’t see him again in the time I expected to. But this was good because it made me keep running. I thought ‘that guy looked as broken as me and if he has kept running then you can keep running too!’ So whereas I might have stopped to walk before I kept going, and kept going. Eventually I saw him as I came around a corner just near mile 20 and saw him walking again. ‘Thank god for that!’ I thought! Gradually I pulled up alongside him and said “Thank f**k for that, I thought you’d left me on my own!” To which he laughed and we started walking and talking.
It transpired that Rob had ‘enjoyed’ a similar race and build up to the race to me. He’d tweaked his Achilles 3 or 4 weeks before but was doing fine in the race until just after the descent of the bridge when his Achilles had gone again. He had been running the race with his wife, but she’d powered on when he was reduced to run/walk/run/walk and since then he’d been going through a similar battle as myself. It’s often said that ‘misery likes company’ but I have to say that walking and talking with Rob helped me 100% as I realised that everyone is going through their own journey during a marathon and I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t having everything go exactly how they wanted! After a bit of walking he or I said “shall we try and run down this hill for a bit” and we did. Then one of us would say “let’s walk to this road sign and the run a bit” and that’s how it continued. We chatted about our training, our race experiences, our injuries, our experiences of Norway, living in London and anything and everything not to focus on the fact we were running a marathon. Eventually the KM to go markers counted down from 9 to 1, and realising we had a chance of getting over the finish line in under 4 hours 30 minutes, Rob and I gritted our teeth and turned our shuffles up to full power as we entered the city centre for the last KM.
With the time now being around 1am in Tromso, despite the constant sunlight, the mood in the final KM in and around the centre had become more rowdy. Crowds in bars and pubs shouted encouragement and screamed my name as Rob and I gingerly ‘ran’ out way up the Main Street desperately trying to look strong and give it the big Hollywood ending. The crowds grew bigger and the cheering louder as the timer above the finishing line came into sight. The timer already had 4 hours 29 minutes being displayed! “One last push mate!” I said as we tried to lengthen our stride as much as possible. It was going to be a struggle and it was going to be tight!
Then I heard my Dads voice! Instantly recognisable, strong and full of encouragement, but also breaking with emotion a little! ” C’mon Ant!” he bellowed and I just caught him out of the corner of my eye. He looked and sounded so proud of me that for a brief moment, just long enough, I couldn’t feel any pain in my hamstring and Rob and I gunned it for the line which we crossed as the timer displayed 4 hours 29 minutes and 59 seconds! We’d made it!
You can watch the video HERE!
After the race is a bit if a blur to be honest. Rob and I hugged and exchanged some words of thanks to each other. My Dad came racing down to the finishing area where we hugged, cried a bit and told each other how proud we were of each other and how glad we were to both be there at that moment and that was it. #12in12months was done dusted and over. 4 hours 29 minutes and 19 seconds was my official time in the end but you know what I realise now…..it doesn’t matter!
If there’s one thing that the #12in12months and indeed the last twelve months have taught me it is that it’s definitely not about the destination, it’s 100% about the journey…and what a journey I’ve had! Thanks to everyone that has been on it with me in any way!
THE CHARITY BIT
The easiest ‘the charity bit’ I’ve had to write in the whole 52 weeks because WE MADE IT! That’s right, Thursday evening at about 7pm we crept over the £2,000 mark for donations to Make A Wish after I posted on Facebook that we were £62 short, in the hope that a number of people might donate £5 or £10 each, and then Dexter Woodhead (one of my Dads friends) donated the whole £62 to get us over the line!
Thanks so much to Dexter obviously, but a massive thanks to everyone that donated no matter how large or small! Every single penny is hugely appreciated by my Dad and I and it gives us both enormous pride to have exceeded our target by 4 times the original amount. Every single one of you that donated helped get me around that course on Saturday and without you (and my new BFF Rob of course) there is no way I would be sat here now having completed #12in12months
For those that didn’t donate – shame on you!, but it’s never too late you know….
SO WHATS NEXT?
Still the question I get asked most all of the time but I can honestly say I have no idea at the moment. I definitely need to run another full marathon with full strength hamstrings, I absolutely want to join Benny The Fireman for his #3in3days marathon challenge in Cornwall in October and I’d also like to try an open water swim of a decent length. What I am going to do immediately is completely rest my hamstring for 4-6 weeks and then re-group and figure out the next challenge. I’m sure if you keep following me on Twitter @12in12months on Instagram @OneAceGuy and via this blog then you’ll know as soon as I know.
Thanks so much to everyone for all your good wishes, support and love over the last 12 months. It has been a pleasure!
Here’s a little video that sums up the last 12 months…just hit the play button!
DADS EPILOGUE by Dad/Dave/Dadcam
All in all Antony and I travelled over 8750 kilometres to Tromso and back and when we left I wasn’t even sure I was up to the journey as I tire very easily these days.
Just being there with Antony however gave me a strength I thought was gone, sharing this last race in my own small way, (apologies for the Dadcam moments LOL) meeting the wonderful and generous people of Tromso (great crowd) especially Terje and seeing the respect given to Antony for his achievements this last 12 month was inspiring, humbling and left me as the proudest Dad in Tromso.
I never doubted for one moment that he would finish this journey or indeed the last race, despite getting rather worried after 4 hours knowing how well he had been going or hearing from the organisers that an English runner had been picked up by the ambulance after collapsing around mile 18!
In my heart I knew that whatever the time he would return, finish and that I would be there to cheer him in at the end. An Awesome journey that I have been proud, privileged and grateful to have shared. Mange takk Antony Mange takk.