We’ve all heard of or read the book or seen the film called The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, but when I investigated the rumour that someone in the village was running a marathon in April, I discovered not one long distance runner, but two! So this article is a bit longer than usual, but nevertheless I hope you find their stories as interesting as I did.
Jane Jackson, who lives in Chestnut Cottage, East Street, with her husband, Derek, came to Devon from London in 1981, an early version of escaping the rat race. She first lived in Buckland Filleigh where she worked freelance, breaking and schooling horses, and teaching riding. She became a groom at Brightlea House, Dolton, in 1990, and still works there today. She and Derek moved to Sheepwash in 1991.
On 10th April 2011 Jane ran her first marathon.
Why did you start long distance running?
Until 2003 I competed in eventing and then dressage events, riding a mare owned by my employers in Dolton. When the mare was put in foal I obviously couldn’t ride her anymore and I wanted to find some other competitive sporting activity to take part in. Derek belonged to the Bideford Running Club and I went along there and found that I enjoyed running (and seemed to be OK at it). It might seem strange, but dressage and running have in quite a lot in common – you’re competing against yourself rather than others, trying to gain more points than your last dressage event or improve your PB (personal best) run time.
I moved to the Okehampton Running Club (ORC) when it was established in 2009. ORC now has about a hundred members, and is based in Simmons Park. We have evening training sessions a couple of times a week and we’re organised into groups of different speeds. The Coe group (as in Sebastian) is the fast group, running 8 miles in an hour; the (Brendan) Foster group run at about 4 miles an hour, and in the middle are (Kelly) Holmes Upper and Holmes Lower. I’m generally in Holmes Upper but the groups are fluid with people changing groups depending on how they are feeling, whether they have just raced or are going to race, and so on.
In the winter we run through the street lit areas of Okehampton. During the summer we run in woodland around Okehampton and on Dartmoor. The club is well organised, with training schedules building up to marathons and half marathons and runners within each of the groups who have trained as coaches.
Have you run a marathon before? Why did you decide to run a marathon?
I’ve run in quite a few half marathons. My PB was set in the Taunton Half Marathon a couple of years ago, where my time was 1:44:02. More recently I ran in the Bideford Half Marathon in 1 hour 45 minutes.
Strange as it may seem, most runners want to run a marathon, and the London Marathon is THE one. The main way to gain entry into the London Marathon is by a ballot, but it is hugely oversubscribed, so the chance of getting a place by that route is slim. So I decided to run in the Great Welsh Marathon, with my friend and running companion, Marilyn Cooper from ORC, to try to achieve a “good for age” qualifying time for the London Marathon 2012.
How do you estimate how long you’ll take to run a marathon?
You take your half marathon time, double it and add 20-30 minutes. So my estimate for my marathon time was around 4 hours.
What training did you do to prepare for the marathon?
I was keen that my training should be low impact, so it wasn’t all running, although I ran with ORC once a week. I did Aqua Jogging – in the swimming pool, with the water at chest height, you wear a flotation belt, and do sprints, jogs, straight leg and knee high “running”, and in the process get plenty of funny looks from other pool users! I also attended Pilates classes to build core strength, cycled, both on an exercise bike and out in the fresh air, and ran on a treadmill which has a cushioned deck.
Before running a marathon, you never actually run the full distance. You gradually increase your long runs until about four weeks before the race, when you run 20 to 22 miles, and then you taper down your long runs up to the race, to keep your legs fresh.
Is running good for you?
The benefits of running are well documented and it seems that the advantages increase exponentially as you age. Regular running, or any regular aerobic exercise, lowers blood pressure, reducing the risk of a stroke. It can obviously help you keep your weight under control, reducing the chances of type two diabetes – being overweight is one of the main risk factors.
Running also strengthens bones better than other aerobic exercise, and it boosts circulation, increasing good cholesterol and reducing bad. And apparently regular running creates new cells in the brain, that improve memory…where did I put my running shoes?
Why did you decide upon the Great Welsh Marathon?
Because it’s quite flat, with gentle undulations, so I thought that this would help my chances of getting a qualifying time for the London Marathon. The course is in Llanelli’s Millennium Coastal Park, with two laps in and out.
The Great Welsh Marathon is only in its second year and the organisers are working hard to put this marathon on the map as an important race for Wales. This year there were 700 entrants, compared to 350 in its first year.
What did you do immediately before the marathon?
We travelled down on Saturday afternoon and went to have a look at the course. Yes, it was flat and gently undulating, but being on the coast it was also windy. And it was hot – the temperature was in the 70’s. From my eventing and dressage days I’ve had a lot of experience of competing, so I don’t get nervous about the competition, but I was a bit concerned as I’d only done about half of the recommended road training.
I ate high carbohydrate meals for a couple of days before, and made sure that I was well hydrated, drinking lots of water and electrolyte drinks which provide all the necessary trace elements to help you perform as well as possible. On Saturday evening I ate pasta and chicken, and drank more water and electrolyte drinks – they taste a bit like alka seltzer, so not too thrilling!
I slept like a log. On the morning of the race it’s important not to drink too much beforehand – loo breaks can play havoc with your time. Breakfast was porridge, toast and honey and a banana.
What kit do you wear?
I get a lot of my kit from HPT Sport in Holsworthy. I wore an ORC club vest, made of wicking material, and very light, split side running shorts, as it was so hot. I wear the most cushioned running shoes possible. I also wore a belt to hold the sports gels that I ate along the way – some of the sachets are high in caffeine, to give you a particular boost when needed, so I organised them in the belt so I knew which was which. I carried a hand water bottle, one of those that wraps around your hand.
How was the race itself? How do you pace yourself?
There was a mass start of the 700 runners at 10.00 a.m. Marilyn and I ran together, as we had planned to do. Most of our miles took between 9 minutes and 9:20. Our slowest was 10:14 into the wind, and our fastest was 8:49 downhill.
I was glad that I had my hand water bottle, as the water stations were few and far between, and not evenly spaced. There weren’t any sponge stations, so when we got to a water station we were pouring most of the water over our heads in an attempt to keep cool-ish.
As to pacing, thankfully, I’m a natural pacer – I must have a metronome in my head. I also wear a watch and check my speed at each mile. I have a satellite Garmin, which records your ongoing time, splits (time for each mile), and pace, but I never rely on this in a race – I prefer to run by “feel”.
I hit a bit of a bad patch at 21 miles, so I took an extra sports gel caffeine boost, which seemed to do the trick. Marilyn and I ran all the way together and crossed the line holding hands. We’d run exactly the same time and finished in 4:03:35, comfortably within the 4:15:00 qualifying time we needed.
How did you feel and what did you do after the marathon?
I felt elated!
It’s important to keep walking around after you’ve finished a marathon – if you don’t, you seize up. I climbed into a change of clothes and walked around the finishing area, and then stretched well once I had warmed down. I had 500ml of a recovery drink – a sort of milk shake, full of electrolytes and carbohydrates – and I drank another a couple of hours later. A nice little touch was that a free massage was provided for each entrant.
I would have wandered off at this stage, but Marilyn and I discovered that we’d come joint 1st in the female veteran 55 years age group, so there was a presentation. Then Derek and I went back to our hotel, where I sat in a cold bath for fifteen minutes. No joke, but very important for muscle recovery.
Louise Timmins (Lou) and Sharon Guest (Shaz) moved to Sheepwash a couple of years ago, first living in South Street, and now in North Street.
They both intended running the marathon, but, as you’ll see below, Shaz got injured and couldn’t run – so she was given the job of answering my questions!
No! In fact, not even close to that distance. Lou had done some short runs (three or four miles), and I had completed a couple of police 10k events a few years ago, but that’s about it. But with more than nine months to train and a decent training schedule, we felt confident that we could do it.
One of Lou’s colleagues signed up for the event and encouraged Lou to take part. She thought it was a great idea, so she persuaded me to apply too, and the deed was done.
How did your training go?
We started training last July, beginning gently, and gradually increased our training runs in distance and frequency – the key is to be disciplined, and get out even if you don’t feel like it at first. That feeling soon goes once you’re out, and you always feel pleased you made the effort afterwards. We felt we had made good progress, but we knew we needed to experience a proper race before Brighton, so we entered the Exeter women’s Half Marathon in February.
How did that go?
The weather was awful – freezing cold, heavy rain and strong winds for the entire event. It was tough, and the thought of having to run the same distance again to complete a full marathon made us realise what a challenge that was going to be.
Then, just to add the cherry on top, I tore a ligament in my knee, and that was the end of my marathon dream. But Lou battled on with her training, and reached her target of running 20 miles several times before the big day.
How many runners were at Brighton?
The Brighton race is big, and well-established. 15,000 runners planned to run, but on the day just under 10,000 actually started, due to injuries (like me), but also because of the health warnings issued regarding the expected high temperatures. It was a scorcher.
How did she feel during the run? Any rough patches, and how did she overcome them?
Lou felt really great for the first 18-20 miles. Her local hill training – an unavoidable consequence of living in these parts -really paid off. Many runners struggled with the hilly sections, so she was able to move up the field.
I saw Lou at the halfway point, and I have to say that she looked great – running smoothly, looking fresh, and managing a smile and wave for her loyal band of groupies (me and her parents!) As she progressed into the final six miles, she started to have knee and thigh pain that steadily increased as fatigue set in – symptoms of the dreaded “wall” that all marathon runners hit around that point. All she could do was have her final energy gel and try to stay as relaxed as possible.
We saw her again with just over a mile to go, and she was clearly in pain but pressing on, albeit with a slight hobble! Along with the other thousands of spectators lining the final stages of the route, we shouted and cheered encouragement to all the runners. Lou said afterwards that it was the final lift she needed to push herself to the finish line – but that last mile was torturous.
What was Lou’s time?
Lou trained consistently with a target time of four and a half to five hours in mind. Despite the heat, she hit that target – she finished in 4:50:00, and was very happy with that.
How was she afterwards?
When we managed to find her amongst the thousands of runners and supporters in the repatriation area, she was huddled up in her little foil blanket, shaking, and barely able to walk or speak, but clutching her medal. I thought it was a “never again” moment, but within a day she was planning her next one!
Lou was sponsored and ran the marathon in memory of her aunt and my dad, who we lost to cancer in recent times. We would be really grateful if you could pass on our thanks to all the villagers who offered support – with their help, we raised over £600 for Cancer Research UK.
I’m so very proud of her and I’m sure her aunt and my dad would be too.
Interviews by Alison Ansell