I did my first and only other marathon 4 years ago and forgot how tough marathon training can be, but when you also factor in that you are grieving for the loss of your unborn son, it is even tougher. Grief consumes most of your life and thoughts and can be very tiring, so doing anything physical is tough.
The reason why I decided to take on the challenge was to raise money for SANDs and raise awareness of stillbirth and babyloss in memory of our son, Rory. It was the fact that I was doing it for Rory drove me to ensure that I stuck to my training plan and that I never gave up.
Throughout my training I kept doubting that I could actually complete the 26.2 miles in the 6hr time limit. During my training it didn’t feel it got any easier but I did start to notice that I was recovering quicker, which made me think that I must be getting fitter/stronger.
In the last few weeks leading up to the marathon my running felt a little more effortless and I started to think that maybe I can do this. I did my last run on the Thursday before the marathon and had a great controlled pace run, then had to finish packing for the next morning.
On Friday morning my wife, Jo, and I got the eurostar to Brussels from ebbsfleet, there was also a number of my feĺlow runners from my running club, Dartford Road Runners, on the same train as us. At Brussels we got a connecting train to Antwerp central station.
We had a short walk from the station to our hotel. We and the rest of the group were staying in the Mercure Centrum Opera Hotel. After checking, in me and Jo had a wander around Antwerp and were very impressed, there is so much to see. I almost forgot that we was there for the marathon and felt like we were away on a weekend break.
On Saturday morning we made our way to the marathon exhibition to collect my race number. The exhibition was where the marathon start area on the other side of the river Scheldt. The west bank of the river can be accessed via the Sint-Annatunnel, which is open for pedestrians and cyclists.
The exhibition was very modest and consisted of a large marquee. Unlike the London Marathon there was no queue to collect my number. Then I went outside to collect my T-shirt, which was included in the entry price. Whilst outside I had some photos by the start line in my SAND’s T-shirt and Vest.
We then took a slow walk back through the tunnel and back towards the cathedral and the old town. After stopping for lunch in the old town we went back to our hotel room to rest for the afternoon and to get my running gear ready for the morning.
The Sunday morning was soon here and I was up at 6am having breakfast with the rest of the runners, which consisted of cereal, toast with jam and a couple of bananas. Cooked breakfast was available, but i didn’t think it was good preparation, even though I would have preferred to have eaten that.
After breakfast I was making my last final preparations in my room and then we took a slow walk to the tunnel and made our way to the start line. The rest of the group got a tram to the start to save their legs, however I didn’t want to risk getting on the wrong one and missing the start.
The Marathon in Antwerp is a low key event their was only around 2,000 runners, it felt like I was lining up for a local half-marathon such as Paddock Wood. It did seem real that I was actually going to run a marathon and hardly had any nerves. I made my way to the very last pen on the start line, alongside the 5hr pacers.
As soon as the race started the heavens opened up, Jo waved me off and wished me good luck I then concentrated on getting into my rhythm and try not to go off too quick, so I decided to stay with the 5hr pacers. Only a few kilometers into the race we were entering a motor tunnel, after getting drenched I started to feel quite cold and thought maybe I should have put a base layer on. The tunnel is over 2k in length and felt like we were running through it for a long time. Eventually we go to the other side and it was nice to see some daylight and feel some warmth from the sun.
As we exited the tunnel we headed towards the old town, passing the Steen Castle and were approaching 6k. This is where Jo was waiting to cheer me on, after this point the crowds disappeared as we were going away from the city centre. I was running well at a comfortable pace and found myself between the 4.45hr pacers and 5hr pacers, I thought if I could keep this up I would be extremely pleased.
I soon crossed the 10k checkpoint and I remember looking up and saying to Rory ‘Daddy has done a quarter of the race and now I’ve got three quarters to go’. I managed to keep to a good pace and the kilometer markers were passing quite quickly. There were plenty of water stations, they were approximately at every 2.5k, so i made sure I took on plenty of fluids. Some parts of the course wasn’t that scenic and we had to negotiate several road and tram crossings, thankfully there were loads of police stopping all the traffic.
I reached the halfway point around 2hrs 20 mins, which was good for me, as this was 10 mins quicker than what I completed the Dartford Half Marathon in early March this year. I could feel my pace started to drop and could feel my hips getting tighter. I was hoping to keep my pace under 12 mins per mile, which I managed for the next few miles until mile 17.
The next few miles were really tough and I made the most of each water stop, by having a little walk whilst taking on fluids and focused on running in between each stop. I eventually reached the 30k check point and could see two Darftord Road Runners Vests ahead up the road, which were Mike and Mary. I could see that they were also walking and jogging, I just tried to keep them in my sights.
I slowly caught up them and found that Mary was struggling as she had been suffering with a cold for a few days before the marathon. I gave her some words of encouragement to keep her going, we had a little walk and then after she had composed herself we started to jog again, however I started to flag behind them both.
At the 32k point there was a welcomed sight of the DRR supporters, which gave us a massive boost. Now I only had 10k to go, I thought to myself ‘only two parkruns to go’ and just tried to keep plodding along, while Mary and Mike were pulling further and further away.
The next drink stop and my next walking break was at 35k, it was this point that I was passed by the 5hr pacers and I knew that sub 5hrs was out of reach. I had to re-evaluate and thought if I could keep my current pace I would still have a chance of achieving a personal best.
I had to dig deep for the last 7k and just kept going for Rory. In the distance was a welcomed sight of the cathedral, but it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. The rest of the route was a blur, until I recognised the Steen Castle up ahead and I knew I was very close to home. Soon after passing the castle the route turns left towards the old town, this Is where I saw Jo waiting to cheer me on, I then turn left to see the finish line by the Brabo Statue in front of the Old City Hall.
I couldn’t believe that I had actually done it, I could see the line and could see the clock was at 5hrs 11mins, I knew I had bagged myself a PB and for some reason I did the ‘Mobot’ as I crossed the line. Soon as I crossed the line, I looked for Jo and we both gave each other a massive emotional hug. We had done it, we had done it for Rory and all the other angels gone too soon. We then headed to the nearest bar for a well earned drink or two.
I was so proud that I managed to complete it and was so pleased that I achieved a personal best with an official time of 5hrs 8mins & 24 seconds. I am so grateful for everyone who sponsored me and help me raise over £1,000 for SAND’s. I only hope Rory was looking down and watching his silly Daddy and that I made him proud too.