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Running column: Mark Armstrong recounts a tale of emergency surgery, a packet of mini cheddars and a new personal best

Mark Armstrong during the Robin Hood Marathon, Picture: Robin Hood Marathon

Mark Armstrong during the Robin Hood Marathon, Picture: Robin Hood Marathon

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A conflicted Mark Armstrong explains the ups and downs of his second marathon in Nottingham

Mark Armstrong with his finisher's medal after getting a new personal best at the Robin Hood Marathon in Nottingham. Picture: Kevin Armstrong Mark Armstrong with his finisher's medal after getting a new personal best at the Robin Hood Marathon in Nottingham. Picture: Kevin Armstrong

I don’t need this.

It’s less than three days before the start of the Robin Hood Marathon and I’m rubbing my daughter, Lara’s, stomach at 2am because she’s eaten too much chocolate cake the day before.

The selfish runner was coming out again but things were about to take an even sharper turn for the worst.

Shortly after getting Lara back to sleep my wife, Alison (Ally), also started complaining of pains in her abdomen.

Mark Armstrong during the Robin Hood Marathon, Picture: Robin Hood Marathon Mark Armstrong during the Robin Hood Marathon, Picture: Robin Hood Marathon

She does not complain easily so I knew that this was something potentially serious.

After an hour at home she was doubled over in pain and we were on our way to A&E at 3am with child care sorted, thankfully. We were eventually seen and they were going to have to operate.

After thinking about the race 24/7 the thought of running a marathon was firmly pushed to the back of my mind as my wife went into surgery with all the risks and concerns that entails.

Fortunately she came through it all okay and the surgeons managed to do what they needed to do. I left her recuperating on Friday night at the hospital in something of a state of shock as just 24 hours earlier I was in the rather fortunate position of only having a marathon to worry about.

Mark Armstrong during the Robin Hood Marathon, Picture: Robin Hood Marathon Mark Armstrong during the Robin Hood Marathon, Picture: Robin Hood Marathon

It scared me how quickly your life can just flip in such a short space of time – a sense of perspective thrust upon me.

I went back to the hospital on Saturday to find my wife sitting up in bed looking more like her normal self. As it became clear she was over the worst of it, thoughts slowly started to turn to what I was going to do about running the marathon (please don’t judge me).

By mid-afternoon after hours of boredom she said: “You can’t stay too long today because you need to get a good night’s sleep before your marathon…”

I wasn’t sure and I wasn’t comfortable with leaving her in hospital whilst I swanned off to run in a pretty insignificant race in the grand scheme of things.

Mark Armstrong during the Robin Hood Marathon, Picture: Robin Hood Marathon Mark Armstrong during the Robin Hood Marathon, Picture: Robin Hood Marathon

However, as a runner herself, she insisted and arranged for her mum to come the next day. She knew the months of training that had been undertaken and to not run would have been a huge disappointment.

The alarm was set for 5am and it was only when it sounded that I made the final decision to go.

As I made my way to the start line I received a message from Ally that she was going to be allowed home that day. It gave me the little boost I needed and I could fully focus on the 26.2 miles that lie ahead.

The start was a little congested and for the first half mile I was pretty much walking, which was frustrating but the route soon started to open out and I could get into my stride.

I decided to use a run-walk strategy broken up with 20 minutes of running with one-minute brisk walk breaks.

MORE: Read how Mark trained using a run-walk strategy

I should also add at this point that in all the chaos I had forgotten my camelback hydration pack which meant I was going to have to be extra careful about how I used each drinks station.

I got to the halfway point feeling pretty good and celebrated with a packet of mini cheddars. “That’s an unusual fuelling strategy…” a fellow runner said.

“There’s always time for a mini cheddar,” I replied.

I was feeling really good but wary that it was at this point that I started to break down in Edinburgh. I was maintaining a consistent pace and felt like I was getting the hydration and fuelling right.

It started to get really tough around the 19-mile point and I could feel that wall getting close. Taking on a bit more fuel got me through a couple of miles at a decent pace but by mile 21 everything was hurting, I felt queasy and incredibly tired – the result of sleeping around three hours for the past few nights, no doubt.

I was just going to have to hang on but at least the end was in sight. I threw in a couple more walk breaks, particularly when I saw a hill at mile 23 when I won’t reveal what came out of my mouth due to this being a family newspaper…

But I got through it and never properly hit that damn wall, I even managed a strong finish and did the last mile in the pace that I started.

I set a new personal best of 4:28, which I’m delighted about in the circumstances. I know I can run faster but that can wait for another day. For now, I’m just glad to have exorcised a few demons from Edinburgh when I got my butt kicked all over the place by Mrs Marathon.

I was a happy man driving home and the smile my wife gave me when I showed her the medal made it all worthwhile.

So the second marathon is done, the third will have to wait a while.

Hopefully, it will be with a lot less drama next time.

MORE: Read how Mark got in during his first marathon in Edinburgh

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