Birmingham International Marathon 2017

Report by Hana Clitherow

For the most of 2017 I have had a nagging and sometimes very painful right leg IT problem. No silly, I’m not a bionic woman with computer programming problem, just an Old Croc who apparently has a right foot than turns in slightly which stretches the right IT band and causes it to become inflamed and at times Bl—dy angry with me. Unfortunately I’m not someone who tends to rest up but I have continued to do some of the exercises the Physio gave me when I first sought help for this inconvenience, but as “sods law” always prevails, plus a hefty stint of brushing leaves at my mothers, with only one week to go to the Birmingham International Marathon, I’m hobbling and suffering the equivalent of really bad tooth ache in my right hip and lower back. I am left with no option but to NOT DO ANY RUNNING and keep my fingers and toes crossed that on Sunday October 15th I will somehow be able to put one foot in front of the other and start this marathon, especially as it is the most expensive event I have ever entered and there is the promise of a finishers, I repeat finishers T-Shirt.

As we were going to be in Birmingham for the weekend I had also bought concert tickets to see “Lady Gaga” at the NEC as my post-race recovery method, but once again the gods were against me, “Lady Gaga” had to postpone her UK tour dates due to “Suffering extreme pain”. Was/is someone trying to tell me something?

Birmingham is like our second home, so “Husband who plays golf” and I have mastered the art of driving there in one hit after work and thankfully for us there are no road works or incidents on the M5 delaying our arrival and a drop of the “red stuff” with a light supper. We could of have frequented one of the many Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants close by, but I have to say that spicy Indian food is one step too far even for my stomach before a long run. Mind you with BYO wine, Nan breads the size of a medium coffee table, and the average cost of £25 for a meal for two that leaves you stuffed, it is always tempting.

Saturday we visit “daughter who runs” and her fiancé in their new home which happens to have a large garden that needs some love and before I know it, I find myself in a flower bed tugging at weeds and pruning the odd shrub. I’m doing a very good impersonation of a scarecrow and if you have ever seen any of my pre and post-race photo’s you’ll see the likeness. This is not going to help my IT pain!!!!! Fiancé who also run’s but hasn’t entered the marathon offers to pick me up in the morning and take both myself and daughter to The Alexander stadium in Aston. I liked him before, but I like him even more now as this saves me having to work out how to get the bus there as Trains don’t start early enough.

Sunday morning arrives and weirdly my right leg IT issues hasn’t raised its head. I walk around without pain, drink a glass of water in an attempt to hydrate, consume my usual bowl of porridge and fruit and then faff. I’m very good at faffing, if they made it an Olympic sport I would be eligible. I don’t know why I’m faffing as Daughter and I have made the decision to arrive at the race HQ with as little as possible. We are going for the “drop and go” approach, just arriving with running kit on, bum bag with phone in, some cash, credit card, Kendal Mint Cake, a bottle of water that can be ditched before setting off and a plastic bag, not to put over my head but to wear as a means of keeping warm. I’ve never done this before, I usually turn up with everything including the kitchen sink, but with 9000 runners the thought of negotiating a baggage drop/collection point filled me with dread, much like the queue for the loo.

The Race HQ is at the Alexander Stadium in the Perry Barr area of Birmingham. Future “son in law” drops us at the gate and we walk up across a field being used as parking to the Stadium perimeter. There appears to be a large quantity of Green plastic cuboids in which to relieve any pressure upon internal organs and the odd open air urinal in a subtle shade of grey. The queue for the loo is almost as long as the race itself, we join it hoping we might reach it before the start of the event but then a lovely lady in official looking uniform points us in the direction of some Stadium toilets, where the queue is only about 6 deep. I would describe the facility as 1970’s melamine divided cubicles with toilet roll dispensers of a more modern era which actually still had toilet roll in for us to use. The décor was dull but who cares when the toilet itself is clean and provides the service you require.

Daughter and I exit said facility and make our way to the start area out on the running track. We pass a runner dressed in a remembrance poppy, two guys in army type apparel with ruck sacks on their backs and a few tutu clad males. There are no bananas or pepperoni’s to be seen just this Old Scarecrow who is feeling a tad chilly in her designer bin bag. I’ve searched the growing numbers of participants for Mark M-S from TRC but then I realise that because he would have a faster predicted finishing time to myself that he was probably in the first wave (red race No) of runners that set off at 08:30 where as I am in the second wave (blue race No) start time 09:30.

We have decided to stand behind the male with bunny ears and a 4hr pacer flag on as any further forward for me would be daft. I have a feeling that daughter who runs, wants to beat her ancient mother’s 4:09 hr marathon PB and to be honest that won’t take too much effort on her behalf. Me on the other hand, just wants to be able to reach the finishing line, but I’m not hopeful as right legs has started to shout at me and my lower back is joining in. At what point in my life did I even think that running a marathon was a good idea? This will be my 8th and for some strange reason I seem to wipe from my memory just how hard and painful I find the last 6 to 10 miles and what toll it takes on my body.

At the start line is the record holder for the oldest marathon runner. He only started running at the age of 80 and at 106yrs old he stands upright at the start line looking in better condition than a lot of people less than half his age. So Tony B you have many years of running to catch him up.

So off we all go, at a gentle trot with head down watching all the feet around me, so I don’t trip and fall at the first hurdle. I try to stay behind the 4hr bunny sponsored by Duracell, but daughter has other ideas, she has longer legs and has successfully weaved her way around a multitude of slower runners. I’m boxed in and I am having to dodge elbows and flapping hands, which is causing me angst, heightened by menopausal hormones and I can feel the need to release some steam. In truth what I need is space, I hate being hemmed in.

The route takes us along totally closed roads and we enter the A34 a dual carriageway which leads us towards the town centre. We go through underpasses and then after at least two miles I finally move through the runners bunched behind the bl—dy bunny and into what F1 drivers call “Clean air”. I have space around me, but more worryingly I’m ahead of the 4hr pacer, whose pace, my legs find extremely tiring and also painful on my back. So once again I’m running too fast for me to sustain for a marathon but that is the story of my life. I peak too soon and then wilt a bit like the Titum Arun plant at the Eden project, the one that smells of rotting flesh. Hopefully my bodily aromas aren’t that bad.

There has been great spectator support all along the route and as we pass Aston University at mile 4, I can see the finishing line on the opposite side of the road with tables being prepared for the finishers goody bags. I look at my Garmin and realise it will be a long time before I see this area again.

We pass the bottom of the Bull Ring and I can hear the peel of church bells. There is a growing crowd of supporters here and I am actually smiling as some of them call out my name which initially takes me by surprise until I remember that it is printed on my race number…..duh!

Our route now takes us into what I would class as back streets in an area known as Deritend. There are blocks of industrial type buildings and one has smartly dressed people going into and gospel type music coming out of. It appears to be church of some kind. We twist and turn along a variety of these streets before reaching an area called Balsall Heath and residential inner city streets. There are kids out wanting “High Fives” so I oblige. Families are sat at the side of the road cheering and one of these families has even bought in bottles of water and has set up their own water station. There are Jelly babies galore, but I decline them all. I am though making sure that I take water on at every water station which is something I have made myself do during events over 13 miles but my stomach is still not in agreeance with this policy of mine. I’m a sip, swill and spit person, so in truth I don’t actually ingest that much. Today that is fine even if the weather is unseasonably warm as it is overcast with outbreaks of sunshine and a light breeze.

Ahead I can see a sign which says “Vineyard”. My eyes light up like the display on a one arm bandit when you hit the jackpot. How marvellous I think to myself, a glass of chilled Pinot Gris would be lovely, thank you, but “no” it’s a (I almost blaspheme) church and there is not a single glass of red or white outside. I suppose I could always pop in for communion?

There is a rotund black lady with microphone in hand serenading us but she appears to only have a repertoire of one song. That’s is fine for the runners passing by but the supporters stood in a double decker bus displaying “Bloodwise” charity banners it could be a looooooong day.

Next we enter the grounds of Edgbaston Cricket ground, well the tarmac exterior on the outer edge of the grandstands. My bladder is now talking to my brain and suggesting that having only visited the toilets once at the race HQ that it could do with a little detour from the route. I scan the grandstand for any sign of a toilet but there aren’t any apparent. I know that at every water station there is water to ingest and vestibules for its release. I do a quick mental calculation of the time it would take to pull down tight shorts and knickers and then the even longer time to try and pull them back up a sweaty torso and decide that every second and in this instance minute counts, so it’s time to adopt the pelvic floor muscles and squeeze. Men have it so easy!

After the cricket ground we are directed into Cannon Hill Park an area I know very well. There are masses of supporters lining the route and I start to wonder what running the London marathon must be like. I also think to myself, how can I walk when tired with all these people watching? I have a club shirt on; I’ll look like a fraud. It takes two seconds for it to register……..the answer was “very easily”.

We leave the Park and exit onto Pershore road heading towards Stirchley which is the poor relative to Bourneville, which we will also pass through. I suddenly hear a noise that sounds like a horse blowing air through wobbling lips. It’s the same noise Chris R makes and I turn around to see if he is also running this marathon. The noise is coming from a male in a Chasewater running club vest, that’s Chasewater with an “S” and not Chacewater with a “C” as in the village just outside Truro.

As we approach a right hand turn into Marywell road a man to my left needs to tell that we are about to climb a hill. “Hill” I exclaim, “It’s a mere inconvenience you should come to Cornwall mate”. Strangely enough he ignored my every word. I trotted up the hill as he walked.

At the top of the “hill” we turn right and go downhill when a quiet voice calls out my name. It’s Jan, future son in laws aunt. She tells me “Daughter who runs” is about 6 minutes ahead and hands me a bag with orange segments and jelly babies in. I take a couple segments out and they taste wonderful but hand the Jelly Babies back or for Trademark purposes “babies of the jellied confectionary variety” as I am unable to say what variety/brand they are. I say thank you. Jan enquires how I am. Words to the effect of “Bl—dy awful” fall out of my mouth. I’m on mile 11 ish and it feels like 30. My lower back aches and the occasional shooting pain runs from my right hip to my right ankle. Teeth are gritted and I plod on.

The route re-joins Pershore road and at about mile 15 we have to revisit a loop around Edgbaston, Cannon Hill Park, Stirchley and Bourneville. The supporters are still out cheering us on as is the black Lady with the microphone, but she has taken me by surprise because her repertoire of one has increased to two songs now.

I am now passing the Three Horseshoes pub and the sun is out, I’m hot, I’m thirsty and to my left are a group of patrons of this public house with full pint glasses of freshly poured victuals. My eyes are drawn to the glass with dark chocolate coloured liquid with a soft untouched creamy head. I’m salivating and my thought process has bypassed the sensible Hana stage. This glass has a magnetic power and I deviate from the road and walk over to the male with afore mentioned glass in hand ignoring the male with a pint of lager to his left and say “Can I have a sip please” I’m not sure what I would have done if he said “No”, but he handed me the glass. I take a long glorious sip of ice cold Guinness and hand the glass back licking my lips. He offers me some more whilst his mates laugh. My sensible head has returned and I decline and carry on down the road in a mix of walking and running. My legs ache!!!!

From my right I hear the words “Come on Hana Clitherow, Leonie’s mum” and see two people sat on a wall ringing cow bells. I have no idea who they are, but apparently they saw my TRC vest and recognised my face from photo’s on Face Book. That’s not bad considering the number of runners out there today. A few minutes later from behind me I hear “Come on Leonie’s mum”. Is there nowhere in the world I can go without someone spotting me. Is this a new version of “Where’s Whally”? No comments please!

Thankfully Mile 24 arrives, at the point where previously we had to turn off to take the second loop around the block. I’m managing to run most of the time but I’m hurting. I can no longer smile; I just want this hell to end. I have come to the conclusion this Old Croc isn’t made for marathons.

The support along the last mile is wonderful but the 400m sign should have read 1000m because those last metres went on for ever. I’ve have looked at the official photos of the finishing straight and it’s not pretty. If you posted one on your front door it would keep the “Trick or treaters” away. I cross the line in 4:16:58. This is far better than I expected with my leg and back problems. I am asked what size T-Shirt I would like and demand with menace to see a small one and they allow me to do so. Its fine, I have my finishers T, a medal and much needed water.

I locate “Daughter who runs” and she is beaming. She has well and truly beaten my PB. She has improved her own PB by 35 minutes coming in at 3:55. I am delighted for her. We share a big hug and future son in law takes our photo. We now take a slow hobble through the grounds of Aston University and stagger into the city centre to meet up with “Husband who plays golf” and have a much needed coffee and cake. With 2800 calories burnt I need CAKE!

I have made an oath to my family that I have given up entering Marathons. I will in future not run anything over 20 miles. This is now official and in print for all to see but even as I type this there is small section in my brain that controls the addictive part of my personality wanting to put me through marathon hell again. I have to be strong and perhaps I should look to enrol with “marathon runners anonymous”?