Chelsea Duke's Marathon 2013

I’m pleased to report that just after 3pm on Sunday 6th October, I became a marathoner and walked the Clarendon Way!  I started at 8.30am in the mist and walked up hill and down dale as the sun came out, through woodland, through villages, through fields, across a few roads and up a few more hills before finally staggering across the finish line in a time of 6:36: 19.  The course followed the majority of the route of the Clarendon Way, with a few extra twists and turns to make it marathon distance.

Preparing for the marathon was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.  The demands of walking five days a week, every week for six months were more than I thought they would be, especially in terms of the time it used up.  I’m proud to say that I didn’t miss a scheduled training session during the whole time, in total walking 572.9 training miles before marathon day.

On the day itself I was lucky to have amazing support from my parents for the whole day, from getting up early to drop me off in Salisbury before 8am so I could register and start, to chasing me around the course with a camera – meeting me at about five different locations and then being there at the end to see me over the finish line.  Having been used to trainging on my own, it was a whole new and different experience for me to start a walk by registering, pinning on a number and fixing a timing chip to my shoe (very fancy) before receiving a basic briefing re location of water stations and toilets and then heading out to the start line.

Fourteen walkers lined up in the mist at the very early start (several hundred runners joined the course two hours later), and with minimum ceremony we set off.  For the first 10 miles I had some company; a fellow walker (complete with walking poles) and a jogger (who actually finished only about 15 minutes before I did).  The section climbing up out of Salisbury was still shrouded in mist, which was a shame as I suspect we were missing spectacular views of the city and its cathedral spire.  We had a few unsettling moments when the path veered off across a very large field with neither an arrow nor a marshall in sight but it seemed we were on the right track because a large luminous arrow soon appeared through the gloaming along with the permanent waymarkers. I was relieved, as it would have been hideous to lose the course less than three miles in to it!

After a while, the sun came out and we were treated to beautiful views of misty valleys, gorgeous green fields and thousands of dew drenched cobwebs, sparkling in the morning sunlight.  Little time to stop and admire the show though; it was on through the fields, the woods and the villages, being greeted by the occasional marshall (in most cases still setting up) and Mum and Dad with the camera before, in what seemed like no time at all, I was heading into Broughton; the halfway point.  By this time it was 11.30am, the runners had started and three had come past me before I reached the village. (I soon lost count of how many passed me, although according to the official timings I was 195th over the line so nearly 200 must have done!)

There was a lot of activity in Broughton because it was the start of the half marathon as well as the start point for one of the relay stages so there were people in the streets to cheer us on.  I was feeling pretty good at this point.  The sun was shining, people were cheering and I was well ahead of schedule and walking fast.  I got to the 13 mile marker in 3:00: 52 so I was well within my 15 minute mile pace and had banked about 15 minutes to allow me to slow up a bit on later hills.

After leaving Broughton, the path climbed steadily up onto a ridgeway where I took the one and only photo I took all day – because I could see for miles and miles and the path was stretching out in front of me.  A few runners passed me on this section and found the time to ask questions or give me a bit of encouragement.  I then tackled a steep downhill section into Kings Somborne, saw Mum and Dad again and kept plodding onwards.  It was shortly after Kings Somborne, at around the 17 mile mark, that it started to hurt.  I was having issues with my right foot and my left hip in particular and this walk was no longer fun.  I settled down to 16-17 minute miles, pleased that I had banked some extra time earlier.

The course reserved its toughest challenge for the 19-20 mile section: the steep climb up to the top of Beacon Hill and Farley Mount.  The elite runners may have run up this bit but by the time I reached it, about 5 hours in, EVERYONE was walking up it.  This gave a welcome opportunity for a bit of banter with the runners, most of whom were by that point telling me I’d had the right idea.  Waiting at the top of the hill were the friendly faces of my brother-in-law and baby niece so after a quick cuddle with the niece (who was covered in biscuit and more interested in the marshall’s doggie than her Auntie Chelsea) it was off again for the last 6 miles.

This was now further than I had walked in training and it hurt that much that if it had been a training walk I would have given up.  But it wasn’t training, it was marathon day, I had to keep going.  It all got a bit Forrest Gump at that point – I was in the zone where all I could think about was simply picking one foot up and putting it in front of the other.  I stopped caring about my timings, I just wanted to get to that finish line.  This last section included long stretches through woodland so at least I could distract myself by trying not to fall over tree roots in between bribing myself with the promise of Jelly Babies once I reached 23 miles.  I saw Mum and Dad again with 3.5 miles to go and very nearly cried but gritted my teeth and got on with it.

The final few miles plodded past in a combination of pain, prayer and Jelly Babies and then I rounded the penultimate corner and could see ahead of me the curve of spectators marking the entrance to the finishing field.  Cue another near burst of tears, but I got a grip with a few deep breaths and rounded the last corner.  Finally I could see the finish line.  I was tempted, at that point, to run over the line but as I’d walked the whole distance so I felt I should finish it walking (and anyway, since I had hiking boots on I would have looked ridiculous running).

Suddenly, it was all over.  I’d crossed the finish line, put my boot up on a crate for someone to remove my timing chip, collected a banana, my medal and a T-shirt and walked away.  I’d walked the Clarendon Way and completed my first (and probably only) marathon.  I’d achieved something that was more physically demanding than anything else I have ever done. 

Read Chelsea's 40 Before 40 blog.