Mark Stileman – The Clarendon Wall

When Mark Stileman started the 2010 Clarendon marathon, he had eight marathons under his belt (including the Jungfrau Marathon in the Swiss Alps) and a PB of 2:48.  So he was no stranger to long distances, trails and hills, the three main ingredients of the Clarendon.  But even with his pedigree he still ended up running into trouble (literally) – it just goes to show that where marathons are concerned, nothing can be taken for granted.

So what happened?  Over to Mark:

"Twenty miles in to the Clarendon Marathon and I was tired, but going well.  I had set off at a brisk pace from the start and I was confident of a good result.

“Into West Wood, and I started to find each step more of an effort.  I felt the energy in my body ebbing by the minute.  By the time I saw my wife, Sue, at about 22 miles in I was feeling pretty dreadful and I was running a lot more slowly.  'I'm struggling' I gasped as I passed.

“From then on it started to get weird.  I started to feel a buzzy tingling sensation over my body, most strongly in my hands and arms.  I started to shuffle.  My legs just wouldn't lift properly off  the ground.  By the time I reached 24 miles I really was in a state.  It became harder and harder to keep going and the urge to stop became all-encompassing.  'Keep running, just keep running', I urged myself.  The path hit an incline, and I really wondered if I was going to fall over.  I walked.  It was the first time I've walked – apart from when ascending very steep slopes – in nearly 20 years of competitive racing.  I felt awful.  But the brief respite did me some good, the tingling subsided and I carried on.

“I knew there wasn't that far to go, but time and space felt suspended.  I was aware of the buzzy tingling coming back but all my senses started to close down.  I plodded, my head down.  Suddenly, it dawned on me that I was just a few metres from the finish and I could hear crowds.  I ran for the finish as best as I could, got clear of the marshalling area and wobbled into a heap on the grass.

“Sue came to me, all concern.  I told her I was OK, but my voice was thick and slurred, as if I was coming out of anaesthetic.  I started eating a banana.  Wow!  It was absolutely the best banana I've ever had.  Within seconds, my senses and speech started returning.

“So that was it: my first proper marathon 'wall'.  It was such an achingly simple error – I was taking plenty of water but no food at all during the race.  I had swapped the carbo supplement in my Camelbak for calorie-free electrolytes, but hadn’t taken on any gels to make up for it.  I had eaten well the day before and at breakfast, but in the end my body had simply succumbed to the laws of physics, chemistry and biology.  I had run out of fuel.  My blood sugar was on the floor, my liver stores were empty and there was nothing left.

“It was a lesson very well learned.  I had hit the wall, for the first and – I intend – for the last time.  I had been doing twenty-mile training runs quite happily, but I've learned that those last six miles need extra respect”.

Thankfully, this experience hasn’t put Mark off the Clarendon Marathon, a race that he loves for its friendliness and quirkiness, fabulous scenery and challenging mix of terrain and trail types.  In fact, he’s been back another three times since then, and achieved his best placing yet (2nd overall) in 2016.  Maybe 2017 is the year he’ll go one better!