Here I was standing on the start line: the nerves that make me feel like puking the night before and been replaced with a quiet calm. Could I break 4 hours and put the demons of London to bed? I certainly believed so, the only question in my mind was how far sub-4 could I go?
Training hadn’t exactly gone to plan this time round. I’d lost my running mojo for about a month in late July/early August due to stress caused by the death of my Auntie Joyce and work.
In early August I was having to fight my body and fight my mental attitude just to be able to run for two and a bit hours at 10 minute mile pace. How the hell was I ever going to run sub four hours for a marathon?
Salvation came in the form of Jen who emailed me to suggest that I do some of my marathon training with her and Dennis (they were training for an ultra). So I joined them for a 10 mile run at 9:30 min/mile pace followed by a half marathon because jumping from 15 miles to 23 miles is sensible isn’t it? And that’s the rhetorical question by the way so don’t answer that.
Well it worked! And it helped turn my negative thoughts into positive ones. The rest of the training went well although I was always lacking time on my feet due to the Summer Doldrums until the last week when I got a tight hamstring and shin splints. Can you believe it, getting injured in the last 6 days! But treatment by my physio Caroline meant I got to the start line in a fit state to run. Round 1 to me!
The plan was to run between 8:50 and 9:00 min/mile pace on my watch and try and hit the mile markers on the road at 8:55 pace.
Back on the start line again the start gun went off. This was the start of my race, my Chester Marathon.
About 30 seconds into the marathon I noticed that all three fields on my Garmin were showing time I’d been running. I must’ve accidentally knocked my watch whilst waiting to start! Mentally I blew a raspberry and swore but I didn’t panic. Instead I spent the entire time running round Chester racecourse adjusting two of the fields on my watch back to pace and the distance fields.
Once onto the roads I started to run and settle into my rhythm. Although the course was proving to be hillier than I expected pacing was going well and I was enjoying it.
Then after 5 miles I started to get stomach cramps. Argh! There were some toilets at the water station just after 10k and as I ran past the water station I was ‘uming and ahing’ whether to use the toilets or just carry on and wait to see if the discomfort passed. In the end I chose to stop and take the hit on on the time. A short stop later and off we go again, and I’m feeling much better thank you very much!
The calmness I’d felt at the start was still with me and I didn’t panic about being behind. I had the words of Emily Harrison ringing in my head, “Relax, relax, relax” so I set myself the target of making up the time I’d lost by half way. My watch registered 1:57:00 as I crossed the halfway mat, my chip time was 01:56:56 – just seven seconds behind where I should be.
From about 9.5 miles to around 14 miles we were running into a headwind, it wasn’t strong but it was consistent and I definitely noticed it, as did some of the other runners who were commenting on it. I did think about trying to draft someone but I was by myself and unwilling to speed up to catch the group about 30 metres ahead of me.
From about 12.5 miles it certainly felt as if you were either going up or down and there was no flat running (this might not be strictly true but that’s how it felt). The one at 16.5 miles was particularly gut wrenching if only because you come down a steep hill, cross a bridge and then head back up a hill as steep as the one you’ve just ran down.
But I’m still feeling OK, although a little tired. It’s the miles between 15 and 20 that normally get me, they’re a bit of a no-mans land – you’ve passed half way but there’s still a long way to go.
Then about 17.5 miles I went SPLAT! I fell. At the time I wasn’t sure how but it was on a single track road that was obviously used by farmers so it had muddy bits in the middle and up the edges, having been squeezed from a two lane road onto a single track road it was a bit crowded and I think I went over on my ankle as I noticed my ankle was sore after I’d finished. Anyway I went down like a tonne of lead bricks.
I got myself sitting up almost immediately and then before I really knew what was happening I was aware of two blokes pulling me back up to my feet and asking me if I was alright: Mr Orange Vest and Mr Blue T-shirt. Mr Blue T-shirt very kindly said he would run with me for a while to make sure I OK, which he did until I dropped him at around 18 miles.
I think the adrenaline from the fall made sure nothing really hurt for a while. I knew I had a grazed right knee and hand and at the 18 mile water station I was tipping water over my hand and down my leg to try and clean them up but I wasn’t going to stop – I might not start again. At about 18.5 miles both knees started to ache and hurt but I just focused on keeping on running. It was now a case of mind over matter and being completely focused on doing what I needed to do to finish. I never doubted I would finish, I never doubted I would get sub-4 but there was no more high-fiving the kids or anything, I didn’t have the energy to spare.
By 20 miles I was tired and my brain was fuddled. After the fall I was incapable of working out my the mile splits: at 20 miles I though I was about 1 min 10 secs behind where I should be, and I still don’t know how I got to that figure, as in reality I had some how got 15 seconds ahead.
Anyway, I knew my first 10k split on my watch was exactly 55 minutes and I thought that if I could do a 55 minute final 10k I would be 3:53 (and maybe 3:52 with a sprint finish) so I made that my target. In the end that didn’t come off (and I’m not disappointed by that) but having a mini-target helped keep me going – I was slowed down by the hills at around 21.75 and 24.5 miles which were a bit of a killer for me (I’m sure Chris & Andy promised semi-naked hot men in uniform to encourage people up the hill – or was that just my imagination/wishful thinking?)
After that hill at 24.5 miles I was just focusing on keeping going and trying to maintain a strong effort level – I don’t think I looked at my watch in the last 3 miles. I spotted a club mate, Tim Miles, up ahead and I knew I would catch him so I focused on that till I passed him at around 25.5 miles, then I then realised Amy Inchley was just added of me so I focused on catching her. Then it was onto the grass track for the final 300 metres, I heard my family yelling at me and I just focused on getting to the finish line as quickly as possible without falling or twisting my ankle – I’ve already had one fall on a grass track at the end of a race this year and it’s not an experience I want to repeat.
They had the distance to the finish spray painted on the racecourse, 200m to go, 100m to go, 50m to go. I’ve done it! I’d love to say I was ecstatic crossing the finish line, but I was just too tired to be anything other than ‘Oh my god I’ve finished!’ I was so tired I even forgot to check my watch until my family asked me how I’d done. I knew I’d gone sub-4 but by how much?
3 hours, 53 mins and 45 seconds on my watch (official time 3:53:41). I’d smashed the 4 hour barrier to smithereens!
And that was it, I had a trip to the first aid tent who cleaned up and bandaged me up – it looked worse than it was due to the dried blood and dirt – and I had a cup of tea and some biscuits (I’d packed proper recovery stuff but tea and biscuits is what I really wanted) before heading to the place we were staying for a shower and a proper meal.
The Chester Marathon was just brilliant. It had a lot to live up to – excellent reviews, great scenery and fantastic organisation – and it delivered on all accounts. It’s a marathon I’d definitely recommend.
Until next time…
P.S. If you want to know about Kev’s geocaching whilst I was running you can read his blog about geocaching in Chester.