Grab yourself a cup of tea or coffee and I hope you enjoy my latest running blog.
Why did myself and daughter Samantha decide to run the Tallinn Marathon last week ? Well, we wanted an Autumn marathon to fit in with Summer training and holidays, somewhere neither of us have visited or run that wouldn`t break the Bank ( of Dad) and we could have a bit of an adventure too. In true Samantha style she also wanted a PB after her last Marathon in Dublin 3 years ago when we achieved 4:55.
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia which with a population of 1.3 Million is one of the smaller Baltic States. In 2018 they celebrate their hundred years of Independence including a 5K,10K, half and full marathon all on the same weekend. I hadn`t met many people who had been there but a few people had visited on Baltic cruises and were all positive about the city and warm welcome.
Training and preparation went well and whilst Sam is now commuting to Glasgow 3 days a week we have been running a double Parkrun most Saturdays and a longer run around Inverurie/Aberdeenshire on Sunday mornings. We gradually increased our mileage up to 18 miles on a Sunday three weeks prior to the race and “ time on feet “ up to three and a half hours on a hilly route was a good confidence boost.
We also ran several local Half Marathon races in the run up which kept Sam in race mode and boosted her confidence as she was now regularly achieving sub 2 hours having only done it for the first time last year.
We arrived in Tallinn very early on the Friday after flying direct from Aberdeen to Copenhagen. We literally had to run for 15 minutes to our connecting gate where our flight had been held back ten minutes and we were the last to embark. I thought the air hostess was going to ask for my Parkrun Barcode we had been running so long !!
We had a great 2 bed apartment only a 5 minute walk from Freedom Square where the race was to start and finish. Friday was spent registering and picking up our race tee shirts first thing. This was the first time I had been to a marathon Expo on the Friday rather than normally flying in on the Saturday and would thoroughly recommend it. So much more time to wander around and explore a small and compact city centre and recce the race route.
The medals were massive, based on one of the Estonian national emblems, the cornflower. Rightly so Gold medals were for the Marathon runners, Silver for the Half and Bronze for the 10K . Game on. The Tee Shirts in the national colours were included in the Marathon entry fee and available to buy for everyone else. I have honestly never seen so many runners wearing the colours of their country before in all of the races being held.
Sam was happy to go for a 5K run every day which helped us explore, kept the legs loose and my Runstreak intact as well. My schoolboy error was not to get tops printed with Blind Runner and Guide Runner in Estonian although come race day we got loads of support from our bi ligual European cousins!
Sunday morning came around all too fast and happily the 25 degrees of the previous days had fallen to 21 degrees for the 9:00am start with a cloudy sky. 3,000 runners were registered for the marathon and we met a few other Brits identified by our Union Jack flags next to our names on our race bibs. There were 59 other countries represented which added to the pre race excitement and it was also the Estonian National Championships with 300 elite runners ready for the off. Fun Fact: Estonia punches massively above its weight in a sporting context winning many more Olympic medals per head of population than the UK.
Our race strategy (Sam`s PB quest) was simply to aim for 10:30 min/mile on average which would get us round in around 4:35 and a 20 minute PB, simples.
Nutrition has been an issue in the past in longer races as Sam doesn`t like gels. (Well her tummy doesn`t). Our current high tech solution is 4 wine gums (orange and black preferably) every 3 miles. This is non negotiable and has served us really well this year. For later on a peanut butter and jam sandwich is kept in reserve and has been my food of choice in every Marathon/Ultra I have completed.
Hydration is provided by two 500 mil soft flasks carried in my Ultimate Direction vest topped up with SIS tablets to provide electrolytes and keep cramp at bay. We have trained and used all of our food and drink for several months now. Top Tip: Do not try anything different on race day. I even brought my own peanut butter/jam and bread ( Warburtons thins) such is my paranoia/OCD.
At 9:00am sharp we were off and towards the back of the field of 3,000. (No headstarts allowed in Estonia !) 2 Pacers were visible carrying 2 large balloons each for every 15 minutes so we settled in behind the 4:30 entourage and let the miles pass by.
The road surfaces were great for Sam to run on, wide roads all closed with no potholes. We had to be wary of the tramlines which criss crossed the route regularly but all was good for the first hour and we went through 10K in just over an hour. By now I was regularly seeing the pacing balloons being held by young children on the side of the road as they were being given away, quite disconcerting the first time! Mrs 4:30 as we called her was still a long way ahead and I was sure she had gone off too fast but time would tell. We stopped at one of the many (11) water stations at 12 miles for 2/3 minutes for a proper refuel and application of Vaseline for Sam due to the heat and lady chafing. The water was provided in cups, white for water and blue for Gatorade ( never ever drink this for the first time in a race). This made it much easier to guide Sam over the cups on the floor rather than our usual bottle dodging but the downside was trying to fill up the soft flasks hence the proper stop.
We passed halfway at 2:17 which also included a very scenic 5K of off road trail through an outdoor museum complete with working windmills. Sam was running well despite the rising temperature until we literally converged with the 12,000 half marathon runners who were a few miles in to their race. The paths were narrower here and much more congested as we weaved back and forth along the sea front for the next few miles.We battled on for the next few miles , the runners gradually thinned out and Sam was still maintaining her pace well. Even including our refuelling and one toilet stop our average mile pace never went above 10:30 and below 10:22.There was a further twist at the 20 mile mark when the marathon runners literally turned left and back on yourself and the half marathon runners kept on. Worse still we were being passed by marathon runners on the other side of the road who were nearing the finish and it was all on a hill.
We dug in with only 2 Parkruns to go and Sam rose to the challenge. We didn`t walk once and seemed to be continually passing other runners who were struggling. We had spoken about the last 6 miles all the time in our training, always trying to pick up the pace in the last few miles knowing that it would serve us well on race day.We passed Mrs 4:30 at mile 24, no balloons or entourage and she really looked to be struggling. Less than 2 miles to go as we ran up an incline and around the outside of the medieval city walls, ( a world heritage site no less ).
We ran through the Viru Gates and not one person had passed us in the last 10K ! We were bossing it ( in our heads ) but now faced our greatest challenge for Sam as a runner and me as her guide. Over half a mile of twisting uphill cobbles to the finish line at Freedom Square. We had walked it numerous times over the previous few days and so we just went for it and flew over the line in 4:31:04 .Sam finished in 1,759th place out of the 2,500 runners who turned up/finished. We passed 239 runners in the last 10K with an overall negative split of 3 minutes and a Marathon PB by 24 minutes.
If you have never experienced an overseas marathon I would definately encourage you to do so. Smaller is better and pick one where you can see lots of the city not just the commercial area. A start and finish in the same place is easier than a point A to B logistically. The universal language of running is just that so don`t be phased where in the world you go, just do it!
I hope you have enjoyed reading my ramblings, let me know if you have and happy running!