Back in January I got drawn into signing up for my first marathon by a crew in our club who were going to do Manchester. I couldn’t make Manchester so booked in to Milton Keynes. Four months later came forecast-defying 29 degrees C bank holiday scorcher that was seriously hard work to run, though I made it round in 4:12 instead of a hoped for 3:30, though club members had backed me to beat that.
Even as I walked back to the car in beach-weather my mind was turning to running another. Sure I’d come back to MK in 2019 but maybe I should get one in before then. Leicester is the Marathon on our club road calendar and is convenient for a Nottingham resident. A few weeks of relative rest before kicking back into marathon training in the heat of the 2018 summer. How different to the miles up against the Beast from the East in the Spring!
The long summer of training was fun, we had great evenings as a club on a local track and I did 8 fell races and then revisited several locations on my own too. This post is about a road race but I lost my heart to the fells this summer.
October finally came round and what had been forecast as a 12 degrees and dry day got caught up in the effects of Storm Callum. Not cold but constant rain forecast. In fairness it was only occasionally heavy rain and the breeze was light so I never ran into driving rain.
Six club members were signed up. Only three of us made the pre-race photo with others finding shelter elsewhere. We braved it in club vests - a good decision on reflection but a bit cold beforehand. So too was a late decision to bring a cap, which kept the rain off my face.
This marathon was not set up for rain, 600 marathoners (and a crowd of Half runners) sheltering under leaf-shedding trees is a wet crowd! Ultra-running Holly picked her start zone, and I set off with debutant Steve in the 3:30 zone. Steve and I have run together lots over the last year - he pipped me at our first half in August 2017, I went early and outsprinted him in the final 400m in our second Half! We’ve parkrun close and done long runs in training for today – diving into Tesco’s for more water early on a Sunday morning. On paper I’m a bit quicker but there’s not too much to choose between us.
My aim was to run an even 3:30, and we head off to run the first 10km together. Down through the city centre and out down long straight roads. Some decent support given the weather at this stage.
I passed on the first feed station. My plan was to take a gel every 3 miles starting just before the 6 mile station, washing it down with some water. I kept this up throughout - slightly caught out by the 21 mile station being at 22, and going for an energy drink then. With this in mind, I had 2 High5 gels in shorts pocket - a spare, and one to have ahead of feed stations, replenishing my supply along the way.
At 10km the Half split off left and we headed right. I decided to kick on and see if Steve would come with me. I never saw him for the next 20 miles, and he came in about 20 minutes behind me. A well run debut for another running dad.
That left me running with whoever was around me, rather than with company to help pace me. The necessary 8min/mile 5min/km pace is a pace I’d got used to and felt comfortable to run in. I kept my Garmin with pace and distance on screen as an occasional reference. I don’t recall checking my watch much.
The route wound through a range of built up areas, residential and industrial. An odd little alley way at one point. Eventually we left Leicester behind for some villages north east of the city. On a brighter day I imagine there being more support but they looked picturesque enough. Along a stretch of open country road up a hill I pressed the pace a bit and caught a few people ahead of me. Satisfying. The middle of the race blurs somewhat, but it was good headspace and the miles ticked by well enough.
Just past half way I recall a couple of nice villages before at 25km we hit a stage of main roads, some of which were disappointingly still open, leaving us running alongside traffic on the edge of main roads for a couple of miles. Around 30km we headed into some quiet nature reserves. I finally checked my watch. Two hours 28 minutes, with 12km to go. I’m slightly ahead of pace and have been pacing pretty consistently, but I can feel my legs tiring. Extra layers would’ve been a mistake. A few runners were ahead of me. The occasional runner has stopped to stretch. But, it was pretty quiet. It’s a lonely road. I pressed on keeping to my fuelling routine like clockwork. I need to think through the mental side of this stage of the marathon, I started thinking too much about how far to go and that’s not helpful.
We passed the National Space Centre around 37km, though I didn’t realise it was that. One Parkrun to go. Feels ok but I know I’m slowing, about 20-30secs/km behind my target pace.
I let the wrongly placed 21 mile feed station throw my rhythm a bit. But I press on. Eventually we’re back into the city centre. It’s a wet Sunday morning and there’s no real support apart from the brave and soggy marshalls. All I can think about is how New Walk is ahead of me, and that long 1 mile drag towards the finish would take me a little over 9 minutes. At this stage I’m not checking my watch. Get up the hill, and try to recover for the final 300 metres to the finish.
It hurt bad but I kept moving and managed to recover to a 4:38/km pace towards the finish. My name is called as I cross the line, and as it turns out I’m 96th of 612 finishers. 3:30:49. Round that down, spot on my target! Five months later than planned, mission accomplished for 2018. That feels good.
I stop my watch. I plod heavily towards the marshalL who passes me two water bottles, round the corner for two bananas and a pretty thin goodie bag, and my medal, and 50 points in the club road race as our first finisher. I greet Steve’s family and tell them when I last saw him – we wait. I’m hungry and there’s some food to eat, upload the run, check-in on the club Facebook group. Kudos.
Two weeks later I’d find that I picked up a Notts AAA County Marathon Bronze for this run. For 39 year old who didn’t run 4.5 year ago to medal at county level, as a senior, feels sweet. Woop! In a glorious ceremony I receive my medal down the local pub from club legend John O’Donnell. Former chairman of the club, I remember chasing hard to keep up with John two years ago at Parkrun (when he was 69) just after I joined the club. John has created the culture of our club over several decades, where I’ve gone further and faster but above all John teaches us to keep it fun. And that helped me smile in some of marathon’s latter miles. This is all for fun (and better health) – the times and medals are incidental really.
Within 48 hours of finishing Leicester, I’m recovering and I’ve arranged time off and booked into the rather expensive 2019 Manchester Marathon, with another good crowd from the club. Maybe I’ll get that mild and dry day this time? 16 weeks training is set to begin in mid-December. Before then I’ll take it a bit easier, 40km a week will make this a 2000 mile year, which is what training for two marathons does to you! Can I train for a 3:15-3:20 PB? Can I find those extra seconds every km? I’ve yet to re-book for Milton Keynes but I think I will, a month after Manchester for a shot at a course best.
Imagining ahead, next summer and autumn I want to prioritise our fell calendar which includes loads of midweek evening runs, and then pick up a couple of longer Sunday fell races in the autumn. As the dark mornings and evenings close in those summer evenings in the Peak District (and a summer holiday exploring the hills around Keswick) are a lot of days, a lot of miles, and probably two marathons away.