I have now ran three marathons. The second until last week was the best. Running within the shadow of Snowdon through the heartland of the National Park, I was just out to complete the course and with it managed to get a new PB.
But lets face it. That was not hard. Any of my mates with a little training could have beaten my time from my first Marathon. Lets set the scene.
I had worked and trained hard to compete in the Manchester Marathon and as most first timers I wanted to get that all magical four hours. Lets face it, runners and numbers are worse than mathematicians, whats the point of doing a 10K if its not below an hour, a half if it’s more than 1:50 and a marathon if its four hours plus. As we all know from this time last year the Manchester Marathon went horribly wrong for me. Coming in at 4:20 something, (that bad I can’t even remember, and I normally know my PB’s and times to the second)
The Biblical conditions we had on that day were not good for a run, the course and the organisation was not fantastic. The crowd support was the only element that kept you strong as you battled your demons to make it across the line.
Roll on a year, with two marathons, several more 10Ks and halfs under my belt and a lot more experience on how to take on this beast that sits so high on every runners tick sheet. To be honest I thought it was going to be rubbish. My whole no booze and sensible eating had gone out of the window mid February and I had lost the fun of running and really couldn’t be bothered to run more than 40 minutes at a time. I did however manage to squeeze three long runs in and like Snowdon I kept telling myself ‘You have a marathon in the legs you know how to do this”
With this I had three times in my head. I had read some where that it is always good to have three times, as you will always have something to cling to or chase if the first one slips away. The times were a rather ambitious 3:30, 3:45 and off course the time I have been running after ever since I laced up my running shoes when I first embarked on the 26 miles 385 yard jaunt. The golden four hours.
The week leading up to race day had been good, I was carb loading and stuffing my face with seeds and nuts, drinking plenty of water. I had a sport massage, did a gentle 3K and some walking, but the rest of the week I was seen to be sleeping and sitting on my arse. Race day itself arrived and as I rose to find the conditions perfect for marathon running the odd black cloud did send a shiver down the spine, but apart from a few spots of rain just before the starters gun, this was going to be a dry race.
I arrived at the athlete village and even after attending several of these races I still find it comical watching people prepare. Some do running laps, others stretch, some just listen to music. I too had my own routine which I set about to while waiting for the latest possible time to remove my hoody and deposit my bag.
Before I knew it, I was on my way to the start line which was a short walk from the race village and as I followed the crowd I began to hunt for my race pen. As we were all gathering the chatting started with your nearest competitor. Subjects ranging from where they had come from, to how many marathons they had in the legs and then as if by magic the nervous banter faded to complete silence. 26 seconds of complete silence followed by an outburst of clapping in respect of the Boston Marathon.
Shortly after we were away and once again the river of colour on the Manchester streets filled my heart with joy. I was doing this, I was taking part in a special run. I always love seeing the stream of people and here at the start and later on, you often doubled back on the course so you could see those ahead or behind you.
The race itself was being ran fast. Not too fast that I felt it was uncontrollable. I kept going from 8.15 to 8.30 pace. Think I was averaging around 8.20 a mile and soon I would be hitting the 10K mark in 52 minutes. Well inside what I needed and also on course for the 3:45. I had the pace maker in my sights at all time, and was slowly gaining ground on him, and then at around mile 7 he dashed off into the tree’s. I now had to use my watch and pay special attention to the pace.
Before I knew it I was in Sale, then Brooklands, and on our way to Altrincham where I would see my Ma and Pa. this was also half way and I was still feeling strong. I went though at 1:51:22, still on target. Everything had gone right so far. My gel popping was working, my fluid in take was good. The crowds were just adding to the buzz and enjoyment. But then it was about to go wrong. Mile 18 through to 22/23 was coming up and once again this was to take us from the urban sprawl to the outskirts of the open countryside where support was none and many a runner will be running full throttle into the wall.
I knew what the wall was, I had felt it several times before and I could feel it now. I began to map out the course, working out how long it was till I got back into civilisation and as I counted to 100 over and over, my pace went as low as 10:00 a mile, I fought to keep it at 9, or 9:30 knowing that I had banked some extra time earlier on in the race and before I knew it I could hear the crowds. The shouts of not long…. less than 5k to go. I watched checked and saw I was back on 8:15 miles, and remembered back to the 20 mile mark that saw me go through in 2:51. Some quick maths about my 10K time and I knew I was on course for a sub 3:45. I was going to break the golden 4 hours, I was going after my second time. I speeded up, the wall had now been climbed, the warm up was over now it was time to race.
I took on water at every aid station, I popped my last gel, I took jelly babies, I laughed with the crowd, they shouted and cheered and I was running I was in my element. The night before I had tweeted that I was not confident in Marathons, it was my least favourite distance, but now I was loving it.
But then something hit the back of my leg. I looked to see that it was a water bottle and that the guy behind me at mile 24 screamed ‘Cramp. Fucking bloody cramp’ I thought, should I help…. Others would… But wait, I’m on to a new PB, if I stop I might not get going… this is why we have marshals, the crowd could help him…. I chose to go on when an other runner ran alongside and said ‘You okay’ “No I have bloody cramp, bloody shitty fucking cramp” I left him to moan about it. I felt his pain, as with two miles to go to get cramp is a disaster, but he never stopped to stretch.
I turned into Chester Road, and it was home time, the crowds were getting bigger. Then suddenly the 3:45 pacer over took me. What? No! I was going to lose the sub 3:45 in the last mile. I sped up, and clung to him. Thinking I was always 100 meters behind him at the start, so I just need to keep that distance and I’ll be fine.
I saw Tesco’s, I saw Old Trafford, I saw the finishing Tunnel and I ran, I ran like Mo on the home straight of the 10,000. passing the pacer ‘Excuse me… Coming through…. Excuse me…. On your Left….’ I ran like I was late for work, fixing on the clock. 3:43:22. It was going to be a sub 3:45. I crossed the line, I stopped my watch, I looked at electronic numbers beaming back at me, I stumbled and turned to look at the clock… I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I had done it. I had got my Sub 4, I had got my sub 3:45.
A year on from my first marathon which couldn’t have been more of a disaster, to now… I walked to the medal station, thinking if I hadn’t slowed I could have got a 3:40, If I had picked the pace up I could have got a 3:30.
But hey, that’s why there are other marathon.