On Sunday I ran my first Snickers. By which I mean marathon.
Most of my running is off-road, but basically everyone I ever run with has done a marathon at some point. So I thought I’d better do one, to see what all the fuss is about. It turns out that 26.2 miles is a bloody long way and it didn’t exactly go according to plan, so I’ll be honest and let you know right now that this is not a short blog post.
Training wasn’t exactly marathon-specific by any stretch of the imagination, but I did plenty of running up to three weeks pre-marathon and was fairly happy. This peaked with one of my favourite races, Nine Edges. This is 21 miles off-road with 900m of ascent, and I was really pleased with a time of 2h 57m this year after giving it my all throughout the course. Quite possibly the highlight of my running achievements to date. Three days after that, I did an easy 8-mile training run with Barrow Runners which was best described as tortuous, so I took the rest of the week off to let my calves finish recovering from the race. The week after saw us house-sitting for the in-laws and so my usual running routine took a bit of a back seat. There was plenty of fresh fruit in the garden which should have promoted healthy eating, but unfortunately most of it ended up in cake form which perhaps didn’t help. A few easy sessions in the pool were (I believed) enough to keep me at least awake if not on top form. The final week was a bit busy with work and so nothing much got done.
Fast-forward to race day, and Chester Marathon arrived under blue skies and with not a little nervousness on my part. Having never run 26 miles on road before, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d chosen Chester because it’s flat (101m of ascent across the entire route), and because we used to live nearby (my parents still do) and so I knew almost all of the course. 4,500 people in the start field was a little more than I’m used to at the average fell race, but I was soon stood behind my pacer of choice. My aim for the race was about 3:30, but here’s where the optimist in me made a crucial mistake. 3:30 is about 8min/mile pace, which I knew from experience that I should be able to manage. On that basis, I figured I’d start with the 3:15 pacer at 7:26min/mile and drop back to the 3:30 group if it all got a bit much.
Off through Chester and past places I’d not been for a very very long time (shout out to the Saturday staff in WHSmith’s book department circa. 1998!). Out into the countryside and 7:26 was feeling almost leisurely. We were quickly through the only couple of miles of the course I didn’t know inside out, and then back into familiar territory. Halfway was reached exactly on schedule at 1:36:28, and I felt pretty good. A little loop clearly put in just to make up the distance, and then down to the River Dee and the border between Wales and England. In the village where my parents live, and where I spent my most formative years, mum was waiting but completely failed to see me (I’ve never been the favourite son). My brother and Caz provided some welcome support though.
Up the hill through the village and out past the school, and I suddenly started to feel very rough. Over the course of a mile or so I’d completely run out of steam. At mile 18 I couldn’t keep it up any more and quickly came crashing down to a walk as the 3:15 group disappeared from sight. Quads and calves in tatters, the next three miles or so were complete agony, passed in a mixture of a fast walk and a pitiful hobble. The disadvantage of knowing a course is that you’re acutely aware of exactly how far you have to walk back to the finish when it all goes wrong. A short burst of jogging and then I had to stop next to the field where Dusty the Donkey used to live (RIP, Dusty); I nearly fell over and decided that the best tactic was therefore to keep moving because at least then I was still upright. Over the A55 at Huntington and down towards the river. I had a bit of a second wind, managing a reasonable pace to the bottom of Sandy Lane. A crawl to the top, and then respectable speed again down to The Groves. People were starting to line the course again by this point, which was unfortunate because it meant I had to keep ambling along despite wanting to just curl up in a ball and cry. The Groves went on for ever; it’s been so long since I’ve been down there that I got my bridges confused and had further to go than anticipated (it was at most 300m, but that seemed like a very long way by this point).
Unexpectedly, my mum and Caz appeared at the side of the track (Mum managed to spot me this time) and Caz ran alongside as we approach the race course and the finish. She pointed out a solitary fool stood on the Grosvenor Bridge way above our heads waving manically, and I eventually realised it was Gareth. Onto the racecourse for the final 400m and more enforced running to avoid the shame of quitting in front of several hundred people. Across the line in 3h 53m (1106th position) and no desire to run on tarmac ever again.
An (Objective?) Analysis
I’d like to think I approached the race with an open mind, and I certainly was hoping for a decent result rather than just to plod around to say “I’ve run a marathon”. I’m glad I held 3:15 pace for 18 miles, but that’s still only two-thirds of the course and so I’m also a bit cross that I managed to completely mis-judge how I was doing during the race. If I’d dropped off the back of the 3:15 group five miles earlier, I suspect it would have been a different story. I suppose it’s not surprising though, given that the entirety of my competitive road running experience is three 10k races. I’m glad overall that I did it, but wish I could say that my one marathon running experience had been a more consistent 3:40 for example, than a respectable first half and abysmal second half! You’ll note I used the phrase “one marathon running experience” – tellingly, I’m not so upset with my performance that I have any burning desire to do another one to make amends! It certainly provided me with some new and/or interesting experiences: brutal chafing of my left arm; being ignored by my own mother; feeling a strong desire to give up running entirely; visiting a physio for my first ever massage and being astounded at how phenomenally painful it was.
Anyway, thank you to Gaz and Caz for the support both moral and logistical, and to Mum for recognising me on at least one occasion during the race. Also thanks to Mum for using some incredible local knowledge to drop me within ten metres of the racecourse entrance with absolutely no queuing, on a morning where most of Chester was bumper-to-bumper with traffic-bound runners. Finally, thanks to Becs for doing all the dog walking this week while I’ve been unable to walk. Regular readers will be pleased to note that I now plan to have an easy few weeks before regaining some fitness in time for the snowy runs and accompanying scenic pictures which seemed to form the staple of this blog last winter.