The Chester Marathon 2018
After about 7 and a half hour's sleep, I woke up at 6am for my pre-race breakfast. I've decided to vary from my usual pre-race meal of egg fried rice in favour of Coach Cox's recommended toast with butter and jam. The thinking behind this is that rice takes longer than 3 hours to digest where as toast digests and gets into the system quicker. 3 slices of toast and a glass of water later, I was back in bed for another hours' sleep. I woke up in a panic after a dream that I slept in until 10am...I wonder how many others have had that dream pre-race?!
John and I got up and dressed and we left the Airbnb apartment at 7:30am. After a 10 minute drive, we parked up in a Teso 0.7 miles from the start. The weather was perfect - about 12 degrees, cloudy and cold. My legs felt great and I felt super excited; my resting heart rate - usually 45 bpm - was at 130! We walked into the racecourse and atmosphere was amazing. It didn't take us long to find the Elite room. The set up was amazing; loads of chairs, it was lovely and warm and they were giving out tea and coffee. I made my usual 10 trips to the toilet. At 8:30, I went outside to do a little warm up. My legs were feeling especially good and mentally I was feeling really positive. I spotted a few runners that I knew from local running clubs or strava- John, Kieron Fee and Melissa - so had a chat and managed to find a few people who I thought would be running a similar pace to me.
At 8:50, the organisers led us all out to the start where they had a pen right at the front ready for us. Just before the start I spotted someone I reconginsed - Russell Bently aka Russell Runner. I've been following his training and reading his blogs for a while so I couldn't resist saying hello and introducing myself. He's been training for a sub 2:20 so I was pretty sure he'd be in with a chance of winning.
After a few words of encouragement from the Town Crier, the horn sounded and we were away. The first couple of miles were through Chester town centre and I actually remembered to look around and enjoy the architecture! There were a few ups and downs but my legs were feeling amazing so I hardly noticed them. Just after the first mile, I saw my support team for the first time. John, my parents and John's parents were cheering wildly which put a huge smile on my face.
Fairly early on, a girl called Sam pulled in alongside me. We'd been chatting before the start. She'd had recently raced in Berlin but pulled out before the end. She, like me, was aiming for her first Sub 3. She asked if she could run alongside me and I was more than happy to have some company. At that point, we were running as part of a huge group. A few of us were having a chat but most people were pretty focused on the task at hand.
I always say that I can tell (in half marathon or marathon) if it's going to be a good day or not at mile 6. Mile 6 came up pretty quickly and I was feeling great. Sam and I were working really well together running step for step and getting into a really strong rhythm.
The first 6 miles looked like this:
6:42, 6:42, 6:41, 6:53, 6:35, 6:51 I was averaging exactly 6:45 pace. There was a lovely long downhill at mile 5 with beautiful views. I went over the first chip mat at 6.1 miles and thought of all the people who were tracking me.
In marathons, I split the race up into a number of milestones which are really key. Reaching 10 miles was great. It's also where John was planning on seeing me first...I didn't spot him...later I found out that I was too quick and he arrived there after I'd passed! Ooops! Around mile 11, we went down a road called something like 'straight mile lane' it lived up to its name - 1 mile straight, flat and fast.
We were running through countryside now. There were some beautiful little villages and huge houses. There were a fair number of supporters on the route and, because we had our names on our numbers, I was getting loads of cheers. Lots of very rich looking people had come out of their private roads to politely clap and nod their heads! I also spotted fellow GWR runner Taryn who had come out especially to support me holding up a GWR vest - her support was much appreciated - it's always lovely to see a familiar space.
Getting to 12 miles and the next chip timing mat was great as I knew that I'd give my supporters something to cheer about! Another really solid block:
6:47, 6:45, 6:41, 6:42, 6:42, 6:43 once again averaging 6:45 - the race was going exactly to plan.
At this point, we reached a section of the course where the faster runners were coming back along the stretch we were on. We'd timed it perfectly (just as I'd done in the London Marathon) where I could see the lead car! The leader came past followed pretty closely by Russell Runner! I gave him a shout of encouragement and then got back to focusing on my own race.
I went through halfway at 1:28 - spot on what John had told me to aim for. It felt great to have reached the halfway point especially as my legs were still feeling really good. My left hamstring was feeling a little tight but nothing major. Also, the tongue of my left trainer had moved a bit ...but I was trying to not think about that!
I love getting to mile 16 in a marathon as there's just 10 miles to go. I was still feeling good and still running step for step with Sam. At this point, we reached our first 'proper hill' I followed John's advice and took it steady - no need to storm up it. It did increase my average pace a tad but nothing that I needed to worry about too much at this point. I checked in with Sam and she said that her legs were starting to feel a bit heavy now. I keep encouraging her but did keep in mind that I might need to push on if she couldn't keep the pace.
I reached mile 18 and the next chip timing mat. I checked my watch - still averaging 6:45 - yes!
6:57, 6:39, 6:37, 6:50, 6:57, 6:57 for the last 6 miles. The varying times are due to the undulations. I was running at a consistent effort. With 7 miles to go, Gia (local running friend who'd traveled up with us) passed me with a couple of words of support. I managed to keep him in sight for a while...
It was at mile 18 that I made a bad decision...I was feeling amazing still and I only had 8 miles to go. I thought I could pick up the pace and get an even better time...I got greedy! It was at this point that Sam stuck to her plan of 6:45s (very sensible!) and I ended up running ahead of her for a bit. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I've only done 6 marathons and I'm definitely no expert yet. I've learnt how important it is to reflect on my mistakes so that I don't make them again.
I wasn't ahead of Sam for very long. Whenever I reached an uphill, I slowed down and she caught up with me. Then, eager to make up the pace, I tried to really use the downhills as much as possible. Up until this point, I hadn't really needed to think about my form. This was the point that started reminding myself to lean forwards and use my arms.
I reached 20 miles and, for the first time, my legs were feeling tired. I was just about to maintain the pace but I was very aware that I was working pretty hard now. Usefully, I spotted a lady not too far ahead of me so I focused on catching her and tried to dig deep. In the book I've been reading (recommended to me by John) called 'Endure' by Alex Huchinson, he suggests that swirling energy drinks around in your mouth sends signals to your brain that you're getting an energy hit - you don't actually have to drink the drink to get the benefits. This caught my attention as Lucozade doesn't agree with my stomach. As I was feeling pretty fatigued by now, I thought I'd give it a try. The result- I did feel a boost and ran a fairly speedy mile - 6:41!
After a painful two miles I managed to overtake the lady I was aiming for. I only had 4 miles left. But 4 miles suddenly seemed really really far. I was checking my watch what seemed like every 1/2 a mile and found that, in actual fact, I'd only traveled 0.1 miles. Oh dear. By this point, my pace had dropped to 7 minute miling. I tried to do a bit of maths. My watch was telling me I had been running for 2 hours and 28 minutes. It took me much longer than it should have done to work out that 7x4 was 28...plus a couple of minutes for the 0.2 (which is normally longer than 0.2 due to the weaving and GPS inaccuracies!) It was ok. I was still going to get sub 3. I had a couple of minutes in the bag. 7 minute miles would do it.
I'd heard talk of the biggest hill on the course at mile 24. I was told that I'd know when I'd reach it because there were 'angels' who would be running up the hill to help encourage the runners. I wasn't especially pleased therefore when I reached a pretty big hill at mile 23 but there were no angels...I knew that meant that there was an even bigger hill to come...brutal! Who planned this course with all of the big hills in the last 6 miles?!?!
With just 3 miles to go, I was really starting to suffer. The sub 3 hour pacer had just gone past me and a couple of ladies I'd passed early came back past me, including Sam who I gave a thumbs up to. I was obsessively checking my watch now and desperately trying to calculate if I'd still be able to make it. My legs were getting heavier and heavier and slower and slower and there didn't seem to be anything I could do. I was cursing myself for trying to pick up the pace at mile 18!
'3 little miles....just a parkrun to go!' I tried to convince my brain that I was nearly there but my brain was having none of it! Someone in the crowd was handing out watermelon - yes the watermelon could save me. Remembering the ice lolly in the Boston Marathon which had given me a second whim, I took it gratefully. It was refreshing but I didn't get a boost.
2 miles to go. Come on legs! You're nearly there. There was a lovely downhill section and I got into a rhythm. The pace came back down to sub 7. 'Yes! I'm going to do it!' Oh balls. There's the hill. It looked like a mountain (clearly it wasn't but I'm slightly concerned by my perception as I'm running the Snowdownia Marathon in 3 weeks...oh dear...). I watch the seconds I'd just gained disappear and I trudged slowly and slightly sadly up the mountain. There were indeed angels, with lovely bright orange tops on, who were...just standing there...they did cheer but I would have actually apreciated some company up the hill! Never mind, I did ask them one question "This is the last hill yeah?" They confidently assured me that it was.
The last few miles saw my pace slow:
21 (6:55) 22 (7:01) 23 (7:08) 24 (7:08) 25 (7:31)
Brilliant. Just over 1 mile of downhill. I've got 10 minutes to do a mile and a bit. I can do this. I got back a bit of momentum on the downhill but then...another uphill! WHAT! Fighting the urge to turn around to go and tell those 'angels' that they were mistaken, I just tried not to think about it. By this point my legs were absolutely shattered. They were just about managing to do a sub 7 min mile but the hill slowed my pace again. I began to realise that sub 3 wasn't going to happen today.
'It's ok,' I told myself. 'Just keep going and get as close as you can.' I knew I'd see my support crew again in a minute and, despite feeling like I just wanted to stop and curl up into a ball and sleep, I tried to put on a smile and keep an eye out for them. I heard them before I saw them. They were seriously loud and enthusiastic! I didn't have to work hard to smile. It was great to see them at the point when I was hurting the most. I tried as hard as a possibly could to pick up the pace. I knew I was so close. Where was the race course? Surely I should be able to see it by now? My watch beeped for 26 miles. Yes! So close! Where is the race course? Suddenly, I spotted Sam in front of me. She'd stopped...I think she maybe thought she'd reached the finish line...'Keep going!' I yelled. I tried to catch up with her. We were both swerving around the road like two drunk old men.
Desperately looking at my watch, the time said 2:58:10 I knew I was so close but I still couldn't see the finish. Eventually, I saw the racecourse and heard John screaming at the top of his lungs. I urged my legs to move faster. I tried to focus every tiny bit of energy I had left but I felt like I was hardly moving. John ran the last bit with me - from the other side of the barrier. I put everything I had into it. With 200 meters to go I looked at my watch and saw a 3:.... I didn't feel disappointed. I genuinely had given everything I had. I passed Sam with 100 meters to go. I crossed the line in a time of 3:00:50 and collapsed on the floor.
I'm delighted. I've taken around 3 minutes off my PB. I was so close that I know it's just a matter of time before I go sub 3. I ran a perfect race up until 20 miles ....I wonder how many marathon runners have also done that! I've learnt some lessons and I had an amazing weekend with the people I love. My family were amazing; it really made a difference having their support.
The one person I really have to thank is John. He devised my 10 week training plan. He's put up with my whinging, moaning, stressing and panicking! He's shown me that sub 3 is possible off low mileage; I've averaged 41 miles a week for the 10 week block. I will definitely be listening to him more often and following his advice in the future!
Thank you to everyone to has been reading these blogs, following my training, tracking me and sending me messages of support. It feels wonderful to know how much people care.