The Abingdon Marathon 2019!
Both of us -Blue
After 18 weeks of relatively average training (whoops - must do better next time!) the day had arrived! We'd found ourselves a pretty nice little place on Air BnB only 1.5 miles from the start. After a chilled Saturday watching a documentary about the Boston Marathon (yes we really love running!), we had a carby tea of pasta before getting an early night.
I woke up at 6am and John brought me some toast. I ate my breakfast before drifting back off to sleep for another hour. At 7am, we jumped up and got ready. Conditions were perfect 10 degrees, cloudy and dry with hardly any wind. We had a gentle walk to the start and arrived with plenty of time to spare. After quickly spotting our GWR crew, we sat down and chatted about race plans and strategies. Unusually, I wasn't nervous. I guess I hadn't really put any pressure on myself. My goal was to go for Sub 3 and see how it felt. I was prepared for it to hurt and I was prepared to put the effort in. After my DNF at the Kingston Half, I was determined to finish. In the back of my mind, I knew that sub 3 was probably unlikely, but the marathon is such a mental game that I knew I couldn't let myself think that. I had to stay positive.
We did a little warm up around the track and got into the start pen with 4 minutes to spare. It was refreshing to stand on the start line of a race and feel cold! The race started and we were off. Initially, I ran with John and Dave but I found my rhythm relatively quickly and they pushed on ahead. My plan was to run 6:45 mm pace for as long as possible. At first I felt great! The first 6 miles flew by. I was in 3rd place and feeling great. Sub 3 was on. The first 5 miles were all exactly 6:46 - spot on.
Around mile 7, I knew there was a slightly uphill section. It wasn't too bad but it did slow my pace a little. I was, however, prepared for this so didn't let it worry me. Getting to mile 10 is always a great feeling as 16 miles to go feels more achievable. I was still feeling pretty good although starting to worry that my average pace was getting closer and closer to 6:50 (6:51 was my average pace at Chester where I ran 3:00:51 so I knew I had to be under that).
When halfway arrived, I felt a mix of joy that I'd reached that key marker but also slightly worried as usually -when I'm having a good day at a marathon - at halfway I feel really fresh still and the pace feels easy. At halfway the pace wasn't easy. My legs were starting to get heavy and that was worrying...there was still a long way to go. Nevertheless, I past halfway in sub 90 so technically I was on track. If only I could muster up a negative split!
It was about this point that people started passing me. Club mate Tim cruised past looking pretty comfortable. I really wanted to latch onto him and push on but I really couldn't. My legs felt really heavy - just like they normally do at mile 22! Oh dear. At mile 14 I had done my first 7 minute mile of the day. That was the point where I realised that Sub 3 really wasn't going to be possible unless I really picked it up. I tried telling that to my legs but there really wasn't any chance. Surprisingly, I felt ok about it. I guess I had known all along that sub 3 would have been a tall order on my less than brilliant training and rather dodgy hamstring.
I changed the focus of the day to- finish. I wanted to bank another marathon experience. I'd ran a sub 90 half and done 13 miles at target MP. I definitely wasn't going to pull out. I was pretty sure that it would be slower than my last race at Abingdon but I was confident that I could come in quicker than 3:21 - my Boston time. So my new goal was to finish in around the 3:05 - 3:15 bracket.
It seemed to take quite a while to finish the first loop. Whilst I tried to stay positive, I wasn't looking forward to running that whole loop again. I felt like it would take an age. Surprisingly, the second loop seemed to go much faster even though I was running considerably slower. I had a good memory of the course and it was great to tick off the landmarks knowing I wouldn't see them again ...until next year perhaps!
The support around the course was brilliant. Our friend Cat was everywhere with her brilliant blue pompoms. It was also great to see Andy from our club and Beth, Dave's wife. As well as all of these cheers, there were quite a lot of supporters out and the marshalls were so enthusiastic and encouraging.
By mile 17, people were starting to slow and and walk. I decided to try an encourage others who had clearly, like me, given up on their A goals. After a few positive shouts, I managed to get a couple of guys to run along with me but eventually they slowed back to a walk. I overtook a few people in these last few miles but quite a few overtook me too. Most notably, lots of women. Part of me really wanted to sprint on and overtake them...but my legs wouldn't let me. Also, despite feeling a bit tight (as was to be expected), my hamstring actually wasn't feeling too bad and I didn't want to destroy it for no reason. I grudgingly let them go past and focused on keeping to an acceptable pace of when I deemed to be around 7:30mm.
By the time we reached 22 miles, I had a new problem - my feet. I've never really suffered before but I've moved to a new pair of shoes (as my favourite Pure Cadence brand have been discontinued). I could feel blisters forming and every step was becoming painful. Not only that, but my legs felt incredibly heavy. My pace was slowing but I just tried to keep smiling. I was really looking forward to mile 24 as our parents would be there waiting for us. Loud cheers and waves from them gave me all the boost I needed to power on to the end.
The last miles follow the route we walked to the start so I knew it well. It was brilliant turning onto the track and hearing John's voice cheering for me. I crossed the line in 3:10 happy that I'd finished and banked my 3rd fastest ever marathon. I felt into John's arms with a smile on my face.
2:57:01 = PB!!! Awesome result - Well chuffed! From start to finish everything went near enough perfectly. As KD has explained the weather and conditions were perfect for marathon running. No excuses today. I was targeting Sub2:55 but wanted to race as comfortably as possible to make sure I renewed my membership to the Sub3 club.
Prep was good. 18 weeks of good training averaging 50 miles per week whilst making sure to run steady throughout, very little speedwork other that the odd tune up race here and there. This meant I got to the start line injury free and feeling fresh and raring to go. Food prep was as follows (boring but I wanna record it so I can replicate at future marathons) Porridge for breakfast with a cuppa tea and a pint of water (2.1/2 hours before the race. The day before consisted of 4 Wheetabix and blueberries for breakfast, 6 pcs of peanut buttered toast for lunch and pasta with home made pesto for dinner. Plenty of water and decaf tea through the day but no more than on a normal day. Kit wise I was wearing 200+ mile ready Saucony Kinvara 10s and the usual club singlet, Ron Hill shorts and blue socks. Cloudy enough to not need sunglasses or sun screen today :-) I had a new setup on my trusty Suunto Ambit 2 GPS watch - Instead of having autolap telling me my pace every mile I was going to manually reset every 5 miles as per the course markers instead of the GPS reading. I've read a lot of people do this and have practiced during training. Personally I feel it's a little more relaxing and dependable... as soon as the watch beeps the first couple of hundred metres the pacing is all over the place and any kinda incline can really throw the pace enough to worry you - not ideal during a long race.
The race starts on a track which is very exciting. Great facilities surround the track which helps to make sure you're ready to start the race comfortable and there's plenty of places to keep warm and socialise before hand. Everyone huddled together before the start we all wished each other good luck and set off. The first couple of miles are quite crowded, chaotic and slightly uphill so no need to rush here. I took it steady and ran purposely at the back end of my pacing window (6:40-6:50 minute miles) - this was a really nice way to start the race. I was with KD for about a mile and a few other club mates which meant for some good banter before really needing to concentrate. 3 Miles in and everyone had started to spread out a bit and settle into their relevant groups. Downhill for a bit through a little bit of countryside before hitting the town centre and the not so beautiful industrial estate which you loop round a couple of times.
0-5 Miles - 33:37 = 6:40MM Pace = Perfect
In the town I ran past KD's and my parents - lush! Great to have family and friends supporting which we had throughout the race today. A wave and a smile later and now time to concentrate and focus on getting the job done. The next couple of miles are slightly undulating. Firstly along the river and then out of town towards an industrial estate and a 7ish mile loop which you do twice. Ideal for any race as it means you only need a set number of marshalls - something I can really appreciate. Mile 9 comes and goes and I implement another renewed race tactic - I have a gel. The last few long distance races I've survived on beer and pork pies and this time round I thought it better to be a little more scientific. I felt the benefits and the next few miles felt a little easier than the ones before - coulda be psychological - don't care - having a gel worked. I also took an opportunity shortly after to have a cup of water - I stopped to make sure I could take on the necessary fluids instead of trying to drink on the run and choking it down - this was a smart move as it meant I was hydrated, not coughing or throwing water all over myself and because my watch wasn't autolapping every mile this short stop had a very small effect on my pace. My 10 done and I'm feeling great!
6 - 10 Miles - 33:44 = 6:42 Pace = Perfect
Approaching half way and time to take stock. I'm not far off starting the second loop and I'm still feeling really fresh. I'm running a good pace but don't at any point feel uncomfortable or as if anything is out of control. I have a look at my average heart rate, 15X-something and this confirms that I'm running comfy. 1:27:XX-something ticks over as I go through half way - Great! If I do that again I'll get Sub2:55 - should things get tough near the end I'll have at least 4-5 minutes in the bank to make sure of a Sub3!
11 - 15 Miles - 33:21 = 6:40 Pace = Perfect
The start of the second lap and I'm able to reminisce on the first lap and tick off all the landmarks as I go by. After the success of the first gel, I'm also able to count down and look forward to the next one and the boost I was confident it would bring. 18 miles comes and I take the gel, I stop at a water station and take on plenty of water. I'm still feeling really strong! I know and feel like I've ran 18 miles but I am in no way whatsoever apprehensive about the next 8 to come - if anything in a sick way I'm kinda excited. Whilst everything is going so well I think back to Kipchoge's recent Sub2 hour accomplishment and remember how he just purposely smiles and thinks positive thoughts to himself - I do the same! I think about how lucky I am at home, at work and with my friends and family. I draw on all the experiences of last year - I ran 100 miles, 26.2 is gonna be easy!!
16 - 20 Miles - 33:19 = 6:40 Pace = Perfect = My fastest split yet!
Now this is where the marathon should and does get interesting! My legs and body are now starting to reject my mission - I feel tired and achy... *just*keep*run*ning* KD's mantra which fits perfectly in time with my footsteps. There's a van collecting race drop outs at mile 23 and this is both very tempting and slightly off putting. I try to put it out of my mind as quickly as I can - I give myself a telling off for letting any negativity or doubt become a part of this so far awesome day - let's get the job done! My pace is slowing down - I'm aware of this but I'm in control. I'm still on target - I was at half way and through 20 miles so I had plenty of time stashed in the bank. The marshalls through the last 6 miles are awesome - it feels like they're everywhere, cheering, ringing bells and genuinely wanting you to do well. This alongside seeing my parents again, friends Cat and Andy around (what felt like every corner) was just what I needed. As I ran past my mum and explained I didn't have time for (what I hoped might become a traditional) hugging I knew I was gonna do it. 23 miles done and I was in a world of pain but I'd been here before and I'd beaten it before - I knew I would today.
21 - 25 Miles - 34:42 = 6:58 Pace = Not perfect but good enough!
The last mile or so is quite cruel... Every so slightly uphill the whole way... you're running past so many runners who are having a bad day; walking, hunched over, hiding in a bush... I put them out of my mind and focus on the runners who are strong and ahead of me - I overtake them one at a time - I must have overtaken at least 10 in the last mile - Including a guy dressed in full silk pyjamas and the first lady! The runners who are having a good day are feeling good for themselves and for me and are shouting lots of positive messages which is just what I needed. I turn the corner and run on the track... with 300 meters I have a quick glance at my watch just to make sure I hadn't got anything wrong - I had 4+ minutes to make sure of Sub3 - I WAS GONNA DO IT! Runners having a similarly positive day to myself started sprinting for the finish, making sure to earn every last second... I do the same crossing the line in just over TWO HOURS AND FIFTY SEVEN MINUTES! I celebrate by falling on the ground and crawling in to the foetal position probably staying there a good couple of minutes until someone gave me some water...
What a great day and an even better race - PBs always are. Thank you so much to all my family and friends who supported me and as always a massive thank you to Kelly - my biggest fan and someone who has always believed 100% that I've got it in me to achieve my dreams! On to the next one... A winter of speed and strengthening with 5K road races, Prom and cross country before starting all over again with marathon training in the new year.... 2:57:01 = PB!!!