My Marathon Journey

I began training for the London marathon on Sunday 1st January 2017 and my marathon journey will end on Sunday 20th May 2018 when I complete my fourth and last marathon at the Windermere Marathon.

The decision to end my brief sojourn into Marathon-land was made after the Great Welsh Marathon which I ran in a Personal Best time of 3:56:15 on 15th April 2018.

London Marathon – 23rd April 2017

I’ve watched the London Marathon since I was a child and had desired to run it for a very long time. I got a place though the ballot at my second entry. I was certainly lucky as some make entries over several years and don’t get a place.

The four months of training went really well with only a slight calf niggle to trouble me. On the big day Sarah was joined by our friend Lesley as they both waited around mile 11 to cheer me on and provide me with a fresh water bottle.

It was fantastic to finally run the marathon and I did get a little emotional as I crossed the start line but for me it was a far from an enjoyable race. There were too many runners and not enough space to run. At no point did I actually reach my goal pace.

The support from the crowds is something else though. They are an almost constant presence and I’ve never heard my name shouted so much.

The London ballot is free to enter and I think if anyone has a desire to run a marathon then get yourself in the ballot but understand that there are so many more marathons in the UK that you can enter where you will have a more enjoyable experience.

Target – 3:59:59
Result – 4:13:20

Chester Marathon – 8th October 2017

Having not reached the sub 4 goal at London, it only took a few days before I was researching other races for another attempt. This despite saying moments after meeting Sarah and Lesley at Horse Guards Parade “I’m never doing that again”.

Chester was the choice I made. I’d read that it was fairly flat. Unfortunately my research wasn’t quite as good as it should have been as the route was hilly, especially in the last 10k which wiped my legs out!

The training didn’t go quite so well as before. Summer training was hard, running when it was warm was really difficult. I was mixing it up by going out early morning or late evening. There were certainly days when I didn’t run due to the heat. I much prefer winter / cold weather training. I did get the miles in and felt prepared enough for marathon number two.

The atmosphere in Chester was really good. Everyone was friendly. The course went through the city at the start and end with the majority of the route going through towns and villages in the surrounding area. This meant that support was limited but this was okay as runners actually spoke to each other! This did not happen in London.

I had a race plan, in fact it’s the race plan I’ve used in all three marathons: Keep with the 4 hour pacer / 9 minutes per mile and at 20 miles try and push on.

I haven’t managed to follow that plan but that’s fine, you have to adjust plans as you go. I was with the 4 hour pacers for about 20 miles and then the wheels started to come off.

For those 20 miles my average pace was 9:02 minutes per mile, bang on pace and would have seen me home in goal time but I was slowing and then the 4 hour pacers and the group with them ran past me. I seem to recall an audible “oof” coming from me as they slowly opened a gap between me and them.

Between mile 21 and 25 I was averaging 10 minutes per mile, in reality mile 24 took 11:33 as I was walking a fair bit.

I managed a decent last mile but unfortunately with 800m to go I ran stony faced passed Sarah, her Aunt and Uncle, the parents & partner of Sarah’s friend Laurie who was also running the marathon as I knew deep down that if I had looked at Sarah I would have probably broken down as the sub 4 goal we both wanted wasn’t going to happen on this day.

Target – 3:59:59
Result – 4:02:37

Great Welsh Marathon – 15th April 2018

Two marathons run and the sub 4 goal still eluded me.

I took my time signing up for my third marathon, it was two or three days between London and Chester and nearly two months before I took the decision to go through it all again.

This time though it was a secret! I had proclaimed to all who would listen to me my desire to go sub 4 and it hadn’t happened. This time I would keep it to just Sarah and I and then there would be no additional pressure. Way back in June 2017 I had accepted the invitation from Sarah’s Uncle Andrew to join him and other members of Sarah’s family to run the Windermere marathon. This would turn out to be handy as I could then train for a marathon but let on that it was for Windermere without raising any suspicion. A bit sneaky but worth it in the end.

Training was good, back to winter training and this time that meant snow and lots of it over a two month period. This even included a 20 mile run in the snow which was good fun. I was aware that the course was almost pancake flat, this time I had researched a bit better, even looking at Strava data from runners who ran last year.

Race day was cold and wet to begin with. Once again Sarah was supporting me. Due to the weather I started with hat, gloves, club vest and a t-shirt. These were slowly stripped off and handed to Sarah over the first half of the race!

The course consists of two laps of a route also being run by half marathon runners. This meant that I would run past the start/finish three times before actually finishing. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds as the start/finish was set slightly off the main route so I just kept looking ahead.

The marathon starts five minutes before the half. However the half marathon runners were distracting as they came through at a much greater pace. Some marathon runners did get momentarily distracted and matched the pace of those runners before realising they were in a different race.

The out and back nature of the route was off putting before starting but I actually liked that I knew what was coming on the second lap. It definitely helped seeing the mile markers and I had great pleasure in ticking them off as I ran.

My nutrition was the best it had been, I usually just had Clif Bloks but added in Clif Bars to give my stomach some real food. This seemed to work much better but the dreaded wall did appear at mile 20. The headwind that we had to run through for most of the course took its toll and I had a real low point where I thought that the sub 4 would be missed once again.

I ran passed Sarah at mile 20 up a slight incline into the wind and it was just so hard that I stopped near the top but shouts from Sarah and a good shout at myself got me moving again. As I moved passed the 21 mile point which was adjacent to the finish line I started to calculate what pace I needed to get under 4 hours. I would need around 10 minutes per mile which I was just about matching as I headed to another steeper incline. This really was a flat course with only a few bumps.

At the top of that incline the sun came out and I slowed to a walk, thrust my arms wide into the air to grab some sun and relaxed. I knew I could do this. At 22 miles I passed the 25 mile marker, I had three miles to run to get back to it and that would determine the outcome of my race.

I was feeling okay, this was familiar territory, not only because I had already run this section earlier in the day but this part of the coastal path is where the Llanelli Half Marathon was held in February and where I got my PB. That should have been enough to keep me going but half a mile from the turnaround my legs felt awful and I came to a halt and sort of stumbled on half walk half jog before just walking. As I reached a group of marshalls one of them shouted at me “don’t walk, run!” that was all the guidance I needed and I didn’t stop running until I crossed the finish line.

My average pace for miles 1 to 20 was 8:56 per mile, almost perfectly on pace. For miles 21 to 24 it had dropped to 9:44 as I hit the wall before picking up the pace for the last two miles averaging 8:43 as I knew the sub 4 hour marathon I’d wanted was going to happen but I knew my marathon running days were done, well almost!

Target – 3:59:59
Result – 3:56:15

Still to come

Reaching my goal has reduced my desire to run marathons to nil. I will of course turn up to Windermere ready to run and ready to complete my toughest test yet. The course is not any easy one, there are lots of hills to contend with and hopefully the weather will be kind.

I will be using Windermere as a training run for Race To The Stones 100km Ultra weekend that I will be attending in July with friends Laurie, Suzanne & Nick. The Ultra is obviously longer than the traditional marathon distance however it will be a much more laid back affair with no goal time constraints. It will also be my only Ultra event.

Therefore I can test out my new running vest, eating more food on the run, run/walk strategies and generally enjoy the day. I’ve read that mile 22 is called ice-cream hill so I’ll make sure to take a couple of quid for a 99 to enjoy as I make my way to the finish.

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