Cross Country

At this time of year runners eschew the relative comfort of road running and go in search of lumpy bumpy off road courses.

I’ll start out by saying that cross country is not my thing. I first ran at a meet last year in Brecon whilst with Parc Bryn Bach Running Club. I only ran that day as I felt that living a mile from the course, it would look odd that I didn’t turn up; even if I did have to borrow suitable footwear! I did intend to do a few more races, buying trail shoes in the process, but I never got myself to the start line.

That is until I travelled with Brecon Athletic Club to Pembrey in order to run a 9.9km course which would include a small section on sand.

I haven’t figured out why yet but when I’m on a cross country route, my leg speed slows down, I just can’t get going. Those runners who I know are speedy on the road, are equally speedy off road. It’s something I will try and address.

There is still a disparity in the league that we were competing in, in that then women run a shorter route than the men. Several of the ladies who run for Brecon AC can easily out run and out pace me, and I wonder why the length of the courses haven’t been equalised yet. If we all signed up to a 10km, half marathon or marathon, then we would all run the same distance.

So, the men had to run two big laps around the course. The course wasn’t particularly hilly, its bumpy. Although one young lad at the club who is more than twice as fast as I am, told me it was pretty flat! The bumps were nicely spread out though.

I started towards the back of the 400 or so men who were running, They of course set off at a dash, I being a little more sensible and wary of what was ahead, kept a pace I knew I could maintain.

In the initial stages I kept with club mate Paul. A few weeks before over a 10k trail race Paul had easily left me behind. So I decided to keep with him this time and see if I could hang on. About three quarters of the way around the sand appears in the form of a short sharp incline up to a dune. Paul and I were side by side and he told me to go ahead, it being a narrowish path, I bounded up the sand, surprising myself and managed to keep the effort level the same and powered away from Paul. He congratulated me at the end of the race for overcoming the difference in our times over the two races.

Our running friends group has a motto; “Love a hill”. They are vital really for good running performance and strength and we do love a hill around Brecon. It’s that mentality that saw me gain many places on the longer bumpier bits of the course. At each one I overtook at least one person and held that place on the way down.

On the second lap I knew I was near the back. There is one section that makes a wide sweep of a field where its possible to see whose behind you. I felt like I was slowing down but the splits seemed okay. I took a few places on the sand dune part and the final hill before managing a sprint finish to gain a couple of more places! Every place counts in cross country.

I did enjoy my run to a point, the not being able to be as fast as I’d like is a bit annoying but something I can work on.

The next race is on Sunday at Parc Bryn Bach where we have been warned that it could be a bit boggy in places!! The weather has been rather wet this week so conditions may well be challenging.

Severn Bridge Half Marathon

This is my favourite Half Marathon. It was first run in 2014 and I have run all five events.  Sarah and I ran at the first event, at that time it was my second Half and Sarah’s first.

The race begins in the middle of the first Severn Bridge crossing and continues into England, around the villages in the vicinity of Elberton before making its way back over the bridge and to the finish near junction 2 of the M48.

It is organised by Rogue Runs. They also organise lots of other local runs, we have also participated twice in the 5 mile night run over the bridge.

In the third year of the race, the route had to be changed and we ran into Wales instead. That was a tough route, I was glad when the route returned to normal for the fourth iteration.

The race is known for The Hill. A steep-ish section of the route at 7 miles which has defeated me each time. I think the fourth year I was prepared to run all the way but it’s a narrow lane and I couldn’t make my way passed the runners who had been defeated. This year I just wasn’t fit enough to make it up, I’ll do it one year.

I went into this years race not really expecting to do anything but a 1:59:59 finish. I haven’t been particularly fit for most of the year. A Half Marathon PB at Llanelli in February was a false dawn as I was injured not long after, followed by two marathons, two 50KMs and then a dreadful Brecon 10 just weeks prior to this race. I was hoping to get round and enjoy it.

I’ve just checked Strava to see what I was up to in the week leading to the race and the answer is… nothing. No running logged. The previous run was parkrun the week before, which concluded 22 miles of running over 3 days, all in an effort to up my mileage.

I had an idea to see if I could get close to my PB set in Llanelli (1:41:55), which would be a huge achievement on this course. Llanelli is pretty much flat, this course is a bit bumpy.

I wasn’t able to reach PB pace early on without feeling it too much in my legs so I ditched that idea and just ran. Seeing how long I could keep going. I averaged 8:09 min miles for the first six. The Hill at seven gave me a 10:10 mile and I averaged 8:11 for the last six. Pretty good. The final two miles were a bit quicker; 7:56 and 7:49.

I crossed the line in 1:49:30, which is a course PB.

I shall return once again in 2019, injury permitting, to run the sixth Severn Bridge Half Marathon.

Times:
2014 – 02:42:32 – With Sarah
2015 – 01:56:50
2016 – 01:58:44 (Alternate route)
2017 – 01:59:15 (Two hour pace test for marathon training)
2018 – 01:49:30

Race to the Stones 2018

This post is becoming some what of a millstone! I have been drafting it for months but never get it finished. So to get it out there, I’m going to shorten it considerably. I don’t feel like I can post about other stuff with this sitting in the drafts waiting for me to get back to it.

So here goes:

On 31 December 2013 I wrote a post on my previous blog that concluded with:

Eventually I’ll run a half marathon or two, then a marathon or two before getting to a bucket list goal of finishing an ultra marathon before I’m 41… but that’s for my aspiration list on 31 December 2016.

I have since run a half or two and a marathon or two and now I have finished two 50k ultra marathons in two days.

I first heard about Race to the Stones on Instagram, when some of those I was following completed the event over two days in 2017. I had planned to take 2018 off marathon distance running but not achieving the sub four hour marathon I’d wanted at Chester drew me to another marathon and as I was already committed to run Windermere Marathon, I thought I might as well have a crack at RTTS.

Injury in the lead up to Windermere meant that my planned training was curtailed greatly prior to RTTS.

I was at the event with Laurie (predominately a road runner and like me a first time ultra competitor) and Nick (predominately a trail runner and ultra marathon veteran).

This being my first experience of ultra running, I was on a steep learning curve. Run the flat and the downhill and walk the uphill was my first lesson. I do like running uphill so this was, at first, a challenge but once the miles ticked on and on, it was a relief not to have the pressure of “I must keep going” that is prevalent in road running.

The weather was very warm that weekend and at times the sun was scorching. Thankfully RTTS is a fully supported event and there are pit stops at every 10k or so. At these there were tables filled with all sorts of carb bars, fruit, crisps, nuts and much more. Water bowsers for refilling bottles. There were toilets too! Marvellous.

The weather affected me on the first day to the point where I thought I wouldn’t make it to halfway and basecamp. I was wearing an ultra vest with two 500ml bottles. I was drinking those in between each pit stop. However I wasn’t taking on enough liquid and that took its toll at around 20 miles in.

I thought I was doing fine, I had to use the portaloos at each stop and even had a few stops at the side of the path (we gents are so very fortunate that we can do this!). Getting to 20 miles in the early afternoon heat was where I noticed that I was getting in trouble. Laurie was having issues with blisters and was finding it easier to keep running rather than walking. Nick and I caught Laurie up as she attended to her blisters and I remember saying “I think I’m in trouble here. I’ve stopped sweating and I don’t feel like I need to pee”. I was also pretty much out of water and the next pit stop was at least a few miles away. The heat of the afternoon coupled with the elevation and terrain had caught me out.

Nick said later that I had gone quite pale. As Laurie made efforts to continue running, Nick stuck with me and his experience of these events came through. He gave me some of his water and the salty and sugary snacks that he had collected from the pit stops. With his assistance we three crossed the halfway finish line together and at a canter!

Tackling the event over two days, afforded us a stay in a tent, time to shower, get blisters popped, and eat as much as we wanted. I slept pretty well and was hydrating right from the moment I woke up in an effort to repeat the issues of day one.

My lack of running prior to the event started to tell early on day two. I was fine when jogging along the flat with Laurie and Nick but the moment we got to an incline I got left behind! Many a time the two of them would reach the top and I’d jog from about halfway to catch them up.

Laurie was finding it easier to jog along rather than walk due to the pain from her blisters. Mine had reduced to a minimal sting which was manageable. I remember loosing sight of the pair and thinking that they had finally got the message to go ahead without me but then I saw Nick waiting patiently at the side of the track/road. We had a chat and I said for him to leave me and go ahead, I was happy on my own and didn’t want to curtail his race any further, and with that I wouldn’t see either of them until I crossed the finish line.

There were always people around so I wasn’t fully on my own. I did make sure to catch up with some runners at one point as we made our way to a gate surrounded by cows. I’ve been chased by cows previously so I’m wary!

The rest of my day went really well, I was able to keep a steady jog going and reached the final pit stop in good order. I was tired  but thankful there were only 8 miles left. They were 8 very long miles though. The terrain was challenging when tired and it certainly tested the blisters.

I sang to myself quite a bit on the last 4 or 5 miles. Not a complete song but the refrain from Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO.

Everyday I’m shufflin’

That’s what I had been reduced to and it kept me going and in good spirits.

With about 5k to go, the farm where the finish is located is visible from the track, I could also hear the announcer. The bad thing is that to get to the finish, you have to go passed the lane to the farm and into the village to run around the Stones we have been racing towards.

Once that is done then you revisit the section of road you’ve run along before getting onto the lane, a left turn and the finish is a short run away.

By now I just wanted this to be all over! The legs concurred and after turning left my pace increased and ignoring the pain in my feet I managed to sprint the last few hundred meters to cross the line.

It was all done. 16 hours 27 minutes. Laurie and Nick had finished well over 30 minutes ahead of me.

Once reunited with Sarah, I uttered my usual “I’m never doing that again!”…. well I will be.

I have signed up to tackle the same event but this time all in one go. 100km, no halfway tent to sleep in and I’ve estimated that the final 15 miles will be in the dark. I’m yet to work out at what time I’ll reach the field with the cows but I can assure you I’ll know by race day!!

Track Training

I recently transferred from Parc Bryn Bach RC to Brecon AC as I was unable to get to training sessions.

Last Thursday evening was my first track training session with the club. I have run intervals at the track with friends but this was coached training and a little different for me.

We started with warm up drills which I haven’t done before, I usually just run. The drills will certainly take some practice and I did feel a little foolish not being able to master each drill.

The session began with a mile benchmark test. Having been on marathon mode for a while, speed hasn’t really been at the forefront of my training. I ran Merthyr parkrun recently and was two minutes off my personal best even at near full output. Being injured also hasn’t helped.

Anyway, four laps of the track for a mile and I completed in 6:43 according to Strava. I’ve run a slightly quicker mile during a parkrun but that was with a slight downward trend to the mile! I’m happy with the time, I feel I can go quicker and that’s what the track training sessions are going to help.

After a three minute rest, up next were 4 x 800s. The pace for the repeats were supposed to be slightly quicker than the mile benchmark but my fitness meant that I was marginally slower. Coming in around 6:55 per mile pace.

Whilst my fitter teammates completed the four repeats, I managed three! I was even convinced that I had taken one of the repeats short by only running one lap. I had to check the Strava fly-bys when I got home to prove to myself that I did two laps each time.

The few times I’ve run on the track I’ve lost count of how many laps I’ve done. Yes, even when running two laps. That evening there were sprinters on the track, some doing hammer training and even young people doing football training on the other fields. All enough to take my focus away from running and remembering laps. I took to tucking my thumb under my fingers until I had completed the first lap. More focus required. With the 400s done, we finished off with 40m strides.

That night I slept all the way to the alarm which is very unusual for me. I have been tired since though so I need to be aware of that as I have two half marathons coming up and the cross country season will begin soon, although hopefully I’ll be fitter by then!

Brecon 10

I do have a post in process about Race to the Stones Ultra Marathon but that’s taking time to write and I’d rather not hold back any posts, as it has been over two months since I last posted.

The Brecon Lions 10 Mile Road Race is an annual event held in August. I don’t know how long it has been going but I do know that the route has changed a few times over the years. The route used to go through the centre of the town but these days it sticks to the back roads and takes in a loop of Llanfrynach situated five miles from the start.

I ran the race last year with Laurie as we were both in training for Chester Marathon. We happily plodded around and finished around ninety minutes.

Sarah was running this year. Her first Brecon 10 and the longest run for some time, one she has been building towards since the beginning of the year.

This years race took place on Sunday 5th August. The race starts and finishes on the local running track. For the first time the race was chip timed. The route included not quite two laps of the track at the beginning before heading out onto the roads on the out and back course before a 300m section of track to finish.

Coming off Windermere Marathon and Race to the Stones, I’m not in the best shape. The injury I had prior to Windermere has all but gone but I haven’t really run at my pace for any decent length of time.

The race was my first in the blue vest of Brecon AC following my transfer from the green vest of Parc Bryn Bach RC.

The weather on the day was very warm, well into the 20s by the 10:30am start time. I’d agreed to run the track section with Sarah before heading off at my pace. I was feeling fine and I had a rough plan in mind. The out section of the course is mostly downhill but coming back is a lot tougher.

I caught up with people I knew, said hello, and then pushed on. I got to about three miles and was feeling the pace, the downhills were great but the legs were turning over quicker than they have been recently. We hit the uphill prior to Llanfrynach and I was done. I had been keeping pace with Salome but I lost ground and found myself getting really hot. My pace slowed down and I made the decision to stop at the water station at Llanfrynach.

I propped myself against the wall, took on water and waited for my body to cool down a bit. I knew Sarah would be along eventually and decided that I would wait and run the second half with her.

Sarah ran passed the water station, with me calling to her, she waved, looked confused and kept on running! I caught up with her and explained what had happened.

We were keeping pace with Jo from Pontypridd Roadents AC who told us about all the crazy distance races she has been doing. Chatting back and forth made a few miles disappear relatively easily. Sarah was also being affected by the heat and we parted ways with Jo as we approached the hill into Groesffordd.

We took it steadily up the hill and continued our way to the finish. At times we weren’t sure if we were last. Sarah hadn’t seen any other runners behind her for sometime and I didn’t know if there was a tail walker. Later we were told that there was a car at the back.

As we ran down Maggie’s Lane I caught sight of some runners behind us and motivated Sarah by telling her she didn’t want to get overtaken with less than a mile to go!

To her credit Sarah ran the last mile without stopping and we hit the track knowing the finish was literally just around the corner. Cheered on by friends, Sarah and I crossed the line in 2 hours 10 minutes.

A tough route that was tougher than last year given the heat. Next year we have plans to run the Norwich 10k, having run it previously in 2016. Perhaps we will both be back in 2020 to have another crack at this race.

Windermere Marathon

It’s been two weeks and I haven’t written about the marathon!

Windermere Marathon was held on Sunday 20th May 2018, starting and finishing at Brathay Hall near Ambleside in the Lake District. The route takes in a complete anti-clockwise loop of the lake.

This would be a weekend of firsts. Our first time staying with Sarah’s family, I met some of Sarah’s extended family for the first time, our first visit to Lancaster, our first visit to the Lakes and the first time I’ve had an ice cream during a race! There are more but we’ll get to them.

Windermere Marathon wasn’t on my race radar until June 2017 when Sarah’s Uncle Andrew asked the family if anyone would consider running a marathon with him to celebrate his 60th birthday in 2018. Five of us said yes.

At that time I had completed the London Marathon two months before and had already signed up to Chester Marathon for October 2017; another marathon wouldn’t be a problem!

I wrote about Chester in an earlier post; I missed my sub 4 hour goal and eventually signed up for the Great Welsh Marathon.

That race would be five weeks before Windermere and I would get my sub 4 and come to the conclusion that marathon running isn’t for me.

I’d planned for the race to be a training run towards Race to the Stones (RTTS) which is a 100km Ultra Marathon that I’ll be attempting to complete over 2 days in July. When I saw the race elevation I knew it would be a long day! I’d figured around about 5 hours for me to get around the course in one piece.

After GWM I was feeling good but the drive to Norwich at the end of April did something to my right knee, it was aching and only got worse. A physio told me I have tight glutes which I can’t disagree with as my flexibility is very poor after years of not stretching properly.

So from being fit and raring to go, I was now unsure if I’d even get on the start line!

I rested and did the stretches from the physio. The knee felt a bit better by the time we got to Lancaster on Friday and I joined Sarah, Andrew and Cousin Dominic on a run the following morning. Whilst not 100% I felt that I would at the least be able to start the race.

We drove to Ambleside just after Harry and Megan had begun their vows and parked up at our hotel for the next four nights; Wateredge Inn

We walked to Brathay Hall to collect our race numbers. The distance was a mile and also happened to be the very last mile that we would run the following day.

Me, Andrew and Domonic with our numbers (photo by Alison). Not pictured are David, Henry and Lizzie who would arrive later in the day.

Later that afternoon I was stood in Lake Windermere cooling down my sore knee.

(photo by Sarah)

I woke the next day feeling as though I’d get around but it might just take a bit longer than the planned 5 hours. Our group of six runners had discussed race strategies and agreed that we would cross the start line together and stay as a group for at least 2 miles.

Two of the group, Domonic and Lizzie were running their first marathons and although had trained well were in the deep end with a tough debut course.

We did cross the start together and we did stick together for 2 miles as this photo proves.

David, Lizzie, Henry, Andrew, Me & Domonic (photo by James Kirby).

Soon after I had moved ahead with David, albeit briefly before he put the afterburners on and disappeared into the distance.

I knew that there was a challenging hill at mile 7, so I stuck with my running and decided to see what the knee could do. I wasn’t anywhere near my usual marathon pace of 9:00 per mile but I was running.

Andrew, Domonic, Henry and Lizzie had kept together and caught me up just after the 6th mile. I’d slowed to take on water as I was getting hot (more on this to come!) and we set off as a five. Initially I struggled to keep with them but the hill appeared and we all slowly made our way up.

As this race was a training run for RTTS, I was wearing an Ultra vest with water and other essentials. It was the first time I’d worn it, missing out previous runs due to the knee issue. It was a warm day and I just got hotter and hotter wearing it.

I was taking water on from my bottles and also the water stations. I dropped off the back of our five to eat a Clif Bar at mile 9 and my Ultra vest was soaked, this made me think I needed more water. I was wrong. By mile 11 my stomach sloshing about and I had to stop and walk to ease it. I told the other four I would see them at the finish.

I was sending updates to Sarah and friends via text and Snapchat as I went. The above was taken as I was walking the water problem off at 11 miles. I’d sent Sarah the following by text “11 miles @ 1222pm. Bit tired, hills are not fun. David left us at 2 miles, other 4 are running together”.

A few minutes later I took a selfie:

This is 11 miles in and I look shattered! Looking back, it’s amazing that I finished.

I plodded on, I remember sending Snaps that said “knee hurts to walk but okay to run” which quickly turned into “knee hurts to run now too”. Or words to that effect.

Somewhere towards mile 15 or 16 I caught up with Henry and Lizzie. I could see them ahead and couldn’t believe they were walking. I expected that Lizzie in her first marathon was having a breather but it was Henry who was suffering.

I walked along with them as my knee was now very painful and I took in the views across Windermere.

Henry had mentioned that Lizzie should run on with me so when I jogged back to them and said I was going on, Lizzie did indeed come with me. Although perhaps I was going with her as she set off at a great pace that I struggled to keep with.

Lizzie was running at my normal marathon pace but my knee and the fatigue just wouldn’t allow me to run that pace, I slowly dropped off the pace and shouted to her to keep going as she was looking so strong. It wasn’t long before she was around a bend and gone.

I was on my own again, walking and running up and down each hill that appeared.

At mile 18 I text Sarah, actually I text my sister Sharon by mistake “Through 18, knee is bad but I’ll finish. Lizzie is ahead of me, Henry is behind @ 1.51pm”

My sister asked if I was going to carry on or stop, I told her I would finish. It took a few minutes for it to sink in that Sharon had replied not Sarah, I then realised I’d not text her. I really was tired, mentally and physically.

The race route had mostly been on closed or half closed quiet roads until it came down into Bowness-on-Windermere. As I ran down the hill there were suddenly lots of cars and people around. It was quite odd really going from the peace and quiet of just runners and the occasional spectator to a cacophony of noise and support for these mad people running a marathon.

My next two texts show that I was starting to suffer: “20 miles @ 2.12pm” and “21 @ 2.30 – slowing doooooowwwwnnnn”

Over 15 minutes for that mile, my knee was not good. I had just got to the top of mile 21 which I walked most of.

I had read pre-race that there was an ice-cream vendor at the top of mile 21. However there was a very long hill to complete before getting to the top. I had taken cash with me just in case.

I took this picture at the bottom of Ice-Cream Hill. The hill continues up a bit more around a bend at the top of the picture.

I got to the top and saw an aid station which had cake! It was lovely, as I ate it and was about to get plodding again I saw to my left the ice-cream vendor! Rejoice! I shuffled over and bought a lovely chocolate chip cone.

I set off walking enjoying my treat and the words of slightly jealous runners who congratulated me on a great idea.

Two miles down the road though my stomach wasn’t so happy to receive dairy and complained a bit but all was fine.

The last 3 miles were a struggle but I got into a run walk rhythm with other runners as we sort of leap frogged along the route in that way runners do. I’d run past a walker, then I’d walk and they’d run past, and so on and so on.

Somehow Strava recorded mile 24 as my quickest of the previous 11 miles. I must have got a bit of pain free running done.

I sent my last text to Sarah “25 @ 3.21 nearly there”.

I knew Sarah would be somewhere on the last mile to run with me to the finish. I saw her ahead just before the turning towards Brathay Hall estate with her Grandfather Ron.

I was in a bad way, I was walking and in real pain. There were finishers making there way back wishing me well and I just wanted to get to the finish so I could stop moving!

I reached Sarah and shuffled on. The finish was after a hill into the estate, not something a tired runner really wants to see. I knew it was coming and I knew it would hurt.

I’d put my phone on to record a video of my last ever marathon finish and listening back it’s Sarah encouraging me on to get it the top and finish but I just couldn’t run up it. I’d gone all tingly, pins and needles like, I get that when I’m massively fatigued. Sarah is wishing me up the hill and I’m just saying I can’t I’ll run from the top.

Once at the top I did duly run and made my way to the finish line, I was over taken just on the last straight and momentarily did think about sprinting but I decided against it as I think I would have collapsed!

Finished and a medal.

The medal is the first in a set of four but I won’t be returning for the other three!

Overall this was the most enjoyable marathon I ran. Yes it hurt and it was hard but that’s what was good about it. It was the most demanding marathon I’ve run and would certainly recommend it to veteran and aspiring marathoners as it’s a great test of yourself mentally and physically. Plus it’s in a lovely part of the UK.

Results:

David – 04:04:16

Lizzie – 04:46:14

Domonic – 04:56:08

Andrew – 04:56:08

Gary – 05:06:43

Henry – 05:42:27

My splits from Strava:

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.