Marathon Race Report 1 – Chester 9/10/2011

It’s 4:45. Early. Cold. It’s marathon day.

I get up, the shirt is laid out downstairs, number pinned low, just as I like it. Kettle on, coffee will get me going. Focus. Time to get ready. The year starts here. This year starts here!

Click. What’s that?

That’ll be the kettle. Brain not in gear. I’m not a morning person. Pour. Steaming hot coffee. On with the computer, I forgot to check a) the elevation for today and b) where we’re going!

The elevation looks ‘undulating’ as they say in race speak. In fact I’d personally call it ‘consistently undulating’. No matter, I’m not setting a world record, just a good PB today hopefully.

The other half has been up for ages. No sign of Damian though. I knock. He pretends to be awake. I need time to be ready. He doesn’t!

More coffee. I cook breakfast. Down a pint of water, some juice and start clock watching. 2 hours before is the deadline. No fluid after the two hours to go mark.

Into the car. I’ll drive!

As we get closer to Chester we start spotting runners in cars. Chester itself is rammed. A bit of google mapping and we find a back route in. We park in a muddy field with everyone else.

Next the obligatory queue for the toilet. The gents is full but a kind lady advises me there are about 20 free cubicles in the ladies. I’m not shy. ;-)

It’s still a cool morning. The Roman Centurions have turned out in force and do a good job of marching around in circles until they’re allowed to get to the line. I spot Chris, the guy I’ve met a few times, he organised this. In a little over three hours (hopefully) we’ll see if I’m thanking him or cursing!

I head into the sub 3 pen. Not to the front, about a third of the way back. You just can’t gauge what others’ abilities are until they hit the road. I’m not entirely sure of my own to be honest. One thing I do know though; I don’t want to be carried along with the tide of speedy runners, I’m going to run my own run I tell myself.

The start time comes and goes. Apparently the roads are still blocked with traffic. A few minutes late and the gun goes. We’re off!

The first couple of hundred yards are on a muddy track which is reinforced with a sort of plastic grid. And it’s horrible. It’s just not flat at all and gives the ankles an early bashing. Then out onto the road and into Chester. Before I know it we’ve passed under the arch that you see in all of the photos and Chester has gone. The first mile was 6:21, way too fast, the second a more reasonable twenty or so seconds slower.

Despite the field only being about 3000 runners, there’s some serious jostling. I’ve never really worked that out, aside from being confident that the people who are causing it have never run a marathon before and so haven’t the first idea that it’s a longer game than they could ever imagine. I prefer to relax and just keep a pace. No rushing to get ahead, that only takes it’s toll in 20 miles time and hurts! Or ruins you altogether.

The following few miles are countryside. Which I ignore. I’m focused and have my game plan sorted. Stick to 7 min/mile as best I can until I think I’m in danger of blowing up later. Probably 6-7 miles and then take it a bit easier unless I suddenly find I’m having a really good day.

I’m not. Four weeks of injury and pain and three weeks of hardly any mileage see to that. Take it easy and finish. That’s all I need to do.

3h10m may be possible and qualifies me for London 2013 so will be an incredible achievement if I can do it. I calculate the revised target at about 6 miles as I know later on my brain won’t be able to do the maths at all. I’m well on target, but I know I’ll tire later and slow down. I work out how much contingency I have and settle on a 7:15 average being a good balance between pace and endurance.

I don’t remember any flat sections yet. Just uphill or downhill gently. Nothing else. At around 8 miles I hear a high tempo tap, tap, tap, tap coming up behind me. It turns out to be a lady of probably well under five feet, tiny tiny shoes, with the shortest stride and highest turnover rate I’ve ever seen. She overtakes me. Easily. I can see her knees rubbing together with each tiny stride. I figure I’ll see her again at some point (but never did!).

The next few miles pass without incident. At 16 miles some really athletic looking club runners start to blow up. They’re walking, struggling to jog a bit and then giving up again. I feel ok, not great, but certainly ok. As I pass 18, I start to see a lot of people by the side of the road. Some with injuries, some just clearly went out too fast. I pass them, feeling bad for them having messed up the big day, but in a selfish sense, it makes me feel a lot better!

By 23 miles I still don’t remember a flat bit, just gentle up and gentle down. I try and do the maths and come to the wonky conclusion that I’m going to miss 3h10m unless I speed up. 3×7 is difficult maths to do if you’re 23 miles into a marathon. Truly. The brain is broken and I panic a little. I continue at 7ish minutes a mile. All is ok as I approach 24 miles. My brain realises that if I can keep the 7 min/mile I’ll come in a little under my 3h10m target. Then I get to the only flat bit of the course. We descend steeply down to the riverside (the descent, so far into the race hurts, it burns in my quads and my legs feel like they’re going to give out) and then hit a 200 yard section of flat scenic riverside where the crowds have turned out in force. Finally, just shy of 26 miles the route wiggles back onto the race course itself. Horrible soft ground to run on. We swerve right to join a different lane into the finish gantry and the guy in front of me sees a 26 mile sign ahead and can’t work out whether to go left or right. I overtake and head left towards the finish. I push as hard as I can for the last 200m. I cross the line to see Chris shaking hands with many of the runners. I head towards him and thank him for the event. He points up to the gantry and says “sub 3h10m, that’s New York qualified for!” I smile and proceed to try and walk through the finish.

A very small kid offers me my medal and I gingerly kneel to accept it. It hurts but I’m proud of my time and my morning has gone pretty well.

Another hundred yards of walking and I have to stop. My legs start to quiver and hurt so much I feel like crying! I just stand and try and hold myself up. Finally I manage to walk over to a chair and sit down, whereupon my legs begin to cramp and spasm worse than I’ve ever felt before. I’m confident I’ve run the absolute best I could today, my body is telling me so.

Chester is a good one, it has to be said and all credit to Chris and Andy for their super effort in organising a great event.

Time to rest now…


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