Sorry for the delay on getting this blog out – after the race, I got the lurgy and life got busy with family, work and Christmas. I apologise for the tardiness, I’m sure you have all been on tenterhooks waiting…
So anyway; I ran the Phoenix Riverside marathon on Sunday 22nd November, which seems like ages ago now (erm, like a month or so…). This was a bit of a random race as I booked it after I couldn’t get the day off work for the run I initially wanted to do (The Back to the Future Race). I’d also finally gotten under 4 hours for the marathon a few weeks before on a training run so I was looking at it as a bit of a poo or bust kind of deal; go out fairly quick and see if I could hold on and get a PB. I was fairly confident I would get an official PB as I had only run one Marathon race before, and in windy conditions my legs had nearly fallen off and I faded to 4:03-ish for the marathon (although I had to run another 0.8 of a mile to finish the git of a race…).
We stayed over in Sunbury-on-Thames the night before the race at the Flowerpot pub, and had a very nice meal. Possibly too nice; I had a pint of the local ale and a very large starter, main and desert which left me feeling less than svelte and a bit bloated in the belly. I blame all that lettuce in the cheeseburger I had… This probably contributed to me to not having a great night’s sleep, along with the old windows in our room which seemed to let in all the noise from the road directly outside (and maybe just a touch of nerves).
It’s hard to remember now, in this weird Christmas heatwave we are having at the moment, but the weekend of the 21st/22nd of November saw a storm on the Friday night and Saturday, followed by a real cold snap. Luckily the rain and wind had gone for the morning of the race, but the clear skies meant it was bloody freezing at 8am when we left to get to the race for the 9am start. There was frost on poor Remy (our car) and frozen puddles all over the place just waiting for you to put a foot wrong. I tried not to dwell on it and remember I’d warm up once I got going and to be thankful that the gale force winds of only a few hours before had gone.
We got to the venue (which in a fit of organisation we had popped into the day before to recce) and after getting my running number I hot footed it back to the car to stay warm and try and calmly tick off all the stuff I needed. This is crucial for me as I can be forgetful; I managed to leave the house on the Saturday without my Garmin, which was the dropping of the most massive of clangers and involved a sharp U-turn on Claire’s part before we hit the motorway. I’ve done this before (twice even?) and is clear proof I’m a muppet.
I had decided to wear my running pack for the race so I could guarantee what nutrition I had access to and wouldn’t have to worry about getting stuff from the ends of each lap or off of poor suffering Claire, who would have to hang around in the cold waiting for me to trundle past shouting incomprehensible instructions. This did mean I would have to carry the weight of the fluid and gels etc., but it would help reduce my stress levels and would keep my back a bit warmer as well!
After the briefing we all wandered down to the start line by the river. The course for the full marathon was 4 laps of an out and back route of just over 6.5 miles on dead flat riverside path. Well not dead flat, there were some ever so small rises of a few feet that you would only even notice after a few hours on your feet. And with the poor weather there were a number of frozen puddles that after a few crossings turned into muddy lakes to be negotiated. On the whole though the route was flat and wide enough to accommodate all the runners, and the mud only became an issue when I was knackered anyway.
With a wave to Claire, and telling myself not to go out too quick at the start, we were off. In my training marathon around Medway a few weeks previously I had managed to get a new PB of 3:40-odd at 8:22 minutes a mile, so I wanted to push myself here and see if I could down to around 8:15 a mile. Failing that it was to try and match my unofficial time at a race, and if things went pear shaped I’d try and claw my way under 4 hours.
I started off at what felt like a comfortable pace and tried to find a good rhythm. After only a few minutes I had drifted away from most people, and people had shot off ahead of me!, and I was pretty much on my own with the odd person out front to aim for. The route was by the river as I’ve said and there were locks, boats, trees, birds and massive houses to gawp at and the first lap seemed to just fly by. Checking my watch I had averaged circa-8:10 a mile for the first 6.5 miles which was a bit quicker than planned, but I felt ok and didn’t feel like I was being stupid(er than usual).
I came past Claire and got rid of my hat as things had warmed up a bit; it always gives me a boost to see Claire at a race and as she had walked a few hundred metres along the river I got to see her twice a lap for all 4 laps which was probably worth a good few minutes overall. She has supported me at nearly all my races, driven me round the country (including here), does a bloody good job of encouraging me to try that bit more and puts up with my moods and demanding pre- and post-race behaviour . I wouldn’t enjoy my running half as much, or do half as well, without her. Or have all the awesome photos of me sweating with odd facial expressions.
With one lap in the bag I tried to settle in and kept reminding myself to drink little and often and have more if I felt thirsty; obvious but easy to ignore in the heat of battle. I had a bunch of gels (some with caffeine) on me and a energy bar, and had one every 4/5 miles. On lap 2 I was still going well and felt comfortable but hit my first snag; I went to eat the energy bar and nearly lost my front teeth! Safely in the strap pockets of my pack and away from my body heat it had semi-frozen in the frigid air. It took what felt like an age to make every bite swallow-able and my breathing went a bit haywire as a result, but I needed the calories. (I think I may have found a first world running problem; my lovely, bountiful food is too hard to swallow…)
Lap 2 felt a bit longer, but looking at my times now I can see I was actually a little quicker. It might have been the excitement dying down and getting familiar with the route. There were a few more people about on the path (which was open to the public) so there was a bit of weaving to be done around walkers and other runners, and between runners coming the other way, but it kept me focused on the task and I got to see some dogs. Bonus. I still felt comfortable and was keeping to the same pace without having to think about it, which I took as a good sign. Doing the maths I could see I was just outside 3:34 pace overall, but I tried not to get carried away I was only halfway.
The third lap was a bit like laps 1 and 2, except; it was warmer, there were more people about, my pack was getting lighter with the food and fluid I’d consumed and my legs were beginning to feel the pace slightly. The route was becoming muddier with all the feet that had trundled through and with more people about and weary legs, the effort to get round and past people was getting a little annoying.
Still it was nice to see my fellow runners so often, who were giving waves and shouts of motivation as we passed and I tried to offer encouragement whenever I could in return. It always nice to see the runner’s camaraderie in action, and even better to feel. And I needed it as the pace began to take its toll and I began to tire, although looking at the times again although it felt longer I completed the third lap in nearly the same time as the second. It just took more effort. It also took quite a bit of my food and fluid, and I knew I was going to run out.
Starting lap 4 Claire, who had been ever present on the course despite the cold shouting encouragement and looking lovely, got my now empty pack thrown at her. She passed me an emergency gel I had left with her and I was on my way again. I had misjudged my fluid intake by quite a bit; I had around 0.8L of water with one electrolyte tab, I probably needed over 1L with two tabs as I was to find out.
On the final lap I couldn’t give a hoot about the view, the birds or the lovely noise of the river cascading into the locks. I wanted to hang on and get this thing finished. If that meant I had to chuck a toddler that got into my way into the river, so be it. I sucked up the last energy gel in the hope it would help, but what I needed was water and electrolytes and I didn’t have them. As I finished the last ‘out’ of the final out and back lap changing direction or pace to get past people or through mud was sending slight ripples through my legs and I could feel myself begin to tire and slow. Mr Cramp was coming round for tea.
At the midway/turn-back point of the lap was a little marquee where you could get some water in cups, so I slowed down to a walk to ensure I took on as much fluid as I could (without missing and throwing it all over my face – I’ve done that, a lot). My muscles also needed a little rest, I know as they were screaming at me. I managed to get going again however and tried to just keep breathing and focus. To distract myself from the growing pain I attempted to work out what time I could aim for. My tired mind, not the quickest at the best of times, seemed to be suggesting I could get under 3 hours 35! I tried to double check that but I couldn’t get the numbers to fit together again. I settled for going as fast as my legs would go without snapping. Cramp now began to set in my right calf and my left thigh, and I could feel my running stride was going all over the place. Why didn’t I take on more electrolytes!?
Suddenly though I recognised I was running past the last lock towards home and the finish. I tried to up my pace but my legs told me to shut up and be grateful I was still moving, I respectfully acquiesced and promised not to get greedy and put my head down again. I trundled into sight of the finish line and hearing Claire shouting I finally managed to get a bit of a turn of speed together and did a nice ‘lean-through-the-tape’ move at the finish. It was over, I could stop!
I was out on my feet and a bit wobbly but I was over the moon when I saw my time – 3:35:51! I had taken 5 minutes off my previous best, and smashed my official marathon PB by nearly 28 minutes! I would have done a dance but I’d probably have fallen over and Claire quite rightly would have slapped me. I settled for looking really smug and limping to the nearby leisure centre for a cup of bad tea and some chocolate. My nutrition was a little wayward, so the final lap was a little slower, but apart from that everything else had gone to plan and I’d run a steady paced race. I was, and still am, very pleased with my run and would recommend the race to anyone who is after a marathon PB. (For those interested in such things here’s my Strava data, and the official results of the race)
Since the run I have been recovering and been busy as I said at the start. I’ve been trying to get back into training without really getting back on top form just yet. The race must have taken quite a lot out of me. I hope I’ll start to come back now after 4 weeks of taking things gently, and the Christmas break should help things too. Although I need to get some long runs in as I have another 6 hour challenge in mid January. It’s all go round here!
Thanks for reading, and have a very Merry Christmas. Adam 🙂