The marathon is a gamble.
Those are the words of Pete Pfttzinger in his book advanced marathoning and I couldn’t agree more. For me today it didn’t pay off, but there were still a lot of positives to take from the race and a new pb of 2:56:16.
The marathon is such a difficult race to master – you can do a 5k or 10k pretty much every week, and probably a half marathon every couple of you wanted to. Its also easy to run the distance in training and get a good idea what your capable of in a race.
The marathon is different.
You will never run the full distance in a training run as it simply takes too much out of you, and massively increases the risk of injury. Its also only reasonable to run a couple in a year if you want to achieve your best as it takes so long to train and recover from them.
So if a 5k race goes badly you can easily do another the week later. Not so the marathon – it may be another 6 months or a year before you can attempt another.
My target time was 2:50 and I thought I’d have a chance of achieving it based on a solid block of around 6 weeks training before the race and my Great North Run time of 1:18:01. I was aware though that I had only managed to get in around 5 long runs over 16 miles, the longest being 20 miles and ive only ran a handful of times in the past 3 weeks due to an ankle injury.
That works out at 6-29 pace per mile and that gave me my first dilemma – do I start off at that pace and try and hold it, pushing on in the last few miles if I could.
Or do I start off slightly faster to give me a buffer and also the chance of a better time if I felt good later in the race?
I decided on the latter.
First few miles through York city centre felt good, and it was great to see fellow Saltwellians Jim, Gemma, Graeme and Lyndsey cheering me on early doors. My first couple of mile splits were around 6-15 and I had to slow myself down as I didn’t feel confident I could hold that pace for the rest of the race.
The route snaked out of the city centre and into the misty country roads and by 10k I had settled into a pace of around 6-22 per mile which I felt comfortable with.
By the time I went through halfway in just over 1-24 I was starting to tire a little, but was still able to maintain the pace. I was starting to wonder though how much longer I would be able to, and then answer would come pretty soon.
When I got to around 16 miles the tiredness was becoming stronger and my pace was starting to slip down to 6-26/27. I knew once it got to 6-29 my target time was gone as I knew I wouldn’t be able to make up any time in the remainder of the course and just tried to hang on.
18 miles came and the tiredness was joined by stinging pain in my quads which I knew would get worse before the race was over.
20 miles and the pain had spread to my calves too – a lovely combination. I was really suffering now and all hopes of 2:50 had gone. I was also increasingly being overtaken by other runners which further demoralised me and I just wanted the race to be over and the pain to stop whatever time I got.
At 23 miles I saw the Saltwell crew which gave me a boost and I vowed to push on and keep going as long as I could. The urge to stop was almost unbearable but I knew that even at this pace (I was down to over 7 minute mileing now) I would still break 3 hours and I vowed I’d give it my all to get there.
24 miles came, then 25 – shut up legs, shut up legs I kept repeating but they weren’t listening.
Then the fought back with their most deadly weapon – cramp, first in my left calf then my right and I tried to run through as best I could.
I could see the turnoff from the main road ahead down to the finish at the university and I got a little boost from being on the home straight but then upon turning the corner I was greeted with the worst possible sight – a hill.
Not a massive hill, the sort of hill you would gently coast over in a normal training run but when you’ve just ran 26 miles and every part of your body was screaming at you to stop it might as well have been Ben Nevis.
Thankfully after that it was all downhill to the finish and I ran/jogged/limped over the finish line in 54th place in 2:56:16.
I can’t say that anything really went wrong in the race – I think I got my pacing pretty good and prepared as well as I could. I think I simply aimed for a target that was too high for the amount of training I have done.
Saying that I would much rather aim for a higher target and miss it, rather than achieving a more reachable target.
I’ve done 6 marathons now and I have to ask myself if I’m going to do another. The pain in the last 6 miles is like nothing I’ve ever encountered in any other distance, no matter how hard I’ve ran the race.
I’d really like to run under 2:50 though and maybe faster so I’ll see what next year brings. For now though I’m going to rest, then focus on shorter races and the cross country season for the rest of the year.
I’d also like to say well done to the other Saltwell runners Jacqui Candlish, Darren Smiley Davey Candlish and Philip Young – sorry I didn’t see any of you during/after the race but you all look like you did well and got some fantastic times.
Next race, probably the Sherman cup in 2 weeks time.