After attempting my first marathon at Edinburgh, earlier in the year, it had played on my mind that I had been forced to drop out. Despite knowing that I had gone into it it unprepared due to an injury. I had largely ignored the longer distance events from this point as I focussed on triathlon and local league races.
I felt like I had become a stronger and faster runner throughout the spring/summer and the recent addition of strength training and a new weights routine were starting to pay dividends in the early cross country races. I was also starting to get caught up in the excitement of other people’s marathon training as they prepared for the Robin Hood, Leicester and Valencia races. After I got back from holiday a few people had asked me if I was going to be entering the Leicester half marathon. This didn’t appeal to me at the time. I knew if I entered another half after a disappointing outing at The Great North Run then I would find it difficult not to chase the sub75 time I had been aiming for in all of my recent HM’s. I didn’t feel like I was ready to take another shot at this. Instead the idea of running a full marathon as a training run started to appeal to me. I knew I hadn’t done any of the required long runs and I hadn’t done any race pace tempo sessions so it would be a complete punt if I did enter. The closer it got to the entry cut off the more I dithered. In the end, after I nearly missed the cut off date, I decided I should enter after all.
Leading up to the race I was feeling very relaxed. My aim was to head off at 7:00 min/mile pace which would give me a time just over 3 hours. Despite my longest ever run only being 20 miles back in March (Ashby 20), I convinced myself I could hold 7’s for the marathon distance. Because I was totally unprepared for the marathon I also felt like there wasn’t any pressure on me to perform or hit a certain target. Most of this pressure I put on myself usually but it was still nice to not feel that I should be aiming for something ambitious.
Best laid plans and all that, as the race came closer I started to shift my goals and suddenly I was considering a sub3hr time. In the week leading up to the race I raced a fast 5km on the Wednesday, setting a new PB of 16:10. I felt this in my legs for a couple of days afterwards and realised I probably shouldn’t have put such an effort in on a marathon taper week. The day before the marathon was also the Rutland Water inaugural parkrun and the temptation of setting a course record was too much for me to turn down. 🙂
I took it steady’ish and set out at 5:20 pace, luckily no one really pushed me on the outward leg of the out and back course and I could ease off on the return leg averaging 5:29 pace for a 17:06 time. Hopefully that time will stick around for a few weeks until I can have another go at setting a faster one. 🙂
The Friday before the marathon the Leicester Mercury published an article and I was shocked that they singled me out for a mention as a contender. So what started off as a training run with inadequate preparation was now becoming a slightly more pressurised event.
Needless to say I was starting to feel very nervous. I wasn’t that bothered about trying and failing again at the marathon distance or running a slow time. I had only planned to use this as a tempo run but now people knew I was running and someone had fingered me as a contender to win! It was a bit ridiculous, I had never completed the marathon distance before so I couldn’t see any way I was going to win, especially when they also mentioned an out of towner with a marathon PB of 2:27 on the shelf. Ha ha… Here’s the story:
So the day finally came. I met up with a friend at the registration area, Ben from Charnwood AC, and went for an easy jog around Victoria Park to warm up. I then bumped in to Ian Murdey for a final chat before the race started. The advice he gave me at the start was absolutely spot on and helped me level everything and sort my head out. He calmly told me, in response to my reaction about the Mercury story:
“Just ignore the newspaper stuff. Just make sure you don’t feel like you’re pushing too hard, use your heart rate monitor.”
And that’s exactly what I did. I decided I would use the long downhill start to get away from the crowds on to a clear stretch of road before settling in to a comfortable pace. I knew I had to average 6:51 pace for a sub3hr. My first mile was 6:06 and then as the course levelled out the next few miles were 6:30’s. It felt relatively easy so I stuck with this pace down Melton Road and through Thurmaston. It was difficult to control my pace as there were half-marathoners coming past me, all with different running cadence’s, so I tried to run to the side and focus on my breathing and footfall to stay focussed. I was feeling strong as we split off from the half marathon runners at about 7 miles. For the first time I could see the other marathon runners from my race spread out ahead of me.
As we twisted and turned through Syston and out towards Barkby I could feel the running in my legs and the motivation to start chasing runners down. One of the first stewards in Syston reckoned there were a dozen runners ahead of me so I took that as 13th place and chased people down. By the time we had cleared Barkby and Queniborough I had picked off six people and I worked out I should be in seventh place and hopefully pushing towards the top five. I started to think about the County championships and asked a few people if they knew if there were any Leicestershire county runners ahead of me. Most were confused by my question as I ran past but my fiancée, Danni and another friend on a bike said they didn’t think there was so I was pretty happy to keep plodding along.
I passed a friends house in Rearsby and by my count I should have been in the top five now. Sadly as I reached the next marshal he told me I was just outside the top ten and my position counting was set back somewhat. At this stage I was still feeling strong and had picked up the pace, hitting mainly sub 6:30’s with the odd 6:15-6:20 thrown in. The runners I passed seemed to be slowing and as we turned out of Thrussington village there was a gradual incline and I caught another few runners. I was starting to feel some tightness now in my hip flexor as we approached the 17 mile point and I found this one of the hardest parts of the race. I could see the next guy about 40-50 meters ahead and even though he seemed to be slowing too I followed him at a similar distance from East Goscote industrial estate right through until we entered Watermead park. Strangely enough once I passed him I seemed to put some distance between us relatively easily.
I hadn’t taken on any fuel throughout the race until I reached Syston at about 18 miles. I was worried that taking a gel would lead to a stitch and I didn’t want to risk upsetting my rhythm. In the end though I could feel I was starting to flag a little so I decided to try a Clif Shot Blok. I only had one and I found chewing it difficult so I had to slow my pace a little so that I could still breath properly. I took it on just before a water station so I could take a sip of water to help it down.
The twisty turny path through Watermead was challenging, as usual, but it was turning out of Watermead that really took it’s toll. There is a sharp right turn off the path on to a residential road in Birstall here and I first felt how stiff my legs were as I climbed the gradual incline. I was now plodding and feeling the pain through Birstall village and onto the road that runs down to the ring road crossing. This road once you have reached the peak of the climb then started to run downhill. I usually like this road on the half marathon course as you can build up a bit of pace running downhill but I could feel now that my legs were not up to my usual downhill pace. My quads were sore and I could feel them throbbing as I sped up slightly down the hill. I was relieved to see Danni and Colin just before the roundabout and I stopped for a few seconds to take on some fluids. Colin told me he thought I was 6th but from speaking to other marshalls I was convinced I was in 7th place.
I pushed on, feeling refreshed after a drink and a few seconds break and my tight right hip flexor had eased a bit. I felt like I was getting a second wind now and continued to push on as I took the path leading to the Space Center. This part of the course was relatively lonely, most of the half marathoners had finished and all of the relay stations were empty and deserted. I passed a few walkers and managed to pass on some well wishes to them to keep going.
As we came in to Abbey Park I hadn’t seen any runners ahead of me for a long time. The last person I passed was at Watermead park and I hadn’t seen anyone behind me for quite some time. I had a glance back and saw that an out of town club runner that I passed at mile 10 was about a minute behind me and must have been gradually picking off the same runners I had, following me through the field. My legs were definitely sore now but I pushed on through the park, struggling down the slope in to the park and turning to go over the bridge and down the other side. As we left the park there was some very loud cheering from the army cadets on the water station and the Spence family who were volunteering which spurred me on. I stopped for a few seconds to take on some high5 and then decided to push on to the finish.
I passed some West End volunteers next to the church at St Margaret’s and then descended in to and out of the subway. Most people agree this part of the course is not very pleasant. Passing more half marathoners as I went through town there were still lots of people cheering through Highcross and the town centre. As I approached the bottom of New Walk I saw some fellow Beaumonters and more loud cheering spurred me on. My friend Tom chased me up New Walk almost scaring me half to death as he ran up behind me so fast. A lady at the bottom of New Walk told me I was 7th but that 6th was just ahead of me and I could catch him. I picked up the pace again, knowing that this was going to be a tough uphill finish. I passed lots of spectators that I knew up the hill and everyone was cheering me on heartily. I could see a pale blue shirted runner ahead of me but he seemed to be struggling. I panicked as it looked like an Ivanhoe runner so the motivation was more intense to catch him being a Leicestershire based club and a contender for the County Championship.
I caught him about half way up the hill and he looked to be holding his thigh. I muttered a laboured “Keep going, mate” as I passed. Not wanting to be caught by him I accelerated away as best as I could. Despite my legs being heavy the New Walk climb actually felt a lot easier than previous years. There were more cheers from some Beaumonters, Ross and Rob, who were walking back after finishing their half marathon and setting brilliant new PB’s. Near the top of New Walk the Murdey family were cheering like mad with the Palmer-Holmes children and I eventually turned the corner onto the decidedly flatter approach to the finish line.
As I approached the finish line it felt pretty amazing to hear the support from friends and family on both sides. There was a large group of Beaumonters on the left hand side and Danni and Colin on their bikes on the right hand side. They were cheering so loud and I was so close to the finish and feeling drained that the emotion of the occasion got to me and I started to feel choked up as I ran on for the last fifty or so metres. I could see the clock tick over onto 52 minutes past the second hour and in the background I could hear Terry Sims on the microphone announcing my finish to the crowd. As I crossed the line I tried to ask the officials, also ex Beaumont runners Trevor and Carol, if they knew if I was the first Leicestershire county runner back. One of the Leicester Coritanians coaches was acting as the L&RAA official for the race said he thought I was the County Champion, at which point it all got a bit much for me and I embarrassingly blubbed as I tried to speak to my fiancée and her parents that had come to the side to congratulate me. Another official from the Leicester Marathon team came over to tell me that I was the County Marathon Champion and that I should come back to the finish arch for 12:30 for the presentation.
I was elated at this point and I could barely feel the pain in my legs. I walked through the finish area, collecting my goody bag and banana and shuffled over to the baggage claim tent. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t placed in a County Championship race before, never mind won one. I left my things at the baggage tent and decided it would be best to go for a very easy warm down so I shuffled around the field in the park for half a mile to try and loosen off my legs before changing in to some warm clothes.
I came back to the finish area just before 12:30 and I was keen to get my medal. On arriving to the finish area I was unfortunately told that there was another Leicestershire based runner ahead of me and I was now officially the 2nd place county runner. Talk about knocking the wind out of my sails! I was gutted, despite it still being a good achievement. Worse still was that he was less than two minutes ahead of me. Had I maintained my average pace and not slowed down in the last few miles to nurse my legs I would have hypothetically been within a few seconds of his finish time. Looking at his splits afterwards, I could see that he seemed to slow down a lot in the last 7 miles too. If I had only known he was ahead of me I could have pushed to catch him but as I thought I was the highest placed County runner from about mile ten of the race I had been running a more conservative race to avoid injury or blowing up. Oh well, these things are lessons for us to learn. It would have been an amazing achievement to become County Champion in my first marathon but alas it was not to be.
I thoroughly enjoyed the race and the conditions were perfect for running. Looking back now I am really pleased to achieve my first County medal and I’m planning to target a Spring marathon to see if I can better my time.
Here are my results and splits