Pinning my colours to the mast at the beginning of the year I treated myself to a place at Bournemouth to chalk a marathon off the list before I hit 30.
Having joined the Eagles a year last July and getting injured after a week I was chomping at the bit to get involved in the new year...in my inexperience I’ve entered far too many races this year including double booking myself on a couple of occasions!
After finally returning to the club in the new year for the first club run of 2017, John Barry mentioned to me that Jesal had coached him through his marathon. I subsequently joined forces with Jesal which has really helped shape my approach to running for the year through which I feel I’ve learnt a lot.
After a disappointing run at the Olympic Park in early Jan I produced a PB at the Hyde Park 10k at the end of the month and continued to see a surge in fitness towards March where I ran my first sub 60 10k helpfully pushed on by Claire Morris at the end to dip under 58mins. This was sandwiched by Allie pacing me to a sub 30 5k at Gunnersbury Parkrun in Feb for club champs. I attribute the surge in fitness to continued track sessions. I’m grateful to Christina O’Hare and Annette for pushing me along at track whilst they trained for their own marathons.
After these runs I really started to work closely with Jesal including mapping out a pre-Marathon plan for Bournemouth with the general feeling that if I started early in April focusing on getting up to Half Marathon distance then I would build a good foundation for Bournemouth. I did and by May I was thinking that marathon training was going to be a piece of cake and as happens when you start to think things will be easy and you get complacent a massive curve ball is thrown into the mix, and I got injured.
The injury occurred about three weeks before Swansea half and with rest, massage, physio and recuperation together with calf protector applied I told myself I was fully fit, but I knew I wasn’t.
Striking out for the sub 2 I’d arrived and trained for I ran a PB over the first 10k and was feeling strong for the first 7 miles but then I started to feel my calf and slowed momentarily until a woman shouted from behind me “come on Ealing Eagle you have been pacing me for the last six miles”- this gave me a lift for the next 2 miles but at that point my calf completely gave up and I went from doing 9min miles to 12min miles. The thought of the last three miles now going to take the time equivalent of four miles was quite soul destroying, and despite finishing with a massive PB improving on my time of 2:40 a year earlier to 2:13 I lost my way quite a bit after Swansea. So whilst running a few summer leagues and other runs I didn’t really start to knuckle down again until the beginning of August.
I knew August was going to be a make or break month for me testing my body to see if I could go beyond the half marathon distance and up to the required mileage breaking the “golden barrier” of 20 miles.
In that month I managed a 12.5 miler back in Manchester with my sis running the first 7 with me - the last 5 particularly the final 2 and a half were very tough and I felt my calf. The following week I did Burnham Beeches half with an added 2 Miles at the beginning - whilst very picturesque, it was definitely one of the toughest halfs I’ve done despite being billed as “flat”. I was indebted that day to Kimmy running some miles with me (I remember her asking me before the race if the calf blew up what would I do about Bournemouth and I said I’d be doing it regardless but deep down I think I knew that race was make or break). I was also grateful to Angela dragging me up the hill at the end. I remember speaking to my sister after the race feeling totally wiped out and she said “you will ask yourself how you will do another 10 Miles on top but next time you run your legs will feel stronger”- they did, the following week I did 18 Miles where I was grateful to Christine Dixon running the Battersea 10k summer league with me to finish off my 18 miler where after 16 again my legs virtually gave up but she kept me going.
Following Summer League came the training defining 20 miler which started off from Hounslow, built in Gunnersbury Parkrun and then finished with the West Walk 10k - many people got me round the course that day and in particular my sis running it with me and Olivia and Michelle kindly stalling their own run to get me up the last hill rep - James and Che’s continued cheer and water supply also played a big part.
That month essentially defined my training prep and gave me the self belief that I would not be denied and would complete the marathon.
However there were still tests and bumps in the road - I picked up a foot injury and couldn’t compete in one of my favourite 10k’s in my hometown two weeks later. At one point I told Jesal I didn’t care about pacing and just wanted to run the marathon time at whatever time I did. However despite a moment of indiscipline doing a tempo run rather than a recovery run where I tweaked my calf, September was the month of pacing where I really nailed my times for marathon and instilled the belief I could run the time I wanted: 4.30.
So after a mentally exhausting taper where my brain felt shattered and a reluctance to run I had a relaxing final week prepping for the big run.
Race day arrived although I did clock 10 miles walking round Bournemouth the day before which probably wasn’t ideal prep and I had a sore left ankle by the end of it although come race day this had subsided.
In terms of the race I’d had grave concerns over the 10am start time particularly given the weather forecast had been showing sun all week, however when we arrived to the start line the overcast conditions looked perfect - little did we know Bournemouth had many personalities when it came to weather depending where you were.
I’d agreed long ago that I’d run with Hayley as we both wanted to do 10min miles so we took our place in the start pen and at that point the sun appeared- half joking with the marshal I said we needed him to get rid of it, to which the woman next to me responded- “oh no, we want it to be sunny” to which I retorted “no we don’t”; anyhow we set off and the heat was noticeable from the get go, given the easy pace we were taking we shouldn’t have even been breaking sweat but it was dropping off us by the bucket load; that’s said the first 8 Miles seemed to fly by and we’d flown up the first hill into the cliffs and everything was going smoothly or so I thought aside from the fact I’d needed the toilet since we’d set off, anyhow whilst I’ve run a few races feeling like that and performed well perhaps because my focus has been on needing the toilet rather than my mind thinking about anything else race or otherwise. However whilst I’d managed many races feeling like that there was no way I could last another three hours feeling like that so when I got the opportunity I went to the toilet before catching Hayley up, she’d been struggling with illness the day before but had felt fine before the race and whilst at a couple of points I thought she was struggling, she said she fine and credit it to her had kept pace; however shortly after me she too took a comfort break, I’d urged her too as I’d said for me I felt a lot better for it. So we partied ways around mile 9 and whilst I expected her to catch me up unfortunately she didn’t. For me though, at this point I was starting to feel really strong, feeding off the energy of the crowd and having to reign myself in not to up the pace.
Anyhow the key turning point was when we dropped down onto the promenade, running along the seafront - the heat was an absolute killer and I felt like I was being nailed to the beach huts by it; similar to being nailed to the wall by the sun outside Osterley Park on the summer 10k, it was brutal and at this point I knew I was in trouble and could feel my legs starting to cramp up and I decided I needed to try and take evasive action so I threw the gel strategy out of the window and took one two miles ahead of schedule and took every bit of sugar I could lay my hands on, unfortunately for me - I was clearly dehydrating and there wasn’t a water station for another 3/4 miles.
By mile 12, I could feel the pace and my intended time goal slipping away and not just by seconds but minutes and at this point my head started to drop, I saw some family friends at that point but I was in a bad way and quite disenchanted with it all asking myself how on earth I’d get through the next 14.2 miles. Anyhow I pushed on trying to keep to 11min miles but visibly struggling. That’s when a big turning point came in the race, seeing Carlo at Mile 14 on Boscombe Pier gave me the unexpected lift I needed and coming back through the pier I started to steel myself and tell myself I could get through it. However the pace was starting to suffer considerably and I was down to 12min miles and by this point I pretty much knew my time was gone, being completely truthful I knew it was gone by mile 12 as despite timing wise still being on track I knew my body wouldn’t sustain the pace I needed to in order to achieve my goal, the main positive by mile 16 was that I knew regardless of time I would complete the race but what came next was a massive physical and mental challenge...
As I looped round Bournemouth Pier my eyes locked onto what I can only describe as the biggest hill I’ve ever seen or at least that’s what it felt like and my mind just went “oh no”- I had a similar feeling to looking at a giant rollercoaster at a theme park and not wanting to go on it, the only bonus with that is that the rides are usually over in seconds and it’s optional unlike the hill. The added sub dynamic was that someone had the bright idea to map the course so you ran through the finish line so on the left the sub 3hr finishers were coming home whereas the poor, unfortunate slower runners were through the finish line and up and round for a jolly up the hill... I ran it to the top, despite one bloke helpfully commenting “you were well ahead of my wife beforehand, what’s happened?” as he came down the hill, sometimes spectators say the most unhelpful things - I don’t hold it against him as I don’t think they understand the mental detriment it does to you.
Anyhow I got to the top but I’d completely blown a gasket - that mile took me 13mins but the damage it had done to the body in the heat was irreparable and the next three miles took 15mins; the only thing that kept me going was that I knew my old man was at Mile 20 and he’d see me home, I also ran into Peter Mizzi’s friend Tony at Mile 19 and he gave me a welcome lift.
Anyhow I got to Mile 20 and seeing my folks gave me a welcome lift and I knew I’d get home; I picked up the pace momentarily and ran a 13.50 Mile- nothing fantastic but an improvement nonetheless but I couldn’t sustain it and the pace dipped again, sadly the last 5 Miles off the race is you running out to Sandbanks whilst those on their way home are hitting mile 25 in the opposite direction.
Anyhow I just focused on getting to the turn at mile 23 which seemed to take forever and at that point the customary “you’ve only got a parkrun to go” was exclaimed by a marshal, it’s little comfort when you know it’s probably going to take you double the time you usually do a parkrun in 😂.
Anyhow I just focused on finishing helpfully pushed on by the old man albeit with the occasional “pick your feet up son” bellowed at me, I wasn’t dragging them on purpose😂
What seems like an eternity later I arrived towards the finishing barriers and still managed a customary sprint finish and I wasn’t allowed to keel over as the funnel managers quickly moved you along to get your medal etc - a great feeling.
I have to hand it to Bournemouth, the organisation and spectator support was awesome although the start time was less than ideal and a big gap in water stations along the seafront post 10 Miles was tough. That’s said the festival is great and offers something for everyone, mine and my friends family contingent had runners in the 1k, 5k, 10k and mara so it really does cater for all with a half sandwiched in too and despite initial concern it could be a poor generic medal it isn’t.
The course itself whilst quite a bit of up and down was enjoyable but the killer was the hill at 17 so for me if I ran there again I could only see myself doing the half.
In terms of marathon’s I’ll definitely do another but perhaps not next year unless I get into London through the club ballot as I worry my calf could struggle again so a lot of strength work for that is needed as training wise whilst not perfect on the whole I got the miles in and had a fair amount of hill training. Regardless, of the time I’m happy to join the 1% and be classed as a marathon runner so I’ll take that for now although next time I hope to not be on my feet as long as it’s a killer!
Thanks for all your support and well done to all other runners over the weekend. The one thing I’ve learnt from my marathon experience is to respect it - regardless of training and prep anything can happen on race day so it’s important not to apply too much pressure to yourself!