Having been an Eagle now for just over two years, this will be my first ever race report. Thankfully, I have been overlooked on a number of occasions for various relays and cross country races. The main reason is that in every way of life, I am an accountant. We are known for being extremely dull and a bit anal, which has definitely flowed through to my running and my ability to notoriously follow the given training plan.
Towards the end of a gruelling 18 week plan, with countless hours spent running in to work down the Uxbridge Road and Friday night 10k tempo runs on the track I was feeling confident. One of the problems training with club mates faster than you, is you end up with ideas above your station and with a few weeks to go, I announced to a number of people:
“I am going to give 2:59 a go”
The responses were reasonably consistent:
“Greg, do you really think you are capable of a sub 3 marathon?”
“I don’t know.” I replied honestly, “But hopefully, I won’t blow up too much.”
Hopefully not famous last words.
On the morning of the marathon, I woke up to a text from James Linney, wishing me luck and expressing the FOMO of “that marathon day buzz,” clearly it has been a while since he did one. I was nervous, I felt sick and I was starting to doubt myself. Luckily, the wife (aka Kimmy (also running)) was on hand to tell me to calm down and shut up.
In the starting pen I met Firas and Nils, two Eagles that have come a long way in the last year, we confirmed our race tactics and went off on the gun. My race tactic was simple, stand twenty metres behind the guy with a 3 hour flag and do not let him out of sight, easy.
The pacer was Chorlton runner Matt Shaw, the last time we both lined up together was last June, on the steps of Caernarfon Castle, ready to proudly lead our respective teams in to battle for the Welsh Castle Relays. Matt was out of sight within minutes and comfortably won the stage, beating me by a huge 14 minutes (sorry lads!), lets hope my chase was more successful today.
The first few miles was more of an Eagles social than a race, Tom Green stormed past on the way to setting a GWR for the campest ever marathon, I met Richie Emmett looking as cool as a cucumber and then exchanged a “thumbs up” and a low-5 with Jon Duncanson and Raf before focusing on the job in hand. I am not going to say the pace was exactly easy, but the nerves were starting to settle, not helped by every other spectator screaming something along the lines of “A sub 3 marathon! Are they mad!?!?”
At mile 6, disaster struck, after taking my first of four chia-seed based energy gels, I went to put it neatly away in my back pocket and heard two noises that will haunt me forever…
Two of my gels had hit the deck.
I turned round and let out an array of expletives that could be heard as far as Liverpool. Could I turn round and get them? Not a chance, it was like a scene from the Lion King, a stampede of sub-3 hopefuls tore through the streets of Manchester behind me, not even Mufasa could have saved them from the inevitable. Had I just dropped the World Cup?
A nice old man running alongside calmed me down and told me not to worry, we had a nice chat, before I re-convened for a team talk with Jon. At mile 9, Jon then pointed me in the direction of two children handing out some rather toxic looking gels on the side of the road. Beggars can’t be choosers I thought to myself. I grabbed two and the crisis had been averted. No one has ever said anything about nothing new on race day…right?
At mile 12, there was an incredibly generous downhill section, I took my chance to breakaway from the 3 hour pack and went through halfway 33 seconds ahead of schedule at 1:29:27. The only thing I had left do was that again.
At mile 16 the pain was growing, I was reunited with Raf who went through 101 different ways of running the next 10 miles. I can’t recall any, the only point I gathered was that we could not afford to slow down too much. Eventually he finished talking and I responded with a polite grunt. Raf was making things look easy, much to my annoyance, my quads were becoming harder to lift by the step and even my arms were starting to ache. He was out of sight by 18, knowing this meant I was last of the sub-3 hopefuls…dig deep and don’t let the club down, I told myself.
At mile 23, I finally remembered why it was two years since my last marathon, minutes went past like years, I knew right there the race had begun. To make things worse, at the end of the mile my Garmin beeped….”7:04 for the mile”… Hardly slow by most people’s standards, but seeing that “7” was a real psychological blow. I tried to remove any negative thoughts and focused on the smug faces of the boys* (no names) sat back in Ealing with their feet up watching the tracker and seeing me blow up so close to the finish, I could not give them the satisfaction.
Two to go…I turned round and saw the 3 hour pacer coming right for me. I felt like the break away in the Tour De France about to be swallowed and churned out by the peloton. Not today, I had come too far…I gave everything to get in front of them, it was futile, and I was back in the pack.
One to go…Every time I got any breathing space ahead of the pacer a new pain would appear in the legs, they were getting harder and harder to move and eventually the peloton had thirty metres on me. I knew this was going to be close.
“Nearly there” someone shouts
“No we’re not” I respond
With 800 metres to we turned right, and there it was, right over there, a long way in to the distance, on the horizon….The glorious finish line. An emotional moment for any runner. I looked down at my watch…2:56….definitely going to be close…
This was my moment to surge forward, putting any remaining bit of pain to the back of my head.
700…I was past the 3 hour pacer
400…”ITS NOT GETTING ANY CLOSER”
200…Surely, this was it!
With 10 metres to go, I looked down at my watch and finally allowed myself to believe that this was my day!! I relaxed, spread my hands and looked in to the sky. Rolling across the finish line in 2:59:18…unbelievable. An achievement that really seemed impossible just a few months back.
Waiting for me over the finish line was an ecstatic Raf, a smug Laurence, an incredibly chilled Richie (had he even ran?) and a nearly passed out Jon. Just a few of the guys I have been training with and without them would never have been close to such an achievement. We milked the 30 metre walk from the finish line in style with hi-5s and photos. It was now time to sit back, relax, upload to Strava and let the kudos roll in.
*To point out, they are also very supportive.