Exactly 6 months ago today I ran my first ever marathon, the London Marathon, at the time it was the toughest race I had ever ran and the first time ever running beyond 20 miles. I wouldn’t be afforded the luxury of being able to say ‘Never Again’ as I would be required to run another 5 by the end of the year to reach my 1000KM target. Yesterday I ran the Yorkshire Marathon, which marked my 5th of the year so far and 3rd in a very congested 4 weeks and dare I say it they are starting to feel a little bit easier now…
With the race beginning at 930am and 70-80 miles between my bed and the start line an early night was called for on the Saturday. I’ve whinged openly in previous posts about how my build up to a marathon is typically less than ideal, but this time I had no excuse, I was sleeping in my own bed, with no lingering illness and had a relatively stress free week. Yet I still found myself wide awake at midnight, eventually I must have fallen asleep as then next thing I knew it was 4:45 and my alarm was shouting in my ear.
After double and triple checking my bag to ensure I had definitely packed my gels, my number was on my vest, I had spare pins and that the Jelly Babies were in the car we were on our way. Typically I’m a fan of Autumn/Winter as I am what they call an ‘excessive sweater’ so anything above 16c can begin to cause ‘issues’. That said I didn’t realise how overdependent I had become on driving to races in daylight, as when we left the house at half 6 it felt much earlier than it was, which in turn made me tired and slightly grumpy. The sight of drunken students then stumbling home to stranger’s beds as we made our way up Lincoln High Street did very little to help matters, fortunately Jenny was driving so I could focus all my energy on not falling asleep.
In a rare display of organisation I had planned to get to York around 8am, should the seemingly tight road closures prove to be incorrect as initially feared. Thankfully we have a friend who lives less than 5 minutes walk to the start, so we were able to park up an hour before the road closed and pop inside for a cuppa. We were anxious about how long we would be able to stop for as Jenny has a history of being hospitalised when coming into contact with cats, so meeting The World’s Fluffiest Feline™ was a cause for concern. You can read about this meeting of minds in Jenny’s latest blog post, but *SPOILERS* it’s safe to say it went well as half an hour later we had to excuse ourselves and make our way down to the start of my 5th marathon of the year.
On the way to the start I would pay little attention to where I was walking, something I would later regret, conscious instead of the fact that I had 10 minutes until the start of the race and I would need to go for a wee at least twice before I started running. When I crossed the line I did so, again, without any game plan in place. Ideally, and completely unrealistically, I’d have wanted to run for a PB, but knowing I had run a tough marathon in very tough conditions last weekend, and another two weeks before that, I was aware that physically my body could implode at any time. Instead I was planning very much to just ‘wing it’ and see what happens.
I had looked briefly over the course map at various points in the build up to the race, but not knowing the area that well much of it was forgotten. Starting within the University grounds, the course would sneak inside the City walls briefly to run past the Minster before then spending the majority of its time outside of York and in neighbouring villages before returning to York 20+ miles and some very weary legs later.
This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing though, if you don’t have an abundance of landmark riches like London it’s better to try and not force the race to remain within the City if all you’ll have to run around is empty trading estates. On that point the variation in scenery that the Yorkshire Marathon offered was welcome. Whilst I would have preferred a more even split between City bits and non-City bits, the areas of Grange Wood we ran through were nice (for trees) even if it may have tricked you into thinking you had run further than you had.
The surrounding woodland almost proved to be vital as for a brief period around the 9 – 11 mile mark I began to worry whether I was about to truly earn my stripes as a runner and be forced to ‘Paula Radcliffe’ by the side of the road. Thankfully before this disturbing thought plagued my mind for too long I came across some portaloos and several minutes later was back on my way, feeling a lot more comfortable.
One of the sections of the route that had stuck to memory was a particularly nasty looking section where runners are running either side of the road, in opposite directions, never a particularly enjoyable section of a race. As we made our way towards Stamford Bridge I could see runners coming towards me on the other side of the road, foolishly I thought that this meant we had reached this section of the race, but after barely stepping into the village we would be turned around and back on our way meaning this dreaded bit was still to come.
I mentioned earlier about how I had no plan for the race, this was evident when after 6 miles I had already taken two gels when I was only carrying enough for one every four miles. I have never really nailed down the feeding strategy for marathons, typically I try to take one every four or so miles, making sure I take them before I need them, but in all 4 of my marathons prior to this one I’m left with one or two spare as I get to the point where I feel too sick to eat or drink anything with 8 or so miles to go. Yet anything I’ve ever read suggests to take a gel every 20 – 25 minutes whereas I seem to average about every 35-40 minutes, something which would go a long way to explain my persistent hitting of the wall in every marathon.
Most of the race was spent feeling like I was running with a ticking time bomb. I knew that I would ‘fall to pieces’ somewhere along the course, it was just a matter of when. Despite this it still felt like one of my strongest marathons, perhaps because I knew the crash would come so rather than fearing it and trying to prevent it, I almost embraced it. Sure enough it came on the doubled up section, where you would run two miles in one direction, before turning round and running two miles back on the other side of the road. Despite feeling my pace drop significantly I still worked out that if I avoided complete disaster I should still make it round before the 4 hour mark, so with that in mind I ploughed on and began, slowly, ticking off the remaining miles.
For the last 6 miles, each mile felt slower than the last and every step felt harder to place on the ground. After last weekend’s marathon I noticed that three of my toenails on my right foot were bruised, my big toe was particularly bad and was sore to touch. There was also some swelling on the top of my foot, presumably from tying my shoelaces too tight, which earlier in the week had caused issues climbing stairs and now was very painful. At mile 21 I came across a runner I had met at the Wold’s Tough Ten Mile, after chatting for a bit he said that he had been dealing with cramp for most of the race and sure enough on cue he had to stop on the side of the road. The final couple of miles would be like a scene from Platoon, with handfuls of runner’s getting hit with cramp, one after the other.
The last corner would be a shocker, as we turned back onto University Road I suddenly remembered how the race started atop a hill, one that I would now have to climb with 26 miles of running in my legs. The first thing that crossed my mind as I made my way up the hill was that the race was described as being ‘consistently flat’. In fairness it was nowhere near the hilliest race of the year, definitely on the flatter end of the scale, but it wasn’t without it’s odd hill climb.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me though, not least because I walked up that hill to get to the start of the race and then ran down it, but also because it was Yorkshire. I did laugh at the members in the crowd that were apologising on the hill’s behalf, particularly those that made signs to do so, with only a few hundred meters to go to the finish line it gave me a well needed boost. When the finish line came in sight a special reserve of energy was called upon to muster the sprint finish and the end of 3 very tough marathons in such a short space of time.
I waited around at the finish for 10 or so minutes to see if the runner I had left behind at the 21 mile stage had come in yet, before deciding to pick myself up and make my way to collect my medal and goodie bag and meet Jenny. I had a quick look for the medal in the bag when I was passed it but after not finding it and not seeing anyone else wearing theirs I assumed, that strangely, you would collect it elsewhere, so I made my way out of the finishers enclosure, through the hospitality area and almost towards the exit. As I began to see more and more runner’s wearing their medals I checked to see where they got them from, to discover it should have been in the bag and that I had to walk all the way back to the finish.
After sweet talking a marshall into letting me openly abuse the one way system and back through to the finishers enclosure I collected my medal and made my way back, again, towards the exit to meet up with Jenny and the promise of cake. So that was that, my 40th race of the year done and dusted.
Next up for me is the Great South Run in Portsmouth, just the 16 kilometers this time, but another big, high profile race. When I started this year I had planned to try and race in as many different places as I could, but I hadn’t planned on running two races the best part of 300 miles away from each other within the same week.
After this Sunday my total will have breached the 900KM mark with two months to go. With the 1000KM now firmly within my sights I can almost afford not to enter races every weekend to reach my target. Well that was until I saw the medal design for the 10K MoRun in Nottingham in November, then I decided I must have that in my collection.
As always, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/shanes1000km and donate what you can and please share news of what I am doing with others.
Distance: 42.42km | 26.38 miles
Official Time: 03:59:06
Average Pace: 5:39 min/km | 09:06 min/miles
Goody Bag: Medal, T-Shirt, Bottle of Water, Lucozade & Mars Bar
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