Regular readers will know that running has been going well for me over the past few weeks, culminating in my 5K PB last Saturday at York parkrun.
This caused me to agonise about my pacing strategy for the marathon. I’d previously resolved to go out at 6:35 per mile, which would be a target of 2:52.36 and a halfway even split of 1:26.18.
However, I must have contracted a case of hubris because in the final couple of days I decided to go out in 6:30s, for a target of 2:50.25. This was certainly very ambitious and would represent a PB by over six minutes.
Marathon pacing is a fine art – a marathon is run primarily below the aerobic threshold (i.e. you don’t get out of breath much), but if you overcook it there is a risk that the legs will pack in before the end, and nobody wants to experience that feeling. The marathon is very much a race about self-control.
On an almost perfect day for marathon running, I travelled over to York with fellow Strider Tim. We used the park and ride at Elvington airfield which worked efficiently.
Tim and I lined up a few rows back from the front, wished each other well and then we were off.
There really isn’t a lot to say about the first few miles, I settled into my 6:30 target pace and basically just knocked the miles off. The first mile was slightly downhill and I felt that loads of runners had gone off much too quickly.
I went through 5K in 20:15, 10k in 40:30, so I was nailing even pacing, steadily passing those that set off too quickly.
I joined a small group that was being tracked by a TV cameraman on a motorbike. I realised that he was filming the leading lady – Joasia Jakrzewski. I knew about Jo through my Comrades buddies Jock and James Love, she had finished in the top ten at Comrades in 2015 in 7 hours flat! and had a sub 2:40 marathon PB… I was indeed in elevated company.
pic John Rainsforth
I ran with Jo for a few miles, she looked to be going incredibly easily, but to be frank it was a bit irritating having a TV camera right in our faces. At least I experienced a little of what Mo Farah has to put up with!
At around 8 or 9 miles, Jo stepped on it – she must have run a couple of 6:10 miles or quicker because she soon dropped me. I kept on with my monotonous 6:30s, with the 3rd and 4th 5K sections run in 20:22 and 20:08. Another lady soon passed me, obviously intent on giving Jo a race.
Halfway was reached in 1:25.02, a tad quicker than level 6:30s. I knew that I was a little bit fast, but all was feeling good, so I decided to press on and just HTFU…
I found myself running quite a lot of the second half in the company of the third lady, a lovely person called Michelle from Gateshead. She had won an ultra marathon only last Sunday and was running really strongly. In cycling parlance, she looked like a good wheel to follow.
The course was generally very pleasant to run on – predominantly on country lanes and often through shaded forest, though there was one slightly less enjoyable section.
Just after halfway, we turned left onto a wide A road towards Stamford Bridge, then doubled back at a turnaround point to run 5 miles back down the same A road, only to double back and run 2 miles back up the same road. The crowds at the turn points were huge and I got a great lift from many cheers in this section from friends and teammates.
At the 18 mile turnaround point my spirits lifted when I heard a familar voice call my name and saw the beaming smile and bounding figure of great pal Hannah, who was doing a sterling job in leading the cheering. The next two miles back up the A road were tough – up a draggy incline, and into the breeze. For the first time, I knew that I was having to work hard.
I had passed Michelle a couple of miles earlier, but she caught me again on the drag and we ran together for a few miles. Again we were frequently buzzed by one of the TV camera motorbikes. I expect my ugly mug will appear on the TV highlights next week.
Despite a couple of slower miles on the drag (6:44 then 7:00) I still was just about holding it together, though I knew that I was in for a very tough last 6 miles. I resolved to just try to follow Michelle for as long as possible, but my legs were getting heavy as I started paying it back for my earlier exuberance.
I was beginning to leak some time – the 7th and 8th 5K sections took 21:17 then 22:12. As it slipped away I felt a bit frustrated, but there was absolutely nothing I could do about it, my legs were basically shot. Teammate Jerry passed me in the last three miles, going very strongly. There was no way I could latch on to him.
With a mile to go I felt a sinister shot of pain down my left hamstring – the first pangs of a cramp. Shit, that’s all I need I thought. I had a single salt tablet in my shorts pocket and hoping that it would be some kind of magic bullet I reached in a swallowed it. I slightly altered my gait to try to keep my left leg straighter and keep the insidious cramp at bay.
At mile 25, I was close to shuffling – a 7:40 26th mile tells that story. I made my way up the 400m incline back onto the university campus then ran as best as I could to the line.
I finished in 2:55.08 and felt wobbly for a few minutes at the finish. Luckily, I just about managed to hold myself together.
My time is a 90 second personal best and I finished 54th overall and third in my age category. The first two MV50s were miles in front of me in 2:41 and 2:47 so third is the best that I could have achieved.
Overall, I am happy with my run. It is mildly frustrating to lose over 2 minutes in the last three miles, however, I console myself in knowing that I really went for it, I challenged myself to see if I could run a low 2:50s marathon and for 23 miles I was absolutely bang on it. It simply leaves unfinished business to be dealt with at London next April.
Tim ran a superbly evenly paced race to nail his first sub three marathon in 2:59.14 – a brilliant run.
My other big news is that I am having a year off from Comrades next year. I would love to run it every year, but lots of other big and exciting stuff happening next year means that I just cannot spare the requisite time off work. I will be back though.