My race number
Yesterday’s Robin Hood Marathon was a real family affair. My sister and brother-in-law ran the half marathon and my wife Betty and my mum walked down to the starting area with us, next to the River Trent, to give their help and support. Also my dad made it down for the finish even though he had key hole surgery on his knee only a few days before.
It was a dry, sunny day around 20c and apart from the wind picking up as the day progressed the conditions were pretty good.
Both half and full marathons started together with everyone lined up behind the start line, fastest at the front and slowest at the back. Race numbers were colour coded indicating predicted finish times and as thus which sector of the starting area runners should line up from. As luck would have it my sister, Dave and I were able to start in the same sector. Around 9,000 half marathoners and 2,000 full marathoners set off at 10am and for the first kilometre I ran with Amy and Dave until it was time for me to move on and run my own race, I’d see them at the finish.
The first half of the course snaked its way through parts of the city passing Nottingham Castle before winding its way through the university grounds and Wollaton Park. We were all closely packed together as we made our way through narrow sectors jockeying for position as we all tried our best to maintain our pace without tripping any fellow runners. I find these moments with high densities of runners particularly challenging. Not only did I need to keep a focus on not clipping the heels of other runners but I also needed to pay attention to maintaining my chosen pace which involved having to both slow down as well as surge forward into open pockets when I noticed my pace my dropping off. It’s all too easy when running in the bunch to get carried away with it’s pace which can have disastrous consequences later in the race, especially at marathon distance. I was mindful of this and so was constantly checking my Polar wrist computer to ensure I kept on target.
My main concern prior to starting the race was to not let the excitement of the big day get to me too much. My intention was to keep my heart rate as close as possible to when out training. I’m fairly happy with how this went. I was a little nervous and excited to start with, as is to be expected, and although my heart rate was higher than normal for the first few kilometres it didn’t get too high. My technique for this was to focus on breathing and form and to try to block out, as much as possible, external stimulus. That’s what works for me and if it means not fully taking in the atmosphere so be it. By roughly the 12 kilometre mark I noticed my heart rate started to drop even though I was running faster. This was a good indicator I’d found my flow.
As well as having to deal with the crowds of fellow runners, the first half of the race also included plenty of elevation gain and loss. My Polar doesn’t measure this but I know that during the up hill sections my heart rate was hitting threshold. The good news was that the second half of the race would be much flatter, almost pan flat.
As I approached the end of the first half of the race the crowds grew larger as they cheered home the half marathon runners. For them their race was almost over as they turned left to the finish line whilst a minority including myself turned right to start the second half of the race. It was a good feeling leaving behind the crowds of runners. I felt proud to be one of the few and I new I’d have the space to really get myself in the zone for what would turn out to be a very tough final half.
Me about to drop off an empty bottle to Betty and pick up a fresh one
Before that though I briefly met Betty by the side of the course at the 21 kilometre mark so she could pass me a fresh bottle of liquid. My hydration strategy was to take most of my own fluids and a couple of gels as well as using the aid stations along the way. I ran with a bottle belt enabling me to hold a standard 750 millilitre bottle. For the first half I had it filled with Torq energy drink. I consumed this plus a Torq gel as well as drinking some Lucozade sports drink from a couple of the aid stations. For the second half Betty passed me another bottle this time filled with coconut water. I also had another Torq gel which I took later. I reassured her I was feeling good, gave her my empty bottle and off I went.
Kilometres 21 to 28 felt good. Not only did I have space to run without having to navigate around hoards of people but I felt relaxed and was really enjoying the race. At around 28/29 kilometres I stopped for a quick pee, took my second gel then pushed on. It was shortly after this that I was to enter the hardest phase of the race.
All the pounding on hard asphalt roads for the previous 29/30 kilometres was starting to take its toll on my legs. With every passing stride I could feel the stiffness starting to increase. At this point I noticed that although I was starting to have trouble with my legs my heart, my engine, was still feeling good. I new the moment was coming when I’d have to draw on all the mental toughness I could muster and I was ready. Bring it on, I thought, lets have it! The last 10 to 12 kilometres hurt, of course they did, marathons aren’t supposed to be easy. I’d been training 6 days a week for the last 4 months for these coming moments.
Relax the face and the body will follow. Just relax, focus on breathing, forget about the leg pain, it’s nothing. The winds behind me now, it’s a good opportunity to increase my speed a little, not too much, just a bit. 10 km to go it’s nothing. I’m turning the corner of the lake now. Frigging wind in my face, legs are fucking killing me, block it out. Run on the grass verge for a bit. Too spongy, it’s like running on bouncy carpet. I’ll run on it a bit longer; maybe it will ease the pain in my legs. My legs feel like they’re filled full of lead. Have I hit the wall? Forget about it just relax.
8km to go, I’m off the lake now, maybe I’ll get more shelter from the head wind. Will I fuck, it’s just as strong. I’ll just have to deal with it. Stay relaxed. I’m smiling, it works you know, smiling. Am I smiling or is it a grimace?
I’m running along the river, 6km to go. I’m stopping to walk just for a few seconds relief, feels good. I’m only going to walk for a few steps then I’ll start again. I’m running now, don’t stop, my watch is telling me I’ll still maintaining a good pace. Hold on, stay relaxed and stay focused. I’m passing runners all the time. Everyone’s hurting now, everyone. Some are walking, some are pulled up with cramp at the side in their own world of pain. Sorry I can’t help, I’ve got my own battle to win here.
I’m passing the Nottingham Forest Football ground, 4km to go. Under Trent Bridge then up a very short up hill and along the river. I hear my name, my sisters friends are cheering me on, I raise an arm, a fist of defiance again the pain, they cheer me more. I must put on a good show for them. I speed up. I cramp. Fucking cramp in my left hamstring. Fuck this! Stay calm, walk a bit more, walk it off, it will go. A fellow runner smiles at me, come on “you can do it” he says. I carefully start running again, a little faster. The cramps gone now. I’m back up to speed. Past the Suspension Bridge. Only Wilford Bridge to go now then I’m over that and into the last kilometre.
I’m passing half marathon runners now, swathed in their coats of foil, as they walk home or back to their cars. “Not far now” they say. Stay calm, stay focused. I’m over Wilford Bridge. I’m nearly there. Don’t speed up yet, hold your pace, hold it. 400 metres, hold it, relax, don’t get too excited, 300 metres, pick up the pace a little. I’m turning the corner now and into the last 200 metres, I can see the finish line. I see my sister, “go on Jay, good lad” I hear her shout. I pick up the pace to what I feel is like a sprint, it’s not but it’s all I’ve got. I raise my arms and cross the line. It’s all over, breath, I could cry but I don’t, it’s all over.
I smashed my personal best marathon time by 22 minutes and 21 seconds, finishing in a not too shabby 03:40:02. My sister also achieved a PB for herself in the half marathon. It’s the day after now and although my legs are still pretty sore I am definitely a very happy and content man!