And so, finally race day arrives. So far this year I have very nearly reached the sum total of 2011′s running before the fourth month of 2012 is even finished – and pretty much every single step run since Christmas has been building to this one day at the end of April.
Somewhat ironically last year in the run up to London Marathon I spent most of my weekends running in the most gruesome weather getting blisters on my feet and subsequently a dodgy knee before marathon day descended upon us with the hottest day of the year so far and a horrible race with a finish time of 5:41:15 which really left me demoralised and unmotivated. Shift forwards 12 months, and after nigh-on perfect training conditions in which I ended up running about 95% in clement conditions race day turned out to be one of the single worst days of the year – howling winds, rain, and at times hail.
I packed pretty much every single item of running gear that I owned to try and cover the conditions which although changing daily – basically seemed to be revolving around a fair amount of rain. In the end I think I got my decision pretty much spot on: A long sleeve compression top with t-shirt on top, with shorts covering my legs. It was cold as we waited though, the traditional garb of the runner (trusty binbag) keeping me as warm as possible before the start.
The race organisers couldn’t help the weather, but there was a lot throughout the day which showed that given the warning they had about the likelihood of poor weather, they could have performed a whole heap better than they did. This became abundantly clear from the start as only one entrance to the stadium was open though two were advertised in the programme – this meant all runners trying to get in and out through one gate. Pandemonium. At about this time – still with half an hour to go – organisers were trying to chivee everyone out of the stadium to start lining up at the start in the cold and wet.
Sadly I never heard so much as a whistle or a honk of a horn to signify that we were off – just that the crowd started to shuffle forwards. I forgot that Liz Yelling was supposed to be starting us off – I have no idea if she did or not!
I was in the back pack – I had been a little pesimistic about my target I guess, and although the first half mile was quite open I was consciously trying to hold my pace and keep calm that I was still behind a lot of traffic as we hit the cycle paths. An often cited piece of advice in marathon running is to ensure a steady pace at the start and not to weave – you end up running further than necessary and your legs can’t get into a steady canter. I fear this was the start of undoing my race as I had no choice but to weave around runners and slip and slide across the mud in places.
These flooded paths were a key feature of the route, and evidently at some point one path was so flooded that the course was diverted – we weren’t advised of this at the start – so from 7 miles onwards every mile was .25 miles further on according to my Garmin which was a little disconcerting. The organisers have made a statement about this and will not be recalculating finish times – but I do not understand their argument at all.
I don’t remember when this picture was taken – but I still look like I was having fun :-) When I notice the camera I try to get a nice shot (even if I can’t afford the fee to purchase a copy)
The rain was pretty persistent throughout the course, and I was getting cold – though very thankful for my gloves. I was started to drag a bit at about 18 miles and my head started to drop a little. From about 20 onwards there were a few periods of walking dropped in as my chest/diagphram started to cramp and I was a little despondent that I was falling away from my 4:10(ish) target. As the 4:30 pacers came past I tried my best to stick with them for the rest of the race, but by the of another mile I had lost them too – this confused me though as I thought I was still on for about 4:20 if I really tried, so god only knows what time the 4:30 lot ended up with.
As I walked to the top of what was a beast of a hill (horrible on a ‘fast, flat’ course) I was passed by a group of three girls who were supporting each other to keep up the pace. I dropped in just behind them and tried to keep up. I just kept pushing on with them, and as the stadium loomed in to view I tried to pick up the pace. My watch clocked up the marathon distance just outside the stadium, but I still had to make it in and all the way to the half way line.
Mum and Dad said they were cheering – but I couldn’t hear them. I was just focusing on finishing.
Fed up of always seeing pics of me pressing the ‘stop’ button on my watch on the finish line I made a concious effort to enjoy it this time – so Eduardo was 2 seconds different from my official time.
My final time was 4:21:14. That is a PB of exactly 1 hour, 20 minutes and 1 second from VLM2011. Not quite my orginal target, but I am so happy with that time it’s unreal!!
I was not so happy that after the race I had to walk 3/4 of the way round the stadium before getting a bottle of water – and that there was no foil blankets on offer for runners who had been out in the cold for hours on end. I then had to make my way back out across the car park to get my kit before heading back to the stadium. I am not sure why, when the whole stadium is there, that the organisers couldn’t host everything inside the stadium.
I was pleased to see Alma and Carla at about the 3 mile mark, but sadly missed them at about 16. Not long after that they made the sensible decision to head home as they were soaked to the bone! I was also pleased to see Nicky out on the route in her silver ‘space-lady/robot’ outfit, though I think the silver helium balloon flapping behind her in the wind was starting to bug her a little at that point :-( Sadly though, Mum was unable to finish as illness from the week before, and the cold on race day conspired to end the race for her – not until after a 45minute wait in the rain before being collected. There was no visible fist aid on the route which was perhaps the most shocking thing of all, especially given the events of last week.
I think the race could be a really nice one actually on a good day – I am sure the route is very scenic in the sunshine – and I would probably do it again, but the organisers have a lot of planning and contingency-forming to do before I would hand over any money to enter.
The one thing that was astounding though was the support from the marshals – they were all phenomenal for being out in the rain for so long and remaining so cheery and supportive. They were an amazing bunch. Owing to the nature of the course and very few closed roads meant that supporters who knew the area were able to skip around the course and a few people were seen about 5 or 6 times which was also super!!
So next up – just 4 days away – I’m off to Germany for StrongmanRun. I might go for a swim between now and then, but on the whole I will just be stretching and foam rollering to try and ease my legs out again. I might also try looking out for an autumn marathon :-) I have of course joined the ballot for next years VLM, which closed within 18 hours!!