Robin Hood Marathon 2015

After my last two marathons I’d hoped that I would be able to improve on my time once again. Having improved my time by around 30 minutes between the last two I’d hoped I’d be able to shave another 10 minutes off my time. Following the last marathon though I had about a month off from training and then struggled to get back to it as I started to get ready for this marathon. My hope went from setting another new PB to actually just finishing the marathon – I’d had race after race where I’d found I couldn’t help but walk even if only briefly and the same had begun to happen in training. I couldn’t even maintain a slower pace over shorter distances than I had back in March. It wasn’t going well.

With only 5 weeks left to go my training finally seemed to turnaround – I managed a decent week of miles and ended it with 17 miles at just 7:26 min/mile average pace. It was a tough run, and I’d wanted to stop so many times, but I finally managed to do a long run again without walking. After this I had a couple of more disastrous runs when attempting to maintain the pace for 19 miles and then 22 miles, but I did realise something. At around this time the year before I would push really hard and couldn’t break into a sub-45 minute 10K. Now I was doing 43-45 minute 10Ks without really pushing that hard – that had to be a positive, and around the same time I was incredibly fortunate (and not really deserved) to also win the #UKRunChat community member of the month for August as well – another positive! Perhaps it wasn’t all bad.

During the weeks of tapering I probably didn’t behave myself quite as much as I should have – most of my runs were quicker than intended, and I may have done the odd mile more than planned as well. I did however resist the temptation to re-attempt the failed 22 mile run from the day of the John Fraser 10. I had to trust on race day I’d be able to get around.

Race Day

Race Kit at the ready

At last the day of my third marathon had arrived. I’d had a cold for the best part of a week and although I could more or less breathe okay I wasn’t feeling that great. I’d been tempted to back out but I felt it would waste months of (failed) training and I wouldn’t be very happy with myself if I didn’t try. On the morning of the race the cold didn’t feel as bad as it had been so I decided I’d stick to my plan of attempting 07:30 min/miles for the entire race. My targets were:

  1. Finish the Marathon
  2. Sub-3:hr40
  3. Equal previous PB of 3:26
  4. Get a PB of around 3:15

After struggling to sleep, it was an early start to get to the Victoria Embankment for 07:00 (to make sure I could get a decent spot) and for most of the drive it had been hard work due to how heavy the fog was. For the next hour I sat around in my car to stay warm and by the time I headed over to the race village there was some reasonable progress in the fog lifting. To try and keep warm I was wearing my skins top, my #TeamBlue #UKRunChat tee, and my #UKRunChat zoodie and could still feel the cold. After queueing briefly to use their facilities, I then stood outside the baggage tent for the next 30 minutes, waiting for a #UKRunChat meet-up.

The first to turn up was @DavidNFLF1 who I’d first met during the training weekend in Eastbourne and shortly after we also met @JakeRobboMax who was from Witham Runners. There would have been others but they were running late, so after a while I decided it had warmed up enough to risk leaving my zoodie behind so took it back to my car before heading over to the start.

The start was busier than I remembered it being last year. And colder. I made no attempt to move forward in the red pen – I just stayed at the back as I really didn’t know what to expect. Eventually we started and I moved out to the side to try and stick as close to my target pace as I could whilst avoiding any weaving. It started well, and even the hill at the start didn’t slow me down – I felt good and despite a few sniffles the cold wasn’t holding me back either. After the hills though was a good down-hill section which resulted in two miles which were 30-40 seconds faster than I’d intended.

As each mile passed by I was keeping a mental note of how many seconds I’d “banked” which I could fall back on later if I needed to. A bad practice, but after hearing that it’s good to let your legs just “go with the flow” on the downhill bits it meant that it was difficult to have not gotten these faster miles in.

Just after mile 5 we entered Wollaton Park which veered off to the side at the start to avoid the cattle grid at the entrance. The path then went through a nice avenue of trees that was quite scenic – I was tempted to take a photo but decided getting my phone out of my media belt was too much of a fiddle. As it turns out though it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea anyway as at one point I saw movement in the trees so turned my head just to see a lady’s posterior as she was standing up from having squatted at the side of the tree. A little embarrassed I quickly turned my head back and focussed on the task at hand – getting some water just before mile 6. I wouldn’t normally drink so early in a race, but as I hadn’t been feeling that well during the week I knew I’d be drinking a little more. So, starting to get a sore throat I attempted to get some water but they came in these funny little pouches that had a tab on saying “pull to open”. No matter how much I tried nothing seemed to pull away so eventually I discarded the unopened water bottle and decided I’d try again at the next one.

By mile 8 we had entered Highfield Park and was running along the waterfront – the weather had vastly improved in the past mile. The fog had finally finished lifting and we were treated (or plagued depending on your point of view) by a blue sky and sunshine. As we went through the University grounds I noticed the sign indicating how much later in the race we’d be passing through the University grounds again. It seemed like such a long way off, though I was already 195 seconds ahead of schedule, and had started eating one jelly baby per mile.

At mile 9 I grabbed some more water and tried again to open it, but again failed. This time though instead of discarding it I decided desperate times meant I had to try biting through the plastic and hoping I wouldn’t make a mess of it. I did though, and I got barely a drop of water from it. It wasn’t enough to help with the feeling of dehydration. I started to recognise another area and tried to remember what was different about the area to last time – I had the feeling that last time I’d run along this stretch the year before that there had been roadworks severely narrowing some parts. This time it was a nice wide carriageway we could easily run along with little hassle.

I think I saw Nottingham Castle again as we got closer to the finish, but I wasn’t 100% sure what the castle looked like anyway. Despite my interest in history, and in myths and legends such as that of Robin Hood, I’ve never actually been to the castle. I hadn’t even realised until this year that they still had a castle! Anyway… I digress.

As mile 13 drew nearer and nearer we entered back into the Victoria Embankment and split away from those doing the half marathon. As we split away there was an instant loss of supporting crowds and a massive decrease in the number of runners I could see. In fact at one brief point I could see more marshals than I could runners. I felt at this point that I could probably have done with having some music with me. This wound a little all over the place, but eventually we’d gone through a housing estate and made it to mile 13. Admittedly the timing for the first 13.1 miles was actually my second best time for a half marathon.

The lack of water was starting to get to me at this point, and with it feeling like I was on my own as well I started to lose motivation to keep running. I had to remind myself that this was now more like a training run where I’d be on my own anyway. Unfortunately, as much as I hate myself for it, I gave in to this and started to walk as I crossed the mile 14 marker. This was short-lived though and I was soon running again and still managed to finish the mile in 7:59.

Once I was in Colwick Country Park though I eventually did lose it completely and started to walk for large sections. Somehow I was still managing 8:00 and 9:00 minutes per mile for the next few miles, though with how much walking I was doing I’m not entirely sure how. The park felt empty, but a few runners did pass me during these walking breaks which meant I wasn’t completely alone. I even had a conversation with a fellow runner for some of this time in Colwick Country Park about how tough the heat was becoming. At one point when I was walking a blonde lady touched my back and smiled, trying to encourage me to carry on running.

At mile 18 I was that desperate for fluids that I tried some of the lucozade at the drink station there. It wasn’t good – I took one mouthful and had to throw the rest away. I already knew lucozade doesn’t do me much good, but I had to try something and I’d not seen any water stations in a while. As it turns out though there was actually some water at the same station as the lucozade I’d had, though no one had these in their hands as I’d passed so I didn’t realise.

As mile 19 begun I was back in the city centre and at the start of a long and slow winding road up passed the shops along the tramlines. When I say “road up” I really mean it. Mile 19 was a steady ascent that lasted so long that I think I walked for about 90% of it, and I saw the majority of people around me walking it as well. The race had gone from being relatively flat to suddenly having one of the toughest miles I’ve come across.

The top of the hill is at around mile 20 meaning that it actually lasted for more or less a mile, but the descent did not last so long – it was a quick sharp descent that didn’t even last for half a mile. I knew that by this point I’d not only lost those 220 seconds I’d built up as “excess” but was now slipping further and further behind my target. It was getting hard to continue going mentally – it felt pointless as I knew I’d missed my target.

After finishing miles 21 and 22 I realised that I’d only got 4 miles to go. I can do 4 miles comfortably in under 30 minutes and I started to think that even if I did them at an 8 or 9 minutes per mile pace I could still make it to the finish in just under my London Marathon time. This did spur me on briefly and I did run for a good portion of the section through the University, but I wasn’t feeling well enough to keep it up. I slowed to a walk again and recorded my slowest ever mile – not just of the race, but all time – slower than when I was doing the Couch to 5K!

I think around this time there may have been a runner with issues as an ambulance passed me very quickly (followed by some cyclists travelling in the opposite direction shortly after) – hopefully it was nothing serious.

As I got close to mile 24 one of the marshals mentioned that there was a water station at the marker. This got me running again, but I slowed to a walk to grab the water and to try and drink some. Seeing me struggling, one of the volunteers mentioned that they’d been opening the water pouches ready and all you needed to do was squeeze. It seemed so simple, yet it had eluded me for 24 miles. I squeezed, and once I’d figured out where the water was coming from I started to sip at what seemed like the best water ever. I still wasn’t feeling great but I figured I’d had enough water now to get me to the finish.

As much as I tried I just couldn’t seem to keep running – every attempt kept resulting in me slowing to a walk. My legs weren’t aching at this point, but I seemed to lack any motivation to keep going. At mile 25 though I decided this was it – no matter what it took I’d run to the finish. Sadly this wasn’t to be as no more than half a mile into this I felt a sudden pain in my calf that jolted me into a walk. It felt terrible, but I kept trying to run on it which became very short intervals. I can only imagine what other runners thought of me as they passed – they were probably thinking I started off too fast and was now suffering. Maybe they’d have been right, but I’m not totally sure – I think I’d have still had these problems if I’d gone slower.

Eventually I crossed from the Embankment footpath into the recreational ground; I saw three or four guys holding up the inflatable archway that they seemed to be having issues with. Seeing it I thought instantly that it was the finish and started to sprint (sort of, it was more of a cross between a sprint and a limp) but as I reached the archway and ducked under it’s lowered “roof” I realised that I still had around 0.2 miles to go. I slowed down pretty much instantly but was determined not to walk. Every step felt awful, but I knew I was so close that I just had to finish now. I really needed to.

The finish line was in sight, and at this point I’d normally sprint, but I knew I didn’t really have it in me to so left it until I was somewhere between 100-200 metres before a final burst of speed that although limping, got me across the finish line. My calf felt like it had tightened into a ball of pain, but after being passed a medal and some water I kept going until I was away from the finish line before dropping to my knees unable to move any more.

Finishers medal

It felt like me leg had ceased up and couldn’t move it – something I know can happen when low on salts and fluids (I’d found this out in Mexico). A lady came over to me and asked if I needed the St. Johns Ambulance to help – I wasn’t yet beyond helping myself and politely told her that I’d be okay in a minute. To avoid anyone running in to me she stood behind me, but by this time I’d been able to free up my leg muscle and get moving again which shocked her about how quickly I’d recovered.

I was then handed a goodie bag containing a couple of leaflets, a toffee crisp chocolate bar, and an apple fruit bar. The water was a welcome relief and I tried to drink it in small sips as I got out of the way of the finishing area. By the time I’d gotten to a hill where I sat in the sun I’d been able to sort the issues with my calf and was now hobbling along not too bad at all. The drive home though wasn’t fun – an hour queuing along Queen’s Drive to get to the motorway – I had a vague recollection of having the same issue the year before.

Another marathon was over, and again I was disappointed. Not in my time really, but in myself. My Garmin was telling me I’d finished it in 3:39 which was slower than the London Marathon but faster than Leicester. This time though I’d started walking far sooner – something I wasn’t happy with. I tried to convince myself that a lot of it will have been down to still recovering from a cold, and having been dehydrated for half the race, but with so many failed training runs over the Summer I couldn’t be so sure. All I knew was that I now needed to work harder to try and redeem myself at Brighton in the new year.

My official finishing time was 03:39:05 in position 279 out of 1238 marathon finishers – that put me in the top 22.5%.

John Fraser 10 2015

I had wanted to do this race last year, but it’s timing wasn’t too good to fit in with my first marathon – and I didn’t really have the confidence that I could do another race too close to marathon day. This year though I decided that this race would form the first 10 miles of my 22 mile run – my last LSR before beginning to taper.

As it got closer to race day my doubts grew over whether it was a good idea – my training hadn’t been going well and I felt I didn’t want to risk this race sabotaging my last attempt at a long run. However I decided that having people around me may help me manage a consistent 7:30 min/mile that I needed for these miles – and if I could just carry this on after the race and not lose my mind I could do it.

As the race is local to me I decided to walk to this one – 2.5 miles at a casual pace in what was quite cool weather for this time of year. Registration for this event was inside the Countesthorpe Community College building and at first I couldn’t find the way. I eventually realised that you had to walk through the changing rooms in order to get your number. I usually have to spell out my surname when asked for it, but this time I chose not to – this resulted in them not being able to find my race number until I actually did. There were a few comments I overheard about the facilities too – one of the mens rooms were out of order meaning that there were massive queues for one (as the third was out of paper). At least this one had facilities! Some races I’ve been to have not.

I sat around inside for a while to let the time pass for a while, but found it cold. Once I was outside I soon realised that the weather had warmed up considerably and that it was unlikely I’d be now needing my jumper. By the time I got to the start line I decided to move my race number over to my tee and to put my jumper around my waist. I’d just about finished this when the race began.

To start with we headed towards Willoughby Waterleys and passed straight through – surprisingly the amount of cars trying to pass us was quite minimal, but at times it restricted when we could overtake. It wasn’t really an issue though as I wanted to keep my pace down anyway. By the time we’d passed through we’d already done two miles and I was running 10 seconds per mile quicker than I’d intended – but it was a gentle down-hill route for most of these two miles.

After this the hills continued to roll beneath our feet, one hill after another but none as severe as those which I encountered during the Rugby Half Marathon. Some of these did require a little more effort to get up them, but never really found the need to walk like I had done in Rugby. After a while I started to lose track of the miles – I was just watching the countryside go by, and the occasional flyover of aircraft from the Victory Show in Cosby.

Some of the route after what would have been the 5 mile point started to become recognisable again – it was a road I’d driven down many times before and I knew the incline of this hill. It was an enjoyable run even though there wasn’t really any support along the route. I even had a conversation with another runner somewhere around mile 7 and found that I wasn’t even short of breath and could talk comfortably. This felt really strange for a race!

What I hadn’t noticed though was that my pace had increased and for the last two miles of the race – which were a steady incline I was actually doing sub-7 minute miles unintentionally. At mile 8 I realised I hadn’t yet had any water or fuel so thought it might be an idea to try and handle the cups at the water station there – not as easy as bottles. I grabbed the cup cleanly, didn’t spill any, and carried on running – still without spilling any. I then when to take a sip and instead ended up with a face full of water, my feet wet, and it was wasted. It didn’t really bother me as I assumed there would be water at the finish, but it did result in me forgetting to eat a couple of jelly babies to prepare for the 12 mile run afterwards however.

Eventually I was back in Countesthorpe and there was then a one person wide filter to move into (out of the way of traffic) which went around onto a playing field. The route then continued around the outside of this until the finish line. I finished with a time of 71:16 according to my watch – not too bad for not really trying. As a result I finished 156th out of 630 finishers which put me just into the top 25% of finishers. Think that might actually be my worst position ever, but I wasn’t there to race, just to get the miles in.

After the race they handed over a bottle of water, removed the timing chip and then handed over a plastic cup with a bag of McVities iced gems inside. Only two minutes had passed in this time and I was back running again to complete another 12 miles.

It was a good event and one I’d be quite keen to try again under proper racing conditions so will hopefully be back next year.

Post-race LSR

The remaining miles started well, but within a few miles of pausing again to drop race things off at home I then started to really struggle with the miles. By about mile 16.5 the blister that had formed a couple of miles prior was starting to get uncomfortable and that combined with going up hill I resorted to walking – the first of many times for this run. After an enjoyable race it was a shame to have such a confidence shattering run that had left me so disheartened, but now I’ve got three weeks to get passed that, taper, and decide what I’m going to do about the race day.