My attempt at this marathon last year did not go well, mostly due to lack of training over the summer, too many races, and my inability to train well in the warmer weather. This year I wanted it to be different, I wanted to beat last year’s time at the very least and if possible run much more of it. Things didn’t go to plan though, and as I’ve mentioned in a few previous blog posts (okay, maybe several) I got an ankle injury whilst in Moscow that resulted in a couple of weeks off running, and a slow recovery with fewer and shorter runs to start with. Just over a month before race day I’d only built back up to 8.5 miles at a slower pace than before and even with walking breaks I’d yet to run for more than 15 miles – even that was with so much walking it was over a minute slower than my marathon PB pace.
Things weren’t looking good. I know it takes time coming back from an injury and I’m always too impatient anyway, but it can take a toll on you mentally. Sometimes all you need is a good run to start clawing your way back and I was lucky to have a “good” 8.5 mile run and would then have 4 weekends to build up miles from that to something reasonable before the Great North Run meant that I needed to drop the mileage again which then led straight into this. Hopefully this marathon would be the last race to be affected by the ankle.
I was fortunate enough that by the time I did my 22 mile run the weekend before the Great North Run, I was able to run for 17 miles of it at a push, a massive improvement over the previous weeks. It felt like I was miles (excuse the pun) behind where I was this time last year. In truth though, when I looked at where my PBs stood as of September 2015 I was back to being capable of matching the 5K and 10K times and had in fact beat that 5K time by over a minute in the first 5K of the Great North Run. I wasn’t quite capable of my Half Marathon time as it stood back in September 2015. It didn’t seem quite as bad, but for all these times I was still quite some way off my current PBs.
It was now three years, almost to the day, since I started couch to 5K. I knew a few people doing this one so I hoped for a good #ukrunchat meet-up before the race start. However, due to unforeseen circumstances a few of them had dropped out of the race so when I got to the race start at 07:10 I’d got quite a wait until there was anyone to talk to. Fortunately I knew @Roddis22, a good friend I’ve seen at races before was going to turn up around 08:30 and that soon passed the time. So much time in fact that by the time I was in my starting pen the warm-up was over, not that I’d have bothered with it anyway!
On my drive to Nottingham it had been raining, but had been fortunate that by 08:00 it had stopped so that when the race started just after 09:30 it was dry out. This year’s course was different to both the previous times I’ve done it – three different courses in three consecutive years makes you wonder the reason for the changes, but this seemed okay as I knew it’d be missing out an epic hill that had previously been there at mile 22(ish).
It was a slow start as the pen was over crowded with not just others that were supposed to be in there, but also a few blues, greens, and oranges had somehow moved forward into the pen as well which made it difficult to find any space in the first mile. Instead there was a lot of hill climbing in the first three miles as it passed Nottingham Castle. It was tiring and I really, really wanted to walk, but I wasn’t willing to walk so soon into the race. My training has excluded hills for the past 4 months due to the injury meaning I wasn’t supposed to run on uneven surfaces or inclines, and the only time I’ve run up hills recently was in Newcastle, so I was quite happy to overcome them – even if my pace was slower than I’d normally like to tackle a hill in!
At the end of the first three miles my watch seemed a little under what was expected, though it could be down to a bad GPS signal as it had taken quite some time to get one at the start (which is odd as usually the 235 gets one within seconds) and kept losing it. This was also the point for the first water station but I ran straight through deciding it was too early to bother. For the fourth mile there was a good portion down hill, a section that has been in the course for the past 2 years at least so this was at least familiar. It was sometime around here that I first saw the race leader heading in the opposite direction – there was then quite a gap until the next runner, though even then the next was a half marathon runner and not a marathoner. This means he’d taken quite an early lead in this race!
I’d say I found the first 4-5 miles challenging, but by 6 I’d briefly settled into a rhythm that kept me going for a little longer as the course entered Wollaton Park – another familiar part of Nottingham. The bit through the park didn’t feel too bad, maybe because it was in the shade, but I did feel like I needed a loo break, but I really didn’t want to have to stop until mile 19 at least! This kept me going, and to be honest I didn’t spot them at mile 6 anyway.
As we left the park, instead of going through the University grounds as it has done in previous years the course then headed back to a junction we’d passed in mile 5 and turned back towards the direction of the embankment. As I approached mile 8 I then passed Nic Roddis heading in the opposite direction so waved as I passed, and was at least glad I’d made it that far without walking. Every thought I had now was about keeping going – I really didn’t want to walk in the first half if I could help it. Over the next few miles there were two hairpin bends where I had to slow to go around them, though I took them wide enough to not need to slow too much. I figured this might at least make up for my watch being off slightly. Shortly after I even saw an athlete dressed as a Stormtrooper, and wearing a dress heading towards mile 4 as I was on my way towards mile 9.
For the remainder of the first half I think it was fairly similar to what it had been in previous years, though I think the marathon course splits away from the half marathoners slightly earlier than it had done previously, but once again mile 13 was just before an alleyway through a housing estate. This entire mile I was on my own for, with only marshals being around to indicate that I was at least going the right way. There was nobody about watching the race – just like last year, but at least this year there were a few supporters in the miles that followed (something which didn’t happen last year).
By mile 13.5 I’d caught up with more runners, but I was starting to struggle to keep running and needed water. Fortunately after walking for what was probably only 10-20 seconds a marshal let me know that there was water in the direction of the drumming. That had suddenly reminded me that unlike previous years there wasn’t really much music on the course!
This time I grabbed some water and tried to drink from it, though no matter how hard I squeezed water just wasn’t coming out! It felt like this was going to be a repeat of last year, but then I spotted another runner drinking from one and they’d held it like a cup and not tipped up. It seemed these water pouches were designed not to leak when upside down which explained why I wasn’t getting any out of, so I turned it around and squeezed – getting a face full of water. Around this time I saw the race leader pass in the opposite direction again – he was just approaching mile 18 as I was coming up to mile 14.
I wanted to keep running until mile 15 after having walked briefly at mile 13.5, but I did succumb to the need to walk just before I reached the mile marker. I then started running again and was fairly determined to run until mile 16, and once I could see the mile marker in the distance, across Colwick Lake I was even more determined. It was a constant struggle to try and get to mile 16, and with probably 0.3 miles to go some cheerleaders started cheering me on and then started shouting “Give me a D, give me an A, give me a V…” though I’d passed them completely before they finished and I knew the mile marker was just coming up. Their cheers and this knowledge made me push harder and I managed to reach it… though I started walking more or less as soon as I crossed it! Though even then the last mile had not been particularly fast at 08:19 minutes.
Miles 17 and 18 passed by with frequent walking breaks but also the hope that I could keep my mile splits to sub-10 if not better. Literally seconds after passing the mile 18 marker though I slipped over on a lucozade bottle I hadn’t spotted until I’d already trodden on it. After the initial discomfort I carried on running up over the bridge that crosses the River Trent. Just as I reached Lady Bay I started to walk yet again, but this point I’d lost track of how much walking I’d done as there’d been so much of it. Another runner insisted I kept on running though I didn’t really want to, I kept going at a slower pace from there, passed the mile 19 marker and into the grounds of Holme Pierrepont water sports centre.
After running alongside the Regatta Lake for a while the route then veered off up a winding hill and onto a gravel path that ran alongside the River Trent. I’m not a fan on gravel paths as I seem to always get some in at least one shoe. Sure enough I did, and I found myself stopping completely at the mile 21 marker to take my shoes off, empty them, and put them back on before continuing off again. The complete stop hadn’t done me any favours though, even if it did mean my feet weren’t in pain anymore I was struggling to get running again. At this point the 3:30 pacer finally overtook me, but I could still see him not too far ahead – enough to catch up with if I could keep going. I’d wanted water at mile 21, but even though I could see they had some water in boxes they were only handing out gels.
By mile 22 I’d lost the pacer completely after having to walk a couple more times, but I saw the Nottingham Forest football ground and with it was a stream of people who had finished the half marathon and were cheering on the marathon runners as they passed. I was really lucky at this point though as walking briefly I was passed by one of the officials on a motorbike who passed me some more water. I didn’t bother trying to get into this and just sunk my teeth into it and guzzled the water like some sort of vampire with a blood bag.
This kept me going for a while, but I started to wonder if I’d taken a wrong turn as there was a split in the path, and I couldn’t see a marshal to know which way to go so took the longer of the two paths – I did then pass what I think was a marshal (though wasn’t in the bright yellow jackets the others had – this was a blue one). When it started to go down an alleyway behind some houses I was sure I’d gone wrong, it just didn’t feel right – I kept slowing down and looking behind me to see if I could see anyone else come this way, but I couldn’t see anyone!
Fortunately after rounding another corner I could then see mile 23 ahead of me – a relief! This was then followed by a few more runners overtaking me as I started to walk again, and I walked quite a bit of this mile alongside the tramline as by this point I was just too tired. I’d not had any jelly babies for the past few miles as I’d started to feel sick after having drunk too much water in one go. A bad mistake and one which caused me to walk the majority of the last two miles – one of which I’m not entirely sure I ran any of.
I think by this point it’d be useful to paraphrase REM’s “Everybody Hurts”:
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this race, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
It had been a tough race, and seeing the bridge to cross the River Trent for the last time was a relief – and around the time I crossed it I finally started to run once more.
The final part of the route took me along the Victoria Embankment one last time, and this bit was an incredible struggle, but I didn’t want to walk when the finish line was so close. I did walk a couple of steps, but pushed on with running, unwilling to succumb to it. I then crossed over onto the grass and felt my pace start to pick up as people were cheering us on. I then heard my name called out on the speakers as I got near to the commentary box and I switched to a faster paced run to finish. Not the usual sprint finish, but it was enough.
At last this difficult race was over. My sixth marathon, and the 9th time I’ve reached or passed 26.2 miles when running.
Looking at my watch I saw 3:43 – 4 minutes slower than last year. I’d completely failed not only in my original goal (which was to be expected), but even with the adjusted goal I’d set post-injury. I was slower than this time last year, so at this point it wasn’t looking good that I’d be able to meet my Half Marathon and 10K target times in October and November.
No matter how hard I work between now and then I know the next two weeks will be almost throwaway between marathon recovery and being in Arizona (35-45C temperatures). I’m not going to give in though – I’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’ll put in as much work as I can to at least try and meet my times from last year for these upcoming races.
Once the official results were out I found I’d finished with a time of 03:43:42 in position 242 out of 1192 marathon finishers (first 20% approximately). To be honest I’m quite surprised I wasn’t further behind than that, but at least I did it. I guess now I’ll be back next year to have one last attempt at doing a better job of this.