When I started this blog I was just getting into a period of dedicated training for a fast road marathon (which made the title of the blog a bit of a misnomer but hey!). That marathon was Robin Hood, and I was shooting for sub 3hrs, GFA, PB in that order. As per a previous post on the subject, Robin Hood was not to be due to a nasty little stomach bug. Encouraged by my ever-supportive wife, I looked around for a marathon to enter so that the training was at least not wasted, and settled on the Newcastle Town Moor Marathon, primarily because it was a) cheap and b) close.
I was still shooting for the goals above, but with the disadvantage of it having been 6 weeks since any marathon-specific training (track workouts, tempos, etc). I was still inclined to give it a go, however, and so lined up with that in mind.
My quads felt a bit dodgy even the day before, probably thanks to having done Quick Strength on Friday but, as Rachel rightly pointed out, I pretty much always complain about something or other aching just before a race, so really wasn't unduly concerned. I said to Rachel I was planning on taking the first mile steady to warm up, and then settling more into my target pace, which was around 6.30 per mile.
We eventually all found our way to the start line. There didn't seem to be a pre-race briefing, or if there was I missed it, and that was going to become quite relevant later on. The arm went up, the arm came down, and we were off.
To my utter astonishment, I found myself leading the pack within a quarter mile, cruising at a very sustainable 6.40-6.45 mile pace. This was not my intention, but if I dropped my pace much beyond that I would miss my sub 3 goal, and so I went with it. The half marathon was running at the same time, and as we approached the first point of confusion, there were very clear instructions: half, turn left, full, straight on. No problem.
I continued to open a gap between myself and 2nd place; not intended as a brag, that caused me problems very quickly as I had no idea where I was going on the route. The guy behind me was an absolute gentleman and shouted out directions, for which I was extremely grateful. At about 1 mile, I got to another point of confusion where the half and the marathon did different things. At this point, the pack from the full had merged with the pack from the half. Maybe the marshals weren't expecting the full to arrive quite as quickly as they did, but they allowed me to just go with the flow and turn left, rather than turn right which was what the full was actually supposed to do. I carried on for about a quarter mile before I heard "Mate! You've gone the wrong way!" I turned round to find a Heaton Harrier (I would later find out he was called Steve) had legged it after me when he'd realised the mistake. Swearing loudly, I thanked him and took off in the opposite direction. According to my watch, I hit 4.53 per mile at one point on this little burst.
The marshals were very apologetic as I passed them, and I did wave and say don't worry; having marshalled myself I can see it was a confusing situation. Maybe distinct race numbers would have helped, or signage for the runners. All the full marathon runners I passed were very supportive. Lots of "Don't worry about it" and "You've got plenty of time, you can still catch him" for which I was very grateful; a supportive bunch, runners.
I made it back into second place, with Steve right on my shoulder in third (we'd basically remain like this until about mile 16), but the leader was sufficiently far ahead that I didn't want to continue the hard effort to catch him and completely burn myself out. Instead, I elected to run slightly quicker than I had intended and try and make marginal gains for the rest of the course. So, 6.20 miles it was to be. Steve and I took a slight detour at the end of the first lap; I didn't see any markings at all (it seems there was chalk on the ground, which I spotted the 2nd time, but with no race briefing I would have had no idea to follow them in any case) and there was no marshal, but quite a few people had similar issues, so it wasn't especially significant.
I managed a half marathon PB in the middle of all of this which, for anyone who knows about running, will perhaps give you an idea of where things started to go wrong. No way should one PB a half marathon in a marathon; definitely not the first half, anyway. Classic case of going out too hot. By the halfway point my quads and core muscles were screaming. By mile 16 I'd mentally checked out; Steve and I figured between us that 4th place was quite a long way back and, with no hope of catching 1st and my goal pace slipping away, I had no real inclination to continue in the pain cave. I wished him well and told him if he had the legs he should go for it. He took off and looked strong for the rest of the race. My pace gradually slowed and slowed. My heart wasn't in it any longer, and my legs felt like lead. By the end I was fully aerobic just because I couldn't get my legs to move fast enough to get me any higher. I don't think I bonked. I think I just gave up.
I gutted it out to the end, determined not to give up completely (there was no question of a DNF), and managed 3rd place in a time of 3.11 and change, missing my A & B goal, but hitting my C and getting an unexpected "podium" finish, which was bizarrely my best ever result. Waves of nausea then hit, and I spent some time sat on the floor with my head between my knees, much to the apparent concern of at least one marshal. Steve managed a well-deserved 2nd.
So what went wrong? I've been mulling it over and have come up with a few ideas. Firstly, I had peaked 6 weeks prior to the race. I then got ill, and ill again, and then logged some big aerobic mileage on 3 consecutive weeks with no speed work of any kind, before taking a week off entirely to recover from bronchitis, and then doing a chewy hill session and an interval workout both in the week before a marathon. When you put it like that, it's not surprising my body was a bit angry about what I was doing to it. No taper for this event. I thought I had the residual fitness, and in aerobic terms I'm sure I did. However, apparently the endurance at speed wasn't there. Secondly, I was pretty heavily dehydrated, which would account for the nausea, and probably also some of the endurance issues. I didn't drink enough water the day before, and was at a kiddies' birthday party with Xander eating far too much salty and sugary party food. I didn't drink enough the morning of the race and, despite having a bottle of Tailwind and plenty of opportunity for water on the course, didn't take on anything like enough whilst racing. I'm really bad at hydrating properly, and it's not the first time it's caused me issues. Thirdly, my little tempo run after the wrong turning, and the subsequent increase in pace, were just too much. I was opening a lead at a very comfortable pace and, had I been able to continue at that pace, I think it's less likely I would have had the issues I did, and so hit all of my goals and possibly picked up a win in the process; there's a lot to be said for adrenaline. As it was, the body and the mind gave in. With my trail/fell/ultra hat on, I only have myself to blame; in those kinds of event really the onus is on the runner to know where they are and where they're going. The route was available prior to the event, and I didn't study it, so mea culpa. I assumed it would be more clearly signed or marshalled than it was, being the kind of race that it was, but that's on me.
All of this leaves me in a funny position. I've had days when I've been really happy with my race, but not achieved a PB or a significant placement. On those days I was confident I raced to the best of my ability, but there were faster people on the day, or the course was not a PB course. Regardless, I was pleased with my performance. Yesterday, I hit a whopping PB and placed 3rd in a marathon, something which even a year ago I would have laughed in your face at, had you suggested it. However, I had a horrible race which didn't go at all according to plan. I don't want to be That Guy who complains about a 3.11 marathon; I know there are plenty of people who would kill for that time. If everything had gone to plan and I'd managed what I did, I'd be stoked right now. Sometimes though, the results don't tell the full story.
Anyway, onwards and upwards (quite literally... I'm running Wooler Marathon in 3 weeks time, and that has 6,000ft vertical gain!)