Monday 21 October 2013

Abingdon Marathon: Race Notes

On the finish line with my medal
On Sunday I ran the Abingdon Marathon, a race I hadn't heard of until just over a year ago despite growing up just down the road.

I'm normally pretty nervous before a marathon, but on the Saturday I was remarkably relaxed (for me). My warm up run didn't feel that great, but when do they? The weather forecast looked atrocious. Why worry about something you can't control? My back was feeling sore. I'll try a few stretches, but there isn't really a lot I can do about it. I didn't even re-pack my race bag three times over.

Sunday morning was another matter however. My stomach gurgled loudly all night long and I feared that gremlins that hit me at the Maidenhead Half were back. The butterflies were building in my stomach as dad drove me to the race start.

Dad dropped me a short walk from the start and as I walked to the venue I got chatting to a guy who had run thirty one marathons in 2013! He was a picture of calm and it helped me relax. When I arrived at the venue I picked up my race number, joined the inevitable queue for the loos, dropped off my bag, did a quick warm up, had an emergency wee and then it was off to the start line.

The starting gun was fired at exactly 9am and we were off. My legs felt like jelly for the first half kilometer. It was an odd sensation that I haven't experienced before. It was clearly taking a while for me to get the butterflies out of my system.

I found myself in a strange no mans land at the start of the race with the leaders pulling away and me on my own in front of the chasing field. At around 1 mile I was caught by a group of runners and we had a quick chat establishing we were all going for the same time. It was good to be running with a group and it felt easy to keep on my target pace. My usual obsessions with constantly checking my watch didn't seem necessary. I could just tell I was on target.

I get very concerned with hydration when I run and find it impossible to drink from the plastic cups many races hand out. I took advantage of it being my 'home' race and had asked my family to stand on the side of the course and give me bottles of water. Some might say I took it a bit far by creating a map of exactly where they should stand.

Dad was waiting for me at the first stop and I collected the bottle without fumbling or dropping it. Things were going well.

Entering the final kilometer
There are very few road closures for the race and as we headed through the centre of town I feared that we would be jumping on and off pavements, but it was remarkably easy to run on the roads. The race seemed to rely on not much traffic on a Sunday morning and drivers being considerate. It seemed to work pretty well.

As we approached the 10km mark most of the group I was running with had slipped backwards. I thought it was concerning for them to be dropping off the pace so early in the race, but I collected the second water bottle from my sister and glided on. Knocking out metronomic kilometer splits.

The next leg of the run was the one I feared the most as we'd be heading south into the strong headwinds. Before the race I was hoping to get into a group so I'd be able to do a bit of drafting and shelter from the wind. I ran shoulder to shoulder with another runner for a while and thought about suggesting we do some drafting, but British reserve held me back.

As I hit the one hour mark we turned out of the wind and I was beginning to feel a little bit tired, but nothing too bad. The run through the Milton Park trading estate was a little dull and it was a relief to turn north towards Sutton Courtney. More interesting scenery and a tail wind. Bliss.

Around the 19km mark I caught another runner and pulled in behind him for the next kilometer. I realised that one of my energy gels had fallen from my race belt. I was carrying one more gel than I really needed so didn't let it phase me and decided to stretch out the gels I still had with me by an extra five minutes to get me to the end.

As I picked up my fourth water bottle I was feeling strong and even managed to pull away from the guy I'd been drafting for a short while. Starting the second loop of the race it was a good psychological boost.

Meters from home it is pleasing to see my technique was still ok
As I passed the 25km mark I picked up another water bottle from my sister and the early warning signs that I was starting to get into trouble were already there. Despite feeling thirsty it was taking me a lot longer to take sips from the bottle. My pace was still strong though.

As I reached 27km the stomach pains that had debilitated me Maidenhead started to occur with a band of discomfort across the bottom of my stomach. There was a runner with the name 'Richard' emblazoned across his vest twenty meters ahead of me and the crowds were cheering his name. I knew the calls weren't for me, but it was a small boost to pretend they were. For the first few km's I was in trouble Richard wasn't pulling away from me and I was able to pretend that I wasn't slowing down. Sadly I was slowing, and it was just the brief spell of driving winds and lashing rain that was also slowing him down.

At the 30km mark I was handed another bottle by Becks.

I had already started to disappear inside myself. I gave some encouragement to the first three runners that went past me but after that I stopped. It felt like a long way to the finish and it was going to be a struggle to get there. The pain from my stomach was constant. If I drank it hurt, if I sped up it hurt. I was doing a few mental calculations. Could I still make 2hrs 52mins? No. 2hrs 55mins? Possibly. Over 3hrs? Oh please no.

At the 30km marker I did a Paula Radcliffe.

I realised I was still carrying the water bottle Becks had given me after 2/3kms, but had no intention of drinking any of it so I threw it away.

Not long after I turned north entering the final 10km to the finish, I saw mum and Becks driving in the opposite direction. It did occur to me to flag them down, but I battled on. As I approached the centre of Sutton Courtney I started to pass some of the stragglers who were still on their first lap. I'd run 34km and they'd managed just 20km in the same time. It should have been a huge boost, but it wasn't.

I passed dad at the 35km who gave me words of encouragement. I think I remember whimpering "I've cracked, it's gone" in reply.

As we approached the end of the second lap I realised I had no idea where the course went and there wasn't another runner in front of me on the same lap to follow. I wondered if I'd be looking so slow that they'd wave me round to start a third lap. However, I can't have been looking as bad as I feared as the marshalls waved me straight on towards home.

The last four kilometers passed with depressing glances down at my watch to see myself getting even slower. We had to go through an underpass at the 39km mark. I thought about walking up the ramp, but knew I'd never get going again if I did.

On the final trudge towards the finish I heard the anguished/frustrated scream of a runner who had presumably pulled something and had to stop painfully close to the finish. It's never nice to see someone else in discomfort, but it helped in a small way seeing someone in more trouble than I was.

Mum, Becks, Dad and Ruth were at three different points of Tilsley park as we looped round the grounds before entering the stadium. It helped to see them there.

There was no sprint finish as I staggered over the line. I wanted to collapse and lie down.

The official results are here.  I finsihed 36th overall in 02:56:10, out of 703 runners who completed the course.

The data from my watch is here.

1 comment:

  1. It wouldn't be a challenge if it was easy!

    A great time, especially if you weren't feeling well.


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