Since I’d had a relatively hard marathon training week, I decided that I should take the day before the race completely off exercise. While hundreds of thousands of people around the world got up to go to Parkrun, I’d stay in bed and have a lie in…
Then Paul got up for Parkrun. Since I was awake anyway, I got up and wandered around the house a bit, contemplating whether I should go too. I said I might drive. Paul said he was going to run there anyway. And that, my friends, is how peer pressure works, and how I ended up not only running Parkrun, but also a 3.5 mile round trip there and back.
I often find it hard to go easy at Parkrun, so I was pleased to bump into Becky when we got there. She was also there to practice the art of self restraint. Together, we managed a (what she termed) half marathon paced parkrun. It still seemed a bit fast to me.
To make up for the accidental exercise, I spent the rest of the day in front of Netflix. I finished the day with a steak, potato and vegetable dinner and a bit more than half a bottle of wine. Oops!
About a month ago, I plugged my shiny new York 10k PB into a race predictor website. It gave me 4 different half marathon predictions based on 4 different calculation methods. The average prediction time was 01:52:30. That seemed pretty fast (8:35 miles) but I knew that if I could do that, I could be confident that a sub 4 marathon was within my reach. That became my stretch goal.
I spent some more time working out what was the slowest time I could run a half, and still be predicted to do a sub 4 hour marathon. The answer was just under 1 hour 55. That would mean 8:46 miles – pretty fast, but much more doable. That became the goal that I told people about when they asked me what I was going for.
I was pretty confident that I could beat my half marathon PB for this race (1:56:48), so that was my worse case scenario goal. As long as I stayed on or under 8:53 miles it would be done.
With all the maths done, I was ready to race.
It was an overcast day with an autumnal chill in the air. Pretty much perfect racing conditions.
This year I planned to arrive about an hour early in memory of the stressful traffic jam I got stuck in last year, just 20 minutes before the race was due to start. The traffic was still slow as we neared the airfield where the race would start, but with time to spare, it was a much more enjoyable journey. By the time we’d collected our numbers and been back to the car to dump our hoodies (and for me to collect my magic bottle of running fuel (Lucozade)) it was nearly time for the start. There were GoodGym buddies and other friends a-plenty around – but since we all had our own agenda, we disappeared into differing sections of the gathering crowd at the start line. Becky was aiming for sub 1 hour 55 too, so we waited for the claxon to sound together.
My plan was to start conservatively (maybe 8:45 miles) and pick up the pace after the first few miles, if I felt good. Being quite near to the start, the first half mile was a lot faster than this, so I eased off, and let the masses run past until it felt like I was moving backwards on a conveyor belt through the crowd. By the time the first mile ticked round I’d managed to slow to 8:32. I took my token sip of Lucozade at the mile marker and ran on into the second mile as a small stitch started nagging on one side. By the third mile, the stitch had moved onto the other side and by the fourth it had disappeared. I was still clocking in around 8:30 miles, and was still needing to slow myself down slightly. Since I’d managed it this far, I decided I should keep going at that pace until at least half way…
After a short out and back at the start, the course takes a bit of a squashed lollipop shape. In previous years as I ran up the lollipop stick somewhere between miles 4 and 5 I had seen the front runners coming back down the lollipop stick heading towards their mile 9 marker. It’s a bit of the race that I always look forward to. In a relatively quiet race with only sporadic smatterings of supporters, the cheers that go up amongst the slower runners when they catch sight of the fastest ones leading the race add a nice vibe. Finally, just before I reached the fifth mile, I saw the leader running strong out of the loop and on the home straight. Seconds after that I turned the corner to start my loop. “Oh”, I thought – “I usually see loads more people than that. They must be a lot slower this year.” I was another half mile down the road, still ploughing on with the 8:30 miles (but no longer needing to slow myself down) when I realised that actually, I’m much faster this year!
At this point I realised I was gaining on my friend Jo. I’d long since gone past the stage where everyone was overtaking me – now I was starting to gain some ground on other runners. I waved hello as I passed.
“Are you going for a time?” I asked.
“Finishing” she replied, “You?”
“I think you can do it” I said (knowing full well that she can do it and much more besides).
“How about you?”
“Sub 1:55.” I shouted out behind me as I pulled away to her good luck wishes. A lady next me said ” I think you can do it too.”
Sure enough, I was still keeping my pace at 7 miles and feeling good. Since I had held on to it for this long, I decided that I may as well keep it up until 10 miles. I felt like I was going even faster now, but a quick glance at my watch showed that I was still running the same pace, it was just starting to feel harder.
I came out of the loop and back to the wonky lollipop stick just before mile 9 – searching the small cluster of people for one of my tango students who’d given me a cheer as I headed into the loop. She was still there, cheering away, so despite the fact that I was tiring, I had to look strong as I passed her. By mile 9 I was getting bored of my regular sips of Lucozade which were making my mouth feel sticky and bleurgh. I decided to dump my half full bottle and grab some water at the next drinks station. When I did, I could only take a few sips before having to throw it away as they were open topped bottles. I figured that I could cope without more hydration for just three more miles. And since I’d made it to 10 miles without slowing down, I may as well keep up the pace for the last three!
It felt oddly light to be running without a bottle in hand and may explain why I started to speed up. But more likely I could smell the finish line and the chance to stop running!. Mile 11 came in at 8:20. By now there were three ladies who I had noticed running at around the same pace. It seemed we were taking it in turns to pass each other. To be honest, I was more preoccupied with doing maths and working out whether I could get my 1:52:30 time than worrying about who ran past me. In any case I was still passing enough people to feel like I was running strong. The mile 12 marker was followed by what seemed like an eternally long road back to the finish and it seemed to take much longer than 8 minutes 17 to get to the final two bends where some of my faster friends were already gathered to cheer us on. I mustered up a sprint finish, crossing the line as the official clock just ticked past 01:52:30 meaning that I’d definitely beat my fastest goal! I staggered to a halt and bent over gasping for a few seconds before lifting my head up to find out where to get water. Instead found Becky who guided me to all the right places, having finished a few minutes earlier than me. Once rehydrated, we went to join in with cheering our friends over the line – a very apt way to celebrate our new PBs.
My official finishing time was 01:51:49. Of course, this means that I should be able to do a sub 4 hour marathon in 4 weeks time. Weather, health, freak accident permitting of course!