My training for this marathon had been sporadic, to say the least. I’d had a bit of tendonitis post-Roth and various niggles in my calves and left knee had conspired against me. Over the spring, training for an ironman marathon had seemed so straightforward in comparison, but recently I’d barely run 35–40km per week, with just one week of 63km at the beginning of the month. I was not so confident as I’d been the last time I ran this event (in 2009, when it was in December – at least the earlier date meant we were more likely to get decent weather).
It dawned a bit misty, which soon cleared to give a lovely bright sunny, cold day. Perfect. It might have been a bit too cold for me, if anything, and memories of suffering with cold legs on the last lap in 2009 meant I toed the startline wearing 3/4 length shorts and a long sleeve Helly under my T-shirt. I said hello to ed_m from the Tritalk forum (who was planning an evenly paced 3:10) and then we were off.
My race plan was for steadily increasing mile splits, starting out at 7:00 and then adding 1 sec for every mile covered. This should get me to the finish line in about 3:10, plenty of buffer for my target of a sub-3:15 good-for-age qualifying time for the London marathon. Right off the start though, I fell into a little group led by two guys in purple running vests who seemed to be making light work of a steady 7 min/mile pace. It was a group too good to ignore so I dropped in behind them for the opening miles, feeling pretty comfortable. The 5 mile mark passed in around 35 minutes.
Coming around the end of the lap (in a shade over 59 minutes) the group had thinned out a little through the last couple of feed stations and I noticed that those of us that were tagging along seemed to be working quite hard. Going up the short little climb out of the start/finish area I decided not to push on after them and let them go, run my own race. I was already slightly ahead of my schedule and passed the 10-mile mark in about 1:10:20, three minutes down on 2009, but not expecting to blow up quite as dramatically (ho hum!).
The second lap was fairly steady, I was starting to drink more at each feed station, although coming back through the housing estate to finish the lap my stomach felt like it was playing up a bit and I was starting to realise that although I’d backed off the earlier pace I was still working quite hard. I went through the lap in around 2:05, thoughts of a 3:10 finish going out the window and wondering if I’d be able to hang on for a final lap under 1:10. My feet were getting quite sore, and the arch of my right foot was collapsing a bit. I’ve done some running in Nike-Free type trainers lately and they’ve really helped to strengthen my foot action, but even so, in my race shoes (Adidas Boston) my feet were complaining a bit. I could also feel a bit of a hot-spot developing across the balls of both feet, but as I slowed so my stride dropped onto my heels and this feeling passed.
It took a fair test of will to climb the hill out of the finish area to start the last lap, but I was determined that as I’d come this far I wasn’t going to throw away the opportunity of “banking” a 3:15 GFA time. A quick glance over my shoulder and I saw ed_m catching me on his more evenly-paced strategy. He slowed for a chat and then trotted off ahead. I didn’t have the legs to go with him, although he was in my sight for most of the first half of this last lap. Somewhere along here a relay runner in OxfordTri kit came zooming past and gave me a big shout – that helped a lot, whoever you were. 20 miles passed in around 2:24. Bang on target but I was slowing more than my schedule allowed for.
The hills were getting tiresome and the wind across the back stretch seemed colder than before. I was catching a few guys who’d been with the 7 min/mile bunch early on but had blown big-style. I just kept on plodding along, stopping to a walk for isotonic drinks at the feed stations and constantly trying to work out how much slower I could go and still break 3:15. Then, finally, the 25 mile marker appeared – I had 10 minutes to do the last 1¼ miles. A last dig back up the drag through the housing estate and I was into the finish area, 3:14:22 on the clock. Phew.
The two runners in purple vests from the first lap group were still hanging around in the finish area. They’d done 3:04 and 3:05 – nice work! It took me about an hour of standing about, drinking tea and eating a banana and a snickers bar, before I felt ready for a drive home without a risk of sudden cramp attacks.
Garmin Connect file: here
[My Forerunner 410’s mile marks fell short of those on the road, straight from the off, and by the end it was signalling each mile a good 200 metres before the marker appeared. I found something similar happening on the Oxford Half too, I think it’s just one of those things.]