This is a race that would never have been on my radar at all had it not been on the doorstep for my younger brother, Gerard, who lived a couple of miles outside the City. He had run his first marathon in Manchester in April 2018 and we had agreed to run his ‘hometown’ race later in the year. Gerard had managed a very credible 04:07:22 on his first attempt but felt confident he could follow it up with a better time without the logistics of travelling to a ‘big City’ marathon (and also benefit from doing some proper training).
Having only participated in one road marathon per annum (quite enough, if you ask me) for the previous 3-4 years, I initially intimated I would run with him. In hindsight, that was probably never going to happen with the prospect of racing for a new PB too tempting, having fallen just short of my best at a ‘warm’ London marathon earlier in the year.
It was to be a nice trip, one we were all looking forward to as it coincided nicely with school half term and the weather is always a few degrees warmer in the South-East. However, on the 24th August 2018, my only brother died tragically and that second marathon wasn’t to be.
During that awful first week following Gerard’s death, it occurred to me that he had entered the marathon and at that point, I just hadn’t got round to it. I had a chat with my wife, Vics, and I decided that I would contact the organiser’s to transfer the number into my name and run the race in his honour. The truth was that I was looking for a focus, a reason to maintain some disciplined training. Running continues to be a huge positive in my life, both physically and mentally.
On the morning of Friday 21st September 2018, I wrote myself a 4-week training plan for the Chelmsford marathon. I’d been running 60-80 miles a week throughout the summer and had already ‘banked’ a 25-mile long run with club captains’ new and old (Michael and Gareth). The plan was to do a ‘short and sharp’ focussed build-up using some of the same sessions I’d worked on in previous years with coach Allan. 100 miles, 80 miles, 50 miles, taper; easy.
By the evening of Friday 21st September 2018, I couldn’t walk from my bed to the en-suite bathroom because of a sharp pain in my left calf; the following morning it felt worse. By the Sunday I’d popped the marathon plan in the recycling bin and booked a physio appointment. I’d decided the injury was a calf strain – I was calling it a strain as that sounded less severe than it felt; it felt like I’d torn part of the muscle.
By the Monday morning, I’d seen Neil at Platinum physiotherapy and I was ‘cross training’ by Wednesday; a swim in the pool followed by 45 minutes in the gym. I managed a full seven days without running before I attempted an easy parkrun at Durham (mostly on grass).
The following two weeks could probably be described as gung-ho. Back up to marathon volume (two 10k runs a day – 140km per week) whilst walking the tightrope between injury and recovery. I didn’t feel fully fit, but I could run – just about. I was seeing Neil or someone at the team at Platinum twice a week. As the calf recovered I triggered some other niggles as I unconsciously adjusted my running gait. Oiled fingers, thumbs, forearms and elbows were applied with pressure into my hamstrings, quads, glutes and back as I discussed running and life in general through gritted teeth.
I was getting there.
With less than two weeks to go before the marathon, I attempted my final ‘long run’ with some trepidation. I’d loosely scheduled to do some work at as yet undetermined marathon pace but the real goal was to be pain-free running. With Michael recovering from the Kielder marathon and Gareth out of the country, my training partner for the day was Vics; on two-wheels with gels in her pockets and a bottle of water in her back-pack – what a hero.
If anyone is still reading this I’d be interested to know if this is the furthest into a race report anyone has got without mentioning the race itself? Answers on the back of a race number to the usual address.
By race day I felt good physically, no niggles and my legs actually felt quite fresh, possibly due to the enforced week of rest. The marathon is a distance that can chew you up and spit you out, but it can be tamed with a diligent approach. Having run 6 over the previous 5 years I was aware of most of the mistakes that can be made; on my debut in Nottingham, I made the baffling decision to not take so much as a sip of water throughout the entire race. By now, I know what time to set my alarm so the routine can begin; water, coffee, toilet, breakfast, toilet (again) and so on. I drop my bag at 08:45 and jog half a mile to the start. I have one final wee in Costa Coffee and stand on the start line – there are 20-30 runners within the ‘sub-3-hour section’, London Marathon, it ain’t.
It occurs to me that I’m likely to be racing fellow runners as opposed to my watch and a pre-determined goal time. I make the decision to go with the lead group for the first mile and assess the situation. Three or four years previously Paul Martinelli had won the race (for context, he ran 02:18 this year in Berlin) but I knew that six-minute-miles would have you ‘in the mix’ most years.
There were a few twists and turns during the first two or three miles, as runners were taken out of the City Centre and by 5km there was a group of 5-6 runners just behind the lead bike, including myself. The pace was brisk but soon settled to approximately 6-minute miles in old money (my watch was beeping each km between 03:40 and 03:45).
There was a name I recognised, a local runner called Crispian was getting lots of support. I knew he’d won it on a previous occasion and although now in his forties had a fantastic pedigree as a club runner (his Power of 10 is a fascinating read)
We reached 10 miles in just under 59 minutes and the group of six had become three; Crispian moved 5-10 metres ahead and seemed to be getting quicker. Sure enough, my watch beeped 03:33/km; which was 2 hours 30 pace, too quick for me but not for him? I did the only sensible thing I could think of and moved back to the front, running faster still I dropped my shoulders and shook my arms off – a bit of bravado that was to suggest I was finding this easy (I wasn’t).
This seemed to have the desired effect as the pace settled back towards 6-minute miles and the three of took turns to take the lead and the miles through country lanes were ‘ground out’ with only the occasional Sunday cyclist and the odd car for company.
I had no plans of trying to make a move for the win until the last 5km or so but just after the 20 mile marker I suddenly realised that I was on my own at the top of an incline, not significantly but enough that it no longer felt like I was running as part of a group. By 22 miles the guy on the lead bike told me I had a gap of about 400m, but remembering I had a guy behind me with a 2.29 PB I was taking nothing for granted.
I did, however, feel remarkably fresh considering I was well over twenty miles into a marathon. I started to push a little bit as the splits started to creep towards half marathon pace and I ran the final 5km in about 17 minutes, this was turning into the best performance of my running career to date. I knew the gap had increased and the race was mine to lose, I discarded a sweaty cap at mile 25 and blew Vics and the girls a kiss, one more mile – I could run a mile.
I’d done some maths in my head and though I could be on for sub 02:35 so I was absolutely delighted to see the clock on 02:34 as I turned the final corner and hurtled towards the finish line and let out a roar.
02:34:17 – that one was for Gerard.