Sweat. Yes, it was hot! As we waited for the start, we were all drinking water, looking for shade and paying frequent visits to the ‘female urinals’ (a bizarre experience!) Finally, our wave set off. After all the waiting and anticipation, it was great to be finally running my first marathon! Although my training had been derailed by a combination of injury, snow and work, I still hoped I might be able to finish in under 4 hours. The first miles seemed deceptively easy. The atmosphere was brilliant and there were plenty of distractions: crazily-dressed runners (Paddington costume – in that heat??), cheerful crowds, Greenwich, the Cutty Sark. It was already roasting, but there were lots of water-stations and showers, and I found I was able to maintain a reasonable pace.
Blood. About 10 miles in, with the temperature continuing to rise, I suddenly had a terrible nosebleed! What to do? This was definitely not in the Plan! I didn’t want to stop, so I carried on running slowly for a couple of miles with blood streaming from my nose onto my face, hands and legs. Not a pretty sight! It finally stopped, but by then I realised would have to abandon any hopes of a sub 4-hour time.
Tears. The second half was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. There were lots of highs: catching sight of my family by chance; spotting Striders Rachel and Michael Mason and Peter Hart in the crowds at around 18 miles; strangers shouting my name; the man running with the washing machine on his back… But there were plenty of lows too: by about mile 20 my legs were screaming at me to stop and I had to force myself to continue. By 24 miles, I knew the end was in sight. Despite the excruciating pain, I managed to pick up the pace and finish with a decent time of just over 4 hours.
I came away from my first marathon with mixed feelings. I’m really glad I did it and it was a thoroughly memorable experience, but I can’t say I’m in a hurry to do another one any time soon!
This was my second bash at the Paris Marathon, I first did it in 2016 when I hadn’t been running for very long, and although I had followed the training plan to the letter I found it really tough, especially in the heat. Jonathan had done it last year, so this year was my turn again. It didn’t take too much effort to persuade Karen to come with me, and before I knew it, a whole group of us from Striders/DMotR had signed up. When you’ve got kids, running a marathon seems a good enough excuse for a minibreak!
We arrived in Paris on the Friday evening and immediately noticed a significant increase in temperature from Durham. All our training this year had been in freezing temperatures, ice, snow, hail, rain, so we weren’t feeling particularly prepared for running in the heat! Saturday morning was the Breakfast Run, a fun 5k warm-up for the main event. On a beautiful sunny morning, we met near the Louvre, picked up our green tops and flags and off we went! The route takes you past the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, along the Seine, finishing on the Champ de Mars beneath the Eiffel Tower. At only 12 Euros (including technical tee and breakfast at the end) I would recommend it! On to the Expo where we picked up our numbers and free Paris Marathon rucksack. It’s worth mentioning that you need a medical certificate signed by a GP to be able to pick your number up, this is the case for all races in France. I managed to get mine signed for free this year, but lots of other people had to pay. After a few photos and a quick look round the stands, we went for lunch, drinking as much water as we could as it looked like it was going to be warm the following day.
On the day of the marathon, we were up early, grabbed some breakfast in the hotel and jumped on the metro to the start. It took us a while to work out where the bag drop was as it wasn’t signposted, it turned out to be a good walk away! We just had enough time for a quick loo stop before entering our pen with Jill and Simon.
Sun was quite hot now, and it was only 09:45, but the atmosphere was great and we were all in good spirits!
It is an amazing experience running down the Champs Elysées with thousands of other runners of lots of different nationalities.
We started off at our planned 10min/mile pace, jumping into the shade when we got the chance and taking on water at the refreshment stations, which were every 5k. As well as water, there was a good selection of food on offer, dried fruit, orange segments, cut up bananas and sugar cubes. The route is truly spectacular, and signs point out the main sights along the way. I love the fact the French firemen come out in force at certain points to support the runners, although I suspect this is more of an attraction for the female runners! There are quite a few hoses you can run through to cool down (amazing!) and at regular intervals there are tables with big bowls full of water which you can use to cool down too.
On we went towards the impressive Place de la Concorde, Rue du Rivoli and Place de la Bastille. Arriving in the Bois de Vincennes was a nice change of scenery, especially as the refreshment station was opposite the rather impressive Chateau de Vincennes. We heard someone call Karen’s name out, and it turned out to be a family she knew from Durham who were on holiday in Paris! After a quick chat, we were off again and enjoyed running through the park, even though there was less support here.
There are lots of fantastic bands on the route too, which really lifts your spirits when you are starting to feel tired. We now headed back into the heart of the city and reached the halfway point at the Rue de Charenton where we had a quick loo stop. The route now follows the course of the Seine, passing Île de la Cite, going under the Pont Neuf before going through a couple of tunnels.
At the 16-mile point, I started to struggle a bit in the heat, I remember doing the same two years ago. Karen was feeling strong so I told her to go on ahead while I dug in and battled the demons in my head which were telling me to walk for a bit. Luckily, I got through this and picked myself up again, somehow managing to catch up with Karen at the 20-mile point.
The tunnel was a bit of a strange experience; every year there is a different art installation to look at. Two years ago it was a tropical paradise complete with sounds and smells. This year it was ‘Welcome to Hell’!
The hardest part of the race for me was the last 10K, although I felt a lot stronger than I had done two years ago. Running around the Bois de Boulogne away from the city streets, every K seems to get longer and you wonder if you will ever see the finish! Lots and lots of people were walking now, I was trying to stick to the green line which was becoming more and more difficult. Then suddenly out of nowhere, I hear someone shout ‘Come on Strider!’, and it turns out to be Helen from Bishop Auckland who knows a couple of members of the Club. This gives me a boost to finish strong, especially now I can see the crowds again and can hear shouts of ‘Vous êtes tous les champions!’.
Onto Avenue Foch and the finish line is in sight – enfin! I even hear my name shouted out by the commentator! I crossed the line in 4.32, two minutes slower than I would have liked, but still a 24 minute PB! Karen was just ahead of me and I catch up with her once I have my (amazing) medal and finishers’ top. Job done! A few photos in front of the stunning backdrop of the Arc de Triomphe, then off to the nearest bar to refuel with Coke and chips where we waited for the others to finish.
All in all, I would highly recommend the Paris Marathon, although If you don’t like running in the heat it may not be for you! The route is absolutely stunning, and it is very well organised. I will definitely be back, just maybe not for a couple of years…
Overall a very good, flat, fast course (5th fastest in the world), with amazing support but quite narrow on some crucial points. Would definitely recommend it as an international race.
This was the most spontaneous decision to run a race I have ever made. I made the decision to sign up for it over a coffee with a Dutch friend in Rotterdam while I was telling her that I was preparing for the Athens Authentic Marathon back in October. She said to me “Oh there is a big one here every April why don’t you sign up for it?” and I just did.
Despite this being my third marathon, training had not gone ideally since I had to do about two weeks’ worth of running (including two of my 16-mile long runs) on the treadmill on the very snowy days because (a) I’m Greek and I don’t function in snow and (b) I have no shoes or balance that could provide traction on it. However, I did feel stronger and all the indications from a club time trial and from a tempo run which broke my 5k PB were that I could bring down my Marathon PB of 3:49:15. So I was contemplating a sub 3:45 with the assistance of a pacer as I had told Jack Lee over countless lunch runs (by the way Jack, thank you for joining me for all of those, your help was much needed).
On Saturday I had to go to Rotterdam to pick up my bib number which is a bit of a hassle, especially if you reside away from the city. Nevertheless, the Expo was really nice, with lots of interesting stands. I got a bit too excited about all the other international marathon stands that I might have accidentally signed up for a ballot for a free marathon in Svalbard in the North Pole!
Later that day, the race organisers announced that because temperatures might rise to around 19 degrees, they would have water stops for the last 10 km for every 2.5 km instead of 5 and also wet sponge stops to cool you down.
Race day was on. Woke up around 5:45 with my girlfriend’s home being about 2 hours away. Changing trains at Schiphol Airport meant that we witnessed tourists looking curiously at the hundreds of people dressed in shorts and vests boarding the Rotterdam train.
We arrived there around 9:00 (race start was at 10:05 am). In terms of the bag drop, it is pretty straightforward and relatively fast, with the only exception that due to security measures you are not allowed to drop your own bag but a designated transparent one you receive at the Race Expo along with your finisher shirt.
The starting pens were easy to find, but my only complaint on this was that there were toilets inside the pens which meant people queued very disorderly to use them. Regardless, I was ready, gels packed (one every 4 miles), the temperature was meant to be nice (15-19 degrees) and sunny, I had planned my water stops and also had the 3:45 pacers in sight.
The race start was given under the sounds of “You’ll never walk alone” which was sung by runners and spectators and a Dutch singer on a microphone. However, with all the queues in the toilets, I realized I had lost the 3:45 pacer that I wanted to follow. Nevertheless, I decided to stick to running by feel and knew that I wanted around 8:30 min/miles in order to be happy. So the first thing you see after the first 500 metres in the run is this:
This is the famous Erasmus Bridge and is quite a spectacle to cross and also have the tugboats hosing water around it. This is also the only part of the race where there is an apparent elevation change.
The first 16 miles of the course, are on the southern part of the city, which has quite a few changes in order to keep you entertained.
In the first 2-3 miles, you cross the area around F.C. Feyenoord’s football stadium and there was quite a large group of people dressed in their colours cheering us up with brass bands and drums. Also, the race organisers had provided with a band every 3-4 km in order for the runners to remain entertained. In no time the first 10k were in, in a comfortable time of 52:53 with a pace of about 8:29 mins. At that point I gauged how I felt and I thought I could maybe cut off another 5 secs per mile up to the half marathon point.
Support at this point of the race was not ideal as there were parts where you were running through the banks of a canal on a narrow cycle road so people were not able to reach it in order to cheer. However, on every major intersection of public roads, there were huge crowds which made deafening noise and definitely pushed you on.
As I said before, in terms of city geography, the Rotterdam Marathon is a nice one as the first 26 km are basically done in the south part of the city, which is the relatively rougher area. This is because the old harbour was located there, so this led to seeing the what was considered a poor part of the city with the towering concrete blocks around miles 9-15. These areas are however now up and coming, as there is a lot of renovation occurring with the old storage houses being turned into food halls, cafes or restaurants. There are even hotels and student halls made out of old containers! However, me being a tourist while running also had another effect which was going quite faster at a pace around 8:15-8:20 having gotten my mind off the running. This meant my HM time was at 1:50:32!
At that point I realized that all I had to do was run the other half 64 seconds faster, and I would have broken the 3:40 barrier. So I geared up mentally for that and pushed onwards. I had only to do what I was doing so far and I was on track for it.
Now between mile 16 and mile 17 is the part where you cross back to the central part of the city again going through the Erasmus Bridge where I managed to get my first “feet off the ground photo”.
Another quite funny thing about that bridge is that, as I said before, it is the only part that has a noticeable elevation change in the race. It is about 60-70 feet over 500 metres of distance. For an average Strider, who runs in Durham daily, this is like a walk in the park, but it turns out that for most Dutch people, it isn’t. I noticed quite a few people stopping running while going up the “hill”. On the other side of the bridge, my girlfriend was waiting for me to cheer me up and she made me push on.
However, the race was far from over. Back to around 2 weeks ago and me sitting in my office looking at the race map and saying to Jack Lee that “miles 19 to 24 are around a park, so support will be significantly less and this is when I also hit the wall in Manchester”. And that was the case. Although you first go through miles 17-19 which are absolutely packed with supporters, you then have to run around the Kralingse Plas which is a big reservoir to the north of the city. There, support was much sparser, especially in the first two miles and as if that was not enough, the sun came out and the temperature went to around 22-24 degrees.
All of this, plus my mind telling me to quit, forced me to go through a “mini-wall” of 5 miles where I was averaging 8:28-8:30. Not enough of a slowing down to be called a proper bonking/walling but enough to put a dent in any chance of breaking 3:40. Still, when I realised I was approaching mile 25, I pushed myself as much as I could.
By then the route has gone back through the city so you cross areas with thousands of people making support amazing. Similarly to what I had seen in Manchester, people were bringing out jellybeans, oranges, bananas and water to hand to basically random strangers running past them. This, I think, is something that motivates me the most in such races. Seeing people who do not know you just scream out your name, as they can see you struggle, or offer you some food or even a thumbs up and a smile. Just because they at that moment respect what you are going through and want with their own way to push you forward.
Now by the end, I was again in the 8:10 min/mile region and was hoping for a chance in a good sprint in the last two km. However, in the last water stop, at km 40 because of the sheer volume of spectators, the course was narrowed down to a few metres width, resulting in not enough space to overtake having grabbed your water cup. And the guy in front of me stopped dead on his feet to drink water. And I had to stop.
Now if you’ve run a marathon, you know that stopping at mile 25 is practically game over for any pacing plan you had before. I might have stopped for about 5 seconds, but it was enough to make it hard sprinting again. As an example, in Athens, I managed to do 8:12, 7:57 and 6:38-minute miles for miles 25, 26 and the 0.2 finish. That was an 8:38 min/mile overall marathon. In Rotterdam, I did 8:15, 8:21 (water stop incident) and 7:37 and the final average pace was 8:22 mins/mile. I reckon it was at that moment that I realised I was not going to break 3:40. Still, it would be a PB in the region of 7-8 minutes so I should still be happy.
And so I did, I gathered my biggest smile and ran that last km. And then it hit me for some reason: I was finishing my third Marathon in a third different country, having brought my PB down by 25 minutes in a year, having lost 20 pounds of weight, running in a running club’s colours. I realised that this is definitely not a bucket list thing. This is a part of me, something that defines my everyday life, it has taught me things about myself I would have never known. All the miserable winter miles that I so hated doing were worth it just for those last moments in the famous Coolsingel road, where your ears literally hurt from the roar of the crowds. I tried really hard for the third marathon not to get shorter breathing (a.k.a. cry) because of all of those emotions coming to me (and to look suave in the finishing picture). The final time was 3:40:55 (turns out I did run the second half faster by 9 seconds).
I would definitely recommend this race to anyone. It was a bit unlucky that I got 23-degree heat which made things a bit harder, but overall it is a very fast course. Support can be a bit lonely in that last part, but if you plan for it I guess you can counter that. It takes you through a very nice tour of the city as well, crossing that wonderful bridge, seeing the historic building in the city centre and the rougher part of the harbour in the south as well. I would definitely consider re-doing it in a couple of years since it is well organised and very fun.
When Karen asked me if I fancied signing up for this race last year, I automatically assumed she meant the half marathon. After all, we were already booked to do the Paris Marathon in April…When she told me she’d entered the marathon, I was a bit apprehensive, but having checked with Kate Macpherson (who wrote my last marathon plan) that it wasn’t a completely mad idea, I signed up.
Training began in November, I dug out the training plan we had used for the Liverpool marathon last year, (the one I didn’t get to run as I fell and broke my wrist a few weeks before the race). Karen and I decided to run the long runs easy, as neither of us had done an off-road marathon before, and certainly weren’t going for a time.
Many of our long runs were done in some awful weather conditions – snow, ice, wind, rain. We kept telling ourselves this would stand us in good stead for the race itself, which it did! Luckily the weather on the day of the race was really kind to us.
When my alarm went off at 05.10 on the morning of the race, I did wonder what on earth I was doing! I crept out of the house to get picked up by Karen’s husband who was driving us to Kate’s house. Kate had very kindly offered to drive us up to the start at Bamburgh, for which we were really grateful! It was a freezing cold morning, but the heated seats in Kate’s new car warmed me up nicely!
When we arrived in Bamburgh it was the most beautiful morning, the sun was just coming up and it looked like it was going to be a lovely day. It was still windy and freezing cold, but we’d soon warm up once we started running. We headed to registration, and as we’d arrived in good time there was no queue, so we picked up our numbers and timing chips (which we had to wear on our wrists) and could get ourselves ready without any stress. There was even no queue for the (proper) toilets – bliss!
It was lovely to meet up with some other runners from Durham, and at 08.30 we were told to gather in the courtyard for the briefing. This was really informative and light-hearted, we were told which signs to look out for so we didn’t get lost, what to do with our timing chips at the checkpoints, and what to do in case of an emergency. We then boarded the coaches which took us to the start at Alnwick Castle. We climbed over a fence, headed for the flags, luckily didn’t need the toilet again as there were none, and at 09.30 we were off! We ran along by the river Aln, a bit claggy in places, but nothing too bad. Crossing the river on the stepping-stones was a bit nerve-wracking, but luckily I didn’t fall in! We then ran under the Alnmouth viaduct, where a nice runner from Finland offered to take our photo. We were on the roads after this and headed for Alnmouth harbour where the first checkpoint was. It was nice to be able to stop at the checkpoints, put our timing chips into the machine, fill up water bottles and grab a bite to eat. We were off again, following the extremely well-marked course, and onto our first beach of the day at Almouth.
Just wow, so beautiful! I felt really lucky to be running on such a beautiful day in such a stunning setting. We ran through Boulmer, found a toilet (phew!) and off we went again to Longhoughton and then lovely Craster. Soon we could see Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance – yay! Another stop for some photos (it would have been rude not to!) There were quite a few people out on the paths here, so we slowed down a bit, it was also quite challenging terrain so we were happy to take it easy!
We ran through Low Newton and on to Checkpoint 3. This was the key checkpoint as you had to make it here before 2.20 – luckily, we were much earlier than this. Another stop to chat to the very friendly marshals, fill up bottles again and grab some more food. I had brought loads with me. Normally I would use gels for fuel, but chose a Clif bar and shot bloks for this race, which worked really well.
We ran on to Beadnell beach – this was a particularly stunning part of the course as there were quite a few kite-surfers in the sea, which was an amazing sight! Cue another photo stop – why not! I felt like I was on familiar territory now as my parents have a caravan in Seahouses and it was lovely to run on the beach and through the town. Fortunately, we didn’t have to run past the fish and chip shops!
Back on to the beach now and the final stretch towards Bamburgh castle. The marshals at the final checkpoint confirmed it was only 2 miles to the finish – brilliant! I picked up a bit of speed on the beach, the wind was behind us and the tide was out (thankfully!). I hit 27 miles, but no sign of the castle? Had someone moved it? Had I missed a sign somewhere and gone the wrong way? Luckily, I passed a few other runners, some doing the Ultra (who had to get to the Castle then do an additional 8 miles on the roads to make up to 35 miles).
A man who was supporting his brother on the Ultra told me to aim for the white flags, which finally I reached, phew. But the castle is at the top of a hill of course, which meant climbing up the dunes to get there, aaaaaargh. After 27 miles, my legs were not up for an uphill sprint finish, so I power walked up, cheered on by Jacquie Robson and lots of supporters at the top. Round the corner and there was the finish – at last!! Gave in my timing chip and got a printout with my time on straight away, very efficient!
Medal, t-shirt (nice colour blue!) and cheered Karen in. Quick change (well as quickly as our aching bodies would allow), on with lots of layers and into the café to refuel – lovely! No post-race medal photo as we were too cold!
All in all, I would recommend this race to anyone. There is a 10K, half marathon and ultra (all on the same day). The race organisation is superb, the course is extremely well marked so no chance of getting lost, and the whole route is absolutely stunning.
The expo was a two day affair so I expected things would be quiet when we turned up around opening time. Sadly no. A strange one-way system was in operation and it was clearly VIP time too. And I didn’t know which queue to join, because I didn’t know my bib number, because I wasn’t on the start list. I was paid and registered and everything, but on the sheet lists pinned to noticeboards there was no mention of me.
Still, shy bairns get nowt. So I joined the shortest queue. The queue for bib numbers 1 to 100. I was viewed with some suspicion (can’t think why, don’t I look like someone who’d wear the numero uno?) but who cares. The front of the queue came soon enough and I tried to explain. In English. The volunteer’s English was a million times better than my Spanish but we still struggled. Eventually they found me, on another list, and I walked away happily with number 922, and a mental note not to go to expos the second the door opens. Wait for other runners to find the bugs.
We were staying, more through accident than design, at roughly kilometre 37 of the marathon, as it prepares for its final fast approach to the finish. This, with the hotel serving breakfast from 6am every day as a matter of routine, meant I had a very civilised start to marathon day. I looked out the window and got that strange marathon tingle you get when you start seeing other runners, in ones and twos and groups, drifting in from all directions and making their way to the start. I eventually joined them and was wandering around the start in good time trying to find the baggage drop. It was elusive, time was ticking, and I began to get anxious. I spotted a runner who looked like he was on a purposeful baggage drop trajectory so I tapped his kit bag and yelped Dónde?! He pointed up and replied Arriba! That was all clear enough and I reflected that I may have learned more Spanish from watching Road Runner cartoons than from text books.
By start time I was quite relaxed and chilled waiting in my pen. Away we went and I settled down into a comfortable pace in the cool morning sunshine. My training put me around a 4:15 marathon and I knew better than to try deceive myself that I was capable of faster. Still, it’s nice to experiment and after about 10km I began to test my pace. I was feeling comfortable but I’ve learned so much from my hot marathons last year, especially Lanzarote where I pushed too hard and ended up blowing it. So for the first half of the race I gently pushed the envelope, testing how I felt, recognising my limits, and easing back. I was running without a heart-rate monitor but I trusted my instincts on perceived exertion and kept within my limits.
The sun had very much got its hat on by now and I reckoned it was time to get the sunglasses on and turn the cap round backwards. The sweat was dripping in my eyes but, oddly, it wasn’t stinging. Very odd. Then with a start I remembered something important that I’d forgotten! Despite the leisurely start to the day I had managed to leave the Factor 50 untouched on the bed side table. I’m normally very particular about this and now suddenly I was worried. Wear Sunscreen! There wasn’t much I could do about it now, and in the Old Town of Las Palmas there were decent slabs of shade if you chose a good line. Roberta had realised the same thing around the same time and despite heroic plans to unite me with some sunscreen she realised that it was an impossible task. Our hotel was on a narrow strip of land that the course zig-zagged through in the final kilometres and was effectively locked down to taxis and buses.
The marathon course was, on the whole, a bit unremarkable. This is the 9th running of the race and much fanfare was made of the fact that the marathon would be a single loop. It sounds good but the single loop often involved running a long way up a dual carriageway, around an orange cone, then back again. In fact kms 9 to 16 were so astoundingly dull that the organisers didn’t even put it on the map.
But that was all behind me now. We’d also left the interesting streets of the old town and were heading back towards the city. I was still pushing the envelope from time to time but I knew to trust my instincts and not crash and burn as I knew I would if I chanced my luck. With about 10km to go I saw Roberta waving a bottle of suntan lotion but by this time I was more interesting in scooshing water over my head and letting fate take its course.
Although I thought the course overall had been a bit dull at times, it makes up for a lot of that in the closing stages. The last few kms are a fast belt down the lovely Playa de Las Canteras. I wasn’t as fast as I’d like to have been, but I hadn’t blown it either, and I managed a strong controlled finish without the nagging doubt that I could’ve or should’ve gone faster.
I finished in 4:16, marginally faster than Lanzarote, but I ran a poorly executed endgame in Lanzarote, whereas today I had got it about right.
A very early start, picking up another runner from Durham, myself and Rob set off at 6:30 am on Sunday morning, to be sure we were there in plenty of time. We were indeed. Traffic is very different at 7 am on a Sunday morning…. Arriving at Claremont car park at around 7:15 am, we sat in the car for a while as the boathouse wasn’t opening up til 7:30 am. It was very cold; not windscreen scraping cold, but still around 3 degrees C.
Arriving at Claremont car park at around 7:15 am, we sat in the car for a while as the boathouse wasn’t opening up til 7:30 am. It was very cold; not windscreen scraping cold, but still around 3 degrees C.
Bundled up in around 5 layers, we made our way over to the boathouse to collect our numbers and moustaches (mandatory kit to start the marathon). Visiting the loo and stripping down to running gear, we lined up (all 39 of us), all hoping to complete varying amount of 5k laps around the Town Moor (with an additional 2k at the beginning to make 26.2 miles if you completed 8 laps).
Yes, 8 laps of the exposed, windy, cold, Town Moor. I’ve run on the Town Moor before, but never more than 10k at a time, so I’m thinking its pretty flat, but make no mistake, when you’re doing the same undulations time and again they become more troublesome. Also, because of the Living North Christmas Fair, we had 2 road crossings each lap, as well as the 3 gates which we had to open and close ourselves. It wasn’t an easy course!
The first 2k was a dream, pretty much, because it didn’t actually go onto the Moor. My moustache didn’t even last this short lap due to the need to blow my nose, so off it came and into my pocket. I did, however, see a few moustaches around the route at later laps.
The real work started. The first half marathon I kept to a strict 3-minutes running, 1-minute walking, strategy, which worked well. This took me pretty much exactly 2:30 and that was the first 4 laps over with. I was pretty pleased and still feeling good. My fuelling strategy, with a shot block every lap, was keeping things under control and coke at the start/finish/lap area was lovely too.
Now the hard work really starts. It’s still cold, the wind is picking up on the exposed Town Moor and traffic is picking up at the Christmas Fair car park. Luckily, our coaching coordinator, Anna Seeley, laps me at this point. With her own troubles to think of, she completes lap 5 with me. It’s nice to have company. It’s a desolate place the Town Moor. A small marathon like this has no support on the route, except for Rob popping up here and there to cheer me on. We run/walk and chat lap 5 away and now I’m onto the last 3 laps, which are really tough. My right hamstring keeps ‘pinging’, the wind is getting stronger and I’m envious of the people who can keep running into that wind which slows me to a brisk walk. I’m doing 2:1 on the Moor, then 3:1 back on the road around the Moor back to the lap point. Coming up to lap 6 and Rachel, who is tracking the laps, says ‘2 to go’. I know this isn’t right because I’m only at 17 miles, so I correct the chart and keep going.
Lap 6, Rob joins me to keep my spirits up. He’s in his jeans and waterproof jacket, which probably looked pretty incongruous to see us going around the lap. He’s good company and soon another 5k is ticked off. Now there’s 10k to go. Really, really tough work. Walking a lot of the time on the Moor and putting runs in when I feel I can, then back to the 3:1 on the road part again. Rob has stayed at the lap point, getting his shorts on ready to join me on my last lap. I’m going to need all the encouragement I can get now. My hamstrings are tight, my hip flexors are tight, my glutes are tight, my lower back is suffering from pushing against the wind.
So last lap with my number 1 supporter, Rob, is down to lamp posts. Run 1, walk 1 over the Moor into the wind, once that part is over, it’s run 2 lamp posts, walk 1. Where there are no lamp posts, it’s 50 steps running then 20 walking. At least this way I know I’m running more than I’m walking and consistently moving forwards, There are loads of people arriving for the Mo runs now, and apparently, lots of them turned up to our little outpost thinking it was where they needed to be.
Coming up to the boating lake now for one last time. It’s nearly over. I’ve gone past the 5 hour cut off. I’ve missed a PB, but it’s done and the lovely NEMC folks have kept the finish open for me. I’ve finished my 23rd marathon, collect my moustachioed medal and finally sit down for a cup of sweet tea.
The NEMC raised £1000 for the Movember Foundation which is fantastic.
That was hard, and I’ll be running another Town Moor Marathon in 2 weeks – same people, different route. Hopefully less wind next time!
Back in late April this year I had never run a competitive 10k, so on a whim (or act of drunken foolishness), I decided to test myself to become a marathon runner within a shortish space of time and signed up for the Dublin Marathon. Within the space of 2 hrs, on that day, I’d signed up, booked a hotel and flights, so I couldn’t change my mind and back out.
Come June, I began to follow the 80/20 marathon training plan and, to be fair, everything went very well, until the Tuesday before the marathon when I woke up with a chest infection and heavy cold. After 48 hrs of intense remedy treatment (hot drinks, paracetamol and running to sweat it out), I felt better, but I was running the marathon no matter how I felt.
I arrived in Dublin on the Friday evening, minus some of my Iso gels, due to forgetting about the 50ml-liquids-on-flight regulations and the very efficient airport security staff at Newcastle!
I checked in to my hotel, about 15 mins walk from the start line. Saturday morning I ran a little leg loosener around St Stephen’s Park (had to be done).
The remainder of Saturday I went to the marathon expo in my Striders hoodie and collected my number and signed the memory wall. After that, I browsed some museums and galleries to take my mind off the next day and my family and friends began to arrive in Dublin.
I awoke Sunday very early, had breakfast and went through my stretching routine and continued to read my marathon plan (I wrote down a plan and a number of quotes to help me get around). Off I went to the start line for 8.30am. My wave started at 9.30 and despite a cloudy and chilly start, by 9 am the sun came out and it warmed up very quickly.
I decided at that point I would run the first miles with the 4h 50m pacers (the marathon has pacers up to 5h). I went through the start line at 9.31 am and the temperature was 16 degrees C, so much for an autumnal marathon and cool temperatures.
Miles 1 -3 out of the city centre start towards Phoenix Park and I was running with the 4h 50m pacers, miles 4-7 the field had settled and began to spread out, still with the pacers I went through 10K in 1h 7 mins and felt comfortable.Miles 8-13 I caught up with the 4h 40m pacers as we went around the park and then on to the streets on the outskirts of Dublin. 13.1 mile at 2h 17m, and still with 4.40 pacers.
Miles 14-18 felt ok early in this stage and got ahead of pacers by about 1 min per mile, pace-wise, but with the weather, temperature and amount of fluids and food required, I began to feel it at about 16 miles. I decided to slow it down and began to consume the free jelly sweets, Jaffa cakes (other orange based chocolate sponge cakes are widely available) and cheese, kindly being offered by the people of Dublin (although I refused the sausage rolls!), as well as taking on as much liquid as I could stomach and using the remainder of my Iso gels. Also at this point, my watch died on me, despite being fully charged. Not the first time that’s happened – new watch required Santa!
Miles 19-23 the route back towards the city and up ‘Heartbreak Hill’. Still with the 4.40 group and feeling the soreness in the top of my right calf at this point. I refused to let it make me stop and I wasn’t going to give in, despite now being past the 20-mile mark (my longest previous distance).
Mile 23.1 Pacers announced ‘Park Run to go’ and anyone fancying a go, to give it a go from now. So as with Vale of York in September, I decided to ‘give it a go’ and left the pacer group and headed for Dublin city centre.
The run-in is quite flat and becomes very straight at 2 miles to go from Ballsbridge to City Centre. I continue with my push to the line, the crowds get bigger and noise increases from this point and by now I forget my calf pain and just push on. 1 mile to go, I up my pace a bit more and tell myself 9 more minutes. The crowds are large and the noise from them and music is louder, so it’s better to soak it up and continue my stride length. 800 metres to go, keeping it steady and no sign of finish line. Around the corner (well crossroads), 400 metres to go I decided to crank it to flat out and I am passing people towards the line and finish across the line and complete my first ever marathon on 4h 36 mins 35 secs, I reckon the last 5k is around 28 mins. Average mins per mile 10.32.
The feeling when I crossed the line and upon finding my family and friends is quite euphoric. After collecting my bags, off back to my hotel for a bath, shower and then back into Dublin for food, Guinness, Champagne and craic.
Overall Dublin is a great marathon. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s very well organised and the volunteers and people of Dublin are very friendly. A special note for the pacers. They were not just good at pacing, but also at talking you through the course, when to take on fluids, gels etc and how to approach each difficult part of the course mentally as well as physically.
In summary, I came to Dublin with a plan on how to execute it effectively; I would like to think I followed it very well. I was very pleased with the outcome of the weekend and becoming a marathon runner.
Monday – I was in the hotel with my Striders hoodie on and a lady came over to talk to me about how she used to work in Durham and regularly would see Striders out running and at Durham Park Run. So I think we will continue to seek world domination for people of purple.
So once again I found myself questioning what on earth I had gotten myself into as I was preparing to pack for Nottingham Marathon. I was worried Windermere was a fluke, I was nervous about the pressure of going for a time when recently my races hadn’t quite gone to plan, all the what ifs were running through my head, Pardon the pun, I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself and instead of inspiring, motivating & encouraging I was psyching myself out! I mentioned this to Coach Anna and Gareth who both chatted to me about taking the pressure off, having a realistic goal and not being too hard on myself, that helped & between us we came up with a plan I was happy with, I instantly felt relief and back in control, then came the motivation, I realised that I was running the marathon on a friends birthday, I knew the date rang a bell, sadly he passed away the day after his birthday 3 years ago, I also knew that a number of people would give anything to be able to swap places with me, I now had a plan & the drive to get round.
The day of the marathon came and we set off to the start line, it was somewhat sunnier than predicted/anticipated which was a little worrying but equally made for pleasant pottering before the start. In the marathon ‘village’ we banged into familiar faces which was lovely, the Toth’s and a couple of Hunwick Harriers (one an ex-strider) selfies, hugs and good luck wishes done we headed to our pens. Gareth was up at the front, first class obvs, we were all in ‘cattle class’ it was very busy there & it was great to see the Toth’s again as I worked my way towards the 4.45 pacer. I chatted to a lady for a while who explained because of the ‘waves’ we wouldn’t be set off for another 20mins! Hilarious to think Gareth and co would be into their second 5K before we were even allowed to go anywhere! Again grateful of the pleasant autumn sunshine & warmth at this point I tried to move as much as I could in the jam-packed space, we eventually made our way to the official start and then had to wait again until our wave was officially set off, bang, the gun went, the band played, I filled up, eeek I was doing it, my second ‘solo’ marathon, my 4th official marathon, a person whose only sport used to be extreme shopping at the metro centre! Allan’s words resonated in my head ‘don’t set off too fast’ x3 – particularly challenging here as the half marathoners were in the same pen and they shot off!
I dodged round a few people and then settled into my ‘average pace’ only I was ahead of my planned time and it felt ok! Early days Smith, reign it in – 26 miles to go I told myself as I passed 4.45 pacer guy comfortably. Whoever said Nottingham Mara is flat is a liar, granted it’s no Windermere or Swaledale but it’s certainly not flat! Thankfully the lady I was chatting to had warned me about the early climbs to the park so I was prepared and this also helped me slow the pace naturally, still ahead of 4.45 guy though as I saw him on the first out and back early on.
Soon I reached the first water station, part of plan had been to ensure that I walked, fuelled and hydrated at every station, but this one was on a downhill, I couldn’t waste a downhill?!?! So I grabbed a ‘DRINQ’ packet? Thanked the marshals and continued running down the hill, I felt myself getting ‘sprayed’ at times which whilst welcome in the heat was a little surprising (not like the GNR spraying you expect!!) I found out later as I tried to take a drink that the clever water thingy was the reason behind random, forceful spraying, it was hard work to manage it whilst running and folks were definitely struggling to aim the water, I also found out that a chia flapjack bar and an unexpected jet of water can be potentially lethal – Q choking fit!
On the second out and back I saw some of the fast lads making their way towards us, I spotted the Elvet purple and green and gave Gareth a shout out, he looked happy, that helped me push on (a little too fast for a while) again I saw 4.45 man not far behind but enough that allowed me to feel cautiously optimistic.
The support on the course was great, GNR esq at times which is a fab motivator, many of the Nottingham clubs seem to be purple and/or green so that helped too, seeing hoards of similar colours and getting shout-outs (even if they weren’t really meant for me!) The Notts Women Runners had some awesome coordinated kit and loved my Strider nails!
I was still ahead of pace and feeling good at the halfway point however this wasn’t quite the positive experience that ticking off ‘half way’ usually is because we all run the same route until a break point where the marathon runners go left and the half folks dash to the finish, being cheered was great but having folks sprint past and hearing lots of ‘nearly there, not long nows’ on repeat does not sit well when you have to do another 13.2 miles!!!!
Additionally, the route takes you out to a quiet housing estate and then a rather deserted main road so whilst the silence was welcome in some ways it was also a bit of a shock to the system, an ‘all or nothing’ experience that messed with the head a bit! It was along here that I first noticed Elvis, he nipped into the bushes for a wee and the lads in front said ‘Elvis has left the building, hu hu hu’ it made me chuckle and was the lift I needed. I ticked off a few more miles making sure I was drinking when I could make the contraption work and fuelling well, I was still ahead of pace and feeling ok. After the quiet ugly road the route takes you into a park which reminded me of Bushy, it was beautiful but also a bit strange as you cover grass, trails and a little mud for while in your ‘road marathon’. This route really does have a bit of everything!
In the car park I heard someone shout ‘come on Elvis, well done Elvis’ then ‘hey you can’t be beaten by Elvis Catherine’ – I realised it was Dave Toth, a welcome friendly face, from that point Elvis and Elvet had a battle going on! We would keep catching and overtaking each other but whether in front or behind I couldn’t help but smile at all his cheers and shout outs which really did sound like ‘come on Elvet / well done Elvet’
I saw Rachel Toth heading to the park where hubby was waiting for her in the woods (oh er missus) we passed on the long and ugly road bit and guessed she might have been struggling with the same halfway challenges I had, I wished her well. High 5’d and off we went, I willed her on as I chased Elvis!!
I was passing people along the way who looked a little broken, I offered them fluid, paracetamol and ‘ket’ (from my haribo/Skittles and jelly beans selection) without thinking that that has a different meaning to people who are not from the North! The gentleman did look a little shocked! Oops!
I was still ahead of ‘average pace’ but definitely feeling it now, the water walk was getting longer, I set myself challenges, just get to the next mile marker, just catch Elvis again etc to distract myself, just a parkrun to go! I reminded myself that I wanted to make myself and others proud and how lucky I was to be out there when others couldn’t be, I dug deep!
At the 22 mile marker I heard a shout out and saw Gareth on the bridge, He looked happy which helped, I guessed his run had gone well, I yelled get a photo of Elvis! (For the race report is been writing in my head to distract myself) he probably thought I was crazy! He shouted back he’d see me again at mile 25, half good half bad, I’d have to keep running! This part is also a bit of a section to mess with your mind because you can see and hear the finish but you are going in the opposite direction, I rewarded myself with skittles and Haribo as I ticked off the miles, I realised my Elvis/Elvet support shout outs had gone, I must have lost him at the last water station. I could see mile 25 marker ahead, I wanted to walk but I could see Gareth leaning on the lamppost so I didn’t let myself (till after he went!) he told me he’d got a PB I was over the moon for him, I kept checking my watch, I definitely knew I would achieve sub 4.45 but my head couldn’t do the maths to predict what I might come in at and I always find the last 800 thingys sap all your time and energy and feel never ending! Ahead I spotted the ‘half / full’ turn in point I had crossed at the start and halfway, I had done it, my second solo marathon, I only had half a mile to go, I saw a set of supporters who had popped up all over the course, consisting of a hotdog, 2 dinosaurs and a princess! I was very glad this wasn’t my first time seeing them otherwise I might have thought I was on some extreme skittles sugar high! They cheered me down the last road section before I turned right onto the grass finish, which seemed to go on for ever!!!!! Finally, I turned the last corner and there was the finish line with giant circus characters on stilts cheering me in – again a rather surreal moment!
A number of first aid folks asked if I was ok, thankfully I was, just elated and emotional that I had managed to exceed my own expectations, PB by over 4 minutes and I actually enjoyed it – I was absolutely delighted and a bit overwhelmed! I collected my bling, teeshirt, goodies and a hug from Gareth then waited to cheer Elvis in – and get a selfie of course! He was running for a great cause, breast cancer now, I donated on the way home, he had such a positive impact on my race.
We pottered about in the marathon village hoping to catch folks coming in, we saw Matthew (ex-strider) finish and cheered Rachel down the home straight.
Team Smitchard then left the city, uh huh huh Thank you very much!
At the start of 2017 my resolution was to try and regain my running ‘bug’ – the last few years had seen this fade (not to mention my fitness). I needed a challenge to help me stick to any sort of training plan, so I entered the Swaledale Marathon – giving me six months to prep with the aim of getting round.
It was all going reasonably well during the spring, and I started thinking about what came after June….I needed something to keep my momentum going. We were planning a week in Scotland in September, and I spotted the Loch Ness Marathon. The only other road marathon I had done was London in 1998, and I thought it would be ‘interesting’ to give one a go. Race reports were favourable – perfect. Race entered.
Swaledale came and went and I felt like I was enjoying running again. I had this foolish idea that if I could do 23 up and down in the rain and the mud, 26 on the road couldn’t be that bad…..could it?
September arrived and found me in the Highlands. The start was beautiful, up on the hills (no sign of the Loch until about 6 miles); the first few miles downhill overall but with some ‘pulls’ (reminded me a little of Dent); the support was superb, every house and village we ran through people were out cheering, handing out sweets; and the event organisation brilliant. And yes, stunning scenery.
As for my race – torturous. A fast-ish first 6 miles (I tried unsuccessfully to slow it down); a decent half-Marathon split, then an utter slog for the next 13 miles. I don’t feel that I would have got round more quickly/easily with better pacing – more training perhaps! Do I mention I finished behind someone dressed as Nessie? But I got round (and had a fab week away).
As we all invariably do, I look back to try and benefit from any insights I may have gleaned from the whole experience:
if road marathons are your ‘thing’ then I heartily recommend the Loch Ness Marathon, it’s a superb event.
I have ultimate respect for anyone that runs this distance, in whatever time; it’s a LONG way, and a long time to ignore that little devil in your head telling you ‘just stop and the pain will end’
the huge blow-up Nessie, chip-timing, and a finish with crowds and a ‘proper’ clock almost won me over…..almost. But I prefer those events where despite being nowhere near the ‘sharp end’ I still have the chance of winning a bottle of wine just because of who turned up on the day!
long roads….not my thing. Give me so much mud it sucks at your shoes, lung-bursting, thigh-burning uphills, trying to get my breath as I fumble with a gate latch, eye-watering ‘don’t fall! don’t fall! don’t fall!’ tumbling downhill over heather, roots, bog, stone…..
So – an experience, and reaffirmed what I enjoy about running. For now, Swaledale remains my favourite race, and I may try to get some fell races in (and for now, focus on XC!). For what it’s worth, I got a new marathon PB (beat my ‘98 London time by 25 min) but I won’t be planning to better that anytime soon….not for another 19 years anyway…..