I’d always maintained that I’d never run another marathon after the last one, but four years is enough time to forget just how painful, awkward and dispiriting the event can be, there was also the nagging thought at the back of my brain that I could do it much faster now, So I’d committed to the event at the start of the year focused all my training since 1st January on this date – that’s 599 miles just to get to the start line!
Run the same day as London Marathon and despite a route that passes the Bard’s birthplace, family home, school & church, it doesn’t quite have the landmark count of the capital’s iconic race.
The Shakespeare Marathon and half-marathon races set off at the same time in Stratford High Street and completed a lap of the town before heading out into the Warwickshire country lanes. The old, part-cobbled streets of this ancient market town were quite designed for more than 2,500 runners to flood through and, without any kind of graded start pens, the first two miles were an awkward exercise in dodging and overtaking the slow-moving traffic.
Once out of the town though, it was easy to find a rhythm on a cool, overcast morning with just a slight breeze. My race plan was to run the first 5 miles at 8:15 minute pace, then up the pace to something faster than 8:00 until mile 20 – from that point it would be whatever pace I could maintain. I was also keen to stick to drinking every 30 minutes and an energy gel every 6 miles. The fuelling strategy was more important than pacing since I knew my natural pace would be ideal. I barely looked at my watch from mile 6 to mile 14.
The race is two laps of roughly the same route with the half-marathoners peeling off at mile 12 while the marathon route starts a second lap. It was strangely dispiriting to see so many runners bear right and so few bear left at the end of the first lap. That feeling didn’t last long though as, round the next corner, Emma & Meg greeted me with the fillip of a hug, a kiss, a bark and a slobber (for those of you who don’t know me, Meg is our pet dog!)
Running a second lap I was able to prepare myself mentally for the two brutal little hills that would present themselves at around miles 15 and 18 and scheduled my final gel just after the descent. In a fatigued state my attempt to tear the gel open with my teeth saw the packaging split lengthways and the contents start to ooze everywhere and although I shovelled most of it into my mouth I had to endure sticky cheeks and hands until the next water stop 😦
I could feel the energy start to ebb away from my body at around mile 18, but was able to up the effort to maintain my sub-8 min pace until mile 20. I’ve always pegged this as the point at which the race begins. It’s when cramp starts to creep into the calves and the thighs start to feel heavy, More crucially, it’s when your body switches to using fat as fuel as the glycogen reserves run out and the mental battle starts. I’d tried to incorporate a lot of really slow runs into my training plan to try and teach my body to burn fat as fuel, but you can never really replicate the conditions of those final six miles of the 26.2. It was a trudge and a battle – one that I thought I was winning until the 23 mile marker when my pace dropped significantly (and I knew that because I seemed to be checking my watch every 30 seconds, just willing that distance counter to click on another decimal point). Every step felt like a kick in the kidneys. At this point my target of 3 and a half-hours looked to be slipping away.
I was hanging on for any notable landmark at this point and when I arrived at the steel girder bridge over the River Avon, quickly followed by a healthy crowd at a cafe in an old railway carriage, I finally felt like I could definitely get to the finish line. I was in the slipstream of two other runners at this point, and grateful to them for dragging me on (thanks Amy Skelcey and Mark Johnston!). Seeing Emma & Meg again, and my parents who had travelled down from Yorkshire to meet us, was the signal to muster what little reserves of energy I had remaining to push for the line and the point at which I could finally stop running.
I don’t have a clear memory of crossing the line, only staggering into the shade of a nearby tree and collapsing. I couldn’t speak. I felt I needed to cry to be sick or both. I couldn’t manage these things either. I do recall stopping my watch and a little triumphant emotion when I saw that I’d clocked 3:28:38 just inside my target and an improvement of more than 20 minutes on my previous time.
So that’s done. Another marathon in the bag. Two’s enough. One was enough really. The main outcome of running 26.2 miles is that you really appreciate that a half-marathon is a pleasurable distance to run. The 20-miler I ran earlier in the year was fun too. There’s something that happens when you get beyond 20 miles, some point at which the effort you put in and the pain that you experience outweighs the pleasure or participation.
So… never again. Well, not until the memory has faded.
Chip time: 03:28:41
Position: 100th / 479
M45 position: 24th / 140
GAP = “Grade Adjusted Pace”. See the full race details over at Strava.