Monday, 10 June 2019

Marathon #3 Yeovil

5 minutes to go to the start!

23 miles in and the end is in sight

It's ten months since my last marathon. A combination of injury and illness has meant I've had to miss five in the intervening months, so Yeovil yesterday was an important one for several reasons: 1) to put the missed ones behind me, 2) to see whether I could run a sub 4 hour time (my previous best was 4:11) and 3) because I really enjoy the challenge/ sense of achievement/ bliss of a long distance run when there's nothing to do but keep going till you've finished. The simplicity of running is a good thing in a busy and complex world.

It wasn't a massively early start to get there, which was a good thing because M had got up at 4am to cycle 80 odd miles with Tall Paul on Saturday. We left the house at 6:45 and were in Yeovil soon after 8 (incidentally travelling along part of the Harrow Way - a section of the A303 - to get there). The race started at 9 so there was plenty of time to get ready without rushing. At 8:40 I pinned my number on, put on the vest containing the bladder which had my hydration, nutrition and electrolytes in (essential for running a marathon because you can't fuel 26.2 miles on body reserves alone) and started some gentle warm ups. At 8:50 I pulled the hose of the bladder (the bit you drink from) over my shoulder to hook it under the front straps of my vest ready to use and wondered why it had suddenly grown in length. I pulled it a bit more and the whole thing came away in my hand. Unzipping the pack I realised that it had detached itself from the fastening. No amount of force, asking politely, pleading or swearing at the bloody thing would get it to go back in. 


With ten minutes to go I suddenly had no means of supplying myself with the water/ carbs/ salts I would need to fund the four hours of running I was going to be doing. There was water on the course and I always have an emergency pack of sweets just in case, but these would not be enough to get me round the distance at the pace I had trained for.

I had packed one emergency 500ml soft bottle that fitted in the front of the vest, so I tipped the water out of that and poured some of the carb mixture in it, but that wasn't going to be enough for the whole 26.2 miles- usually, I get through 2 ltrs on that distance. With the clock now really ticking and everyone else gathering at the start for the off while I was still in the carpark, I improvised by tipping another 500ml into one of the dogs' water bottles that I keep in the car for their hydration emergencies and stuffed that in the other pocket :o). It barely fitted and would be a pain to get out to use, but it would have to do.

Yeovil is a small, low-key but well organised and very friendly marathon. About 190 people were running, one of whom was a friend who has run over 100 marathons. I fell in with her and we did the first 3 miles together. She was pacing her friend to 4:20, so once I had warmed up I left them after 3 miles and picked up my pace to where I needed to be.

As well as the virus which had scuppered three of the last four weeks of training, I'd also had a dodgy stomach all week after a BBQ last weekend so had no idea how this run would go. Not to over-share, the lack of loos on the course was a worry! I was running well pace-wise but I was not feeling great. My stomach was griping and my energy felt low. Normally, 13 miles is a breeze for me but mentally, the whole first half felt like a struggle and I found myself thinking if it didn't get better I would stop at the half way point - the course was two laps which would make that easy. 

I'd rung M from mile 4 to ask him to empty another dog water bottle and refill it with the carb/salt/ water mix so at least I would have another 500ml for the second half. The plan was to swap it as I ran past him so I wouldn't need to stop. As I approached the 13 mile mark there was M looking ashen-faced holding out a bottle of fruit juice and saying: I'm so sorry, I dropped the rest of the tailwind! I've got water or fruit juice? It really wasn't my day for fuelling! As I still had 500ml left from the start I told him not to worry. I still wasn't feeling great, but by the time you've run 13 miles on a marathon there is little to be gained from stopping, so I carried on, telling myself I was still on target for a sub 4 time and all I needed to do to get it was maintain the steady pace I was currently running at. Surely things would start to improve soon?

By 16 miles I was feeling really rough. My stomach wasn't happy, my head was switching off and I was feeling the pressure of running faster than I wanted to. All I wanted to do was have a short walking break, but I knew the minute I did that the sub 4 time would disappear. I'd had enough. I wasn't enjoying it, I didn't care about the time, I wanted to walk, have something to eat and refocus. 

Marathons are not easy runs, but neither are they impossible. They deserve respect because I've seen them chew up even the most accomplished runners, spit them out and stamp on them, but they don't deserve reverence. They are perfectly doable if you get your preparation, pace, fuelling, hydration and mental approach right. This one was slipping away from me mentally and I knew I had to do something quickly or I would be stopping altogether.

So I took some time out. I walked a bit, I ate some sweets, I considered what my goal with these long distances really was- where my joy in doing them lay. And I had an epiphany: it really wasn't about time. What I wanted was to feel I'd run strong. The sugar kicked in soon after and I started running again. I felt better, my stomach settled down, the grip of the sub 4 released me and I settled down into enjoying the run.

I fell in with a nice chap and ran the next couple of miles with him, chatting. This evened out and slowed my pace and made it more regular and comfortable so before I knew it I was at 18 miles and feeling fine. I slowed down for another short walk and was surprised to feel dizzy. Luckily I was near a water station so I took a bottle and a handful of pretzels, and soon after it passed and I was able to run again.

Now I was approaching the fabled 20 mile marker, which is where I had felt exhausted on my previous two marathons. People say a marathon is two races in one- the first 20 miles and the final 6 and I was prepared to find the last six really tough, but nothing happened. I ran on, feeling fine. The next stage where it can really bite is 23 miles- the final three can be really hard. I braced myself, but again, nothing. I was running steady and feeling good. At mile 24 I decided to up the pace and see what happened. I went from 6 min/ km pace to 5 and ran the final two miles at that pace, pretty comfortably.

M was waiting near the finish and at that point my watch was saying I only had a few more metres to go, but the marshals were turning us away from the finish to run round a sodding playing field! It really messed with my head. My pace dropped by a few seconds and the old voice telling me I'd had enough and needed to walk was back. I ignored it. Ahead, the entire path was taken up with four half marathon runners who looked completely exhausted. I had no energy to run round them so I called out asking them to move, which they very kindly did. I caught up with the lady in front as the wretched path turned us again away from the finish and moved us back into the middle of the playing field. Then it swerved again to take us round the edge of an athletics track. My watch pinged at this point, telling me I'd run a marathon, but the finish was another 200m ahead! Summoning up every last ounce of strength I possessed I pushed on so I would cross the line with a PB, and made it over finally in 4:09, knocking 2 mins off my previous PB. If you go by the actual marathon distance recorded by my watch it was 4:08, so I was pretty pleased.

This marathon was definitely an exercise in running faster, resetting the goal mid-race and regrouping mentally with a new focus. Marathons are great teachers and I learnt a lot on this one. I was very happy with how I'd run and with the pacing, I felt strong despite everything, but it did bring home to me that I don't like running road marathons to chase a time- it's relentless and a little bit joyless and the pressure is constant. Back to the trails and a slower pace for me next time I think. Despite everything, I was extremely pleased with how strong I felt on the race and afterwards- I even jogged over to the athletics track to watch my friend come in. I'm toying with the idea of doing a 30 mile run later in the year and this marathon was the first time I've felt like I could have gone on and done more miles, so lots of positives to take from it.

A lovely race, through lovely countryside with super marshals and great fellow competitors- thanks Yeovil! And thanks Ted and Pop for saving the day with your water bottles!!

Hope all are well? CT :o).