My Debut Marathon Adventure – Race Day!
Last time, I explained how my second week of marathon training was going. In this post, I give a brief overview of the last week of my marathon training and give an account of the race itself!
Week 3 (of 3) of my Debut Marathon Adventure!
Day 16, Monday 15th May: REST
Day 17, Tuesday 16th May: This was going to be my final run before Marathon race day! I decided I just wanted to use this as a relaxed, short run. Therefore, I ran 4k at an easy pace (|4:45 – 5:00/km pace), then ran 2k at race pace (approx. 4:17/km pace), followed by a last 2km at an easy pace again. I felt fresh, but with a deep sense of foreboding. I knew I was right not to go on further, or to squeeze in another run before the race day, but it wasn’t easy knowing that from now until race day, I was going to be in ‘rest’ mode.
I was relieved that by Tuesday, my previous niggles I’d felt during the club race the previous week hadn’t been present on the Thursday or for my final long run. Now all I needed to do was make sure I didn’t fall ill, or get injured between now and race day. My senses seemed heightened to any potential hazards for the rest of the week!
Day 18, Wednesday 17th May: REST
Day 19, Thursday 18th May: REST
Day 20, Friday 19th May: REST
Day 21, Saturday 20th May: REST. The final day of my training programme. Would it be enough? Will this very restful final week pay off, or would it have helped to have done more? Time will tell. I spend some time preparing all my kit ready for tomorrow. As an experienced runner, I know exactly what I want with me and whilst it takes a while, it reassures me I’m as organised as I can be, so that I can really concentrate on the running tomorrow. All I can do now is to try to get a good night’s sleep and give it my all tomorrow.
I have been planning various markers to give myself an indication of how I was doing on race day.
The following were my goals / indicative times for the race.
Splitting the race into 4 x 10ks helped me ensure I wasn’t going to be going out too fast.
10k: 43-45 minutes or better
20k: 85 minutes or better
30k: 2 hours 15 minutes or better
40k: 3 hours or hopefully better
By 40k, I was hoping I’d be significantly under 3 hours, or I’d definitely not make my goal time of 3:04:59.
I also had a few other milestone markers to give me further indications.
Halfway point (21.1km): 1 hour 30 minutes or better.
32k (10k distance to go!): 2 hours 20 minutes or better. This would give me 44:59 to complete the final 10.2k).
Sunday 21st May: Race Day!
The big day has arrived! We’re all up early, as we need to travel to the Worcester Marathon ready for the start of the race at 10:00am.
I check my kit bag far too many times and then we’re off in the car. Upon arrival at the Worcester Warriors stadium and car park, I remember that we were slightly anxious about time because the start line wasn’t close, the queues for the toilets were significantly long, for men as well as for the women, and we were rushing to get to the starting pens with minutes to spare.
The nervous energy I’d expelled during this time was rather wasteful in the end as the start was delayed for many of the reasons mentioned above, so I loitered in the starting pens, looking round for a friendly face. It was a sea of game faces in increasingly warm conditions. Everyone was in the zone, whilst I needed to get into mine. I was buzzing from just being here, adrenalin coursing through my veins at the prospect of being about to hopefully run and complete my first ever marathon.
My partner and children took up a position not far along from the start line, ready to give me an amazing send-off as I embarked on my crazy attempt to run a marathon off the back of three week’s training.
The initial excitement of setting off was quickly silenced by an uphill section that forced many people to slow down for fear of burning out. Once the uphill section was done, I found myself running near the back of a group of about 20 runners. This company really helped and the miles glided by without any issues.
10k target: 45 minutes or better. Actual: 42:14. Under by more than 2 minutes!
It was more undulating than I’d thought it would be though and we had next to no encouragement along the route. We were deep in the countryside and I only recall there being a couple of places where there were small groups of people standing on the side of the route cheering the runners on.
As we approached the 11 mile marker, I could see some runners turning right to head back towards the finish – half marathon entrants. Part of my heart sank as I visualised how I’d be enjoying finishing soon if I’d been doing the half marathon. I quickly shook that feeling out of my head and it was almost immediately replaced by an emotion that tore my mind apart. The entire group I’d been running with, much to my dismay, all turned off towards the finish line. They were all half-marathon racers. I tried to settle myself as I pushed on ahead, cheered on by the largest crowd there was on the course, congregating outside a pub. Ahead of me was straight road as far as I could see and not a single runner in sight. I had a look around behind me and without exception, every runner seemed to be turning to head towards the finish line. I felt completely alone all of a sudden.
As I turned to face the empty road ahead and the next 15 miles, I resolved to try and catch whoever was ahead of me. I convinced myself that this was great news. There would be few people ahead of me (hopefully!), so my position in the marathon might be rather high! Currently, I was in good shape and running along at a pace I was pleased with.
20k target: 85 minutes or better. Actual: 1:24:23. Under!
Halfway point (21.1km) target: 1 hour 30 minutes or better. Actual: 1:28:51 – Under by more than 1 minute!
As I hit the half-marathon distance, I became quite excited! If I did the second half in the same time, I’d be looking at 2:57!
I knew that I was starting to hit unknown racing territory now and desperately wanted to ensure I didn’t get carried away with myself. I stuck to my plan with the energy gels, energy blocs and water. However, I could see by the 16 mile marker, that I was running out of water and there were only two more drinks stations left, at 19 miles and 23 miles.
As I approached 17 and then 18 miles, my legs were starting to feel a bit laboured. I tried some heel-kicks to my bum and some high knees in front of me just to wake up and shake out my legs. The monotonous action of running at a steady pace needed breaking to release some lactic acid that felt present. The joints and the muscles both responded well to this change, and I continued on.
I had been following a runner for a couple of miles by this point, getting slowly closer to him. Unexpectedly, he veered off to the side of the road. I asked him if he was OK and he just explained that a stone in his shoe had been bugging him for miles and so he’d decided to get it out. I pressed on and it wasn’t long before I found myself gaining on the next runner in front of me. This guy was running with a mate cycling on a bike next to him. I can’t tell you how much I wanted to get that bike and cycle for a few miles!
I took my time to approach and then pass the guy. I think this mentally put the nail in his coffin, but at the same time, I got an adrenalin kick from being around people again. I got my head down and worked hard to distance myself from the pair but it wasn’t long before the sense of being alone and finding the effort hard were both weighing on my mind (again) and my body. I tried to focus on counting, but even that seemed like a massive effort and I soon gave it up, feeling that it was sapping my energy levels. I tried to break my run down into increasingly smaller blocks, from the next drink, gel or sweet, down to half kilometres and then down to hundreds of metres. Whatever I tried didn’t seem to work in taking my mind off the strain I was feeling.
What then smashed me round the face was seeing the 20 mile marker. What should have been a triumphant point that I had considered prior to the race in my training, turned out to be the complete opposite. Six more miles?! That’s about a third of the distance I’ve just run – that’s still so far to go!
30k target: 2 hours 15 minutes or better. Actual: 2:06:49. Under by more than 8 minutes!
Knowing the pace you run at also means you can quickly work out how much time you’ve got left to go.
32k (10k distance to go!) target: 2 hours 20 minutes or better. This would give me 44:59 to complete the final 10k (and the 0.2k). Actual: 2:13:36. Under by more than 6 minutes, giving me 51 minutes to run the last 10k to beat the goal time! Game on!
Miles 22 and 23 were probably the hardest two miles of running I’ve ever experienced. My water was out, I was alone on the road and I was suffering with my energy levels. Now I also had to contend with cramp in my thighs. I had to stop a couple of times and stretch out my leg muscles. It felt so hard thinking I’d got this far and in such good time, and only now, this close to the finish, my body was starting to fall apart. I could feel the dried salt on my forehead and I really wanted to drink a gallon of water. It was such an effort to start running again and it was painful. I just had to grit my teeth and get on, keep moving. That was the key for me – just keep moving, getting closer with every step to the finish line. It was all my mind could focus on.
It was mile 23 and mile 24 when a further kick in the teeth took place. We started going uphill again! By this point, the odd person was starting to come past me or gain on me too. Both factors hurt me mentally, but I had to shake them off, try to keep up with the last person who overtook me and dig in. The lack of a crowd was highlighted again at this point. When you see the last few miles on the London Marathon for example, you see the elation on the faces of the exhausted runners and can hear the support and encouragement from the crowd. In Worcester’s lovely, quiet countryside you had only your own exhausted mind for company.
By 40k, I knew that I wasn’t going to make my goal time. The last couple of kilometres had beeped paces of over 5:30/km. Now, I just wanted to get to the finish line and I wanted to run all the way there. This was the final challenge I gave myself; to run these last two kilometres without stopping again. I can’t tell you how hard a challenge that felt at the time, but I was so determined.
During the final kilometre, I reflected on my performance and felt that I’d attacked the distance bravely in the short period of training I’d given myself. I’d stuck to my plan pretty well and been as sensible as you can be when doing a crazy training schedule like this. I’d executed the plan for the race really well, but my body just hadn’t been given enough of a timeframe to get used to coping with such a demand on it.
As I turned off the canal path, I could hear people cheering at the finish line. I knew I was going to complete the marathon distance at my first attempt! The pictures reveal the enormous sense of relief I was feeling as I ran those last few metres. I had the most wonderful last 100 metres, being greeted by my partner and my children who were bearing signs of support that completely lifted my spirits. It was a very emotional end to a race and their support topped off a special challenge.
My finish time was 3:13:04. I was 8 minutes off a London Marathon Good For Age time, having only dedicated three weeks of training and 8 training runs to this race of 26.2 miles. I did enjoy the training and the race, the challenges it presented and the learning journey I’d been on too.
Who knows what I can achieve with a proper training plan of 16 weeks? I’m not sure right now, but I can assure you, I’m going to be finding out!
Finish time: 3:13:04
Energy sources: High5 Energy Gels (Raspberry + Caffeine), CLIFF Shot Bloks (Strawberry flavour)
Tracking device: Garmin Forerunner 210, uploaded to Strava. You can see the run here, but there is some dodgy data for the km splits in the last 10k and the ‘elapsed time’ rather than the moving time is the accurate one.
In a future post, I will document the key things I’ve learned from training for a marathon in three weeks.
What key things did you learn in training for a marathon?
If you’ve read this far, thank you! I hope you enjoyed the read. You also get the first notification of a new section of this website, the ‘Runner’s Profile’ section! Head over there to find out about Stu Wright, a fellow runner and blogger. His story is an inspiring one!