Matter of time: Sub 3 

Yesterday I did the Hermes Running Thames Meander Marathon. It had been a while since aiming for a goal time, probably North London Half and Reading Half being the races this year when I was going for PBs and sub 1:20. Obviously doing the Brighton Marathon earlier in the year I would’ve liked to have gone sub 3 there but due to the lack of training, both in terms of total mileage and long runs, I had to settle for 3:02:48 and getting GFA for London. 

Since Brighton I’d raced a lot but hadn’t put in any specific training for the marathon distance. If you’ve been reading my blog posts or tweets or Facebook posts or Instagram (I don’t use social media enough!) you’ll have seen I’ve raced in mile races, 5ks, 10ks, a 10 miler, 100k, two 24 hour team relays and various other distances. I’ve really enjoyed my running in the last few months mixing it up between road, track and trail and I’ve just generally been having fun. Therefore I was going into the Thames Meander Marathon relaxed and confident knowing I’d done some big mileage weeks and good speed work on track. Although I hadn’t done any real long runs close to marathon pace I knew I was in good shape just because I was getting quicker on track and paces that were previously a struggle had become easier to hold. The only time I started getting a little nervous was on Friday night when it suddenly dawned on me “I haven’t really done any specific marathon training and I’m expecting to go sub 3! Uh oh!” 

Luckily this thought lasted for a few seconds so I could relax and get a good nights sleep. I woke up on Saturday morning around 6 o’clock, bit annoying that, as the race was to start at 11. I’ve never enjoyed the waiting game before races but I had some porridge and listened to music to chill out. Before I knew it the couple of hours I had spare had gone and I was on the tube across London. I arrived at about 10 to pick up my race number. This proved to be a significant point in the day. I was given the number 255  

My first thought was “that could be my finishing time!” This gave me a little bit of extra motivation and made me think beyond sub 3. I pinned my number to my race vest, took a photo for a couple of runners, dropped off my bag and headed towards the start line. You know I’m in race mode when I’ve got a race vest and split shorts on. 

I still had about 30 minutes until gun/foghorn time, so walked along the river and started to get pumped up. I kept telling myself “there is no way I’m not going sub 3 today!” We all made our way to the start, it was time to deliver. I began the race on sub 3 pace, the first few miles ticked off feeling comfortable despite the heat. I was wishing the start time was 8am as opposed to 11 but that couldn’t be changed now. As I was feeling strong I decided to stick at a pace well within 6:52 per mile and then try and hold on at the end. I went through mile 7 with some seconds banked for later in the race:

I took my first gel and was efficient going through water stations, drinking sips on the go and chucking water over my head to keep cool. I kept trudging on ticking the miles off, I tend to think of a marathon in three chunks. The plan to get the first half done at a comfortable, but pushing it, pace. Then 7 miles to consolidate and the last 10k to either give it all you’ve got or hold on for dear life.   I was holding pace well and went through halfway in around 1:27. I was still thinking “that 255 is on!” so kept pushing it. The GPS was a bit dodgy but due to doing more track work I knew how much effort I was putting in and what pace I was at. It seemed to be getting hotter so I made sure to keep taking on lots of water at aid stations (of which there were plenty!) Around mile 14 (I think) myself and another runner got a shout from a pedestrian. Despite the gallons (may be an over exaggeration) of sweat in my eyes I recognised it was none other than ultra runner extrodinaire Cat Simpson. Thanks for the shout Cat! This was one plus point of running along the river, there were quite a few people to cheer you on. This was also a negative thing but I’ll get on to that. Just after seeing Cat I made the turning point and started heading back towards the finish line. I knew I was homeward bound and was thinking “the quicker I run the quicker I get there” simple. You get a lot of encouragement from runners going the other way too and I love these little interactions. Some of the runners let me know what position I was in which was cool, I was 6th just after the turn.

Knowing how marathons pan out I figured if I could maintain my pace not only would I be well within 3 hours but I could challenge for a top 5 finish at least. I kept a relatively even pace until mile 20, this in turn meant I passed three runners in quick succession. Two of them were stopped at an aid station getting refreshments, I decided to plough on through. From mile 20 the race got a lot harder, my legs started to feel heavy and my hamstrings did not enjoy going from pavement to soft muddier uneven city trail (some of you will love that term!). However, I kept on pace. As I was running along the river in London my mind drifted to Chamonix where a handful of my friends were running UTMB. I was in a relatively rough place, my legs were fatigued but I knew that no matter how much I was hurting James from Advent Running would be hurting more and getting UTMB done. I thought “I’ve just got a few more miles and I’m there, the quicker I run the quicker it’s done!”

 

I got to mile 24 having not gone over 6:52 for a single mile. I knew I had the sub 3 marathon I’d wanted for so long in my grasp. My legs were feeling heavy and my hamstrings were tightening. I contemplated easing up and making sure I’d get the sub 3. My body had other ideas and decided it was better to keep a pace closer to 7 minute miling to get it done. Those miles felt like the longest I’d ever done and I was almost starting to doubt whether I would finish under 3 hours. They probably felt twice as long as the rest due to the weaving around tourists and pedestrians. At one point a dog came flying at me, straight through my legs, as if we were performing at crufts. Luckily the last mile or so was quiet apart from passing a few runners. This included Marathon Man UK who was running with and encouraging a half marathon finisher. He gave me a shout of “strong running today buddy!” It was very much appreciated and I scurried onto the finish straight. 

I was pretty spent. I attempted a sprint finish but my left hamstring didn’t appreciate that. Instead of flying through the finish I ended up shuffling. It wasn’t spectacular but it was done, sub 3 complete. I stopped my watch and was then handed a trophy for 3rd place, I didn’t know for sure I was third so I was chuffed. I had a photo with 1st and 2nd place (probably looking horrendous!) and then chatted with a few runners I saw on the course. 

I then looked at my watch to see:  Not just sub 3 but 2:55, my race number! Also the best birthday present I could’ve given myself! 

Overall a thoroughly enjoyable run and the medal is pretty epic!I’m looking forward to getting back on the track and doing shorter quicker stuff with the Great North Run in two weeks time.

I hope those of you that ran and raced this weekend had a great one! Also thank you to everyone that posted comments along the lines of “well done” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Strava, I appreciate it. See a lot of you soon.

Steve X

  

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