Tag Archives: Marathon

Lucerne Swiss City Marathon 2019

Over the last few years Lorna and I have travelled with friends to various European cities to take part in races. This year we opted for Lucerne in Switzerland because it offered a half and full marathon, the course looked scenic on the flyers and we were guaranteed great food and chocolate after the race. I signed up to the marathon while Lorna, Alex, Rob, Ray and Robbie decided to go for the half.

We flew into Zurich early on Saturday morning before catching a train to Lucerne. Lorna had found a lovely apartment not far from the train station, race expo and start. Having dropped our bags we headed to the expo at Hotel Schweizerhof.

Collecting our numbers was easy as there weren’t any queues, so we could head straight to the pasta party to continue the carb loading.

As the sun was shining we picked up an ice cream before taking some photos and heading out on the lake on a pedalo. Lorna and I sensibly saved our legs and let Emma and Ray do the hard work. For dinner we decided to play it safe and have some pasta and pizza from the local supermarket. Without a TV in the apartment we played cards in the evening to relax before getting an early night.

The race started at 9am so we woke up at 7am to shower, have breakfast and sort our race kit. I was feeling really relaxed about the race. Since the London Marathon in April I hadn’t ran/trained much so I planned to run the first half with Lorna aiming for around 1:35 and then see how I felt for the second lap. The conditions were perfect, the sun was shining again and it was cool as we walked towards the start. As the apartment wasn’t far from the finish we didn’t have to drop bags so we could get straight to the start line. We wished everyone good luck and positioned ourselves near the 1:35 pacer. Alex was hoping to finish in a similar time so we started together.

One thing I love about smaller marathons (in comparison to London & Boston etc) is that you don’t have to stress about bag drop and waiting around for ages. We got to the start line just 10 minutes before the gun and then we were off.

As the road was nice and wide we had lots of room to run in and settle on goal pace. We knew 4:30min/km pace was what we needed to hold to finish in 1:35. I let Lorna and Al run slightly ahead of me to dictate the pace they felt comfortable at. This was slightly inside goal pace but not too fast to be worried about. It’s pretty normal with fresh tapered legs and the adrenaline of starting a race to bank a few seconds through the first 5k or so. There were a couple of hills towards the end of the opening 10k which levelled out our average pace to be pretty much spot on.

Running alongside the lake the views of the surrounding mountains were incredible. Alex joked that he was glad he only had to run the hills once but I was thinking “I don’t mind two laps with views like this”. Of course I knew it would be a tough second half having not trained much and running it on my own but I was feeling good and looking forward to the challenge. After 11k or so Lorna was feeling good so we picked up the pace while Al eased off a bit.

The second half of the loop weaving through the city was fun and we kept pushing. The kilometres passed really quickly and we were on the long home stretch before we knew it, Lorna said “it feels like we were only just walking down here to the start”. I could tell she was digging deep as we neared the marathon turnaround point but I was so proud of her for working hard throughout the whole race and crossing the line in 1:34. I really wanted to carry on running with her through the finish line but with 800m to go I took the u-turn to start my second lap.

It felt really strange to have been running with Lorna to help with her race to then be focused on seeing what time I could achieve. Surprisingly my legs felt good so I decided to see if I could get as close to 3 hours as possible. I knew I’d have to average around 4min/km pace through the second half so picked it up and got into a rhythm. The roads were really quiet so I could focus and stick to the racing line. Despite wanting to regularly check I was on the correct pace I kept my head up to enjoy the mountain views again.

I felt relieved to get through the hilly part of the course with the legs still feeling ok. As it was getting hotter I took on water at every aid station and stuck to my nutrition plan, taking a Maurten gel every 7k. This worked well in both the Seville & London Marathons earlier in the year. Making my way back through the city centre I was still holding around 4min/km pace. The crowd support was awesome and there were lots of bands dotted along the course playing great music.

I knew the last couple of kilometres along the lake would be tough but I kept pushing as I was going to clock over the marathon distance on my watch and had to account for this. As I neared the finish Alex, Robbie, Ray and Rob cheered me on as they were walking back towards the apartment. Rob shouted “run faster!” but I was thinking “if I try to run any faster my hamstrings will go”. I held it together and eventually the finish gantry came into view. The clock was ticking ever closer to 3:00:00. I broke into one of those sort of sprint shuffles and crossed the line with the clock reading 3:00:04. Luckily we hadn’t crossed the start line bang on 9am so my official time was 2:59:25… phew! Another sub 3 marathon in the bag. Considering the lack of training throughout the summer I thought I would have to settle for nearer 3:10-3:15 so I was really happy.

Everyone else enjoyed the scenic route and ran well. Robbie clocked another sub 1:30 half, Al finished in 1:38, Rob finished under 1:45 and Ray crossed the line in 1:48. Overall an excellent and very successful race.

Now the legs are recovering we’ve all been thinking about future races. Lorna, Al, Robbie and I are all taking part in the Barcelona Marathon in March so after a couple of easy weeks the mileage will creep back up in a bid to go into 2020 in good shape.

Now that I am back in London, working for adidas in the flagship store on Oxford Street, I hope to catch up and run with a lot of you soon.

Steve

The London Marathon 2019

On Sunday 28th April I took part in my third London Marathon. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to qualify for the race having ran sub 75 minutes for half marathons. My previous London Marathon experiences in 2016 and 2018 were special so I couldn’t wait to do it all again and enjoy the amazing crowd support. After running the Seville Marathon in February in a PB of 2:52 I was hoping to squeeze in some specific training and shave a little more time off. Five weeks after Seville I ran the Colchester Half Marathon crossing the line in 1:13:58 so I knew I was in good shape. However, the marathon is a different ball game and I doubted I had done enough long runs near marathon pace to warrant chasing a big PB. After completing a couple of 20k+ runs it was soon time to taper again. I headed to track on Tuesday nights for a couple of weeks to sharpen up before dialling back the mileage but kept the legs ticking over. 

The race came around quickly with being busy at work and fitting in training. On the Saturday before the race Lorna and I made sure to have a relaxing day; we prioritised carb loading, meeting up with friends Hayley, Will & Jackson for brunch and having dinner with her brothers Alex and Rob who were also taking part in the marathon. Having ran 3:11 in Seville Alex was opting to go out fast and try to hold on while Rob was running his first marathon, celebrating his birthday and raising money for the charity Sense. Having to travel in to Greenwich from Chelmsford we got an early night ahead of the big day. I slept well and was feeling relaxed about the challenge.

 

Lorna and I left our flat at around 7am to begin our journey to Greenwich; we got the train to Stratford where we met up with Alex, Rob, Ben, Liv and Harrison. Ben was taking part in his first marathon while his wife Liv and son Harrison were going to cheer us around the course.

 

 

We got the jubilee line to London Bridge before going our separate ways; Lorna and I were allocated the blue start on Blackheath due to gaining our places through GFA & Championship entry. The boys headed to Maze Hill as they got in through charity places.

 

 

Once we arrived at the blue start area, I wished Lorna luck and headed to the Championship entry corner to drop my bag. It was good to see lots of familiar faces while walking to the start, I had a quick catch up with Sorrell and Claudi before the elite runners were introduced and Andy Murray got the race underway. 

My plan was to try and run an even race, I set out near 4:05min/km (2:52 marathon pace). With the first 5k or so being gradually downhill I purposefully held back to save energy as opposed to bank time, I clocked 20:08 for the opening 5k. I settled into a good rhythm, took my first Maurten gel at 7k and went through 10k in 40:25.

 

Thanks for the shouts Liv (@liv_chiv)

Having ran London twice before I know it is a good race to enjoy and appreciate the crowd support. Running around the Cutty Sark I kept my head up and soaked up the atmosphere, it was electric. I thought it may be quieter as the weather wasn’t as good as last year but if anything it was busier than ever. Despite rarely looking at my watch I was holding pace well and feeling comfortable, I ran the third 5k in 20:35 going through 15k in 1:01. 

Between the Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge I shared a few miles with Adam Lennox and Steve Hobbs (The Milestone Pursuit founder/coach); Adam was aiming for a PB and Steve was using it as training for Comrades Marathon. It was nice to catch up with them both, the miles went quickly and I was soon approaching (for me) the highlight of the race. The crowds grow and grow as you run up over Tower Bridge, it gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. It’s special to be running down the middle of the road with thousands of people cheering you on. In comparison to running London for the first time in 2016 I felt fresher and more relaxed knowing what lied ahead. My fourth 5k split was 20:23 and I went through halfway in around 1:26. I knew the hardest part of the race was to come but felt ready for the challenge. I continued to sip on water at every aid station and take a Maurten gel every 7k which worked well. 

Heading away from the crowds and towards Canary Wharf is always a little demoralising, it seems quiet after the high of running over Tower Bridge. However, I felt more present throughout the race than on previous occasions. I think because I averaged 4:05min/km pace in the Seville Marathon I was relaxed and felt more comfortable holding that pace. It allowed me to look around and spot friends in the crowd. The miles through Canary Wharf seemed to go a lot quicker thanin 2016 and 2018. I’m not sure if it was just me but I got the impression more people opted to cheer there. I was relieved to get through what is normally one of the harder sections of the route and looked forward to running past Tower Bridge and along Embankment. Plenty of the run crews had set up cheer stations roadside which always helps, especially when you’re really starting to tire. 

It was great to see so many friends along the route. Thanks for the photo Rocco (@roccoroy)

I made it along Embankment and was still feeling good. In a marathon you never quite know what pace to start at and what you can hold but I was relieved to get that far and not suffer too much. I took the right turn at Big Ben and knew I had just over a kilometre to endure. I picked the pace up a little, passing quite a few runners. Another right turn onto the mall and the finish line was in view. I hadn’t managed a PB but was happy to clock another sub 3 finish, crossing the line in 2:55:08. 

 

Iffley Road London Marathon Cambrian T-Shirt

On one hand I was disappointed not to PB but on the other I was pleased with how I executed my race plan and that I got to enjoy the London Marathon again. As the conditions were good so many friends achieved incredible times, well done to those of you that ran. It is such an inspiring day to take part in, it is definitely time for me to set some new goals and get into a good training routine again. The marathon takes a lot of specific training if you are aiming for certain times, you definitely can’t wing it. Over the next few months I’m going to focus on the shorter distances for a while and then I will build up for another marathon later in the year.

Thank you so much to those of you that sent messages of good luck &/or well-done last weekend, I really appreciate your support.

Hope the recovery is going well for those of you that raced. Catch up with a lot of you soon.

Steve

Seville Marathon 2019

On Sunday 17th February I took part in the Seville Marathon having signed up with my girlfriend Lorna and her brother Alex. Having struggled in the heat running the Boston Marathon in 2017 and London in 2018, Lorna and I thought Seville would be a great race as it boasts “the flattest route in Europe” and the weather is generally good. I was really looking forward to exploring the city and predicted it would be perfect timing as over the last few years I have felt in better shape in February as opposed to April. 

 

In October, 17 weeks before race day, I wrote a rough training plan. It included going to the Run-Fast/The Running Works track sessions at Mile End Stadium on Tuesday nights, sessions around marathon pace on Thursdays and easy long runs on Sundays. I always find training easier when the temperature drops; I managed consistent weeks of training throughout October and November. Averaging around 130k per week I felt as though I was balancing speed work, tempo sessions and long runs well. Some of the marathon paced runs along the river and around Battersea Park on Thursday evenings felt tough two days after hard track sessions, but I figured it was the most specific training to replicate how my legs would feel nearing the end of the marathon. In the past I have been guilty of running either a lot quicker or slower than goal marathon pace. 

 

To see how training was going I ran the Run Through Victoria Park Half in January at around marathon pace. Considering I had run two 20ks on consecutive days before the event I was glad I could hold goal pace. As the race neared Lorna, Alex and I ran long runs spending almost marathon time on feet. I was feeling confident that with a good taper and race nutrition strategy I would be able to achieve a sizeable PB. Learning from previous years I lowered my mileage considerably in the two weeks before the race and made sure to keep hydratedand eat well. 

 

We travelled to Seville on the Friday to explore the city, pick up our race numbers and get into a routine ahead of race day.

 

 

On Saturday morning we did a 5k shake out run to stretch the legs and see the start/finish line. Staying in an apartment near Plaza Nueva (close to Seville Cathedral) it was only a couple of kilometers to the start on Paseo de las Delicias which is very close to Parque de Maria Luisa and Plaza de Espana. To save our legs for the rest of the day we took a bus tour, it helped us visualize the marathon route. From the bus Lorna spotted a pizza place so we jumped off to carb load at lunchtime. On Friday we found a restaurant serving chicken and chips so opted for that at dinnertime. We thought we would leave the amazing paella, tapas, ice cream and alcohol for after the race. 

 

As the race started at 8:30am we set our alarms for 6 to eat breakfast and get to the start area in plenty of time. The last thing you want on race morning is to be rushing around and stressing over small things. I was feeling relaxed about the race. I knew I had trained well and was excited to see what I could achieve. I also couldn’t wait to see what Lorna and Alex could do. We dropped our bags and headed to our start pens. Having run sub 75 for half marathons I was in the sub 2:45 pen, I decided to start the race around 3:55 min/km pace (2:45 pace) and see if I could hold it. With the London Marathon lined up I figured I had nothing to lose and that it could be achievable having managed more marathon paced runs in training than in previous years. I settled into a good rhythm and ticked off the first few kilometers between 3:55 and 4 minutes.

 

 

I saw Lorna’s dad Bob and her brother Rob early on, it was great to have them supporting us around the course. Just before the 5km point we crossed the Puente de la Barqueta Bridge that provided great views of Puente del Alamillo Bridge, designed by Santiago Calatrava.

 

 

 

As Maurten gels provide 25g of carbohydrates, and they are smaller in size than SIS gels, I opted to use them throughout the race. Previously I felt as though I hadn’t taken on enough fuel so I planned to take one every 6 kilometers while sipping on water at every aid station. I ran through 10k in 39:49 feeling comfortable. I was enjoying the race; it was nice to be in a group running alongside the river on perfectly flat roads. Roughly every 5 kilometers there were bands playing which was good entertainment. The first half of the race included quite a few long straights. As we hadn’t turned many corners I was surprised to be clocking 400m or so more than when passing kilometer markers. I crossed the halfway point in 1:23:36, just slightly behind goal pace but I felt good and was hopeful that I could pick it up near the end. 

 

Having consumed four gels by 25k unfortunately I was starting to feel a little sick/nauseous. I think because the Maurten gels are thicker and have a neutral (but sweet) flavor I was perhaps taking on too many carbs/glucose and fructose. My legs were tiring so I needed to keep taking on fuel but I didn’t really want to. In hindsight perhaps I should have taken some of the sports drink from the aid stations but I didn’t really feel like taking on anything. I should have practiced more with the Maurten gels in training, generally they are great but I think I need to experiment with the frequency and or drink mixes. 

 

Just after running through Plaza de Espana at around 35k my left hamstring tightened forcing me to stop and stretch it quickly. I knew the last 7k would be tough but despite my goal time being out of reach I was still hopeful of running a PB. My 30-35k split was 20:42; I lost the best part of a minute stretching. I got back into a rhythm albeit at 4:30min/km pace.

 

 

It was frustrating to have to suffer through the last 7k but it was a great learning experience. The marathon is always hard to predict, as there are so many factors. After another quick stretch and a few kilometers of “shuffling” I crossed the line in 2:52:09.

 

 

 

A new PB by a couple of minutes but not as large as I would have liked. 

Overall it was a great experience, it had been a while since I attempted a marathon PB and I learnt a lot while enjoying the training process. I now feel like I’ve built a good base to work on for the London Marathon and other races. I would definitely recommend the Seville Marathon; it is perfectly flat, the weather is often favorable and the support is superb. Lorna and Alex had terrific runs; Lorna ran 3:25 equaling her PB and Alex knocked 25 (yes 25) minutes off his PB running 3:11. 

 

 

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I’m glad to have got a marathon PB under my belt so early in the year and can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in stall. I love this time of year when everyone is motivated and inspired building towards their goals/challenges.

 

Hope everyone’s training and racing is going well. See a lot of you out on the roads. 

 

Steve

Rock ‘n’ Roll Lisbon Marathon 

On Sunday the 15th of October I took part in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Lisbon Marathon. Over the last few years Lorna and some of our friends have raced in various European cities in the second half of the year. Last year Cologne was the destination of choice with it offering a marathon (which I took part in) and a half. The group decided Lisbon would be good fun as it is becoming an increasingly popular city to visit and because it hosts races of varying distances. I decided to opt for the marathon again thinking I would be in good shape a few weeks after finishing OCC.

We flew to Lisbon early (the security gates weren’t even open) on Saturday morning so we would have some time to sightsee. As we knew the expo would get busy later on in the day we went straight there to collect our race numbers. The expo was relatively small so we had to queue for 20 minutes or so to get in. 

After picking up our race numbers and t-shirts we got the metro to the city centre to grab some food and find our bearings. Following lunch we thought it would be a good idea to check out the finish area and arrange a meeting point for after the races. The lamppost with lanterns worked well!

In the afternoon we killed some time by queuing to go up a viewing platform and enjoyed ice creams, custard tarts and custard doughnuts to fuel up. Wanting to feel fresh for our races we decided to check in at our hotel near the expo and have a nap before dinner. We found a good restaurant just around the corner from Casino Lisboa, I chose to go for Lasagne and garlic bread whilst most of the group fuelled up on chicken and chips or pizzas. As the marathon started at 8am I got back to the hotel, laid out my race kit, filled my bag for dropping at the start and got an early night.

Obligitaroy race kit pic; Iffley Road vest, Adidas split shorts, Stance socks & Adidas Adios

On Sunday morning despite my alarm being set for 5am I woke up at 4. I think having been up at 2am the previous day and taking a nap on Saturday afternoon my body clock was a bit all over the place. At 5am I started to get organised and by 6 I was in the hotel reception asking a group of runners from Normandy if they would like to share a taxi to Cais de Sodre where we could then get the train to Cascais for free. The runners from Normandy were really friendly, they asked about my goal time and as I said “hopefully just under 3 hours” they let me go in the first taxi.

Once I arrived at Cais de Sodre station I was lucky to squeeze on the train, it was rammed. Despite not being able to get a seat the 40 minute trip went quite quickly, perhaps because I was still half asleep. 

The sunrise from Cascais was worth the early wake up call

After a 15 minute walk to the race village there was about 30 minutes to go until the start. I quickly dropped my bag on one of the lorries and then got in the queue for the toilets. Frustratingly there were only 10 or so toilets which didn’t seem like a lot when you consider 4,500 runners were taking part in the marathon. As 8am neared I had a decision to make; a) wait in the queue, miss the start and play catch up or b) start on time and stop part way through the race. I opted for the latter as the last thing I wanted was to have to weave through hundreds of people to try and hit a decent pace.

Leaving it late to join the start line I was lucky that I could enter the funnel near the front because I was number 347. I bumped into a guy that I had met on the plane on the way out, he said he wanted to finish around 3:00-3:05 and so he joined me for the first few kilometres. With it being around 25 degrees I decided to aim for another sub 3, I locked onto 4:15min/km pace for the first few kilometres and then nipped into the roadside portaloo at 4km. To make up some time for my toilet break I started running between 4:05 and 4:10 and felt good. Running along the coast and back through Cascais was beautiful, it didn’t feel too hot at this point but I knew there was still a long way to go.

As I struggled in the last 10k or so in the Boston Marathon earlier this year I decided to take an SIS gel every 7km. This didn’t just help me keep fuelled but it broke the race up into smaller chunks and I just kept thinking “keep working hard, get through the next few kilometres then down a gel”. With the route being relatively flat I felt comfortable at around 4:05-4:10min/km pace. This meant I soon caught up with my friend from the plane and went straight passed on one of the small hills.

At 35km I was on track to go sub 3 again. However the temperature was rising and running along the main road there wasn’t any shade and there were only one or two runners to chase down. I was starting to suffer so I took my caffeine gel to try and perk myself up. I got to 39k but then I got cramp in my left hamstring, I had to stop and stretch for 30 seconds which I thought cost me any chance of getting over the finish line under 3. Luckily it loosened up and I got back on pace. I was doing the maths in my head and trying to work out what pace I needed to hit. As I was running over the distance I knew I needed to up it. Thankfully my legs cooperated with me and allowed me to push on; I got through the 41st kilometre in 4:02, 42nd in 3:53 and then was at 3:33min/km pace for the final 500m to finish in 2:59:37.

Bling

It was such a relief to cross the line and I was chuffed to get another sub 3 marathon in the bag. It was definitely a lot harder than it needed to be but I guess that’s running. After collecting my medal and goodie bag I got roadside to cheer the squad round the half marathon. 

Stance Off

@fayebfit storming to a Half Marathon PB

@lorns_elliott zooming towards the finish line having just overtaken Alex to earn the bragging rights

@alexcvx looking strong. Great Stance combo & colour coordination

@bench53 heading for the beach! #LongDistanceCatwalk

Smithy, Lorna, Faye, Al, Rob, Chivers, Me, Becky & Robbie

In contrast to last year in Cologne Robbie didn’t run really really well because it was really really hot. However, everyone did well considering it was close to 30 degrees and there was a steep hill around 17k. 

Overall it was a great weekend in Lisbon. I’m now incredibly motivated to get into good shape ahead of the London Marathon next year. I’m planning to do a few shorter races including cross-country in the next couple of months.

Well done to everyone else that raced at the weekend, I’ve seen some awesome results posted.

See a lot of you soon.

Steve

The Royal Parks Half Marathon 2016

On Sunday the 9th of October I took part in the Royal Parks Half Marathon. I decided to enter the ballot earlier this year because I ran the event in 2014 and really enjoyed it. Back then I wasn’t in great shape so I thought it would be good to take part again and try and achieve a better time. When I signed up I didn’t know I was going to be doing the Cologne Marathon the weekend before so my approach to the race changed slightly.
During the week between Cologne Marathon and the Royal Parks Half I rested quite a lot. The only real running I did was for The Running Works Run Club and even then I did less sessions than normal. Thanks Nikki for looking out for me and telling me to rest. As the race was approaching my legs were feeling more normal as the days were passing. I knew they wouldn’t be completely fresh but I was hoping they’d feel good enough for me to give it a good crack.

With the race starting at 9am I got an early night on Saturday. Lorna and I woke up a bit before 7am to give us time to get stuff together. She would be cheering me on from the sidelines as she had chosen not to enter due to other races and the entry fee being expensive. For the second week running (pun intended) Lorna looked after all my stuff so I didn’t need to use the bag drop and gave me lots of loud cheers. It definitely helps having someone alongside you at races to take away some of those little stresses. We got the bus to Hyde Park Corner and met up with Tom at the entrance to the park and Ash, Julian, Laurent & Mark in the race village.

The race start time came around really quickly. As I had put in an estimated finish time of around 1:20-1:25 (I think) I was in the orange start pen, which was good as it meant I didn’t have many people in front of me. Mark Foster and Ben Fogle did short speeches about the Royal Parks and the race and before we knew it we were off. I’d decided to aim for around 1:20 so set off at 3:45min/km pace. I wasn’t really sure whether my legs would have it in them after Cologne Marathon but I was willing to find out. I think its good every now and then to push it on tired legs, as I mentioned in my last blog post I am trying to use races to pick up fitness and get back into the shape I was in when I ran Cardiff Half.

I started the race with a 3:43 minute kilometre, which is testament to getting in one of the front start pens and the width of the roads in that section. After 1km you are running through Green Park and shortly after you head past Buckingham Palace and along Birdcage Walk. Running in that area of London always gives me flashbacks to finishing races like the London Marathon, London 10,000 and the Westminster Mile. I’ve got some great memories of racing near Buckingham Palace, I feel incredibly lucky to run in London day in day out around such epic landmarks. The next few kilometres were less scenic as you are running along a few main roads, you run east to near Somerset House before doing a U-turn to head back along the strand and onto The Mall. At this point I was feeling strong and maintaining my goal pace. That said it was early days as when you are running along The Mall you have covered 5 miles.

The crowds were out in force as it was such a nice day. It was particularly busy around Buckingham Palace and up Constitution Hill, which was good, as when trying to hold a quick pace, that straight seems to go on for a while. As mentioned by Ben Fogle on the start line you don’t want to be struggling as you enter Hyde Park, there is still 7 miles to go. I still felt good at this point but knew that at any moment my legs could tighten reminding me I’d run a marathon the weekend before.

 I covered a few kilometres within Hyde Park but then unfortunately came a first for me in a race; I needed to nip to the loo. I was around the 8 mile point and had to ease up. I ran at around 4min/km pace for a while before getting to the toilets near the bandstand on Serpentine Road. After a quick stop I was back on my way, I knew that 1:20 would definitely be out of reach but I aimed to claim a few seconds back over the next few kilometres. Despite my best efforts my stride had been broken and I could only manage around 4 minute/kms until the finish.

 I was a little frustrated that I couldn’t run quicker and get closer to 1:20 but on the other hand I was happy to be able to run a nice half marathon the week after a marathon and enjoy it. My legs were tightening as the final kilometres were passing and I was entering cruise/damage limitation mode. I got massive cheers from the Advent Running crew at mile 12 and from Lorna and Nat as I was running down the long home straight of Kensington Road. Thanks for the shouts everyone, really appreciate it! 

 I crossed the line in 1:23:11 finishing in 86th position, pretty happy with that considering the circumstances. One day I’d like to race the Royal Parks Half fully rested and see what I could do. 

  

I collected my medal and then joined Lorna and Nat in cheering other runners through the line. We didn’t quite have the same effect on runners as the guy with the megaphone 800m or so before the finish line shouting “push, push, push, push!!” but we tried. A big shout has to go to Ash, Tom, Laurent, Mark, Julian etc for all running great times.

Overall the race was great fun, I’d definitely recommend it to anyone. I’d kind of class it as a mini London Marathon so if you want to run a flat, fast route and be cheered on by great crowds then enter the ballot. After all everyone loves a ballot right! Ha

Hope those of you in the ballot for London got in and to those of you who didn’t there are plenty of other great marathons out there so start doing some research.

Next up for me is some cross-country on Saturday with Advent Running. See a lot of you soon.

Steve

The Cologne Marathon 2016

On the 2nd of October I took part in the Cologne Marathon. Over the last couple of years Lorna has taken part in various races in Europe with her brother/s and friends from Colchester. We decided Cologne would be good as they organise a half marathon and marathon on the same day so people could choose the distance they preferred. Initially Lorna and I were going to do the Marathon and Alex (Lorna’s brother) and Robbie were going to do the Half Marathon. As we hadn’t been doing long runs or specific marathon training since Paris Marathon Lorna opted for the half marathon. Due to the half marathon starting at 8:30am and the marathon at 10:00am the plan was for them to run and then grab food and BEER to cheer me round. 

Unfortunately as the race neared Lorna picked up an injury and therefore made the sensible decision not to race. After all we have lots of other races coming up including the Boston Marathon in April. Having not trained specifically for the marathon I had mixed feelings about it. On one hand I was relaxed as I knew I wasn’t in PB shape but on the other hand I was nervous as I didn’t really know what pace to run at and still wanted to be relatively close to my personal best. Luckily over the last three or four weeks I made it to track on Tuesdays and managed to squeeze in a couple of decent long runs. 

We travelled to Cologne early on the Saturday morning and headed straight to the expo to pick up our race numbers.  

The expo was really well organised, despite arriving at what was supposed to be a peak time for pick up we walked straight up to the desk and had our numbers and bags to drop within a couple of minutes. Guess that’s German efficiency for you! We decided it was best to not hang around at the expo, after all we had a lot of running to do the following day so didn’t want to be on our feet for a long time. We then got the train into the city centre to drop stuff at the hotel. We stayed at the Hyatt hotel that is perfectly positioned for getting to and from the race start area.  

Carb loading was next on the agenda, having had a large breakfast Lorna and I opted for a pretzel whilst Alex and Robbie went for some pasta and pizza. In the afternoon we relaxed in the hotel and had a nap, as we were all pretty knackered due to the flight out being at 7:40am. It wasn’t long before we were carb loading again, this time we went to Vapianos for more pasta and pizza. As we would have to be up around 6ish to get ready for the race we got an early night. 

As I wasn’t aiming for a specific time I felt quite relaxed as the race start was nearing. It was good to have Lorna, Alex and Robbie there; maybe if I were racing on my own I would’ve been over thinking it. Lorna and I went with Alex and Robbie to drop their bags about half an hour before start time and then we headed to the bridge to find a good spot to cheer them on. Robbie was feeling good and I was excited to see what time he could run. He generally runs on track but had been training more specifically for this half. Being capable of a sub 5-minute mile I knew he would post a good time. Over the few weeks leading up to the race Alex had been struggling with a dodgy knee and therefore wasn’t too sure on how he’d feel. I obviously wanted Lorna to be running the race but due to her injury I was glad she decided not to run. If she had taken part I would’ve been worried about how she was getting on and thinking about it whilst running the marathon. Also it meant I could look forward to seeing her around the course and this would break the run up into chunks. 

Having seen Robbie and Alex run past Lorna walked over the bridge and found other spots to cheer at whilst I headed back to the start area to get ready. Luckily at this point the sun was out so I was keeping nice and warm. I dropped my bag off and stripped down to my racing kit: AR Collective vest, Adidas Split Shorts, Runderwear, Stance socks and Adidas Adios Boost 3. Typically once I was just down to my racing kit the sun disappeared and it was cold and windy, it looked like a storm was brewing but luckily it passed and the conditions were ok. 

 On the start line I was feeling good and ready to go. My only worry was that my hips were feeling a little tight. On Thursday night I had done a run with The Running Works, Under Armour and Midnight Runners and was feeling sore from doing a few different exercises. In hindsight being in a taper week before a marathon I should have just done the running part. You live and learn I guess. After listening to some horrendous German “music” the countdown began and we were off. I struggled to get onto goal pace straight away as the road was rather narrow and I had positioned myself a little far back, somewhere between the 3:00 and 3:30 pacers. The first kilometre was around 4:40ish as opposed to my goal pace of 4:15 (equates to around 3 hours for the marathon) but once it thinned out I got onto pace and made up a few seconds per kilometre over the next five kilometres or so. I was feeling comfortable and my legs were loosening up. The weather was pretty much perfect, nice and cool and the odd bit of drizzle. After a few kilometres my watch was already out of sync with the kilometre markings on the road. I was 500m or so ahead of the markings really early on and knew the end total was going to be long. This was frustrating but meant that I would have to try and up my pace to counteract the extra distance. I’m not quite sure why there was a difference between my watch and the course; I was sticking pretty close to the racing (blue) line so maybe it was just the gps or something. I carried on at goal pace and was enjoying the route, it was nice and flat and Cologne is a really picturesque city. 

I took my first gel after 11k/7 miles and was feeling good, having not done many long runs over the last few weeks due to having a cold etc I was having fun. I maintained my pace and went through the half marathon distance in 1:29:28. As the race was going on my legs were feeling better and better and the pace was feeling more comfortable. I carried on taking gels at regular intervals and felt well fuelled. 

 I made it to around 40k on target but by this point my legs were tightening and my pace was dropping. I was still only just over goal pace, frustratingly by my watch I went through the 42k distance in 2:57ish yet I knew I still had about a kilometre left to run. I wasn’t going to make sub 3 but despite my legs tightening I pushed on. I saw Lorna, Alex and Robbie with about 800m or so to go and despite Robbie briefly chasing me down the road I couldn’t up my pace or muster a sprint finish.  

Similarly to how I finished London I was shuffling towards the finish line at damage limitation pace, I didn’t want to pull up. I crossed the line in 3:01:03. I was annoyed I hadn’t managed to go sub 3 again but I was happy I wasn’t that far off my PB (2:54 in London). The crowds were great along the last few kilometres, I was struggling so it was hard to really appreciate it and take it all in but overall it was a great race. 

A massive thanks has to go to Lorna for supporting me and looking after me over the weekend. Once I had finished I met up with Lorna, Alex and Robbie.  

Robbie had run really well! He smashed his PB finishing the half in 1:24. Alex didn’t have such a great race finishing in 1:36 but considering the dodgy knee that’s still a good time. Robbie ran really well. 

If you are looking for a flat, fast marathon or half marathon you cant go wrong with choosing to enter Cologne. I am hoping to run the marathon or half again in the near future. The trip was relatively cheap as well, which is always good when you’ve got lots lined up. After the race we went straight for food and drinks and over the Sunday and Monday we did some sightseeing. This included going to the Schokoladen Museum (Lindt chocolate museum) that was awesome, I felt like I’d earned some chocolate.  

 Overall it was a great weekend visiting Cologne and running the marathon. Its given me a good base to work off and now I’m looking forward to racing the Royal Parks Half Marathon as well as other races in the next few weeks. I am planning to race myself back into PB shape. 

I hope everyone’s running has been going well, see a lot of you soon. Give me a shout if you see me at the Royal Parks Half. 

Steve

The North Face Zagori Marathon 2016

On Saturday the 23rd of July Lorna and I took part in the Zagori Marathon. We signed up a few months back and the initial plan was to run it with Michalis and Freya. The main reason we signed up was because Michalis is Greek and could show us around but unfortunately due to injuries etc neither of them could make it. Having paid for the race, accommodation and flights Lorna and I still made the trip. We travelled to Athens on the Wednesday before the race and spent a day and a bit there before heading north to Aristi, near to where the race started.It was my first trip to Greece so I didn’t really know what to expect. We arrived on the Wednesday afternoon and headed straight to the pool on the roof of our hotel for a spot of swimming and sunbathing.

The weather was awesome, roughly 30 degrees, I may have burnt a little. In the evening we went to a restaurant, recommended by Michalis, just down the road from our hotel. The food was amazing; we had Greek salad, lots of bread with tzatziki and Souvlaki. The wine wasn’t quite up to standard but it was really cheap so we couldn’t complain really.

On the Thursday morning we went for an exploratory 10k of Athens. Michalis had sent us over a route to follow so that we could take in some of the ruins and run passed the Acropolis Museum etc.

We started our run at around 9am and already it was baking hot. We kept it nice and steady bearing in mind we had a mountain marathon in two days time. After the run we rehydrated and found a nice little bakery near our hotel that sold massive ice creams. We returned to that bakery a fair few times throughout our stay. In the afternoon we chilled by the pool, it was so nice to just relax and not have to do anything. We went for an amazing meal in the evening at Orizontes which is situated at the top of Lycabettus Hill. The hill is the highest peak of Athens which overlooks the capital from 277 meters. This was one of my personal highlights of the trip; we had great food and wine and then watched the beautiful sunset.


After a nice couple of days in Athens the time had come to head up North. We got a taxi to the bus station and then boarded a bus for the 8 hour trip to Ioannina. Once we arrived in Ioannina we were picked up by a taxi arranged by Michalis, we were driven to fifth element to collect our race packs before being taken to Aristi Mountain Resort where we would stay for the weekend. The resort was amazing; the views of the mountains were awesome.

We carb-loaded up before getting an early night as we had to be up around 5 o’clock to get organised and get a taxi to the start.

Our taxi arrived at 5:30am to take us to the race; luckily it was only a half an hour drive to the start, in the village of Kipoi (750m altitude), as the race started at 6:30am. We took a few pre-race photos, dropped our bags off and before we knew it the race began.

Being a mountain marathon there wasn’t the sprint start of a shorter distance race but some of the elite guys took off pretty sharpish. The first 700m or so of the race was on road, luckily I wore my Salomon X-series which have good grip for trail but due to not having any real lugs they are also good on road. Then we ran over a three arched bridge called Kalogeriko entering a well preserved path. Within the first couple of kilometres we went over a couple of stone bridges, the runners at this point were still pretty bunched together. Having not done much research into the route both Lorna and I were surprised at how rocky and technical the terrain was. We followed the river bank for about 2km before running inside the gorge, we found ourselves clambering over massive rocks/boulders. Despite the challenging route we were making good time and knew we’d make the cut off time of 4.5 hours for halfway.

 We passed through a couple of refreshment stations, one at about 7k and another around 11k. The next station was at 17.5km in the Voidomatis springs. This was where the intense uphill for about 10 kilometres started. Papigo was the site for the halfway point and aid station number 4. Lorna and I had made it to halfway in roughly 3 hours. It was a relief to get there in good time and have the opportunity to fuel up; there were crisps, cake and boiled potato etc. Having looked at the elevation profile a fair amount we knew the hard work was ahead of us.

The uphill was pretty brutal, it was still incredibly rocky. In hindsight prior to the race we should have hit the trails more often and prioritised hill sessions, however we were managing. The poles were coming in handy and Lorna felt more stable using them. Every now and then we had to just take some time to look around and enjoy being in the mountains, the scenery was spectacular.

None of the photos really do it justice. We continued climbing up until around 28k where there was a short sharp downhill section. This proved challenging as it was so steep and the ground was sliding away from beneath us, we had to put the brakes on. After the downhill section there was a little more climbing to do before a sustained period of running downhill. With the course profile in mind I knew where the ascending and descending was, the only thing I didn’t know was that not an awful lot of the downhill section were runnable (for us anyway). The 80km and marathon routes overlap so we saw some of the ultra-athletes flying down the side of the mountain. It was awe-inspiring to see them running with such balance and quick feet.

After the 6th refreshment station at around 31k things were pretty slow going, we were tired from all the climbing. We were running for what must’ve been close to two hours before reaching another aid station. Lorna asked one of the photographers on the route how far we had left to run and he replied “6 or 7k” we couldn’t quite believe it. We finally made it to Avgerinos and the 7th aid station; this was 37.7k into the race. Having done the first half marathon in 3 hours we couldn’t believe we were going to be pushing it to finish in the cut off time of 9 hours, especially with so many other runners behind us. We started to question whether we would even get a medal or anyone would be there at the finish. The pace picked up a little but a considerable amount of time had passed and the finish line was still not to be seen. On the horizon we could see a small marquee with a few people outside, we’d been running for ages since the last checkpoint and thought we must be approaching the finish but no it was another aid station. We were both thinking “this has to say 40k+, we haven’t just run only over a kilometre”. To our amazement it said 39k. It goes to show you can’t underestimate the terrain in trail races; kilometres can take a seriously long time. We shot off from the aid station in a bid to make the cut off time.

The first kilometre or so from the aid station was ok; we could hold a decent pace. Then came a section where we had to zig zag down the side of a hill. At this point we could hear and see the crowds at the finish line in the distance; Lorna and I were trying to predict how far away it was and how long it would take to run there. The final kilometre was pretty flat through a town on the road; this gave us chance to pick up the pace. We made it onto the red carpet/finish straight and could muster a sprint finish. Luckily we had made it across the line in 8 hours and 45 minutes. It was such a relief, we received are medals and then grabbed a drink to rehydrate.

It was such a long day running through the mountains but what a day! It was such a brutal but beautiful route, one I hope to tackle again in the future.

After the race Lorna and I had a few days in Aristi and Sivota to relax. We went rafting and chilled with Fred the Flamingo on the beach.


 On a whole the trip was amazing; it was nice to spend time in Athens, explore the mountains and then chill by the sea. A massive thankyou has to go to Michalis for helping me and Lorna get organised and travel around Greece.I’m already thinking about the possibility of doing the marathon again or even the 80k. Athens Marathon will also have to be done at some point soon.

See a lot of you soon

Steve

The London Marathon 2016

It’s been 8 days now since the big event; I think this has been long enough to reflect on what was an incredible day. I always wanted the London Marathon to be my first marathon, mainly because of seeing how great the atmosphere was on TV when I was younger. However, due to being unlucky (like millions of others) in the ballot I decided to take on the Manchester Marathon. It was 2014 when I ran my first marathon; those two years have absolutely flown by. Since then I’ve run 8 marathons, a couple on road and a few on trails.
My preparation for the race went well, last year I ran and raced consistently and over the first three months of the year I managed a decent mileage and went to track pretty much every week. As some of you may have read Cardiff Half Marathon went well, I was really happy to knock 3 minutes off my PB and qualify for Championship entry for London (and other races) next year. That was one of my A races, as such, and London was always going to be my marathon A race. The week after Cardiff I travelled to take part in the Paris Marathon with my girlfriend Lorna and friends. I was treating this as a B race and was there to support Lorna and try to help her get a PB, which we achieved in hot conditions.

With three weeks between Paris and London I needed to rest a lot so I barely ran. It was a combined rest post marathon and taper pre marathon. Over the last four or five weeks I feel like I’ve barely run at all despite doing three big races, I’m looking forward to being fully rested and being able to get bigger mileage and track in again. I felt like I tapered well, I only did the work run club and a couple of short runs the week leading up to the London Marathon. This included a shakeout run with Paula Radcliffe on the Saturday morning that was pretty cool.  

Photo courtesy of Alan Yan (@nikeengineer)

After the event Lorna and I headed across the city to meet my Mum, Stepdad, Sister, Auntie, Uncle and little (not so little anymore) cousin who were in the concrete jungle to support me in the marathon. We did a bit of sightseeing including taking a tour around the Tower of London, it was nice to catch up with the family and do something, it distracted me from the fact I was going to be running one of the biggest races/marathons in the world the following day. We had some really nice food and then I headed home to get an early night.

I woke up at 4:09am on Sunday morning, not ideal. With the race starting at 10 I was hoping to sleep until 6 or 7 at least but I just couldn’t get back to sleep. It was really frustrating but I just put on some music and tried to relax. Being such a big race with huge crowds and having family and friends around the course must’ve made me a bit stressed. I had some breakfast and then headed to Blackheath. On the way to my start area I gave Lorna a call, she was already near Tower Bridge helping set up KenYan Corner. She put friends on loudspeaker and it sounded like they were already having a blast (not literally, although we did wonder with the speaker set up! ha). 

 
I got to my start pen in plenty of time and dropped my bag off with ease; the organisation of the London Marathon is great. With a bit of time to kill I wandered around the green start area; it was the pen where the celebs and Guinness World Record attempt participants were situated. It’s insane what some people do to raise money for charity. Whilst waiting for the start I watched the big screen showing the wheelchair race and the elite women’s race. At the same time I tried to position myself in a sunny patch to keep warm.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1… and we were off! Being in the GFA start I was really close to the line. Having done 1:13 at the Cardiff Half I had set my target time for London at 2:45, I was hoping this would be achievable despite being 4 weeks after Cardiff and 3 weeks after Paris. I set off at around 4 min/km pace, but due to it being downhill for a fair bit of the first 5k or so I was running a bit quicker than target pace. I thought I would go with it and bank a few seconds each kilometre. I was ticking off the kilometres and was thinking about which points I would see family and friends and take gels. The crowds were amazing, I knew it was going to be busy and loud but to be running through London with crowds three deep was nuts.

At regular intervals I sipped on water and after 11k I took my first gel as planned. Things were going well, I’d gone through 10k in around 39 minutes that was a little quicker than planned but not too fast. I carried on at that pace and then at mile 9 I saw my family, it was great to have them out supporting me. Due to me living in London and them living in Devon I don’t get to see them as much as I would like. It was special to have them there to cheer me on, especially because it was with my Uncle Andrew that I ran my first race, the Ruby Run Half Marathon, with. They did really well to get to three points to see me, good work Sar (with the help of Lorna who’s done the London Marathon twice). Seeing my family gave me a real lift, I then knew within the next 4 miles I would get to see Lorna and friends at KenYan Corner. 

 Cheering looked fun! I’m hoping to do Boston Marathon next year and cheer at London. 

The approach to Tower Bridge is amazing, the crowds get bigger and bigger. Living in London and running over Tower Bridge regularly I had been imagining the experience of running over it in the middle of the road with thousands of people cheering me on for a long time. My expectations were surpassed; it was such a great moment. Just after crossing Tower Bridge I headed to the corner, not just any corner, KenYan Corner! It was great to see lots of friends out around the course, this was the best moment of the marathon for me. I was running by and they let off a confetti cannon. Due to it being KenYan corner I shouted Jambo Jambo!  

    Photos courtesy of Emily Hallett (@jemima_runs) & Michalis Vin Koutsoukos (@michalis_vin)

I had gone through halfway in 1:22, a little quicker than I had planned but I was hoping to hold on to this pace and finish in 2:45. Just after KenYan Corner (and Tower Bridge) James Poole came zooming up to run alongside me for a bit. He too was targeting 2:45 to get championship entry for London and entry to Berlin Marathon etc. After a short while I could tell he was feeling really good so he carried on whilst I settled into a pace closer to 4 minutes per kilometre. At this point I knew the second half was going to be a slog. My legs were already starting to feel tired and were seizing up slightly. When you are heading to Canary Wharf it is a little demoralising as you are A) heading in the opposite direction as the finish line and B) the crowds aren’t anywhere near as big as they have been around the rest of the course. I kept getting the kilometres done. I saw my family for the second time, this gave me another big lift and I was digging deep.

I had taken a gel at the 14-mile marker and was planning to take my 3rd and 4th gels at 20 and 23 miles. Due to feeling tired I decided to take my 3rd gel earlier, I took it at around the 18-mile point, leaving my 4th for 23 miles. I could feel my legs getting tighter and tighter, my stride getting shorter and shorter but I tried to keep going at 4 min/km pace. I passed KenYan Corner for the second time, it was great to see Lorna again, I was struggling but just wanted to get it done and still in a PB time. Along embankment the noise from the crowds was amazing. Due to being knackered I couldn’t really appreciate it fully, I just had to concentrate on putting one foot in front the other. I saw the Advent Running cheer crew, which was awesome. Whilst running along I heard “Steve Skinner!” It was Ciaran Saunders who I’d met through previously working in the London Marathon Store and because I work at The Running Works now. He caught up with me so we both ran together to the finish. As we approached Westminster my left hamstring tightened a lot. This was really frustrating as there was only 3k or so left to run but I had to stop briefly and stretch. I obviously knew at this point 2:45 was out the window but I still thought I could creep in under my PB of 2:54.

With my hamstring stretched quickly, Ciaran and I shuffled our way towards the finish on the Mall. At this point we were doing between 5 and 5:30 min/km, it was a bit of a sufferfest! We got to the finishing straight and could see the clock showing 2:53:.. We upped our pace ever so slightly to make sure we got in under our PBs. I finished in 2:54:08 shaving 48 seconds off my PB from the Thames Meander Marathon last year. I was so pleased to finish the race in a time under my PB and Sub 3 in my first marathon major. Overall I am a little disappointed to have not gone quicker but I’m really happy to have finished my first London Marathon and experience the incredible crowds. 

 Pretty decent haul in 4 weeks!

Thanks to all my family and friends for the support, you all made it such an amazing day for me!! 


Lorna (@lorns_runs) and I , thanks for the support!! 

Uncle Andrew, Auntie Hannah, my sister Sarah, me, cousin Tilly, Mum and Stepdad Steve 

I hope everyone else enjoyed the London Marathon and that you’re recovering well.

See a lot of you soon

Steve

Paris Marathon 2016

On Sunday the 3rd of April I took part in my first marathon abroad: the Marathon de Paris 2016. I’d signed up ages ago; a lot of running
friends had entered and I thought it would be a great way to see Paris and do some sightseeing! And with Cardiff Half Marathon the weekend before and London Marathon three weeks later (both of which are A races for me!), I’d already decided that I was going to take Paris steady and use it as a last long run before a decent taper.
Over the last couple of months I’ve been doing decent mileage including track, the odd tempo run with James Poole (Advent Running) and long weekend runs with my girlfriend Lorna and friends (River Runners, if you want to get involved have a look on their Twitter, Instagram and/or Facebook page).

A few months ago Lorna asked if I would run the marathon with her and having done a lot of the long runs together we both thought it would be more fun to experience it together! Her mum coined me the “donkey” as I’d said I’d carry water, gels, buffs and the GoPro for her in my Salomon bag! I think she was joking!

Lorna’s training had been going well; completing both the Essex 20 and Colchester Half Marathon in PB times so we set an aim of 3:20 which would be a 6-minute PB!

As race day dawned, I started to get more excited; I knew the atmosphere would be great as it’s the biggest road marathon in Europe with over 40,000 runners taking part. I was also excited for my friends Mark, Emily and Toni as Paris would be their first marathon! Jonny, Alan, Dean and Michalis had also been training hard and had set goal times.

We arrived into Paris Saturday lunchtime; we dropped our bags at the hotel (which had an epic view of the Eiffel Tower) and headed for the running expo to pick up our numbers etc. The expo was massive, the organisation was really good, we picked up our numbers and pacing bands and bought souvenir tees with no problems. Whilst walking around the expo we bumped into a few of the other Nike run club runners; Kyrstie, Dan and Ryan who were also there to take on the Marathon.

After the expo we headed to the Arc de Triomphe, which would be the start and end point the following day!  

We wanted to check how long the walk from the hotel to there would take us in the morning but got slightly side tracked taking selfies! After a quick ten minute walk back to the hotel we went to the restaurant downstairs to carb-load on chicken and chips (& a cheeky pint!). We laid out our kit, stuffed the Salomon bag with our gels and all the other marathon necessities and then got an early night.

We woke up early, around 6.30am, had a quick shower, ate breakfast (wheetabix!) and then headed to meet the rest of the crew in the lobby & find Lorna a coffee! Everyone was feeling differently about the challenge ahead; some were quiet, getting in the race zone and others were running around going crazy after a coffee (Emily! Ha). 

 Coffee found, we headed to the bag drop in what we thought was plenty of time, however because of the attacks last year, security had been ramped up meaning huge queues to drop bags! Lorna, Jonny, Alan & myself were starting in the earlier (Paris marathon is a staggered start) so we had to run to the start to get to our pens in time! Just what you need; a couple of extra kilometres before a marathon! Luckily when I signed up I’d put a finishing time of sub 3:15, so we were let in the pen ahead of Lorna’s (3.30). Most of the runners in this pen had already started so we were basically in a pen on our own! We took a few more selfies, caught our breath and stripped off our extra layers whilst waiting for the 3.30 runners to come forward.  

It wasn’t long before we were on our way! Knowing that 4:44min/km would mean a 3:20 marathon we started at this pace. The conditions were good to start with as it was still cool at 9 o’clock, however with the sun blazing down we knew it was going to get a lot hotter.

A few hundred metres into the race I turned around to look back and take in the shear volume of runners coming down the Champs Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe when we heard someone shout “Steve!!!” It was Michael Koball who I’d met whilst working at the London Marathon Store last year; he also races a lot and I’d been following his training on Instagram. Lorna just started laughing “we come all the way to Paris and you still bump into runners you know!” It is funny when you see a familiar face in a race; especially when you’re abroad; running is a small world/community!

 Lorna and I were ticking off the miles comfortably; we’d had our first gel at 5/6 miles and were taking in a good amount of water, the bottles on my race vest meant we didn’t have to wait for water stations which was great with the weather being so hot. We knew our cheer crew would be somewhere near Bastile, around the 6 mile point so it wasn’t long before we saw Freya, Emily (Deans girlfriend) and Korina (Michalis wife) with the #BartPack/British/KenYan flag. There’s a story behind this flag but I’m not going to go into that now! It was great to see them and gave us both a life. We knew the next time we’d see them would be just after the half way point so this gave us another goal to focus on.

We went through half way in 1:40ish, Lorna was feeling good, holding pace at 4:44min/km. I was keeping her entertained by trying to capture all the sights with the GoPro, handing her water, gels etc (I may have taken a couple selfies too!) and the next few miles flew by. We were soon coming back past our cheer crew and heading out on to the long straight along the River Seine towards the Eiffel tower. After 14 miles or so Lorna could feel a slight niggle in her right leg, we continued at our goal pace and thankfully it subsided after a couple of miles.

Running along the river from miles 14 to 19 was beautiful but hot; the sun was now on our backs and the temperature had hit over 20! There were also a lot of slopes as we went up, under and other various bridges and tunnels. We ran past the Eiffel Tower around mile 18 and I couldn’t resist another selfie and GoPro video; it was the first time I’d ever seen it and gave us both a boost! We got to the 20 mile marker on pace but Lorna knew she couldn’t hold it any longer; it was just too hot so we started to slow to 4:50 – 5:00min/km pace. Surrounding runners seemed to be struggling more than us as we were still passing a lot of people. This was good but at the same time it meant we had to weave and stray from the green racing line a fair bit. 

 Going into the last 5k we knew it would be a tough slog; Lorna had run it previously in 2013 and warned me about the ‘park of doom’; the beautiful sites and cheering crowds were gone and we were left with a very quiet and run down park! Not the most motivational surroundings to get us through!

With a mile or two to go we knew we weren’t going to run sub 3:20 but with Lorna’s PB standing at 3:26 we made an aim to better that and enjoy the finish together! Focus adjusted, we set our sites on the finish! We passed Jonny who’d unfortunately suffered with blister/feet issues in the last half and gave each other a cheer (I think I remember something about beer at the finish!). We turned a corner out of the park and before we knew it there were crowds and cheering again; we hit the 200m to go sign and sprinted to the finish line, crossing the line hand in hand in 3:25:33. 

 Considering the hot conditions we are both really happy with the result. Being well inside the GFA time means Lorna can do pretty much whichever races she wants to do in the next couple years; whether that’s London again or Boston etc.

I’m certain we would’ve gone close to sub 3:20 if it had been a cooler day so I’m excited to see how quickly Lorna can get. I’m so proud of her for getting a PB and pushing herself when it was hard work. But most of all we had a great day together and have so many memories and selfies recorded on the GoPro!

 
 Overall the group were happy; some had to settle for times slower than they’d originally wanted but I think everyone did really well considering the tough conditions. It’s always annoying when you train for a race for so long and don’t get the time you want but it goes to show we can’t control conditions on race day so sometimes goals and expectations have to change.

 Post-marathon we re-grouped and chilled on the grass near the finish line and enjoyed some champagne (once we could get into it!) We then demolished a couple of baguettes on our way back to the hotel. Myself, Lorna, Michalis and Korina decided a shakeout walk was a good idea so we took a trip to the Eiffel Tower.  

On the Monday and Tuesday we did a lot of sightseeing and a lot of eating (Raclette!!). It was such a great trip!

Holiday over; my attention is now on the London Marathon next Sunday. I’ll be enjoying the taper until then. I hope that those of you that are going to be with me on the start line are feeling ready! And remember to enjoy it; you’ve done all the training so don’t forget to take the day in!

I also can’t finish this post without saying a big well done to Ash Tehrani who smashed out a 3 hour marathon in Paris, the SDW 50 the week after and has Boston Monday; what a legend!

 See a lot of you soon

 Steve 

Trailscape Marathon – Ashurst, South

On Saturday 23rd January I took part in the trailscape South marathon in Ashurst. Having done the previous two marathons in the series I was looking forward to getting back out on the trails. However, I was a little apprehensive because the first 3 weeks of the year I’ve been doing pretty big mileage (for me) as well as going to track and pushing the pace. I definitely approached the marathon as a training run and it was quite good to go into it relaxed not worrying about finishing time or positon.
With the race starting at 8:45 I woke up at 6am to head to James and Claudia’s. I was lucky enough to be asked to run as part of the AR (Advent Running/ar collective) trail team for the trailscape series and they’ve been kind enough to give me lifts to the races. After putting up the marquee and AR banner we had time to catch up with other members of the AR team and familiar trailscape faces from previous races.   

 The AR Trail Team (photo courtesy of Emma Sherwood @emmash32)

Jonny, Freya & me (Photo courtesy of Freya @fhotson)

Jonny & Freya, who run with a couple Nike run clubs and do long runs with me and a group of friends, were signed up to the marathon too which was good. We didn’t talk about goal times or anything but due to the fact we were all treating the race as a training run we ran together. Having done the last two trailscape races I learnt that the event is much more fun if you’ve got people to share the miles with. In the first event I ran a lot of the course with James and in the second race I made friends with an experienced marathoner. We settled into a good pace in the first few kilometres, the only problem was we ended up heading off course. I’m not 100% sure what happened but a small group of us missed a sign somewhere. All I know is James and Andy two fellow ARers were near the front! Haha After the slight detour we found ourselves back on course but behind a lot of other runners that went the right way. When doing tiring muddy trail marathons (that are generally longer than a marathon anyway) the last thing you need is to add distance.

The good thing about going the wrong way is that when moving through the field (pun intended) you get to see lots of other runners and have a quick chat. The miles went by really quickly, I’m not sure what me, Jonny & Freya were talking about half the time but we had lots of laughs.   

 Photo taken by Lucy @ljhoare

One thing we discussed was motivational/inspiring quotes. There was a hill to climb, only was it a hill!? We came up with the motivational saying “The hill is only as big as it is in your mind”. The marathon was a two lap route. This was good because we got to see other runners and high five; I have really enjoyed the trailscape races because all of the participants and organisers are so friendly. One of my favourite parts of the race were the aid stations, I described the event to Jonny and Freya as a long distance picnic. I had forgotten how much I enjoy Soreen, Hula Hoops, Jaffa Cakes and coke. 

 Why would you place a photographer just after an aid station!

We kept a pretty steady pace all the way round, we didn’t stop at the aid stations for long and only really walked the seriously muddy climb near the end of the route. We finished in around 4 hours and 10 minutes, Freya was 2nd female and me and Jonny finished in the top 15 or so.  

 

The medals are definitely worth the effort!

Once I finished I caught up with James, he finished 3rd. He was disappointed but he still achieved a great time especially considering the big mileage he has been doing and the tough conditions. Andy finished first in 3 hours and 20 minutes which is amazing on a course so muddy and undulating. I peeled off my muddy compression socks and got into clean warm clothes and then we cheered in a few runners and watched the presentations. It was great to see a lot of the AR trail team crossing the finish line, some of them were doing their first marathons and Hannah finished her first of twelve this year. After Freya collected her Buff for finishing second we headed back to London, we carried on the picnic in the car with pork pies (recommended by ultra-runner Holly Rush ha) crisps, and brownies/rocky roads. Overall a productive Saturday. My weekly mileage totalled 130k+ and therefore I rested on Sunday. My recovery rate is improving and I’m aiming to do a few more weeks of around 120k including track and do more speed work in February and March. I hope everyone had a great weekend and that your training is going well.

See a lot of you soon

Steve

Follow me on Twitter &/or Instagram: @StephenSkinner6

Also follow: @adventrunning @ar_collective @trailscape