Parkrun Report – Peterborough parkrun #106, Saturday 11th July 2015

The first thing to state is that I’m very much aware that to post a parkrun report in Race Reports is something of a faux pas, the free to enter timed 5k run is very keen to stress that it is not a race – no matter how similar it may feel like being one from the moment you arrive at one to the text message you receive an hour or two after the event telling you your time and finishing position.

From the onset however mentally I was treating my participation at Peterborough parkrun, if not as a race, as a very serious time trial, a serious stab at beating my very old parkrun PB of 17:20, set at Coventry back in 2012. The week’s training had been moderately easy – an 80% effort at an intervals session on the Tuesday, which confirmed I was in good shape and the other session of note a 13.5 mile club run on the Thursday which saw us neck high in crops at one point and then tripping over a poorly dumped roadworks barrier late on in the run.

That last incident very nearly saw me not take part in the parkrun. The Friday saw the right shin quite sore and when that cleared up on Saturday morning I found myself limping a touch with a very tight quad. Thankfully some last minute foam rolling before setting off appeared to alleviate the limp. The drive down to Peterborough was rather blissful, the fact I had the sunroof open and windows down pointed at the temperatures already being warm.

I arrived a little later than planned, which meant after the customary call of nature I only had chance to do a short 1.5 mile or so warm up – which was one loop of the course. The legs felt a bit stiff and the sun pretty warm, but in the last minutes of the warm up I felt the body loosen off and feel ready for the assault.

After the customary parkrun briefing we headed to the start and I made my way to the front, having a final brief chat / excuses tick off with fellow GRC runner Rob. A couple of minutes late and we were on our way. I was pleased to have just in front of me a couple of runners who were willing to take the early pace, and another runner just behind as we eased away from the field. I felt comfortable sitting in third as we completed a mini lap of the lake and headed off on the first of two larger laps. I was chopping the stride slightly but there was none of the inadvertent tripping I was doing at the recent Solstice.

We went through the first mile in 5:10, which is one of my fastest ever miles but felt comfortable – especially as I’d covered 800m earlier in the week during intervals at sub 4:40 pace. We then went over the only real climb on the course in the form of a pedestrian bridge. The climb is just a few seconds but it was enough to cause a slowing on the descent. I decided that this was the moment to push and I took the lead and didn’t look back. We were already passing backmarkers, who had been instructed to keep to the right. Most did but there were occasions when I did have to shout quite loud to get someone’s attention. Thankfully there were plenty of runners who were also shouting to others to keep right, so at no point was I held up.

If this wasn’t a race it still continued to feel like it. The Peterborough parkrun course is held on nigh on exactly the same course as the 5k race held there as part of a summer series, albeit I imagine the parkrun has significantly more crowd support, especially with the enthusiastic cheering of the Peterborough Sweatshop Community Runners, who risked wearing bright yellow t-shirts (And in so doing became a magnet for all sorts of insect life) to give the run a race like feel.

As I completed the first large lap and headed for the final tour, I worked out from the applause of spectators that I had a comfortable gap on the second placed runner – and it was now a time trial to the finish to try and get that PB. Mile two was covered in 5:19 and I still felt fairly fresh. I then hit an exposed bit in terms of the sunshine and wished I’d worn a vest rather than a t-shirt. It was over 20C (40 minutes later when I got in the car the temperature was 23C) and I was having to play mind games to convince the body it wasn’t hot.

The second climb of the bridge numbed the legs and the final mile began to feel like an awful long way. It was here the crowd support and the generous enthusiasm of lapped runners really helped me to the finish. As I took the final left hand bend and began the final 400 meters or so I glanced at my watch and saw it had only recently clocked 15 minutes. I knew a sub 17:20 was assured, it was now a question of how quick I could go. I didn’t register the third mile split at the time (it was a 5:15, but it felt slower) it was an all out effort to the finish chute.

I crossed the line and heard the official shout 16:36 which, to a tenth of a second, tallied with my Garmin time. The tiredness soon flushed out of the body with the elation of a big new PB – 44 seconds for parkrun and 19 seconds for 5k (the Peterborough parkrun course is certified as accurate, apparently).

The fact I finished first didn’t really matter at all – my effort was true to the parkrun ethos that it is a run against the clock and to better yourself rather than necessarily others. That said I couldn’t help feeling that I’d been to many races that felt less like a race than Peterborough parkrun, but today I wasn’t complaining over the rights and wrongs of parkrun. It was a good day.

Lincoln Wellington 5k – Tuesday 29th July 2014

Fairly fresh from the five mile race in Nottingham six days earlier, I lined up next to an athletics track near the Yarborough Leisure Centre in Lincoln about to take part in the third, of four, races of the Lincoln Wellington 5k Series. Before the five miler I’d not planned on racing here, but the day after I thought it would be good if I could squeeze another race in before my summer holidays and a search on Fetcheveryone produced this golden opportunity to have a stab at firstly beating my 5k PB and, more pertinently, going sub 17 for 5000 meters for the first time.

With that in mind my training was fairly easy post five mile race. The hamstrings took a couple of days for the pain to subside completely but they did. A long run with GRC on Thursday was followed by four consecutive easy paced and moderate mileage runs – the only real effort was put in on an attack on the Minnett’s Hill Strava segment which I was able to reclaim. The only real issues became a pair of blisters on each Achilles, a legacy of the new Lunar Racers worn on Wednesday (And a known issue apparently) and troublesome in certain pairs of my trainers.

I arrived in Lincoln a little later than planned and seemed to faff around for far too long getting ready to go for a warm up – the result of which it was only two miles instead of the planned three. The planned wearing of new Lunar Racers was also swiftly abandoned after just a few meters of running, the Achilles’ blisters far too sore. Thankfully at the last minute I’d packed my old Nike Frees which would be more than adequate for the race. The warm up at least did allow me to recce the course, which would be a small lap of playing fields next to an Athletics track followed by three large laps of two playing fields. The course was near pancake fat, the corners not too tight. All nearly ideal save for a strengthening wind after a warm, cloudy day, which would be direct into our faces for half of each lap.

A small but fairly competitive field lined up at 7:30pm for the start of the race. I placed myself on the front row, but as the whistle blew at the off, I made a steady start to sit somewhere just outside the top 15 after the opening short lap. I planned to race in a similar manner to last week, speeding up through the race and picking off the field all the way through to the finish. I’m no expert at 5k pacing – some like to go off really fast and hang on as best as possible. I tried that at Peterborough at a parkrun last year and found it one of the least enjoyable runs ever as I died a thousand deaths in the final mile. I’ll far rather sacrifice a second or two in the opening stages to ensure a stronger finish.

Steady pace was also a relative term for the Garmin indicated that the first half mile had been run at sub five minute mile pace. I thought, although running well, this was a bit bogus and queried the reliability, once again, of my 910XT.  As we began the start of the first large lap I had other issues to contend with, namely the headwind. Feeling quite strong I worked my way to the front of a small group and pushed on, knowing that this would mean others behind me would be sheltering from the wind behind me. I felt I had no choice; if I wanted a quick time I’d have to do it the hard way.

Also with no km or mile markers I only had my Garmin to use to judge how well I was going. If I could trust it I was flying – the first mile covered in 5:05. Like last week, although working hard, it was feeling quite easy. The second mile was covered halfway through the second lap – Garmin said it took 5:11. As we began the final lap I knew that if I could hold it together a PB was assured. Again into the headwind, as I passed a couple of runners, I could feel them joining the queue behind be sheltering – doing less work than I. This spurred me on to push harder, trying to break the tow, which, save for one runners proved successful. Mile three flashed on the Garmin 5:12. Fantastic! I was on for a sub 16 minute run! A Kenilworth Runners’ club record beckoned!

It would have done were the finish just around the corner, which it wasn’t. It was around half a lap away. A quick look at the watch showed I had around 85 seconds to finish the race in sub 17 minutes. The post mortem of how the Garmin had added nearly 400m to the 5k course would come later, now I just had to run as fast as possible.

Thankfully I had two factors to help. After 20 seconds or so of headwind, the final stages were aided with a tailwind. Secondly a runner, who had been sheltering behind me, passed me and began an early kick for home. Sensing it was now or never I kicked on too and stuck with him, before passing him when I saw a painted mark on the path saying 200m which I assumed meant 200 meters to the finish.

I gave it everything sprinting too and past the finish line (the Garmin had me running the final 0.32 miles at 4:37 pace). I knew the PB was a formality, the sub 17 was close. I looked at the watch. 16:55! I did it! Sub 17 done and at a proper 5k, not a free-to-enter timed run that is the 5k that is parkrun. 49 seconds better than my previous 5k best (The 2012 BRAT 5k at Rowheath), 25 seconds quicker than my parkrun PB also set in 2012).

I finished eighth, 35 seconds behind the winner, and the first, as far as I could tell, to not collapse into an exhausted heap at the finish. I couldn’t decide whether this is because I am in pretty good condition at the moment or I just didn’t try as hard as the others (I imagine it is a bit of both). I jogged back down the course to cheer home club runner Ben, who also knocked a great chunk off his 5km best.

So a fair journey for a short race, but a successful trip. As someone from GRC pointed out, from October last year to now, I have broken PBs at every distance raced with the exception of the half marathon. That will hopefully come in late September at Nottingham. It’s Project Sub 1:16:47!

Rotterdam Marathon – Sunday 13th April 2014.

Part  One – The Preparation

The day dawned bright and sunny in Rotterdam. I turned on the TV, caught up with the news on BBC Breakfast News, and slowly went about preparing for the marathon. I continued by watching the rerun of Match of the Day whilst I meticulously consumed muesli bars at exactly the right moment, followed by a lot of liquid – the air con in the hotel room had left me seriously dehydrated. Having the BBC on whilst preparing was oddly comforting – I may have been in a hotel room in Europe, but this is pretty much exactly how I prepare for a race when I am at home. At 9:30 the BBC began their coverage of the London Marathon – the familiar stirring anthem of a theme tune (AKA Rod Goodwin’s The Trap) producing the appropriate level of goose bumps and the curtain call for me to head out and run a marathon that was, for today only, a little closer to home.

I had goose bumps of a different kind on exiting the hotel. Although sunny, the wind was stiff and cold, blowing in off the North Sea. Wearing only my club T-shirt  (I hadn’t thought about wearing disposable clothing when it came to packing) I walked as slowly as possible to conserve energy, but as briskly as possible so as not to get too cold. Ten minutes or so later and I was at the race HQ, a confused mass of runners, fences, precious little in the way of information or Portaloos… No one seemed to be particularly concerned, I guess I’ve grown accustomed to British race standards which, with the London Marathon somewhere near the top in terms of slick organisation, seem to just be a little more organised. Still this race has something of an old school feel to it – not a charity tent nor fancy dressed runner Z list celebrity runner to be seen for instance, and that in its own way, felt positively refreshing.

I queued patiently by one of the few Portaloos for around half an hour. By the time my turn was done there were less than fifteen minutes to the start. A small panic ensued as I realised I had no idea where the start line was and queues to get anywhere were frustratingly slow. I found Pen B to be told Pen C (My pen start) was over the road and I’d need to go down into the Metro station to get there. Fine, I thought. A little odd, but it worked well, and with seven minutes to spare I found myself in the familiar position of being warm, packed like sardines, toe to toe with hundreds of other runners awaiting the start.

Making final use of a urinal placed next to the start line (Very handy), five minutes before the off, a man in a cherry picker was slowly raised above all the runners and, to great applause, began to sing You’ll Never Walk Alone, best known to the British as the anthem of the Kop at Liverpool FC. Crazy Dutch! I thought to myself as I found myself singing along passionately to the rousing finale with 14,000 odd other runners. With Britain commemorating 25 years to the weekend of the tragic events at Hillsborough the singing of this song had an unlikely poignancy to a few of the runners lined up.

I later found out that the singer was a famous local, broadly the equivalent of our Susan Boyle, and that You’ll Never Walk Alone was also adopted by the fans of Rotterdam’s Feyenoord FC.  This rousing rendition is apparently a pre-Rotterdam Marathon tradition and it certainly did the trick of bringing the anticipation of the rapidly approaching off to boiling point.

Part Two – The Race

With some spine tingling build up music just about drowning out the noise of the helicopter above – the race was being shown live on Dutch television – there was a swift 5 down to 1 countdown and – we were off! It took around 30 seconds to cross the start and it was apparent any fears of making too fast a getaway were redundant here in Rotterdam. Indeed anyone who likes to get into their stride and pace as soon as possible would have been in mild panic mode as we struggled to break eight minutes per mile for the opening couple of minutes.

Those first minutes were anxious. I’d not run at all since Wednesday and I’d no idea how the legs had faired in terms of recovery from the injuries I’d suffered, especially the left thigh and hip, which just a week earlier had seen me forced to stop every ten minutes or so on my final long run of training. The first steps were promising: there was a very mild discomfort in the left hip but nothing of the shooting pains I’d suffered in the Coventry Half Marathon, nor the old man shuffle hip trouble I’d suffered for pretty much every run in the past three weeks. Coming towards the end of the mile and I felt no need to stop, stretch, or cry in despair, so I was relatively confident the first hurdle had been tackled.

For those I haven’t bored to tears a thousand times – here is my simple plan to running a marathon (Too simple to market for profit, sadly. Or maybe not, looking at the efforts of others…), tried and tested with 100% success (One injury inflicted race excepted) since 2006. It is all a matter of listening to your heart rate (And the figures are personal to me, not necessarily relevant to other people):

First mile: Build up slowly to a maximum of 150BPM, ideally this should be around 30-40 seconds slower than your planned marathon pace.

Second mile: Allow heart rate to rise to a maximum of 160BPM, the pace should be 10-15 seconds off your planned marathon pace.

Miles three to twenty: Allow the heart rate to rise no higher than 165BPM – this restriction will determine your marathon pace on the day of the race. Therefore if you were finding yourself running 5:59 at marathon heart rate four days earlier, if, on the day, you are only able to max out at 6:20 per mile – so be it. Hard to take, maybe, but the philosophy is you only have reserves to sustain racing at <165 BPM; stray into the red zone beyond 165BPM and you will pay for it at some point in the closing stages.

Miles twenty to the finish (26.2): The maximum heart rate limit is waived, allowing you to go full beans. On a great day, you will run the final 10k faster than any of the others; on a good day, you will maintain the pace you’d maintained from miles 3-20; On an average day, you’ll see a gentle fade in mile splits; on a bad day – something goes wrong.

The plan, boring, clinical, unromantic as it may be, has never seen a bad day. I’ve not yet hit any kind of wall in the closing stages of a marathon. The first time I tried running to heart rate – 2005 – I was disappointed that my pace was slower in the race than it had been in training. I put the increased HR down to adrenaline, so I allowed it to run closer to 170 BPM than 165 BPM. The last seven miles were slow and very painful. Since then I’ve stuck religiously to plan, accepted no excuses for going into the red zone and I’ve come up trumps. The somewhat tedious business of being restricted to a figure on your watch for the opening 20 miles rather than running uninhibited is usually more than made up by running free for the final 10k, usually passing loads of runners who were a little too enthusiastic in the opening miles and who nearly always pay the price.

So Mile 1, I stuck to 150 BPM max. It took most of the mile to be able to run at pace thanks to the volume of runners and it included perhaps the biggest incline of the race over a large bridge, so it was clocked at 7:02. Not a disaster, but slower than was planned. Mile 2 though made up for it as we were descending over the other side of the bridge plus had the stiff breeze blowing behind us. My heart rate a little too easily climbed to the second mile limit of 160 bpm, a forewarning of what I was to face for much of the rest of the race. The watch clocked the second mile at 6:12, quicker than planned and probably had me back on schedule.

Mile three was more of the same and a similar split as I settled into a rhythm and allowed the heart rate to reach its maximum of 165bpm. All too readily though it would creep above by 2-3 beats and I’d have to peg it back. This was frustrating but a necessity. I think one reason for this creeping was a lack of marathon heart rate runs in the build up. In previous years they were at least once a week; this year it was more once a fortnight. Something to think about for future races.

Approaching 5k and I was to take my first of six Powergels (To be taken at 3, 7, 11, 15, 19 and 22 miles), all neatly fastened with pins to my gel belt. The gel was consumed without problem but the first station was something of a farce for me. The first things to be handed out were paper cups with a sponge on top and water a filled around a third of the way up. I don’t need a sponge, I need a bottle of water! I said to myself (And probably said out loud too) and dropped it to the floor. These were being handed out for some way down the road, then the next two tables were handing out the local brew of isotonic drink. Damn! There are no bottles of water at this race! Realising my error and aware that with the gels it was important to take on liquid, I grabbed some isotonic and drank as much as I could without spilling the contents all over me (A hazard of drinking from cups whilst running). This was a big risk as it is considered something of a racing sin to try a brand of isotonic in a race without having first tried it out in training. I made that mistake once before at the London Marathon when I was offered a pouch of L****ade and promptly vomited the contents back onto the streets of London. Thankfully on this occasion the green liquid was kind to me and I happily quaffed a bit more at some of the subsequent stations.

The run to 10k (I was starting to think as a local in kilometres, although Garmin and my mind deep down were still very much in miles) had two surprises – one good and one not so. The pleasant surprise was the crowd support. Whilst we are not talking London Marathon volumes or Boston delirium there was, for the majority of the course, lines of spectators enthusiastically cheering us along our way. A major bonus was that every runner had their Christian names printed on their running number. I’d first seen this at last year’s Manchester Marathon, although they printed the names a little too small – only those with 20-20 vision could make out your name unless you were close enough to get intimate (and a marathon is no place to be intimate, no matter who is cheering you on). Here the names were writ large and it wasn’t long before the chant of Martchoo! Martchoo! (Roughly translated from Dutch as Matthew) became a familiar and welcome addition to my race.

The unpleasant surprise was that, after four miles of not realising we’d been running with the wind behind us, the course turned 180 and we were faced with a fairly potent head wind – the kind strong enough for you to want to find a tall runner and take shelter. Up to around 15 miles the head wind would be a sporadic affair, more often than not it was a benign side wind, but you knew at some point it was going to be a feature – the question was: when?

At 7.5 km there was a race sign for Refreshments. This had me intrigued, what morsels were on offer here then? The answer: Sponges. The Dutch, it seems, love their sponges. Not only were the drinks stations semi-sponge stops, they complimented them every 5km with dedicated sponge stations. I  wasn’t complaining though, I’ve long lamented the apparent demise of the sponge station in Britain – the cooling effect on the skin can be more effective than a mouthful of water that you may or may not half choke on. They are also useful for cleaning the hands and face of Powergel residue that didn’t quite make it into the mouth. Although sunny, the race was not particularly warm, only around 14C, so the sponges were only partially beneficial, but they were still a welcome addition.

I nearly became a cropper approaching the second drinks station at 10k, a sign in Dutch appeared to take us into a slip road which I assumed was the drinks station area. WRONG! This was the first stop for the marathon relay race taking place. Thankfully I was guided onto the right path at the last moment and went though the 10k chip mat in 39:52. Miles 4-6 were pretty much spot on what I had in mind to run at for the race, but I was around 30 seconds down on my watch for sub 2:45 pace, a figure that stayed stubbornly similar for much of the next 14 miles.

It was at this point in the race I became aware that I had three injury concerns to nurse through the race. Firstly was the left hip and thigh, which was nothing but a grumble and I was happy that I could manage that without too much concern – even if its presence was likely costing me a few seconds per mile. Secondly was the left calf which gave worrisome twinges of tightness every few minutes. There was nothing I could do about that except hope it didn’t turn into a race ending pull or cramp (Thankfully it didn’t). Finally there was the right Achilles. This had crept up on me in the two weeks or so before the marathon. It was so minor I didn’t think to mention it to my massage man on Thursday, reckoning only that it should be something for his attention when I next see him. Now I was wishing I had alerted him because it was hurting, and hurting a fair amount. The last time an Achilles had hurt like this was on track in January 2013. Then though the pain went from bearable to f*** I’m never walking again in seconds. After a couple of miles of this mild Achilles pain I was satisfied it wasn’t going to stop me dead in my tracks. It was now just a case of ignoring it as best as possible, and maybe not racing in these Fly Knit trainers again.

Mile seven marked a turning spot for the race. It was when the marathon suddenly seemed like a very long way. With no discernable change in conditions, the 6:06 – 6:10 miles suddenly became a trio of 6:17 miles. Still spot on for a sub 2:45 but a sign that this was not going to be the dream 2:40 race. I continued to struggle to keep the heart rate down. I don’t normally talk to people much in races but at this point I chimed into a conversation an Irishman and a Dutchman were having (Not in a bar….) I was only with them for a mile or two but I thought the distraction may ease up the heart rate a touch. Whether it worked is debatable but it was enjoyable to just run a couple of miles and enjoy the race without fretting too much over splits or heart rates.

Earlier in the Race (I think)
Earlier in the Race (I think)

I left them at around 11 miles as they had a time a little slower than I had in mind. Miles 7-12 were mentally quite tough. Thankfully miles 13-20 were generally much happier and flew by relatively speaking. I went through halfway in 1:23:34 which was disappointingly around a minute down on 2:45 pace. I thought though if I could hold it together to 20 miles I would be able to make up some or all of the time in the final 10k. At around 15 miles we headed back on the road we took in the opening 5k and had a pretty tough head wind to face back over the bridge and to the city centre. They were tempered however by some of the largest, most  vociferous crowds of the race. At sixteen miles I started to suffer from mild stomach cramps, not enough to see me bent over double (Or even worse, squatting Paula style (Which I had the misfortune to witness first hand with a white Lycra clad man in bushes at 21 miles), but enough for me to quizzically look round for the availability of Portaloos should the worst happen. Miles 14-16 were just under 6:17 pace, 17-19 just over. A spur of inspiration came as race winner Eliud Kipchoge came flying past us as he was hitting 39km, en route to a pretty special 2:05:00. I went through 30km in 1:58:50, which was around six minutes slower than I’’d run at the infinitely more hilly Stamford 30k in February.

The run to mile 20 was pleasant as we left the crowds in the City Centre and headed onto a wide, tree lined, road. I was feeling pretty fresh, all things considered, and with the 19 mile gel quickly digesting, was looking forward to the watch clocking the 20 mile split, which meant the start of heart rate restriction free running. The Garmin was telling me I was 36 seconds down on attaining a 6:17 pace and with a gentle acceleration I went about chasing those seconds down.

Around 16 miles coming back over the bridge.
Around 16 miles coming back over the bridge.

Those extra heart beats, in reality amounting to no more than three to six more than I had been beating per minute for the past 120 minutes or so, were the equivalent of a race car driver winding up the turbo boost on his race car. For a couple of miles I felt fantastic, clocking 6:01 at mile 21 and 6:03 at mile 22 and was on 5:50 pace for the first half of that mile. I looked at my virtual race partner – I was ten seconds up on sub 2:45 pace. The dream was alive again!

Starting to Feel The Pain
Starting to Feel The Pain

I took my final gel then made a ninety degree turn and slowly the dream began to unravel. Running more or less alone, there was a stiff head wind that slowed me uncontrollably. For most of the remainder of the race, the head wind persisted and the pace slowly faded with it. Mile 23 was a 6:17 – the dream was hanging by a thread. Mile 24 was 6:28 – it was passing through my fingers.

37k was meant to be a spot for some light relief in the form of friends and family submitted messages appearing on a big screen we passed there and again 500m from the finish. I saw it in the distance and there they were, messages of support scrolling down. I knew that some had been written for me. There were just two runners ahead of us, surely mine would appear as I passed the chip mat below me?  What I got was an extended advert for New Balance trainers. Just my luck! For a second I thought I might stop and wait, but I thankfully came to my senses

What I couldn’t control though was the inexorable late marathon fade. When it hits, the game is a battle of half the body and mind saying – come on! Just a couple of miles more effort! You’re nearly there! Put everything in and you have as long as you like to rest later! whereas the other half is saying – you’re tired! Why don’t you quit?! It would be nice if you quit! It won’t hurt so bad if you quit! Quit! Go on – QUIT!

Thankfully my salvation came in the form of othernovelty of marathon running – the lack of sensible brain function late in the race. As my watch clicked on 24 miles, I reckoned that all I had to do was maintain 6:17 pace and 2:45 was mine. As I passed through 40 km in 2:38:08 I was under the impression that this confirmed it  – all I had to do was run 3:20 or so kilometres and the target was mine.

And so began a very, very long sprint for home. I gave it everything: eyeballs out; blanking out the head wind; the crowd; the Garmin (which was actually telling me I was barely speeding up at all, despite it feeling like I was putting in a sub 4 minute mile effort); the aching legs; the pain; the doubt. I totally missed the supporters’ message board at 500 meters out (I’m not sure it was even there). I turned the final corner – 400 meters from home. I looked at my watch – 2:45 ticked over. The dream was over. I pushed on, the PB of 2:50:23 was breakable(!) I dug deep and deeper, the 100 meter boards slowly ticking down. 2:46 passed, surely I’ll break 2:47?

'Sprinting' For The Finish
‘Sprinting’ For The Finish

Finally I crossed the finish line. I’d done it. It was all over, nothing more to do. I looked at my watch. It read 2:46:39 – not far off the official time given later as 2:46:38 (Which, nearly a week after I raced, I’ve just realised meant I ran a 1:23:32 > 1:23:06 negative split – that alone I am happy with!) My average pace was 6:18, just one second outside the 6:17 required to break 2:45. Why the minute forty odd difference? A few seconds later I glanced at the distance – 26.48 miles, 0.28 of a mile over the official marathon distance.

Crossing The Finish Line
Crossing The Finish Line

Then it twigged. In relying on the Garmin for mile splits and because there were no mile markers on the course, only kilometre marks (Of which I only have a limited grasp of their meaning, relatively, in race, terms), I’d no idea that the pace on my Garmin was slightly misleading because it had me down as running a fair bit further than the supposed course distance (Indeed, post race when I uploaded to Strava, it had me down as running the marathon in 2:45:11. Much closer, but, still, no cigar). I’m not usually that naive – indeed one of my mind preoccupation tricks during a race is to calculate the difference between the Garmin splits and the real mile markers to come up with the real pace needed to complete a race in a certain time. I’d paid the mistake of not taking a note of the times needed to pass through 5km splits at 2:45 pace. Another lesson learned for next time.

Part Three – Post Race

Sometimes when I finish marathons I am all smiles, relatively sprightly and comparatively unaffected by the demands of 26.2 miles of racing. Not today. I was spent. The adrenaline of the final sprint rapidly leaving me, I struggled to walk. I spotted a Portaloo and visited it, expecting the inevitable consequences of mid race stomach cramps to produce themselves. A few minutes later and there was nothing, but I was grateful at least for the sit down.

Posing With The Finishers' Medal.
Posing With The Finishers’ Medal.

I collected my medal, a chunky affair, with ribbon in matching Kenilworth Runners / Grantham Running Club green (It turns out Rotterdam’s colour is green – not orange). There was one last cry of Martchoo, Martchoo, from the enthusiastic kids who’d handed out just 200 or so medals, and would have a long way to go before all 11,000 were handed out. Next was a banana – pre peeled, and not taken by myself, my stomach not one keen to demand food after a long run. Bottles of the local brew isotonic, as found on the course, were handed out. I happily took two, feeling very thirsty all of a sudden.

Then the strangest moment of the day. I was given a cup of tea! No milk for the British; not even lemon or sugar for the locals; just black tea. At first I scoffed at the idea, but, being a tourist again, I was willing to give it a try. Not hot, so able to be drunk in a couple of gulps, it was surprisingly delicious, the perfect antidote to hours of nothing but sickly sweet gels and energy drinks. I almost turned around and back to get another, but the effort of walking an extra 20 meters at the time outweighed any perceived benefits of an extra cup of cha.

A final cup of water later and that was it – we passed through a gate and the marathon was over. A little underwhelming, there was no goodie bag filled with tat and no space blanket, which with the wind and the walk home, may have actually been handy, It was just me, my medal, two bottles of isotonic and a long walk back to the hotel.

What took 10 minutes before the marathon took the better part of 45 minutes post marathon.  The legs simply didn’t want to know. Instead I tried to savour the atmosphere of runners coming into the finish. It seemed an eternity since I’d crossed the line but these guys and girls were coming home in 3:03 – still highly respectable running. I think it was then it hit me that, despite not coming away with the dream of breaking 2:45, the 2:46 was still a huge personal best and, in terms of taking all runners into account and not just looking ahead at those better than you and who you aspire to match, I’m sitting in pretty rarefied territory.

I wanted to clap and cheer all the runners home, but my legs wanted the warmth and relaxation of my hotel bed more. I shuffled slowly along. When I stopped passing the runners coming into the final four hundred meters I passed runners who were at only around 16 miles. A lot looked in terrible misery then and had an awful long way to go. In many ways I have more respect for those to whom running doesn’t come easily or quickly who take on the challenge of a marathon. Running for four, five or six hours is an awfully long time, especially when the majority is spent in suffering. In reality although my marathon was never easy, it only became difficult around three miles from the finish – and that’s just 20 minutes or so of real suffering.

Around an hour after I finished, I made it finally back to the hotel, the two kilometres or so of walking far and away more taxing than the 42.2km of running that preceded it. The wife was the first to know my result sent by (not quite so) Instant Messaging. Then came a couple of hours break, when I showered, rested, and enjoyed a thrilling Paris-Roubaix cycle race. A Dutchman won, Feyenoord would then an hour later beat PSV to keep their title hopes alive. I PB’d in Rotterdam. Holland was happy. Rotterdam was happy, I was happy. Project Sub 2:45 continues to be targeted for another time, but the consequences of chasing that time has left me happy.

And that is what running is all about. It makes me happy. Except when I’m injured. And except when I am sh*t. And except when it is cold, wet and windy……

Stats and Graphs and Stuff:

Rotterdam Finish

Race Analysis

More Analysis