This year’s Chester Marathon didn’t go according to plan. Not for the first time, the course bit me. Not for the first time, it left me floored (literally) at the finish line. Not for the first time, it forced me to seek help from another runner and, in the end, the kind-hearted volunteers from St John’s Ambulance.
Oh yes, I’ve been here before and it isn’t pleasant. The marathon can be a cruel taskmaster when it wants to be and a far cry from those pressure-free training runs that get you close to the final 10k, but rarely into the thick of it.
However, fear not. This isn’t going to be a rant or a moan. Sunday was far from perfect; equally though it most definitely wasn’t all bad.
Four hours and 30 minutes on the clock for what was my 11th marathon. A fair old way off my best, yet also far from being my worst – it sits nicely in the middle.
To be honest it never truly felt like a significantly faster run was on the cards. One of those days where the body just doesn’t seem to want to play ball (or in this case power the legs).
My approach was sound enough. I used the event pacers to control my start and resist the temptation to go off quickly, running the first 10k just behind the 4:15 group in about an hour. Then when I did break away, I built up speed gradually, about 10-20 seconds per mile, and that got me to half distance in 2:03.
From here the weather turned and got very wet and occasionally windy. I won’t give you a blow by blow account or a detailed description of the course – try my posts from 2018 or 2015 if you’re interested (the course hasn’t changed, save for the start and finish which needed to be tweaked because Chester Racecourse had flooded).
In short, I roughly held pace through until 20 miles (in about 3:07-ish I think). For 21 and 22 my mile splits slowed from low nines to low tens. From 23 onwards it was run-walk. The legs were gone, energy levels sapped and annoyingly even that recurring thigh injury decided to resurface and give me occasional grief.
Things get a little hazy after the finish. The problems started as soon as I stopped and it wasn’t long before I was taken over to the medical tent and given some support.
Sickness followed, then the shivers, although after about an hour and a decent intake of fluids and sugar I was compos mentis again and took a steady walk back to my car to meet up with James (patiently waiting in a nearby pub having blagged a free pint!).
So where on earth are the positives in that? Well, trust me there were a few.
A disciplined start. Not only did that pacing group keep me in check, it was also fun to spend some miles with other runners and share the experience.
The long stint. Running 22 miles non-stop, mostly on pace and in control, felt like an achievement.
Being sensible. Ploughing on regardless of fatigue beyond 22 would have seen me crash on the course. I’m convinced of that. And knowing the route and how undulating the final 10k is, run-walk was the best way to go.
Beating the hill. Chester is notorious for putting a cheeky hill in the 25th mile, Sandy Lane. It beat me in 2015, I ran it last year and I was determined to do the same on Sunday. A Race Angel ran it with me and did a brilliant job of coaching me through the pain.
Sprint finish. The final mile had been a bit stop-start, although a combination of crowd support and encouragement from other runners kept me moving. Then with about 200m to go and the line in sight I noticed the 4:30 pacer coming past.
He was putting on a heck of a sprint, possibly running behind schedule? So I responded and refused to be overtaken. I have no idea where the strength or speed came from. All I know is, I crossed the line first.
Tenth anniversary. This was a special year for Chester and they made us all feel part of the celebrations. The medal was fab, the goody bag well stocked and the finishers’ winter training top is really smart.
By runners, for runners. Chester is brilliantly organised and there are loads of little touches that prove the people behind it are runners themselves.
I’m not entirely sure why I fell ill on Sunday. I was eating and drinking throughout the run, matching the fuelling strategy that saw me home 20 minutes quicker the year before and in one piece.
Since Sunday I’ve come out with a cold. That could be a consequence, but equally it could also be a contributor, with the germs perhaps brewing already beforehand and affecting my stamina. In which case, all that can be said is hard luck as it could happen to anyone.
I have just over two weeks now to recover and get match fit for Snowdonia and as things stand I’m confident that will happen. Embrace the positives and don’t dwell on the things that went wrong.
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