After recovering from Ironman Wales (which was unbelievably 8 weeks ago now), I’ve cobbled together a training plan to try and run as fast as my little legs will carry me at the Valencia marathon in just under 2 weeks’ time.
This hasn’t taken the form of what you might call ‘standard’ marathon training; instead it’s included running the Amsterdam marathon three weeks ago, before just last weekend heading out for a run with my good mate James Bosher and getting slightly carried away, clocking a 26.2 mile training run in just under 3 hours. Enjoyable? Definitely. Foolish? Most probably.
However, the legs recovered remarkably quickly from this, which was just as well, with a final half-marathon to race as part of my build up to the Valencia. It was a bit of a last-minute decision to sign up to the Thames Meander, and I was looking at it more as something to enjoy and have a good dust up rather than an all-out PB attempt.
The race is based at the Hawker Centre on the banks of the River Thames, a short walk from Kingston. There’s a marathon taking place as part of the same event (I actually ran this 2 years ago), so I was familiar with the course already, and knew with the recent bad weather that it wouldn’t be a super-fast route, even though it’s nice and flat.
Kingston parkrun also takes place at the same venue, and I thought the opportunity to volunteer was too good to turn down, so I arrived a couple of hours early to help out with some barcode scanning. I’d coaxed a friend from work, Tom, to also sign up for the half marathon/parkrun volunteer combo – this was going to be only his second ever crack at the distance, so he was slightly apprehensive as we headed over in the car.
The time always flies by when helping out at parkrun, and after I’d handed back in my fashionable yellow bib, there was just time for a quick toilet stop before we were lining up at the start, ready to go. We were given a quick briefing before being set on our way with the explosion of a massive firework (not sure it would’ve passed the conventional H&S tests).
With no real time goal in mind, I’d planned to go on effort level alone and hope for the best – always a risky strategy. The one thing I’d said to myself beforehand, was that I wouldn’t lead through the first mile, and instead be sensible in the opening stages.
I went through the first mile in the lead, having been there for all but the first 200 meters or so. However, in my defence, the pace felt manageable and it was nice to be able to set my own tempo rather than follow others. Eventually, a lead group of four runners formed (I didn’t know this at the time), with the other 3 happy enough to sit behind and let me dictate the pace.
I felt fairly flat from the off, and accepted it was going to be a bit of a slog, trying to remain positive as much as I could. Ignoring my watch, the miles passed consistently (6.08, 6.06, 6.06, 6.07, 6.09…) as I just held a pace that felt manageable. The marathon runners had set off half an hour before us; we started to catch them after 3 miles or so, and from then there was a fair bit of dodging and ‘excuse me’s’ as we made our way through them on the narrow towpath.
I never look behind me when racing, so I had no idea if there was just one person behind me, or ten. We reached the turn-around point, giving the drinks table a little tap before retracing our steps back down the river towards Kingston. At this point I saw there was another 3 chaps with me – two looking pretty fresh, whilst the other one looked absolutely cooked. Turns out he was, as he dropped back shortly after the half-way point.
A lack of experience showed at this point, as I should have probably dropped off the front here and let one of the other guys have a go at setting the pace. As we were now running head-on towards the 600 or so others taking part in the half, I had to negotiate a path through them whilst the other two could just sit behind me and let me lead the way.
The majority of runners were awesome, offering support and giving us a bit of space, but you did have the odd individual (usually with headphones in and their eyes on the floor) who nearly got steamrollered by us before jumping out of the way at the last minute. All in all, the race atmosphere was great with some awesome marshals and volunteers helping out at the drink stations.
I was trying to mentally prepare myself for when one of the other runners attempted to make a break, resolving to go with them no matter what. Shortly after 10 miles, one of the guys eased to the front, and a one metre gap slowly became two. Try as I might, I just couldn’t close the ground between us. I was disappointed in myself as I didn’t feel like I was completely on the limit and should’ve been able to stay with him.
Fast forward a and the other chap seemed to find a burst of energy and suddenly he was running away from me. I offered out a meek ‘go on, you can catch him’, before switching my attention to what might be behind me (which is difficult, when you refuse to look behind you).
Looking back at my splits, the pace didn’t really drop off until the final mile, suggesting I was just happy to sit at a tempo and maybe slightly afraid to push any harder – I have no idea why. You actually run past the finish line with a mile and a half to go (slightly cruel) to complete a final out and back section along the river.
The guy in second decided to make it interesting, as he momentarily stopped, thinking he might have missed the turnaround point. I shouted ahead that he should keep going, but now I was within range and actually gaining ground on him. As we turned into the final section, I went past him, and he sat on my heels for a minute or so, before he then put in a final dig that for one reason or another I just couldn’t/didn’t have the will power to respond to.
So, third place is where I ended up, clocking a time of 1:21:15. Slightly depressingly, this was the rough time I went through the halfway point of this year’s London Marathon – maybe not the greatest marker ahead of our little jaunt to Spain. However, I didn’t receive a shiny new tea-tray/trophy in London, so it wasn’t all bad news.
Tom ran a fantastic 1:39 in only his second ever half-marathon – definitely one to watch out for in the future. He even said he’d do an event with me again, despite me annoyingly running along with him for the last mile or so, shouting at him to run faster. After stocking up on flapjacks and a nice warm shower, we were back home in time for lunchtime – all in all, a good morning out.