As reported on these pages, as well as in various national and international press publications, 2019 hasn’t entirely gone to plan for Joe Spraggins. Seemingly never-ending waves of viral fatigue, bouts of depression and just a general attitude of can’t be arsed has led to a decline in fitness and results to match.
However, the last 3 months have seen a gradual turnaround, and I’m really happy to say I’m enjoying my sport again, getting back into a regular training regime and feeling more like my old self. A blast around Dulwich parkrun in 17:31 told me things were trending in the right direction, and we packed our sombrero’s with hopes of a good outing in the home of paella.
I say we; unfortunately, broken feet don’t heal that quickly, and although the crutches have been ditched, Katie’s foot is still locked in a boot, and running a marathon probably wouldn’t be optimal for the recovery process. Still – escaping zero-degree London for the 20+ of Southern Spain is probably a decent result.
Not wanting to shell out for an extra night’s accommodation, and short of annual leave from work, we were up before 5 for the first flight out from Gatwick on Saturday morning. All cost savings were negated in minutes when Joe Schumacher set the bulb flashing on one of the M25’s many speed cameras – can’t wait for that bill to come through in the post.
My rather pacey driving meant we had even more time to spend at the airport on arrival, so Katie took the opportunity to load up on tea (she keeps the Yorkshire brand in business), and we caught up with the legendary Mr and Mrs Mantle, who we’d now shared the Valencia experience with for the last 3 years in a row.
The main morning panic was around whether the overnight oats I’d prepared, counted as a liquid. Thankfully they safely negotiated security, much to the relief of fellow travellers, who’d have had a hungry Spraggins to contend with. The rest of the journey passed smoothly, and on arrival, we jumped into a cab with Dave and Rachel to the expo, to collect numbers and try and avoiding buying a load more running kit that we probably didn’t need.
Fan club members #00001 and #00002 (Mum and Dave) were in town for the weekend, so after I’d gone for a cheeky run to loosen the legs, we sat down for some tapas and chill time. Chill was the theme of the afternoon, as we holed up in our apartment, browsing the world wide web and trying to arrange the perfect ‘flat lay’ – a vital component to having a good race.
Unfortunately, not everyone in Valencia was running the marathon, and that night, an impromptu all-night street party seemed to be going on directly outside our apartment. I bet Mo Farah doesn’t have to deal with these young whippersnappers. So, I awoke on Sunday morning, having had quite a broken night’s sleep, feeling rather weary.
Ever the romantic, I’d dragged a chair into the bathroom, so I could enjoy my breakfast in the light, whilst allowing Katie to carry on with her beauty sleep. Still dark outside, but lovely and warm, I set off to meet a relatively new name to these pages, the Ginger Dennis the Menance himself, Danny O’Reilly.
I’d known Danny for a few years after pacing with him at the Kingston Half. He can usually be found pacing races all over the world, selflessly giving up his time for others. But for the last few months, he’d been putting in the hard yards, and was in Spain to give it some welly and hopefully break 2:45 for the first time. A loose plan had been hatched to run together.
We wandered to the start, whiling away the time queuing for the loo multiple times, bumping into some other Chasers and applying game faces. Valencia really is the race that has everything. Just as I was asking Danny whether he had some Vaseline so I could oil some of my more sensitive areas of skin, no fewer than 6 volunteers wearing flags with ‘Vaseline’ on their backs wandered past – you couldn’t make it up! They do know how to organise a decent event.
We left it late to drop bags – in hindsight too late, as getting into the pens with 10 minutes to go, we were way behind the 2:50 pacers and in a bit of a scrum of people. No point needlessly wasting energy at that point – just stay calm and get ready for the start. After one last semi-emotional man hug and handshake, we turned to face front and await the gun.
The first mile or so was frantic, trying to get up to speed and stay there. 30 seconds in I thought I’d already lost Dan, before he emerged on my shoulder a few minutes later. I had to chop my stride a few times due to the sheer volume of runners on the road, but stayed on two feet, which was the most important thing at that stage (or probably any stage…) of the race.
The pace felt uncomfortably comfortable, which is probably about right, and I was steering us around at bang on 2:45 pace, so Danny was happy to let me drive. Quite early in the race there’s an out and back, and the East African’s cantered passed, shortly followed by a grey streak of light wearing a Clapham Chasers vest. I shouted encouragement to Nick ‘The Badger’ Bowker, but unfortunately, I was blocked by a bus stop at the time. Nightmare.
Despite being early December, the Spanish sun was shining, causing me to employ my standard strategy of bathing myself in multiple bottles of water to try and stay cool, making me more slippery a seal on an ice rink. By this point, we’d picked up Danny’s mate James, making the pair a trio of pasty Brits. Apparently, I’d been nominated the person that knew what they were doing, so it was all aboard the Spragg Express.
Time ticked on as we passed loads of people we knew out supporting on the course, including tonnes of Clapham Chasers, Katie, my Mum as well as a shedload of friendly locals. Danny, probably getting bored with the same consistent pace, decided to spice things up a bit by announcing he was stopping for a wee, and would hopefully catch us up. Drama.
Whilst 3 had become 2, we passed halfway in 1:21:57, with me completely convinced there was absolutely no way I could keep that pace up for another 13.1 miles. After deciding he was still not excited enough, just before catching us Danny’s race number fell off, which had his official timing chip on the back, so he had to stop and go back for it. Christ.
Eventually he re-appeared on our shoulders, looking fresh as a daisy, and at this point I realised the second half of our races were going to be very different. There was no spoken agreement or heartfelt goodbyes, as is sometimes the way in running – he and James just started to slowly drift off into the distance. At this point I genuinely hoped I wouldn’t see them again – as this would probably mean they had a strong close to the race.
So now I was flying solo and had my rapidly deteriorating legs to contend with. Throughout the race my breathing and heart race was relatively under control – my legs just felt a bit flat. I hadn’t really tapered for the race, with a bike session Tuesday and relatively hard run on Wednesday, so probably to be expected. This race was always just going to be a step on the ladder back to full fitness.
With that in mind, I found it difficult to push myself into that horrible place you need to go in the last 10-15km of the marathon. It’s really starting to grind, and your mind is trying to convince you to ease the pace just a little to make things feel more comfortable. Despite that, I really wanted to run under 2:45, and this kept me pushing back and telling myself to keep the pedal to the floor.
There were tired bodies everywhere by now, and I had to give out a couple of sharp elbows to the sides of those who seemed a bit too keen to grab some of my personal space – no harm no foul. Temps had risen to a toasty 21 degrees, and I was still attempting to bathe mid-run as much as possible.
With around 10km to go I pulled up to anther Chaser, Elvis (he isn’t dead), running with another girl from the UK. Without revealing any further details, she’d had a bit of an incident mid-run, and we had a bit of an attempt at a clear up job. At times they both seemed stronger than me, but I eventually began to pull away as I counted down the kilometres one at a time in my head.
Maths was failing me by this point, so it was just run as hard as possible and hope for the best. I spotted Katie in the closing stages, getting a bit choked up in my knackered state. I also saw mum, who as usual, was going through her race day gears, which usually plays out as follows;
First sighting – Relatively calm, coherent, smiling, might take a photo.
Second sighting – Slightly more frantic, still a useful word or two, never fails to raise the spirits.
Third sighting – Nothing more complicated than ‘GO JOE’ or ‘You’re doing great’. Always a slight twinge of worry in the voice. Volume raised significantly.
Final sighting – ‘JOE SPRAGGINS, JOE SPRAGGINS, JOE SPRAGGINS’ on a continual loop, loudest volume possible, pretty manic, no sense, just noise. Likely to also be madly jumping up and down on the spot.
It’s all good though, as by 40km, I can’t usually process words anyway, so just general noise is absolutely fine. By this point, ‘top gear’ has now been engaged, which has seen my pace and form go from ‘sloppy’ to ‘madly sprinting for a bus’. This doesn’t ever lead to an increase in speed – just effort.
Charging towards the line and the magical blue carpet, I think I’m going to make it, but the finishing straight is a long one. With a non-existent sprint, I’m being overtaken by the world and his wife, but get there with 19 seconds to spare – 2:44:41.
Looking back at my 5km splits, I actually paced it pretty well;
A total spread across the splits of just 13 seconds; but that only tells half the story. I was hanging on like a dog in that last hour.
Just after finishing, I experienced the only negative part of the entire race. For some reason, despite walking away from the finish line at the same speed as literally everyone else around me, a slightly overzealous marshal took it open himself to grab me by both shoulders and tell me to ‘KEEP MOVING’ before forcefully shoving me forwards, causing me legs to practically cave in from under me. Not cool.
I quickly forgot about my race, more interested to know how Danny and Steph, amongst others, had got on. I soon spotted the beacon-like head of hair and made a bee-line for it, accosting Danny and demanding he tell me his time. 2:41 was the result – a masterful run and proof that hard work pays off. Most excitingly, I’m convinced there is more to come, and the only way is up from here. A sweaty hug was shared.
I also met Unai, a guy based in Spain that had stumbled across my blog and recognised me from that – the definition of a ZZZ list celeb. He was a lovely guy and we hope to run together in the future, maybe in London.
I hobbled my way up and down stairs to collect bags, frantically loading up the tracker to see how everyone else was getting on. Turns out Steph had only had a pretty average day, running 2:27, making her the 9th fastest British woman of all-time. Hopefully she’ll put a bit more effort next time. What an absolute hero.
After spending of bit of time sitting on the floor ‘collecting myself’, Stu Rees swung by, brother of the infamous Ed. Stu managed to ran sub 3 in his first ever marathon – incredible scenes. This wasn’t the most puzzling part of the conversation though – I was just trying to work out why he had ‘Ken’ written on his number.
After purchasing some refreshments from the local supermarket, we took up our usual space on ‘Chaser corner’, seeing home the later finishers and just generally enjoying basking in the sunshine. The drinks continued to flow well into the evening, as I celebrated with Danny, Steph and everyone else that had made the trip over.
So, that’s another Valencia marathon in the books. It’s not been a straightforward year by any means, but I can take some real confidence from the result and the motivation levels are sky high to push on into a hard block of winter training. Will we be back any time soon? I’ve already signed up for next year.