Regular subscribers will once again note that it’s gone a bit quiet on the ol’ blogging front in the last couple of months. That tw*tty virus is very much still amongst us, like that annoying hanger-on at a party that you just can’t get rid of. I’m struggling with it, as I’m sure are 99.9% of the population are right now. We’ll get through – just hang in there, be extra nice to people, and save up all your hugs for when we come out the other side.
Immediately after our JOGLE antics, I decided it’d be a great idea to run an off-road, trail marathon in Suffolk. I’d actually signed up long before cycling the length of the country, and at the time, it looked like it would be a great Clapham Chasers meet-up, as well as a chance to go and stay with my fantastic grandparents. In reality, I ended up seeing hardly any Chasers throughout the day, but did get to once again sample Nan’s amazing cooking.
Somehow I slogged my way to a 2nd place finish on a pair of fatigued legs, with a fairly significant fade in the second half of the race. I probably didn’t help myself by wearing road shoes, promptly stacking it three times on the slippery sections of mud.
After this, I took a bit of downtime, with just one race left in the diary for 2020 (if it went ahead) – a marathon at Goodwood racetrack put on by the good folks at Runthrough. My mind and body wasn’t really up for a hard block of training and then a race, so at some point during November I settled on the goal of ‘just’ running a sub-3 hour marathon.
This would keep my ‘streak’ alive, having run one every year since 2016:
2016 – Barcelona – 2:51
2017 – Valencia – 2:39
2018 – London – 2:57
2019 – London – 2:39
I’ve actually run 10 marathons under the magical 3 hour barrier, but above I’ve just included the fastest time in that year. As you can see, the pattern shows that 2020 was going to be my ‘slower’ year anyway..
I got a few longer runs in during the build up to the event, partly to combat my expanding waistline, with lockdown causing my bathroom scales to become increasingly faulty. We also had the excitement of becoming a family of 3 – Stanley the border collie joined our little crew. Despite having an insatiable craving for trainers, the little man is quite simply, a legend. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to run for a year or so, but when he can, you can be sure I’ll be shamelessly using him to drag me past as many competitors as possible.
We pitched up in Chichester the night before, with the new logistical challenge of travelling with a dog. Thankfully, Travelodge allow pets to stay in the room, so I’m sure this will now become our abode of choice for many years to come. My mum was also in attendance, taking part in the 10km event the following day. It was a real festival of running with a 5km and half-marathon also taking place.
After an early porridge pot breakfast, we hooked up with plucky Irishman Paul Hunt in the lobby (some may remember him from the London 2019 epic), who would also be running the marathon. But probably a lot faster than I would be.
This being an event that Joe Spraggins was taking part in, we were pretty much the first to arrive in the car park, meaning we had ample time to aimlessly wander around outside for a few minutes, before sitting in the car trying to stay warm before the race. After much moaning about how cold it was, Paul and I headed out for a brisk warm up, being joined by Steph McCall, also running the marathon.
We were lined up in formation based on predicted finishing time, with Steph and Paul taking spots ahead of me, which would hopefully allow them to be out of sight early on so I had no excuse to get too carried away. The course was 11 (!) and a bit laps of the race circuit, so plenty of time to get familiar with the surroundings.
We were set off in small groups of 4 every 10 seconds, with a short out and back to complete before handling the 11 laps. With everyone from the later races milling around near the start/finish area, chances of getting carried away were strong, and Spraggins loves a good excuse to get carried away. 6:15 for the first mile, just slightly quicker than the required 6:52 pace.
From here I tried to settle into an early rhythm, and a small group formed – it was nice to have some company in the opening miles. It was really difficult to run an even pace, as a pretty solid wind was blowing, so whenever we were heading into that, the pace dropped. I mostly ignored pace and went on effort levels, with mile splits varying by 10-15 seconds.
The opening couple of laps were the most enjoyable, as the course was clear and you can run without having to think about where you were going. That all changed when the other events started – from this point on, you had to constantly weave through other runners, which definitely took some mental as well as physical energy. However, it did mean more encouragement was swapped between runners, which was a nice morale boost.
With each lap being around 2.5 miles, there was a small water station at the end of each one where you could grab a bottle which made things much easier. At some point in the first half of the race, Luke Brocks came sauntering past like he was on an easy run, and he went on to run a cracking 2:43.
I could loosely say I was enjoying myself, with the pace not putting me on my limit, but I could certainly feel that my legs were heavy at an earlier point than usual. I hit halfway in 1:26, giving me a bit of buffer in the second half, which I had a feeling that I was going to need.
Round and round we went, with the racetrack now full to the brim with runners, the 7th lap slightly less interesting than the first. However, I did now have the added distraction of looking out for Mum, as her 10km had now started. I spotted her and gave her a big cheer, for some reason quite shocked at how much of a ‘proper runner’ she looked. Proud son moment.
I was also keeping an eye out for Katie, but our paths never crossed, as she went on to log a solid 1:28 half marathon. Things were getting slightly more ‘sticky’ for me, and by 20 miles I’d just about had enough of running for 2020. I was still clocking 7 minute miles, but the flow had completely gone and it was a slog-fest now.
Heading in to the last lap, another familiar face, John Stoddart, came gliding past in what must have looked like gazelle v. hippo. I met John a couple of years back at the mince pie run and we’ve stayed in touch since. Top bloke – just coming back for a pretty horrible bike crash, and it’s great to see him firing on all cylinders again.
Despite a 7:39 and 7:26 mile, I knew that unless I got on to all fours and started crawling, that sub-3 was in the bag. Any kind of sprint finish/increase in pace wasn’t happening, and I crossed in 2:56 – job done. It was a lot harder than I expected, and once again proved to me, that a marathon is a marathon, and it’s always going to hurt.
I was actually in a bit of a bad way at the end, and Katie had to dress me pretty sharpish, as it was freezing. I was also really light-headed and needed a good sit down to get myself together. Paul ran a solid 2:50 (despite a couple of toilet related diversions) and Steph ran an incredible 2:44. On that day, on a course like that with all the weaving, that’s an amazing run. More to come I’m sure.
Mum also absolutely destroyed it, running 57:20 for 10km, beating her best time by at least a couple of minutes. Not bad for a V55! She’s never in her life done any sport, so it just shows you what you can do if you put your mind to it.
So that’s pretty much a wrap on 2020 with the world going back into lockdown. Keep everything crossed for some normality in 2021, and I’ll hopefully see you on a race course in the near future.