Well here we are, we have a race!
Not only a race, but a marathon. There is 5 races to choose from at this event and the organisers have pulled out the stops to make sure it actually goes ahead and to make sure it’s ‘safe.’
I was meant to be doing Wrexham ‘Elite’ marathon who had opened entry to sub 2:40 marathoners, originally planned for the 4th of October, pushed back to the 18th and then eventually cancelled. I had entered the runway races, originally entering the half marathon when Wrexham was pushed back. But when Wrexham was cancelled I contacted the organisers, and ‘upgraded,’ if you can call it that, to the marathon. The races were being set off every hour, with the marathon up first at 9 o’clock, then the 10k, Half Marathon, 10 Miler and 5k to finish. Each race ran laps of the runway at Elvington airfield, so pretty flat. The marathon measured 10 laps. Roughly 2.62 miles per lap, for the time I was wanting, I needed to complete the laps in 14:11 – 14:30. But this is the marathon, anything could happen!
In terms of preparation I was all set on being in a complete stage by the 18th of October, looking to drop down to race weight and sharpen up my speed by then, I was gutted when Wrexham was pulled and was looking for another marathon around the same sort of date. The York Runway series was the best I could find, so that was that. I had to shift my prep and slam myself down in terms of race weight, dropping down ever so slightly but not fully in time.
Since March my focus has been on running faster in training, hoping and praying that the philosophy of training faster will eventually mean racing faster. That’s all I’ve ever done before anyway, it’s followed the same sort of pattern as the last years just without the all important races to justify what my training has become. Towards April and what rolled into May I was exactly where I wanted to be, however becoming to difficult to sustain and not knowing when we’ll next race again I had to go into a maintenance sort of mindset just to keep the clock ticking over, in the hope we’ll have a Autumn marathon season. Wrexham was on the horizon as a guaranteed race, just in case York, Berlin, Manchester or Edinburgh had been called off.
Wrexham was my Plan E.
Then York Runway becoming my Plan F… I was originally hesitant to enter mainly due to Wrexham promising a faster field and the fact York is a Runway, meaning a out and back course. What makes a difference one way, will definitely make a difference the other. I’m talking about wind… runways are notoriously open plain land, they are flat, but they are open and exposed to the elements. I had stayed away because I didn’t want the marathon to be banking on being either pure torture or an unimaginable calm day in October. The latter being unlikely!
With me only entering a week ago, I didn’t have time to sort any time off of work in the build up or afterwards. Something I’ve been doing for the last couple of marathons, just to use some holiday days and get a full rest in. I’ve a week off coming up for what would be Wrexham instead, one I had already pushed back from this week. Also with it being a week before, my taper will be minimal. Only having the one full week to taper. In 2019 I was taking a 2 week taper and that had paid off with my 2:25:02 at York Marathon in October.
But I was adamant that I would run a official marathon in 2020 and Plan F was my last resort. Nothing was going to stop me, the time I was targeting, mattered. Of course it matters, otherwise to me, I kind of see it as, what’s the point? But above all else I was finishing a marathon even if it killed me.
A marathon without speed, training, any sort of endurance. Is a battle of the mind, a battle of the heart, it’s putting one foot in front of the other and doing absolutely anything and everything to Just Keep Running. Just keep moving forwards. The set up of the race today, had absolutely everything against you. In a ‘normal’ marathon you’re at any time, a million miles away from your car and a million more miles from home. The temptation to jack it in, isn’t really existent. Unless something really bad happens. Today though, the temptation is right away the corner and you’re quite literally only a mile away from your car at the furthest point. It’s real. It’s 10 laps, it’s a ticker, you’re ticking them off as you go. Those that are familiar with repetition sessions will know the feeling, but these are 2.62 mile reps. 10 of them.
Anyway enough of the rambling and onto race day. Slept well enough the night before and snuck a afternoon nap in yesterday whilst Ellie was recovering / sleeping from her shift. Getting herself a new job working nights for Amazon until applications for the police force open. Hoping she is successful in applying. Woke up myself at 6 o’clock Sunday morning, Ellie’s routine meant she hardly slept so she got up anyway. She was meant to be playing at Brighouse today but was called off due a waterlogged pitch from the rain yesterday.
I was feeling fresh, moving and limbering up around the house. Had some breakfast and a quick shower, then off out for 6:45. Mum and Dad were coming through, Mum was leaving the house just to ‘get out.’ She has been in the hospital since August, originally having Appendicitis, having that removed, coming home and then having to return due to Septicaemia, developing into Sepsis. Her plan was just to sit in the car anyway, my Dad was my lift and he was manning my water station for me. Passing the water every lap or so. Me being reluctant to pick it up from a water table, I didn’t want to be the one who knocks it all over!
For the first time ever, on getting to the race, it felt real. The nerves kicked in, something in 2019 BC (before Covid) never happened! I didn’t know what was going to happen, so around the car park. The wind wasn’t really evident, it felt still and calm, perfect conditions. Much better than yesterday’s downpours. Confidence was growing. I started to see people I hadn’t seen for months, mainly Scott Harrington. The pre race chat that we’ve all surely missed. Making our way over to the assembly zone for a long walk around the other side of the runway to the start line. The plan was to set you off in ability groups of 8. I had opted myself to wear my Alphaflys, something I had a debate with myself in my head. The winning factor, was well you’ve paid for them, wear them, stupid. Quite simple really.
Eventually we were around on the start line, calling the first group forwards and we were lining up. Jason Cherriman, Scott, Jonathan Walton all around me. Runners and faces who have grown familiar over the years. Stephen Weston, Simon Haywood, the list could quite literally go on. Runners, we are all marathon runners. I could confidently say this is their distance and this is my distance. Anyone and everyone, we’ve all got the ability to be marathoners. Whether you like it or not. A simple bread and butter sport, although that’s a sacrifice that I don’t eat!
Then we were off. The first race since March, I knew early on. That to hit my time, I had to hit my pace. It felt calming, I felt relaxed and I was out in front. Didn’t want to be here. But if that happened, it happened. My body felt good, on our way out. Comfortable. Head up, shoulders back, on my toes. Every runners dream.
But we had a long way to go… the straights roughly were 1.2 mile with a 0.1 mile turn at the end and then the same on the other side of the runway. Although they look it, I wouldn’t say they were perfectly flat. Probably had a slight incline? Maybe? One way quite literally felt like a glorious summers day, it made for beautiful running. Enjoyable. Honestly. 5:23 for the first mile, exactly where I wanted to be. Quite honestly it felt great.
Then we made the turn…
The race changed, although I was telling myself for the first few. It wasn’t a problem. I can deal with it.
My watch splits every quarter of a mile (400 meters), you can see where I had made the turn. Minuscule to begin with, but not where I wanted to be. The other side of the runway, wasn’t bliss, it was a full headwind for the 1.2 mile. Energy zapping, making every step forward, hard work. Every run into it tarnishing my hopes and dreams. Exactly what I feared and why I had stayed away from this race, but this was Plan F. The lap came out at 14:21. Right in the window, but it was going to be hard work. I don’t shy away from that.
It had become a race of effort and recovery, almost like a interval session, 10 repeats with one side resisted and the other a recovery. Didn’t feel any benefit from the wind going out, felt all of its negative on the way back. One enjoyable, the other brutal. Taking each lap at a time, the second one lined up for a 14:28. Now starting to pick people off and reluctantly taking the outside line, I had now dropped back in the field with Scott flying ahead of me. Psychologically the wind was beating, my only way of winning wasn’t a Personal Best anymore it was having the ability to stand at the end and turn round to say. I finished.
I’m as competitive as it comes, when it comes to anything, especially the raw nature of running. I race to beat cars to lampposts, confident that I’m quicker than a moped, definitely quicker than my brother James on the bike, especially up Keresforth Hill. The adrenaline of a race, the buzz, the feeling of beating the guy in front. Beating yourself, chasing your time. I still had that desire. The feeling on race day, when there is 1000’s of people around you. Chasing through the streets of London, Manchester or Edinburgh. One day the streets of Berlin, to climbing the Pyg track on Snowdon with no water left in your bag, or slipping and sliding down into Llanberis. All for the joy, the competition, the achievement of a race. When you can turn around at the end of it all and say, look what I’ve done. What we’ve all done.
I was holding out to see where I was at the 10 mile point, what sort of shape I felt like I was in. Whether or not it was going to be my day or not. Lap 3 was done and Lap 4 was about to become the teller. At the end of the lap the 10k’ers were starting. My thinking being I could hopefully latch onto the back of one of them. Lap 4 came and went, I had dropped out of my window. Clocking a 14:52. Pace was falling off, I was hitting the wrong side of 2:30. The race was then done for me. It wasn’t about racing, PB’ing anymore. It was back down to basics and just finishing. Survival. On a day where it could be easy to just accept defeat and quit. Probably smarter to quit at times. But I wasn’t doing that, the year is 2020. The year of staying at home and washing your hands. A year of complete shite, depression, socially distanced from all that we love. A year where we are told, what we can and can’t do. A time where I don’t quite know when I’ll race again. Above all else, I’m finishing. I switched down to what I’d call comfort mode after lap 5, Gary Briscoe calls it my cruise. Floating at what felt like a good training pace. Albeit faster than training pace. Raw target in mind. Water grabbed from my dad on every lap, taking it onboard. Becoming a count down of laps, passing 10k runners, marathon runners, weaving in and out at times as people swayed left and right. No longer battling in the wind because simply put, I didn’t have to. Lost track of what position I’m in, dad telling me later I was in 5th at one stage. Knowing there were 24 names on the entry list who had predicted sub 2:30 and who all had done the work to get there. Almost granted. Knowing realistically today not many will even get there (there were 2 in the end). I was approaching the 8th lap, beginning to notice the marathon runners scattered like roadkill at the side of the runway. Mentally battered, but not many physically. The monotonous laps had won, and the temptation of a car being right around the corner. The wind probably had killed their dreams as well. Knowing I had 2 efforts left into the wind reassured me that I had this in the bag, I’d finish. Turning the corner at the top of the runway, embracing the last beautiful effort down the runway, no wind, calming in nature. This time not to be destroyed on the way back up. The limited reference points getting closer and closer whether it be the little hut in the middle or the control tower just off to the side. The finish line almost appearing to be insight, something that had felt like a mirage only 2 hours before.
Crossing the line in a time trialled 8th place.
Way off what I wanted, way off what I know that in current shape I’m capable of. I’ll put my big boy pants on and say, on my day I’ve a 67/68 Half Marathon in me and quite possibly a 2:21 Marathon. In current shape and form. The 2:21 Marathon being my most realistic prediction.
But the year is 2020 and guess what, I’ve run a marathon.
Just Keep Running…
A massive thank you has to go to the organisers for managing to stage an event against all the odds, without the wind the race was honestly Gold Standard. I expect nothing else from evensplits / race best. The fact they managed to pull off 5 distances from 5k to the marathon goes to show that it can be done and hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel eventually. Everything from the socially distanced car parking to the socially distanced toilets, ensuring everyone had a face covering and access to whatever they needed. Another thank you to Martin Browne, one of the organisers, for letting me run the marathon!