The Yorkshire Marathon

Before you start, this is a long one… This is a MARATHON.

I’ve always said it’s as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and it really is. It’s a mindset thing, you’ve either got it or you haven’t. I’ve run everyday, day after day. I wasn’t going to let it go as simple as that. It’s a honest thing, a simple thing, a simple purpose, bringing much more to the simplicity of just putting one foot in front of the other. It’s self judged, against no one but yourself. You just lace up and get out there and run.

What do they all have in common? Run streakers are a committed group of people that by default show strong determination and a focused mindset. They have found a commitment to themselves, a commitment to the sport of running, and a commitment to physical fitness. And in this commitment they find the satisfaction and motivation to keep lacing up, getting out and doing what they do: run.

Thomas O’Grady – Podium Runner

Beyond my last write up, things started to improve. My plan was obviously to get pain free, and then race myself fit. I was still optimistic of a marathon attempt in 2021, I’m always optimistic. Aren’t I?

What have I been up to?

In that time I’ve done 7 parkrun attempts. My parkrun in my previous write up was a 17.44 attempt around Hull, I’d improved it to a 16.21 on the 9th of October at Hull. I’ve also run at Penistone, Penrith, Dalby Forest, Humber Bridge, Barnsley and Hull again. With my plan of racing myself fit I’ve also managed two half marathons and two 10k’s, then one 6k relay at Redcar. My first race was a Half Marathon at Wrexham, this was the 4th time I’d entered a race in Wrexham but only the first time I’d be toeing the line. Bottom-line I did it to get a monkey off of my back, I was still in pain come race day from my glute. The first time was a cancellation due to the weather, the second was covid related and the third was foot injury related back in April. I won’t be entering a race in Wrexham anytime soon… 76.58 in Wrexham, if thats where my base fitness was at then I was pretty chuffed. I’ve had been hopeful of a sub-70 half marathon around 4 weeks before this! My next event was a big weekend of Dalby parkrun, the 6 stage relays and then a Half Marathon in Scotland on the Sunday. A singular goal of running faster than I did at Wrexham. The Scottish Half, if I was to run faster, I’d do a Autumn Marathon. Starts in Musselburgh and shares much of the Edinburgh Marathon route. That long out and back on the coastal road for those who have done it? 75.28. I’d improved so a Autumn Marathon was on the cards. Simple as that. Next up in my plan to race myself fit was some sharpening approaching the bulk of marathon season.

I’d still at this point not got a entry into Yorkshire, the deadline closed in early entry for general entries. But I’ve done everyone, I didn’t want to miss out. So I sent some emails, my times from previous years qualifies me for a elite entry. I eventually found out I had a entry on the 22nd of September. Yorkshire was always going to be the ONE, giving me a extra weeks training beyond Manchester and its God’s own country after all. Naomi had also entered Yorkshire Marathon to try and improve her 3.30 PB that she set earlier in the year, in a solo attempt around where she lives. Onto some sharpening stuff anyway, two pretty fast 10k’s were on the cards, Beverley and Cusworth. Secondary goal was to get a sub 17 parkrun again as well. Realistically I should be running sub 16 parkrun’s for my marathon time but with 319 parkruns at Barnsley I’m struggling to hit that from the get go! But never say never. Beverley 10k was 34.36 for 5th place and Cusworth a week later was 34.21 for 3rd place. Some way off of my low 33 at Pontefract a month or so ago but its progress from where I’ve been in the 6/7 weeks since then. From not being able to walk and clocking 11.30 minute miles for my daily mile.

Two more attempts between Yorkshire and Cusworth for a sub 17 parkrun, and that came at Hull on the 9th of October, setting off with the intention of running a marginal sub 17. But after the first 400 I held on for a 16.21. I’d be hopeful for a sub 16 there eventually. Much, much flatter than the hills of Barnsley.

Me and Naomi planned to go and support at Manchester Marathon; Hannah had messaged me on Monday and entered the marathon last minute and then David Hanks was also running his second marathon in 2 weeks, Michael Grain was also going for a sub 3 attempt. Amongst many others who I knew that would be out on the course, that I’d probably bump into or see on race day. We watched the delayed start of the event and then made our way to Old Trafford where we bumped into Tracy Hughes, by complete accident, we then decided to spend the day with her as she was watching David. Seeing the runners pass by mile 6 and then 7 on the route before making our way to a coffee shop before the marathon runners began to finish. If you ever want to see what running means to people go and stand at the finish line of a marathon, if you’re a runner and you’ve never done it. I recommend that you try it. Just stand and watch. We saw tears, joy, punches in the air, crawling, carrying, children, smiling and I began to feel it, true inspiration, motivation. This is what we are, we are runners, marathon runners.

We even jumped over the barrier to help up a runner in distress, down to dehydration and exhaustion around 100m from the finish line, we couldn’t get him to his feet but first aid were soon to strap him to a stretcher and give him attention. But the Manchester Marathon spectator experience, ignited my motivation and inspiration even more. I now know why Tracy enjoys standing on the bottom gate near Barnsley Parkrun. It’s class!

Race Week

Coming into race week now for The Yorkshire Marathon. All my ‘training’ if you could call it that had now been done, race week is all about the important rest and recovery, all the things I’ve been taught from every marathon before. It’s about getting the legs back to fresh and getting the nutrition right to ensure I have enough in my system. The physical running training had been done, and even though I say running is one foot in front of the other, it truly is when you strip it all back, to the barebones, but it does extend itself to something much more than that.

It’s all your experiences, your why, the reasons, the lessons, the resilience, the motivations, where you seek your inspirations, the mentality, your confidence, the self-belief, the enjoyment and digging yourself out of the lows to ultimately trying to reach your highs. Its how you overcome difficult patches, taking strength as you push on, day after day. One foot in front of the other. Each singular step was a challenge on the 15th of August. It was painful, agonising. But that strength is in me now. The week clocked on, kept my runs easy, working on getting the heart rate down I’m about 2/3 months off of being in proper marathon shape, but this is the card I’ve been dealt, deal with it. I’ve had 5 weeks of building the mileage and getting up to 90 mile weeks. I’ve had a week where I just ran 7 mile for the week. Some way off of my 2019 shape where I averaged 125 mile for the week in my marathon 16 week build up. Sessions completed this time around, 1 standalone session on the grass with The Butchers. The rest have been efforts within runs such as 30 on/ 30 off or 2×1 mile efforts or obviously tied into races. A far cry from what I actually want to be doing, long marathon runs slogs, long 2 mile + reps or pushing the pace on the hills of Barnsley. My favourite session from previous years being 4x 5 mile, as quick as I can, usually quicker than 10k/half marathon pace at least, with a jog around the block recovery. This time around there was none of that, this time around it was more about the mind rather than the legs. But I’ve the confidence I can take from that, I’ve been here before in the 8/9 years I’ve been running I’ve done some growing and some work at it to get to where I’m at, right now, right this minute. I was toeing the line at York, with all of that behind me. But what has happened is behind you, I know I’m right there, but all that matters now is what is right in front of me. I’m a forward thinker. I’ve a marathon to do.

For this one I’m treating it as a long run, a experiment I was going to try something I’ve not done since my first marathon, in previous years I’ve used Jakemans cough sweets as my race fuel, proudest moment is keeping a Jakemans alive for two and half hours in my mouth. But this time around I thought I’d try using gels, Science in Sport is my go to brand for most sports stuff, using their hydration tablets for a while. So I made a order of some of their gels, some caffeine ones and normal gels. They’re the same company more or less as PHD as well and I’ve used them for their protein stuff in previous years. SIS anyway have brought out a range called Beta Fuel, apparently much thicker than the other gels they have and have 40g of carbs in, more the better? So opted for them. I’m not sponsored so not going to bang on about them anymore. But I did my research put it that way.

I recovered nicely as the week went on, rocked up at Barnsley Parkrun on Saturday morning and clocked a 17.07. Good to be back! I felt like I didn’t have my foot entirely on the gas, but it felt good knowing the gas might have been there if I needed it. First time in a long time! Rest and recovered for the afternoon, spent a lot of it sleeping, eating and chilling.

Race Day

Now onto race day, with entering the marathon as ‘elite’ starter the offer was there for us to park at the university campus. So we didn’t book anywhere to stay over in York, with it only being a hours drive we opted to go up on race day. Woke up around 6 on the day of the race, smashed my strawberry granola down me, prepared a water from the night before didn’t drink much of that! Naomi had a sausage sandwich and a coffee. Chilled preparation around the house before we set off at 7, travelled up with my folks, letting my Dad do the driving. I stole around 45 minutes sleep in the car on the way up to York, waking up just before getting to the university. My Dad had done his research on google streetview to find the quickest way from the car park to the start line. We managed to sneak into one of the campus buildings for a toilet stop, posh loo’s, away from the portaloos. Pottered around a bit, Mum and Dad got a coffee as we started to prep and get changed into our race clothes.

We bumped into Michael Grain who was doing his second marathon in two weeks, chatted with him for a bit, he had a Hi Vis Dewsbury 10k long sleeved top on, people must’ve thought he was a marshal because he kept getting questions asked! We made our way to the startline around 9.15, me instantly forgetting that I’d not vaselined up! So made a mad dash to catch up to my folks to grab the vaseline, definitely didn’t stand there rubbing it on my balls whilst Naomi was talking to a friend…

In the starting pen now, made my way to the front, bumping into Simon Lambert and Jon Walton who were doing the 10 miler, chatted to the them for a bit before being joined eventually by all the other runners who will be doing the marathon. Asked Tom Charles and Scott what they’d be aiming for, my hope was to set off with them and hope to hold on to at least 5k. I’d then judge it 5k at a time.

For this marathon as well as the gels, I was also trying a new split tactic of using 5k’s. So mathematicians 8x5k=40k. A marathon is 42.195k so my hope would be to just wing the last 2.195k, with the same pace I’d done the rest in, hopefully quicker? A sub 2.30 marathon is around 5.43 minute mile, or a 17.46 5k. So I set the aim of splitting 5k’s in 17.37, to give me a bit of wiggle room. I’ll stick a summary after my race report.

Getting in the zone now, focussing on myself and the tarmac that lay out in front of me. That’s all it boils down to, have I done enough to ensure I’ll finish. In a marathon positivity always wins, self-belief always wins. I was going into this with a different mindset. All in, balls in. If I blow, I’ll collapse trying. I knew I’d get to half way, 13.5 miles at Stamford Bridge where my Dad and Mum were standing. They can carry me home if needs be, I knew I’d get to 17 / 19 miles and The Butchers would be there, they’ll carry me home if needs be. Doubt had crept in, but I couldn’t let it. I’m not a quitter. I’ll leave it all out there and finish, however long it takes me. I knew out there on course, I’ve no expectations, I’m here that’s all that matters.

The RACE!

Down the hill, and straight into the race. Kicked out the blocks and hoped to stick with Scott and Tom, the pace felt tough and didn’t feel easy. This is the first 400. It’s meant to feel easy at this point. Striding out and hitting the turn at the bottom, settling to my steady running. My marathon pace, what it is for the minute anyway. Largely downhill for the first mile or so, I wouldn’t know my split until after the race. It was a 5.26 anyway! Ideally for me to run a sub 2.25 that’s around 5.30 minute mile pace, Scott and Tom would be close enough to that today! I watched Scott and Tom pull away, imagining myself pulling away from the race with them. But just not turning. Bursting through into York City Centre, through the cobbled streets and clocked 17.12 for the first 5k. Managed to settle the pace down and was joined momentarily by Matt Snow, he was aiming for a sub 2.30. I felt pretty comfortable by now and as the race settled I was getting more and more confident. I was back in my comfort zone, I was running, I felt free. I was finally running a marathon. 8 weeks ago, I couldn’t walk, never mind run.

I knew the 5 mile marker was where the 10 mile course splits, that would be my first gel intake as well. I’d arranged them in my pockets, knowing I had a caffeine gel in the back left, my other three were just normal gels. The caffeine gel I’d take around mile 15 or 20 depending on how bad I felt at that point, mainly because it was a different flavour to change it up a bit and also the added bonus of containing a shot of caffeine. My training had meant the furthest I had run was comfortably at pace around 15 mile, with 13 mile at race pace in half marathons. Then a small warm up and cool down. The Scottish Half was 2 mile Warm Up, 13 at race and a 1.5 cool down, but I struggled on the cool down!

First gel in, settled quite well and taste alright! Second 5k comes at the 10k marker, I split it in 17.27. At this point I’m thinking to myself, am I capable of running a sub 2.30 here? But if a marathon teaches you anything, it is RESPECT! You need to respect the distance, and the distance can take you to some really dark places. I was sat in the fairway with Shaun and Hannah one night, and Shaun said if you’re willing to do York, you’ll learn something about yourself it’ll take you to some dark places, a place you might not have been in a long long time. A pain or struggle or defeat that training just can’t simulate. I was willing, I wanted to learn what I could do, where it could take me. I knew where I had to dig deep and push myself through it.

The course at York then begins to make its way through the trees, between Stockton and Sand Hutton this would be my third and fourth 5k split. I disregarded my third 5k of 17.59 and based it on tree interference with the GPS, I knew I had money in the bank from the first and second 5k. My fourth 5k would be the teller, if I could hold it all together. I picked it up but not enough, 17.47. I had done enough though to clock the half way clock in 1.15.00 dead. Bang on 2.30 pace for the marathon. That would be the dream today. But all in all, I’m just grateful that I’m here and I’ve a number on my chest. My next gel came at mile 10, found it a nice little treat in honesty.

The Lonely Life of a Marathoner!

By Stamford Bridge I felt ok; but I knew I had a long drag ahead. All the way through Dunnington to Mile 18, another double back. I know this course well. I’ve done it every year since 2013. It’s the marathon that almost feels like my home game. It feels like a uphill drag always to Dunnington, I just had to hold it together until mile 20. My fifth 5k was 18.11, on the long drag now though. I was still optimistic. Got to Dunnington and saw The Butchers stood at the side of the course, asked if I was ok and I replied ‘so-so.’ I was hanging in there and hoping for the best. In the back of my mind, I’d needed to pee since around 10k and could feel it bouncing a bit in my stomach, but the glorious life of a marathoner is I needed to shit by mile 18, sorry for the detail! Pace slowed massively because of that and I dropped to 18.38. Said to myself that I’d get to mile 21 and then stop in the nearest portaloo. Running back through Dunnington now and glanced over to The Butchers and Hannah shouts, go on Gaz, you’ve done this loads of times before. I picked the pace up momentarily with this in mind, but not enough to alter the feeling in my stomach!

I was half hoping I’d see Naomi on this out and back section given how long it is. She can’t have been far off given her final finishing time. I saw plenty of people as well who she would’ve eventually passed.

Managed to eventually get to a loo around mile 21, for my mile 22 split I managed to clock a 5.51 mile with a second wind. But as I merged with the 10 mile runners the weaving, ducking and diving managed to slow me to the wrong side of 6 minute mile pace. But I was nearly home, and ready to take on the finishing hill. Or crawl! I’d figured my loo stop was around 2 minutes and 10 seconds onto the clock, my watch had managed to auto-pause but thankfully I clicked pretty quickly and restarted it. Mainly out of the habit of starting my watch when I break into stride! I was trying to catch the lad in front, not a clue how many places I had lost in the toilet. Head up and going for it.

Down the finishing straight looking at the clock and crossed in:

2:36:15

Actually crossed in 10th place but the official results say 12th, on closer inspection two runners who finished in 7th and 9th respectively actually ran the mile race and clocked over 15 minutes for the last 2k. Not picking up on the other timing mats, only the 40k timing mat. Actually looked on the race photos and picked them up running amongst the 10 mile runners near the minister at the beginning of the race and also starting the race at 10.15 rather than the 9.30 marathon start. So if Petras Banys and Antony Wilson could let the organisers know please?

After the race made my way through the bustle to see all the other runners and people I know, congratulating them and chatting before making my way to the grassy banking where my folks where stood. Giving me my clothes and me asking to see the tracker for where Naomi was, she was on for 3.07! Would be a massive PB! I sat on the wall to get my top half into some warm clothes. Just sitting there beyond the finish line, away from the noise, under the bridge. And like some fancy novel, I just sat and with the marathon emotions. I just sobbed, I was proud, proud of myself. The dark place the marathon had taken me, wasn’t anywhere desperate or dangerous, it wasn’t pain or discomfort. It was pride, the emotion. I was proud of my resilience over these last few months, I was proud of my motivations, my reasons. My why. I had done a 2.36 off of very limited training. Makes me wonder what I was capable of back when I was ‘peaking’ in March before my injuries began. Even what was I capable of in 2020 when the only marathon I could run was 10 laps around a runway. But we’ll have to leave all of that for 2022. For today I had run with heart, passion for the sport. For putting one foot in front of other.

Every mile I ran today was a reflection of every difficult mile I’ve had in the last 8 weeks, in the last year. Not just a reflection of the difficult miles, but the easy miles as well, the ones where I’ve felt like I could forever. My strength taken from the fact that even though its been tough, I’ve still got out and got the job done. 1 mile is all it takes to change your world around!

5k SplitTime TakenAverage Pace
117.125.33
217.275.38
317.595.48
417.475.45
518.115.52
618.386.01
718.37*6.00
818.556.06
9 – 2.195k9.116.22
42.195k2.34.02**5.52
*Number 7 included the toilet break **Moving time due to auto-pause for the toilet break

I got up off of the wall, jacket on and propped the fence up with the finish line in sight. Eye on the tracker, eye on the line. Naomi still on for 3.07 on the tracker. A lot quicker than we had anticipated. Glancing at the clock. Then seeing her coming down the straight, Michael Grain next to her and getting her home. Naomi had a pacing tactic, writing 5 mile splits down and hoping to be on for 3.10; but in planning that we accounted for ‘fade.’ Hoping she wouldn’t fade too much to still dip under 3.14. She had run most of race like myself on her own, having a more people around her but still on her own. She managed to pick Michael up around mile 21 and ran the last 5 whilst pushing through with him, picking others off as they go. In her build up she’s been the opposite end of a spectrum to me, she’s averaged around 28 mile weeks, but the training adaptation has come from the fact that she hasn’t been as consistent in her training before. The regular efforts at 10k and Half Marathon pace will have helped, as well as the Parkrun efforts on a Saturday morning. All quicker than marathon pace but all in all, they make marathon pace feel slow and much, much easier! It’s all relative after all.

She managed a 3.08.31 for 17th female!

Over the line looking pretty strong, with the fitness transferred over from the summer triathlons paying off today. Making her way through the funnel to eventually find her way back. Myself grabbing her and hugging her, sharing my own pride in myself but also my pride in her and what she has achieved. A major stepping stone towards things to come, goals to be obliterated and bars set higher and higher. We’d eventually make our way to find the car, getting changed and heading off for a post marathon burger.

That was the Yorkshire Marathon, more importantly…

Just Keep Running!

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