Giving up a London Marathon place was hard to do but a family holiday in the U.S. and the tantalizing prospect of tackling the Boston Marathon was more than an adequate replacement. It’s odd being on holiday knowing you have to run a marathon at the end of it. You are in your taper period where you are running less. Being on holiday you tend to be eating more. Being in the US you are definitely eating more. As a marathon runner paranoia reigns supreme and you are constantly worrying about gaining weight, losing fitness, losing speed and, specifically in New York, not getting enough sleep!
Happily the walking and the sightseeing managed to keep the fitness up and the weight stable. I did manage to do a number of runs in Central Park, perhaps the highlight of which was turning up one Sunday morning to find the New York Women’s Half Marathon being staged there. The 10 000 women didn’t seem to mind too much that I was amongst them.
I could relax a whole lot more when we arrived in Boston. Finally we were in the place where the race was taking place, 5 days early but I like to be prepared. Boston is a great city, very proud of its history. It’s more colonial England than the cosmopolitan metropolis of New York.
The expo was straight-forward, nothing like on the scale of London but equally well organised and there was that real buzz and sense of anticipation for the race. The city was teeming with runners. It seemed like everyone was a runner.
Race morning came around soon enough and as ever it began with an early start. I arrived on Boston Common at about 6.15am to hand my baggage in before getting on one of those yellow American School buses for the 26.2 miles to Hopkington, the start of the race and the location of the Athlete’s Village. The bus ride itself lasted the best part of an hour, leaving you with the daunting realization that you had to run all the way back.
Onto the race itself: for those that don’t know the Boston Marathon is an iconic race, perhaps the most prestigious race in the US, possibly the world. It’s the oldest continuously run marathon in the world. 2014 was the 118th running of the race. What also makes Boston stand out is the need to achieve a qualifying time to be able to enter. There is no ballot or lottery system here. If you qualify on your times then you are in. For some it is the pinnacle of their running ambitions and a lifetime achievement of which they are rightly very proud.
I had researched the run and the route in some detail. I had scoured the internet for blogs from experienced Boston Marathoners and I knew that the course was net downhill (that is why it does not count for world records). I also knew that from mile 16-21 there was a series of hills, culminating in Heartbreak Hill. The perceived wisdom was that it was foolish to blast out from the start where the first three miles are downhill in an effort to try and bank some time for when you later slow down on the hills. If you took that tactic you were warned that your quads would suffer later in the race and your over all time would be adversely affected.
Having never run the route before, I was happy to accept the wisdom of others and set off relatively conservatively. There is natural congestion in the first couple of miles as the 33,000 field of runners find their space. I was happy with my early splits and felt that I was running within myself as advised.
That being said, it was hot, very hot. All of my training had taken place in the winter, through rain and strong winds. I hate running in the heat and I suspected it might cause me problems.
Water and Gatorade were provided on the course every mile. They are provided in paper cups, which are not optimal for getting your fluids in. The first cup of Gatorade went all over my face but as the race went on I improved my technique of pinching the top of the cup, tilting my head to the side and pouring the fluid into the inside of my cheek. Looks odd and feels odd at first but it works and at no point in the race did I feel thirsty. If anything I may have overdone the carbohydrates, more of which later.
The early miles were passing by at a decent race; the crowd support was the best I have ever experienced. There were no quiet patches on the route, which took us through a number of small American towns where the population were massively enthusiastic in their support for the runners. Given the horrific events of 2013, this race was very much about Boston reclaiming their run from those who thought they could destroy the joy that it brings.
I was wearing a union jack running vest and so was easily identifiable as a Brit by the crowd and by the other runners. I was joined during the race, on a number of occasions, by other Brits who were happy to chat which helped the miles pass all the more quickly. For the bulk of the run I was joined by an American runner from Massachusetts who asked me what pace I was hoping to run. When I told him, ‘Somewhere in the 6:40 -6:49s,’ he asked whether he could join me. He was 26, had a marathon PB of 2:56 and was hoping to better it during this run. I had no real pre-determined goal for the race. It’s always nice to PB and I was certainly in PB shape having had a good period of training in the build up to the race. I wanted to go under the 3 hour mark again to prove the first one wasn’t a fluke and I wanted to enjoy the race. It’s sometimes dangerous to go into a race without a specific goal but I was pretty relaxed about it all at the start. (The race photographs show that this certainly changed as the race wore on with picture after picture of me staring at my Garmin!)
I passed the halfway point in 1:27:08. I felt decent and I had hoped that I would be at half way in about that time so thus far everything was going to plan. It was however getting warmer, not a cloud in the sky. As well as drinking the water I began to pour it over me to help keep me cool. After the halfway point it was a question of keeping disciplined about pace and making sure I was not over extending myself, knowing full well that in 4 or 5 miles the hilly section was to come.
The hills begin in Newton. The first is by far the worst, perhaps because it lasts for half a mile of so or perhaps because it’s the first significant challenge of the run. The researched wisdom was to relax into the hills and not attempt to maintain pace, just the same effort level. I was happy with that advice and I relaxed into the hills allowing my pace to drop without worrying about it. At the top of the hill I maybe had lost 10-15 seconds so I was pretty pleased with that.
I adopted the same approach throughout all the hills, including the infamous Heartbreak Hill. In truth the hill was nothing significant, it’s just that it’s the fourth in relatively quick succession. I crested the hill, recovered as I was going down the other side and felt great. I looked at my watch (yet again!) and noted I was running at 6:20 pace. Ouch! I had read that after Heartbreak if you feel great that is the time to push on as the rest of the run is relatively flat or downhill. I did feel great. On the other hand Charlie Spedding had advised in his book, if you feel great in a marathon, wait. If you still feel great, wait. On this occasion Charlie was spot on. I should have waited. At mile 23 I was like a car that had ran out of petrol. I was empty, had nothing left at all. Even with only a parkrun to go I knew I was in trouble. My heart rate was too high and I was frankly exhausted. I had lost my running buddy somewhere behind me and I was alone with my exhaustion. I decided I needed to recover and so I slowed to a walk for maybe 15 -20 seconds. I watched as my heart rate returned to somewhere near normal and then I ran the rest of the mile.
I could tell that I was still on for a good time but when you feel like I did in the marathon you don’t care about your time you just want the race to be over. I had to walk about 3 of 4 times over the last 3 miles, which passed in a painful blur. My toes were sore and the arches in my feet were incredibly tight, a pain I had not experienced before. I kept looking at my watch over the last mile and knew I had 10 minutes to complete the 1.2 miles to still achieve a sub 3. Despite my walking, when I began running again I seemed to be running at a decent pace so I forced myself to ignore the pain in order to duck under the 3 hours. Had I been thinking a little more clearly and been able to do the mental maths I would have realized a PB was still on, even in the latter stages. However, even as I approached the finish with about 400 metres to go, I had to walk a few steps before running to the line. At the line I was helped by a medic, who clearly thought I looked unsteady. He was right.
I crossed the line in 2:58:43, some 13 seconds outside my PB but I was delighted with my time. It was the hardest run I have ever done and I had to endure more pain than I had previously experienced. I was not well at the end. The combination of the heat, the gels, the Gatorade and the sheer exhaustion was not agreeing with my stomach and resulted in periods of vomiting for about an hour and a stay in the medical tent. I was far from alone in that.
Having now recovered and taken some time to absorb the whole experience, I remain delighted with my time. You can see from the photographs that it was far from easy. The course is definitely challenging with its rolling nature but it is a challenge worth accepting. It is an absolutely fantastic race. If you ever get the chance to do it then you should grab that opportunity with both hands.
London Marathon - 13/04/14
Report by Dave Aspin
With the expectation of a Mo Farah victory the crowds were out in much bigger numbers all around the course. At the 7 mile mark all you could here was 'Go Mo!' as the leaders glided by only for the realisation to set in that Mo was 300m back with his own pacemaker for company. Spotting your own club runners is a challenge in itself, but all the expected Harriers were spotted coasting well after the Cutty Sark. A quick dash through the Greenwich foot tunnel meant we could great the leaders at the 17 mile point and Mo was getting tremendous support but too far behind the pack of leaders to have any impact on the race. For runners it was hot from the start, positioning ourselves after the 15 mile water station many fast runners were stopping to take on liquid as the heat took its toll in the confined twists and turns on the Docklands. Whilst the hot weather did not bother the Kenyan Wilson Kipsang who won in a course record of 2:04:29, it impacted many of the club runners who had to take on extra fluids. John Clifford was first New Marske Harrier home with a PB of 2:49:59 followed by Martin Murray 2:53:21, Kay Neesam 3:13:03, Dave Hodgson 3:17:05, Kath Aspin 3:20:32 and Gemma Parkin 3:59:58.
Manchester Marathon - 06/04/13
Thanks to Amanda McLeod for the pictures
Well done to Andy Pearson 1st vet 40 in of 2:39:21 and Jo Goldsmith with a PB of 3:39:16. Andy is currently Number 1 iin the 2014 V40 Marathon Rankings.
Andy's Blog below
Manchester Marathon - The day I joined the Sub 2:40 club!
You reach a point in your marathon build up when you know the work is done and you can’t really do much more. The miles have been logged and the preparation is done. The start line can’t come soon enough and the taper becomes a drag, every niggle is a race threatening injury, every sniffle is man flu and the doubts convince you that you are losing fitness every day and you just need one more run to be ready!
Actually I felt some of the above but it wasn't over consuming. There was an air of calmness in my taper. The last week's runs were planned out and each run went to plan including a few short runs at marathon pace where I tuned in easily to the intended pace of 6-06 per mile (2:40 marathon pace!).
Manchester is a great marathon to do. The location at Old Trafford was easy to get to and plenty of parking etc so all those pre race issues were easily dealt with. To the start line.....
The legendary Ron Hill started us off. Ron has run 115 marathons. 112 of which have been under 2:50 and has a best of 2:10. He is also famous for his long running streak of running every day since December 1964. He is a true running hero and still looks amazingly fit!
The first 10km of the race went according to plan. Holding myself back I completed the early miles in 6-01, 5-59, 5-59, 6-05, 6-02 and 6-02 clocking 37.41 for the first 10km going through in 39th place. The race was going perfectly at this point and despite a headwind the times were going in my favour.
10 miles in 60-10 I had picked up 8 places into 31st. It was a case now of keeping this pace going and counting down the miles. I felt comfortable and had the leading lady in my sights. Just before halfway I caught the leading lady Emily Wicks and we ran together then for the next 10/11 miles. I seemed to have found someone who was banging out an even more consistent pace than I could and despite a "quick" 5-50 mile at Mile 14 we set a consistent pace around 6-05 minutes per mile.
20 miles was logged in 2 hours and 23 seconds. Over a minute ahead of my recent pb over 20 at Locke Park. Now it was down to the business end. This is where the doubts can come in and you wonder at what point in the next six miles it is going to go from comfortable to not so comfortable down to downright horrible!
Mile 21 - a solid 6-02 we were going well still and managed to gain a place or two.
Mile 22 - 6-12 and it was starting to get tough.
Mile 23 - 6-16 this was crunch time. My running partner of the last 11 miles was pulling away from me. She went onto win a solid 2:38.21.
Mile 24 - 6-21 starting to think about the finish. This was getting hard!
Mile 25 - 6-24. Legs were aching. The stadium was just in sight!
Mile 26 - 6-35 and the slowest, hardest mile of the whole race....
Finish - 24th overall in 2 hours 39 minutes and 21 seconds. In my pre-race vision I would savour this moment.....it’s been a long time coming. I’ve put the work in now I'm going to enjoy it! In reality my effort had been a real tightrope job...I wobbled as I crossed the line and spent the next ten minutes emptying the contents of stomach unable even to keep the bottle of water the finish marshall's gave me! It was certainly the worst I had ever felt at the finish line of any race!
So that's another marathon done and dusted. The marathon is more than just a one off race. The real battle is getting to the start line in one piece and not falling off the tightrope that is the high mileage. Now the dust has settled I'm over the moon with my result and even more chuffed that at this moment in time my 2:39.21 sits pretty at the top of the UK rankings for Vet 40 to 44.
Manchester - you were fab! Highlight of the day was most definitely the youth choir who belted out... "I predict a Riot!....I predict a Riot!" as I ran past. That was the most surreal and amazing experience of the day!
I'll sit and enjoy watching Mo run next week at London but I'll be keeping an eye on those vet 40 to 44 times!
Hartlepool Marina 5 Mile Road Race - 30/03/14
Report by Trish Speedie
Described as 'fast and flat' the Hartlepool Marina 5 mile road race was a first for me and many other runners at both distance and venue.
Terry O'Gara Memorial 5K (Inc North East Masters' Champs)
(photo courtesy Mick Stringfellow)
Report by Clive Thornton