Meander Marathon race report.
Let the race lead you.
So my wife told me that I don’t race enough for enjoyment, and the truth is that I don’t race enough regardless of the reason. Off the back of that discussion I signed up for the Meander marathon a few weeks after the birth of our son. My pre season training has consisted of high end speed work on the bike and run, and lots of technique work and analysis in the pool as well as developing my maximum power production in the gym. All of this tied in to the facts that I haven’t cut down to race weight yet, had only done one run over an hour, was enjoying new and varied sleeping patterns because of the little one, and was at the very end of a 4 week block of training meant with no taper, meant I was doing everything other than enjoying being on the start line.
Most of the larger runs in London are competitive, and knowing that the majority of the run was on washed out trails and broken paths the main goal was to get in a race and tune up the mind in preparation for IM Lanzarote, and not to try and run a PB. As the gun went off so did 5 chaps at what must have been 2.30 marathon pace, my legs quickly told me that wasn’t gonna happen so I settled down and assumed the sunshine had got the better of them. The truth is I had no idea of the pace I could hold, and I had no idea how I would hold up in the middle third of the marathon which is where I usually slide in to a bit of a mental cage fight.
After about 15k I had broken away in to 4th leaving behind an interesting conversation with the chap in 5th who is apparently the world record holder for 500k in one go. After getting rid of the feeling of amazement and the slight feeling of inadequacy due to his stories, I realised that like it or not I was in a race. The Thames path has long stretches where you can see 400m up the road, so I found it hard to focus on my rhythm and not the gap up front and how it was changing. That’s partly due to lack of training and partly due to me trying to dig out some motivation. Not always a good thing as it can take a lot of energy to think that way and in this case it was. The gap wasn’t changing and as soon as we hit the half marathon point I told myself that 4th was ok and that this was training blah de blah de bollocks. Not a conversation you should ever be having in the middle of a race and a habit I need to shift. The only goal is finishing, and everything else that happens is a question you answer in the moment. Then all of a sudden 5th place came past me putting in a solid kick and that woke me up from my waste or space conversation and gave me a target. I followed him for about 10k constantly apologising that I couldn’t take a turn on the front (the truth) and digging very deep to stay with him. I was gritting my teeth and dealing with all his surges for about 15k constantly just telling myself to hang in for as long as I could, and I can honestly say that the whole time I was sure that I was running well over what I could hold and there was a lot of doubt in my self talk. But all of a sudden this chap had dragged me up to 3rd place who’s stride was starting to look a little jerky, and then with about 7k left to go something clicked. I run strong and that is my big strength. Whether it’s after a long bike or a stand alone marathon I get stronger later in the race, and as soon as we reached 3rd I put in a surge and dropped them both. This felt very uncomfortable and about 10 mins after I put the surge in I hit a really boggy piece of trail, and although I hated it I new they would hate it more having just been gapped. Having settled in to a nice pace and with no way of reaching second in my head I settled happily for third. Then suddenly almost as soon as the thought entered my head I cramped badly in both Hamstrings! I stopped and stretched out, had a look back and could see a gap of about 300m so I didn’t panic and settled in to a slower pace with a more relaxed loose technique. Over the next 3k I had to stop and stretch out at least another 4 times, but by now the trail was twisting and I couldn’t get a read on how far back the group was. With about 3k to go I felt safe as I ran past my family but was in too much discomfort to give them anything, but inside I felt like I had another gear if I needed it, only if my Hamstrings could hold up. 1k later I hit the turn around which left 2k to go, and as I turned I saw a new face who had come through the group at pace and was about 50m behind me. He looked like he was smiling which pissed me off a bit as I definitely wasn’t, so I took a deep breath, switched in to 5th, put my foot down, and cramped instantly. As I stretched I looked under my arm as he hit the turnaround and yes, he was definitely smiling and he had put another 10m in to me as well. I’m not gonna lie, I felt like some kind of helpless wounded prey, but I’m used to being chased by Ollie every year so I put together a stride length and speed that I thought could hold the distance without cramps, and that would hopefully get me close enough to the line that if I had to sprint with cramp I could. As I ran past my family again they looked pretty concerned especially when I stopped again to stretch just in front of them! He was now about 40m back with about 1k left. I considered stopping and pushing him in the river, but thought it would be better to just run cramping or not, and once I let go of the worry I managed to keep the gap to 30m with about 500m left. I’m able to be this accurate about the distances because I was turning around so much that from a distance it might have looked like I was running backwards. With about 200m to go he was about 15m back, but when I could see the line, in quite severe pain, like a fast moving Nazi, with straight legs out in front I sprint/marched over the line in 3rd. I endearingly told 4th he was a bastard as he crossed the line, which isn’t quite the same as being called an Ironman, and I’m pretty sure he took it the wrong way because he shuffled off quickly and left. They took pictures, I gave interviews, ate a well handled Flapjack and then walked off reflecting just how surprising and rewarding, yet hugely uncomfortable the whole thing had been.
I make light of how the race went, but in all honestly that’s as much as I have learnt about myself in recent years. I had too much weight, no watch, no goal, no freshness, no perceived fitness, no actual fitness and therefore no shackles. I let the race lead me and a result I achieved more than I thought I could. From this I know that with a good block of work I can be in good shape come the main season, but I also know that I won’t lose the mindset I started this race with. Have your boundaries and your markers but don’t make them too specific, and allow for leeway. Things change for everybody and not just you! You cannot predict the outcome and chances are your predictions will cause you problems along the way, just do what you can and keep doing what you can for as long as you can, and let the race lead you.