All the non-running elements of the race were perfect. It was in Tyldesley, so only 45 minutes away in the car. It started at 1000, so there was no mad 0500 alarm call. The weather was perfect, a bit warm and a bit overcast, but not scorching and there was a nice breeze. And there were only about 50 people running, most of whom I knew (or at least recognised from other races), including the Race Director Malcolm Collins who I first met at the London Ultra in 2011.
That was my first marathon/ultra and I still remember being astonished as we ran along, him telling me about the marathons he’d run in the previous weeks and the ones he had coming up, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I thought this distance running thing was just something you did once, maybe twice a year, but before I’d even finished my first one I was wondering what it would take for me to run like that. So basically, 44 marathons and ultras later it’s all Malcolm’s fault.
Anyway, the start was all pretty relaxed, I got my number, said hi to a few people, dumped my drinks and gels just past the start line so I could grab them each time I came around rather than carry them, and then we were off.
The race route was pretty straightforward. Six laps of easy-ish trail, a few road bits and a few muddy bits, a couple of undulations, and one little hill. Mentally I usually break marathons into thirds, whether it’s laps or not. The first third is easy, always. The second third is tougher, but the only thing I let myself worry about usually is the impending doom of the final third. Then with only the last third to go, if I’m suffering, I indulge myself and let the monsters out. All those thoughts like “I can’t keep this pace going” or “I need to stop” or “what the hell am I doing here?” or “I’m going to quit running and buy a road bike”, if they come, they come here. Where I can beat them back with “I’ve already kicked 2/3 of this thing’s arse” and the end is nearly in sight.
Anyway, I didn’t really do that. Instead, I ran off like a div, chasing the leaders for two laps at 4:20/km pace. Best laid plans and all that.
After two laps I was struggling, I couldn’t keep up with the five or so guys in front, and I knew Matt, the nearest to me (but still pulling away) from chatting to him at other races was about 15 mins quicker than me on a good day. So I eased off, figured I was nowhere near placing or a PB, and just settled down into a steady, manageable pace.
I spent a while chatting to a guy from one of the local clubs which was cool and passed the time for a bit, and by laps three and four I was starting to pass some of the back markers which was nice as I’d run some pretty long stretches on my own which was a little dull. Until I passed Kate, one of the other runners, running along carrying a chicken (still no idea what was going on there).
As I finished lap four, with two to go, I figured I was on for around 3:30 which would be tidy enough, especially if my leg continued to hold out and I didn’t blow up through lack of training. I picked the pace up a tiny bit just to give myself a cushion to get below 3:30 and felt ok. At the end of lap five someone said there were four people in front of me which was cool, took some pressure off and meant I could just coast in and not worry about fighting for a place. As the lap went on though I was passing more people, and it was impossible to tell whether I was passing people who were in front of me, or people that were on their fifth lap with one still to go. It wasn’t until I saw Matt ahead of me with about 3km to go that I thought I might have an outside chance at third place. If I could catch him I’d be fourth, unless one of the other runners I’d passed before was fourth, in which case I’d be third.
I honestly had no idea, and my brain was a bit scrambled, but I knew I’d be disappointed if I just coasted in thinking I was fifth and then found out I’d had a chance at placing if only I’d had a go, so I did. I upped the pace to around 4:10/kms, passed Matt, and then ran the last two km in 8:10, which was hard, but I hadn’t even dared look behind me in case he was giving chase.
Then all of a sudden it was over, I crossed the finish in 3:25:57, and once I got my breath back, had a look around and could only see one other guy with a medal, I found out I’d come second. I still don’t know what happened on that last lap, whether I was actually in third, not fifth at the start of that lap, or whether I passed more people than I thought (or someone peeing in the woods). I know there were some half marathon runners doing three laps which explained the quick early pace too.
Either way, second was a nice bonus but I was more happy that I managed to make the distance without too many problems, and still had some in the tank for a strong finish which is the opposite of what I was expecting. Next up is the Railway Ultra in a couple of weeks, 36 miles, on four out and backs. If I get through that ok, then I might start looking at something nice and silly for the Autumn before the proper training kicks in for Paris.