York Marathon – Race Review

I’ve been looking forward to writing this blog almost as much as I’ve been looking forward to running the marathon itself, forgive me if I go on a bit in this post but for a near 40 year old running your first marathon is a bit of a big deal.

Having stayed over with friends near Malton the night before I woke bright and early as expected on Sunday morning, sleeping in a child’s bunk bed wasn’t as bad as I expected and I did actually manage what felt like some decent sleep. I got myself ready, checked I hadn’t left anything, at least twice, then pulled over after I’d set off just to check again. The drive to the park and ride was simple and I was soon on one of the fleet of coaches taking many slightly anxious looking runners and some clearly more relaxed spectators to the start of race at York University. Before the coach had left Elvington Airfield though panic set in, fortunately not for me but for the chap who realised he had left his running shoes in the boot of his car! Cue everyone else on the bus looking down and checking they hadn’t made the same mistake!

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I had arranged to meet various running friends at the bag drop and I soon found some familiar faces which helped to calm the nerves, a couple were with me in the marathon but the majority were doing the popular 10 miler which started slightly later. Group photos and selfies followed and then it was time to head down to the start. If I’m honest the organisation here was disappointing. Signs were limited and despite following the only sign I did see for the zone 2 start area I ended up at zone 5 and had to scramble over a wall and through some undergrowth to get back to where I needed to be.

I reached the zone 2 start area eventually and there was just time for a quick stretch. Then we were almost ready for the off, after a few words of encouragement from starter and legendary Yorkshireman Dickie Bird the field moved forward and it was too late to turn back, I was doing this, it was now or never.

The first couple of miles led us down to and through York city centre. Some of the roads here were narrow and the field almost came to a halt at one point, one runner pulled over to the side and I noticed that his flip flop had come off, yes flip flop!! It wasn’t long before we reached the key photo opportunity at York Minister and still feeling fresh I made sure I smiled for the various cameras, hopefully one will have come out well. The route then took us out of York passing large crowds and into the small villages and country lanes that characterise most of this course.

I was looking forward to the 6 mile point as we reached the village of Stockton on the Forest simply for the fact that this is the home of the high fiving vicar. I remembered that on the videos I’d seen he was on the right hand side of the road and so I made sure I was in position early to get some skin! Beyond the village the route took on a very rural feel and I don’t recall coming across anyone apart from the odd marshal until we arrived at mile 11 where the Macmillan cheering point was based. I received fantastic support from them and the other Macmillan volunteers en route and want to take this opportunity to thank them all for their encouragement, a group of other runners commented to me that it was like I had my own cheer squad. Having passed through half way it wasn’t far before my actual cheer squad of my wife and two children came in to view in Stamford Bridge. It was such a boost to see them and the crowd at this point felt huge and the noise was amazing with so many people cheering, family, friends and strangers.

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Stamford Bridge was just before mile 14 and from then on there was what felt like a very long stretch through the back of beyond up to Dunnington. The course is known for being pretty flat and it was but this section was a long, slow drag and really started to mess with my head. Just after mile 16 I started to see runners coming the other way but knew I still had over 2 miles to go until I hit the top of the road where the loop was. I looked some of these people in the eye and they were flagging, it did make me feel slightly better that one of the runners I saw was former Leeds Rhino and England rugby league star Kevin Sinfield so I tried not to feel too bad about myself.

I was keeping decent time and hitting miles in around 8 mins 30 secs which was in line with my plan, the battle at this point was mental and I was drawing on all my strategies to keep it together. I had been due to see my family again at Dunnington which was miles 17 and 19 on the out and back but the spectator bus hadn’t got them there on time so I made do with another high five this time from the Archbishop of York, small guy, strong arm! Not long after seeing him I glimpsed a vision in pink heading towards me, it was Caterina who I’d met at the start, I made sure I shouted over and high fived her too.

By mile 20 the out and back had ended and I had turned for home but I was struggling, the sun was in my face and cramp was setting in in both my calf muscles and my left foot. I carried on for a mile or so with all sorts of things running through my head. I had been determined to run the whole 26.2 miles but eventually sense prevailed and I joined many others at this point who had decided that alternating running with walking was the best strategy, I knew that if I stopped dead my legs were likely to seize up and I walk pretty fast anyway so decided this was the best course of action to get me to the finish. Caterina came by me not long after I’d started walking and she turned to make sure I was ok, the supportive spirit of the running community summed up in an instant.

At this stage we were back in more residential areas and the support from the crowd who could clearly see me flagging was superb. Eventually I made it to the bottom of the hill that we had run down shortly after the start. It wasn’t long, it wasn’t steep but it felt like Everest. I managed to run half way up and then shuffled to the top and the descent to the finish. People were shouting from every angle and I managed to catch sight of local York residents and fellow runners Luke and Tristan, thanks for the cheers lads. Slightly further down the hill were more friends who’d run the 10 miler, plus injured VIP Caroline, who had all stayed on to cheer me, I bribed them with cake but what the hell you guys were immense, thanks for the support and the video.

A quick pose for the cameras and I was through the line, my wife and kids raced down off the grass bank for hugs and I broke down in tears, I also made the schoolboy error of not stopping my Garmin! I quickly checked my phone and the finish time text was already there waiting, 4 hours 1 minute 58 seconds. I was thrilled, yes sub 4 hours would have been nice but this was my first attempt at a marathon so any thoughts of disappointment were swiftly banished.

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Celebratory drinks, cake and more hugs followed. By now I was starting to flag though and in the queue for the medal engraving I felt rough. I tried to get some chocolate milkshake down me but couldn’t stomach more than a mouthful. This feeling stayed with me until I’d set off on the drive home at which point I had to pull over into a layby on the side of the A64 to puke, sorry to anyone who witnessed it. To be honest it was probably the best chunder of all time, I instantly felt better.

Writing this the day after has given me time to reflect and have a much needed massage. Did I learn much for yesterday? Absolutely. Will I run another marathon? Possibly. Am I proud of myself. Hell yeah!! The whole experience was amazing and one that will live long in the memory for many, many reasons. I have been blessed with amazing support and want to thank anyone and everyone who got behind me in any way whether with a cheer, a donation to my fundraising or a word of encouragement on social media.

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Whilst this feels like a natural end I really want it to be just the beginning, I already have plans for the rest of this year, some races and events booked for next year and some goals to achieve. I’ve started something and I don’t want it to stop.

If you have enjoyed reading any of my blog then I would love you to vote for me in the 2018 Running Awards, just click here, register and find Marathonbore in the blogs section, if you vote in 5 different categories you’ll receive a 10% discount with the top Online Running Retailer of 2017! Thank you.

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And so it has come to this…

Wednesday 8th February 2017, for most a pretty unremarkable day, for me it was the day that I signed up for the York Marathon, a day that has shaped the last 8 months of my life, dominated my thoughts and inspired me to write this blog.

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At that time I considered myself an “advanced jogger”, I wanted to give my training a focus and during a run the previous Friday night I had started to think about what to do next, a marathon seemed like a logical aim but the how and when was the quandary. Initially I had the idea of running from my home in East Lancashire to West Yorkshire, and more particularly to Valley Parade, home of my team Bradford City and handily just over 26 miles away. I casually floated this idea to my wife that weekend, thankfully she quickly talked me out of it, doing an unsupported first marathon distance was really not a good idea, although it is still an ambition I harbour. I searched for northern marathons on Google but all the Spring ones came up and there was no way I’d be ready.  The following day though good old internet cookies played a blinder and an advert popped up on my Facebook feed for the York Marathon 2017. Yorkshire tick, scenic flat course tick, time to train tick, booked it, packed it, trained my arse off.

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The rest is history, well recent history, which if you have been keeping up I have detailed in my posts up to now. And now the big day is nearly here. “Are you ready?”; “how are you feeling?” and “when is your run again?”, questions which have pretty much been in every conversation over the last couple of weeks. For the record, yes I am; nervously excited and it’s a fricking marathon it’s not a run! (that’s the answer in my head), it’s Sunday 8th October thanks for asking, is the polite response.

I genuinely can’t wait for Sunday for so many reasons. I am really looking forward to running past the iconic York Minster, high fiving a vicar and hopefully the Archbishop of York en route, if there isn’t enough divine intervention there for me then I really have been a bad boy!

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The course itself is pretty circular starting and ending at the University. There are a couple of out and back sections in the second half of the race and the sentiment from those who have entered the race previously is that mentally they are the hardest part. The finish has also been described as a hill, now I run hills all the time and can handle them but I’m hoping the finish line is on an incline as I’m not sure my calf muscles will ever forgive me if I try to push them up a hill after 26 miles!!

I have done the hard miles, I have prepared myself as well as I can, I know that I need to relax physically and mentally and let the race take care of itself, easier said than done but by this time next week I hope, no I am determined, to be part of the 1% club.

I’ll see you on the other side.

10 Weeks To Go

One of the main reasons for me starting this blog was to allow me to document my ymtraining for the York Marathon on 8th October and give me something to look back on in years to come. Although I have provided training updates as footnotes at the end of several posts this blog has branched out into everything from vlogs, to interviews with other runners and various commentary pieces on running related matters.

This week’s post then is very much about getting back to basics. I have now completed week 6 of my training plan and on the whole I’m pleased with how things are going. So far I have run just over 173 miles of my plan and I am now at the stage where my long run every week will be a new longest ever running distance for me which is exciting but also a touch daunting. Over time I have learned that running, and in particular distance running, is not just about physical but also mental fitness and I am keen to maintain positive mental health as it will sustain me through those inevitable bad runs, the times when I doubt my ability and those moments that I’m anticipating on the actual day when I need to look deep inside me and find some positivity.

Physically I am feeling good. I’ve had a somewhat gammy (yes that is a valid medical term) toe for the past fortnight but that now appears to be just about fully recovered and apart from an odd niggle I am able to run, and importantly, recover well. I deliberately gave myself a longer training plan so that I could increase my mileage gradually in the hope of avoiding injury and touch wood that is working. With the help of various SIS products and some homemade cakes my fuelling and refuelling is also working well and my body is comfortable with what I am giving it.

 

 

Although I have yet to absolutely nail down my race pacing I have become much more consistent in pacing myself, helped greatly by regular checking of my Garmin whilst out and about. I am developing my ability to hold myself back and ignore the urge from my legs to stretch out a bit more, people online have commented that I am quick, I am quite a self-effacing person and I genuinely don’t think I am. My aim is to pace at around an 8 minute 30 second mile, to try and avoid getting pulled along too quickly at the start and to conserve as much energy as I can by getting into a rhythm and sticking with it. Whether I can maintain that pace for the full 26.2 miles remains to be seen but I am up to 16 miles so far and that pace is manageable.

As I head into the final 10 weeks of training I do have a couple of concerns. I have tried to mix up my training in terms of adding off plan speed work and hill sessions as well as some general core fitness and this has been enjoyable but actually finding routes for long runs is proving problematic. I have a go to route that is just over 13 miles and I can then add on some extra distance to that to get me up to around 19 miles but this means running the same route time and again. I could run a couple of laps of a shorter route but I enjoy different scenery and get bored with laps, I could stretch out some of my shorter routes but that would mean running round country lanes and whilst there are some great views where I live I find that I don’t relax on these roads as I am conscious of listening out for traffic which distracts my focus from actually running. I may have to put up with the boredom as a means to an end.ym2

My other concern is an impending 8 day holiday to the Netherlands. It was planned into my training spreadsheet, and appropriately coloured in orange, but I need to factor at least a couple of 13 mile plus runs into the holiday and at the moment I have no idea how that will work out. This isn’t your average run of the mill family holiday either, this is 14 children and 10 adults descending on a holiday park for what could be absolute carnage. I need to get some research done on potential routes, I’m assuming in a rather stereotypical view that the roads will be flat which will mimic the route around York nicely but I may need to just grab time to get out when I can which means fuelling could be interesting, has anyone written a nutrition plan based on a diet of raw herring, cheese, chips with mayo and copious amounts of Amstel? Thought not!

 

 

All being well this week then should see me plod out a further 33 miles or so. I’m sure the coming weeks will bring more ups and downs but I am determined to enjoy and not just endure the journey and the big day itself. Training this much has for me been life changing and even if this is my first and last marathon I want to mark it as an occasion to remember and be proud of.

Man With A Plan

Sunday 8th October 2017, when I look back in years to come this day will either be fondly remembered with a smile and a glowing sense of satisfaction and achievement or there’ll be a grimace, a rueful shake of the head and thoughts of what might have been.

All roads, all thoughts, all the training I have been putting in, even the majority of what I have been writing about on here, ultimately lead to the York marathon and last week I started my marathon training in earnest. I like organisation and structure and wanting to give myself the best shot of making it to the start line in good shape I have put together the obligatory training plan. I’ve seen numerous plans online, a good friend sent me a plan he previously used (65 miles in a week at its peak!), and various people have suggested plans that have worked for them. We are all unique beasts though and so the plan that I have come up with is designed to suit me in terms of my current fitness, where I need to push myself to distance wise and when I am actually able to get out and run.

My aim is to do two longer runs per week along with a shorter, faster run built in too. Depending on how I feel and what I can fit in around life, I may also add some short bits of speed work and some track or field laps too, the plan really though is to build up sensibly to around 40 miles per week which I think is manageable, will give me the chance to spend plenty of time out on my feet but won’t push me beyond what I can reasonably achieve at the moment which would then increase my risk of injury and the whole thing falling apart around my ears.

In all honesty I have probably over thought this whole experience but the memories of the Great North Run 2007 when I was woefully under prepared nag me still. I know my running, my fitness and my preparation are already so much better than they were then and if someone held a gun to my head now and told me to run a marathon I could probably do it but I want to enjoy the day and if I do then I will have the confidence to enter future marathons. The battle here is almost entirely in my own mind, as the rational thoughts are shouted down by the self-doubt and the fear of the unknown.

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Looking at the positive though marathon training week one has gone well. First of all my fantastic wife offered to bring forward my 40th birthday present by 5 months and so I have a shiny new Garmin Forerunner 35 to play with and my hope is that this will really help me to nail down my pacing and give me confidence that my legs will last the distance, I’m also a data geek so love looking at all the stats it fires out. My first run of the week was deliberately hilly as I prepare for the challenging course of the Pendle Running Festival 10k on 15th July, a solid 7 miles, followed on Wednesday by a quick 5 miler, as both runs coincided with summer (yes that was it folks, summer came and went last week, we’re on the downhill to Christmas now, if you missed it you missed out) I came home in a rather sweaty state after both. Friday’s 13 miles were a lot cooler though and felt good especially since I haven’t run more than 10 miles since the Leeds half back in mid May, looking at the myriad of stats from my Garmin my pacing was rather wonky but where I live and run is an undulating environment and so I’m never going to get it bang on.

The countdown then is now on, I love it when a plan comes together!