Yesterday was Chester Marathon and it was my third race at the distance.
Preparation has been thorough if not somewhat unorthodox. It’s certainly not a plan I would recommend to follow. Indeed I think it would be a challenge for anyone to be able to follow the logic of the plan (or find it!) let alone train in line with it. If you read the last post about the 6 month challenge and have a look at my Strava or SmashRun profiles you’ll see what I mean.
But it worked for me.
Saturday 3rd October was a grey foggy day. Definitely not a good day for getting the washing dry (believe me, I tried). That said, had that presented itself for race day, I’d have more than taken it. Cool, but not cold, bright but not too sunny and a bit damp for hydration purposes.
In fact on getting to Chester Racecourse at 7.15am on Sunday morning, it looked like we’d be getting something along those lines. Yet the cloud gradually broke and blue sky joined up from small dots to total coverage. October in NW England can, it seem, do what the heck it likes. And frequently does.
The first challenge of the day was getting parked up on the racecourse. A simple task made immeasurably more difficult by the stewards directing traffic. At least I *think* that’s what they were trying to do. A wide range of arm waving (with the inflatable click-clack things that spectators wave along the racecourse) was deployed, ranging from vaguely motioning in an indeterminate direction, to a lad who clearly believed he’d been presented with a lightsabre and was duly practising for an audition for a future Star Wars film. When I approached the rows where I was expecting to park, the steward achieved the impossible by somehow managing to attempt to direct me to three separate locations simultaneously. A situation only resolved by me taking the French approach of stopping my car and shrugging my shoulders explicitly until he provided something slightly more informative for me to follow! My friend in the car, with many years of dealing with traffic matters was equally bemused. Yet we parked up (near a landmark camper van) and another friend rang me to confirm his arrival and we convened on my car which was already surrounded by the constant stream of arriving vehicles.
The race announcer then came online and following the ‘testing 1-2-3’ routine set off into his pre-race patter, which to all intents suggested that he’d been out on the town all night and had arrived straight to the venue. Aside from a lot of the general gibberish that was echoing around Chester were some gems.
The awkward sponsor placement: “Well it looks weird, but it works!”
(I’m sure that’s what their marketing team would have asked for when they paid for an endorsement)
The embarrassing observation: “There’s a runner just gone to the portaloos with a helium balloon”
(I’m sure he loved the attention that generated)
The cringey compliment: “That’s the best beard ever”
(I know there’s a competition in Germany for facial hair, but this isn’t it)
The namedropping: “It’s Sharon, from Wales!”
(What, do you mean THE Sharon from Wales?)
And the random not-in-the-1960s comment: “Hey, that’s great, Baby”
(I thought the kiddies race would have a low age limit, but not set at zero).
It was then time to make it over to the start line and join in the band I intended to race with. I just missed out on a 3:30:00 result last year, and therefore that was my goal to beat in 2015. And then we were off.
The route works its way around and out of the race course before taking a circular route around the local streets to centre the main city centre, passing the landmark buildings and giving the spectators from the start a chance to see the first couple of miles of race before we headed out over the Bridge and south towards the Welsh border. I saw my friends as I turned the corner to go under the clock-bridge and then it was the realisation of many miles to go!
The plan had been to run with the 3:30 pace runners (8 min/mile), but I actually got chatting to a Blackburn club runner called Rick and our pace was comfortable and slightly ahead of them and over the next couple of miles we pulled away, although that had been the total opposite of my intention. After a few more miles, Rick took a toilet diversion and I carried on alone. With chatting it actually broke up the race a lot more and the miles had melted away. However, by about mile nine, he’d caught me back up and we continued to enjoy the beautiful Welsh borderlands in clear blue skies and pleasant morning air.
Crossing the 20k mark the route goes into a loop and whilst it was great to reach that point it began to get a little annoying with another runner behind us congratulating every single person coming the other way. I mean, save your breath, we’re not even half-way yet!
It wasn’t long before we’d crossed the halfway timing mat, completed this loop and were those people in the other direction, heading back to the England border, on the first of the ‘hills’ at 16 miles. By this point I was beginning to think that a portaloo stop (without helium balloon) was going to be a necessity, and at the 18 mile drinks stop, I left Rick to continue on whilst I did what I had to do.
Whilst only a brief stop I could see ahead of me was a pacer group which I figured must have been the 3:30 group having passed me and feeling a lot better following my stop caught up with them over the next mile, after a near miss with a runner (THE runner?) with a helium balloon. So it had only taken me 19 miles to adhere to my race plan!
To be honest probably wasn’t the best time to join the group as the roads seem to get steadily narrower and just beyond the other race, the ‘metric marathon – 26.2km’ turned around in the road and joined us. So there was a big influx of runners and only half a road available as the metric-runners were coming in the opposite direction (prior to turn around) meaning that without cones along the middle of the road there would have been some spectacular collisions.
The 20 mile hill came and went as we continued north towards Chester City again. I think this was my least favourite section more because of the risk of falling over other runners or traffic cones which ran down the middle of the road. At least the field of metric-runners heading towards us thinned right out so despite the cones it was safe to spread out across the road. Still with the 3:30 pacing group the pacers themselves shouted out encouragement at each milestone – 10k to go, 5 (miles) to go, 4, 3….
It was quite warm by this point and my 750ml bottle of energy drink I’d carried from the start was running low, so I collected some water at the next opportunity and I must say it tasted amazing!
As we passed through the 24 mile marker I could see ‘the hill’ up ahead of the short immediate dip. I saw Rick just in front – I really hadn’t expected to catch up, but his early pace had caught up with him. I had done the same last year and the hill finished me off then, but this year, with knowing the course, I knew what to expect and how long it went on for, so it didn’t phase me. Whilst I hadn’t intentionally pushed on, I left the 3:30 pacer group behind and pushed up the hill. It’s neither steep nor long, but at 24.5 miles it might as well be vertical as far as the legs are concerned! I powered up it, and in no time rejoined the main road into Chester and across the 40k mat.
All one needs to know at this point is there’s 2k to go!
Turning off the road towards the river, past the 25 miles sign and it’s downhill to the river path where the crowds were lining the street. A marshal commented it was nice to see someone smiling (my trademark when running!) and I just let my pace settle in a higher gear. Nearly home. And save for the motability scooter that crossed straight in front of me nearly knocking me over (rider completely oblivious to the existence of anyone else in Chester) it was a plain gently-downhill pathway which eventually went under the road, passing the 26 mile marker, and into the racecourse.
Lots of people, lots of noise. Some people to overtake, and a finish line seemingly further away than I remembered it.
One bizarre thing as I approached the final 50 meters was that a runner up ahead had stopped and turned around to take a photo of those behind him – before the end of their race. As I was running directly at him at the time I was somewhat confused but it suddenly seemed to wake him up as he appeared to panic and make a dash for the line himself, much to the amusement of the marshal on the finishing line.
Needless to say, I crossed the line first :-)
I saw the clock was on 3:26 and some seconds so I knew I’d smashed the 3h 30m goal I had set myself. Getting my medal and navigating through the right lane for the correct sized t-shirt for the correct race I came out the other side and felt a little wobbly, but managed to get my photo taken and find my friends without incident. On switching on my phone, another friend who worked in the control room had texted me with my chip time – 3:26:05 – 4m2s off my previous PB!
So, job done. A great day for a great race, in a great location and with a result even better than I wanted. And having people to greet me at the end of it all. It really doesn’t get much better than that :-D