Having secured myself a satisfying personal best at the London Marathon back in 2015 (read about it here!), I made the decision to skip the 2016 event in order to focus on my first ever autumn marathon. The theory behind this was twofold: firstly, it would enable me to develop some speed over shorter distances by focusing on my 5k and 10k racing through the spring, and also that it would enable me to complete a substantial part of my marathon build up during the summer holidays when I would have more time to train and recover. It was incredibly frustrating therefore when I fell victim to a series of minor injuries in the early stages of 2016. Despite these setbacks, I was able to start my marathon training block 12 weeks ago upon the return from my holiday in Florida.
The training went about as well as I could have hoped. I had to be cautious building up the miles each week in order to avoid aggravating my earlier injuries but I also had to be prepared to take some risks or I would stand no chance of hitting the sort of times that I was hoping to achieve. This fine balance was one which I would obsess over and each week I made careful notes in my training diary of any slight niggles or concerns that arose in every session.
I was incredibly fortunate to have a very knowledgeable training partner in Colin Thomas for this undertaking. Colin has a marathon PB of 2:33 and was recently back from a training block in Kenya where he had spent time talking to some of the most successful marathon coaches in the world. Colin also gave me feedback on my gait along with some exercises to help improve my running and help me to avoid injury. We trained together as frequently as possible over the months leading up to the race and I felt my running improving dramatically every week. We both had similar goals for this race and having somebody to train with on the long, hard sessions was invaluable. I also benefited from the detailed feedback and advice offered by Matt Brown who helped me understand a lot of the theory behind the sessions which I was undertaking. It was thanks largely to these sessions that I found myself sitting in my hotel in Amsterdam the night before the race with a belly full of pasta and a feeling of confidence that I was in the best shape of my life.
5:30am. The alarm screeched across the hotel room – I had taken no chances with the volume control – and I was immediately alert. During my training I had experienced a few issues with stitches and had decided that I needed to allow a little longer between the start of the race and breakfast. After a moment of sheer panic, during which I thought we had no kettle in the room (Vicki did not appreciate being woken up to help me fix this!), I realised I could get boiling water from the Nespresso machine and was able to prepare my trusted pre-race fuel of porridge to go with the slightly squashed banana that had traveled in my suitcase from Glasgow in case I couldn’t find one in Amsterdam! I washed the whole lot down with an espresso and began sipping my bottle of Isostar. The entire operation was completed by 6am and I then found myself in the slightly awkward situation of having a couple of hours to kill without waking Vicki. A little stretching and yet another read through of the race instructions filled some of this time before I gave up and tried in vain to get a little more sleep.
Leaving the hotel as the rest of the city slept, I made my way to Colin’s hotel so that we could travel to the start together. Our train was filled with the smell of deep heat and the sound of nervous voices, whispering away in a hundred languages, as the morning commuters tried coming to terms with the challenge that awaited them. We poured off the train and into the area surrounding the Olympic Stadium. Our race would begin on the track itself under the gaze of a stadium filled with supporters. Once we had squeezed through the entrance and found ourselves on the start line the atmosphere was fantastic – although the very narrow start line meant that the crowding was a little uncomfortable. A few minutes to warm up and we were ready to go.
The start of the race was a tricky one: 17000 people all trying to run on an 8 lane running track is never going to be easy. Nevertheless, we made our way out of the stadium and away from the city. I found myself settled early on into a small group of about half a dozen runners that included Colin and also our former club mate Stuart Macdougall. We hit a steady pace and began counting down the miles.
The first section of the race was fairly uneventful and to be honest I can’t remember any of the course itself. At the 11km mark we were greeted with a cheer from Vicki and Leigh which perked us up a bit and then things returned to normal until we hit the canal path a few miles further in. This was a section which I had been warned could be very lonely as there would be no spectators and the route would be highly monotonous. I was very lucky to be running in a group with friends as there was some good banter as we made our way along here which helped keep us ticking along.
We hit the halfway point in about 76 minutes and I felt fantastic. The pace was manageable and I felt strong. I was a little annoyed however that my drinks bottles – which the organisers had offered to place out on the course for me – had not materialised. I am not sure how this happened but neither of my bottles ended up being where they were supposed to be so I had to make do with the little paper cups of water. This made things a little tricky as trying to drink from a paper cup whilst running at speed is not a skill which I have mastered! Nevermind- I would just have to get round quickly!
During the second half of the race our group broke up a little and Colin and I found ourselves a little isolated. It was great to see the girls again on a couple more occasions to break up the route and provide a little more motivation however aside from these moments of support the route was very quiet. As we entered the final 10km we were running on our own and the crowd was non-existent. It was about this time that my calves began to suffer. I felt a tightness come into both calves which was not enough to force me to stop but definitely gave me something to think about. The fear of not finishing started to creep in and I started to let the pace slip a little. Colin was also beginning to suffer and was experiencing bad cramps in his leg. With a couple of km to go, he told me that the cramp was causing him issues and that I should push on for the final stretch.
As I came into the Olympic Stadium I managed to put on a bit of a burst and overtook a competitor on the final bend. I crossed the line in an official time of 2:34:13 – a 3.5 minute personal best. Whilst it was not quite as quick as I had been hoping for, I was pleased to secure a big PB and was delighted to discover that I placed 49th overall and was the 3rd Brit. It was nice to finish in the stadium but we were quickly shepherded out again and I thought it was bizarre that we were not able to get any water at the finish line. There would be no water available until we had left the stadium and reached the larger area outside.
After the race I enjoyed my first beer in months along with a fantastic portion of fish and chips! Vicki and I spent the following day exploring the city (although mainly by boat due to my sore legs!) and eating lots of amazing food! I am pleased to have made a step forward with my marathon time and had a great weekend but I don’t think I would rush back for this particular race. The route itself was pretty uninspiring and the lack of crowd support was definitely noticeable. Whilst it was undeniably very flat, there were also very narrow elements to the route and lots of sharp bends which makes me think that it is not as fast as other courses might be. I would not have enjoyed this marathon as much as I did had I not been running in a pack containing my mates.
I have only been home a few days but already plans are forming for the next one. Possibly London 2017? Maybe Berlin? Either way, I am looking forward to getting back down to Bella and putting in some training with the rest of the club. Besides- I’ve got cross country to deal with first!