Abingdon Marathon: a race report

If you’d asked me this time last year whether I thought I’d ever run two marathons in a year, I would have laughed and thought it out of the question. But last Sunday I crossed the finish line in my second marathon this year, so really, you never know how things might change.

I felt anxious before Abingdon Marathon. For days before it, I had a dodgy stomach, which probably meant I didn’t have great fuel stores or hydration leading up to the race. I also had a few nights of crappy sleep.

I think the anxiety stemmed not just from the thought of the race itself, but from thinking about what I might be able to achieve. I knew that I was capable of running it in under four hours, but I also knew I hadn’t trained enough this time around for that to happen. One part of me was saying: just go for it. The other was saying: your body isn’t strong enough for that yet.

Everything seemed to be pointing towards going for it. The weather was cool and dry, with light winds. The training status on my watch was ‘peaking’. I felt strong and niggle-free. My friend who was also running, and our friends who were supporting, all said that I was capable. So, I went for it.

The race started on a track at Tilsley Park sports centre. It then followed three loops, two of which we ran twice, mostly on roads but also a trail-like section.

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I started out at about 9:15 pace, which I thought was conservative. Then, from around mile five, I felt good and sped up to about 9:00-9:05. Although it was a small field (under 800 finishers) and a small town, there was some great support from locals who had come out to cheer. I ran alone at times, but also quite often with a small group. I felt almost invincible, chugging along at this steady but fairly quick pace.

In mile 9-10, I tried to open a gel to suck out the contents, but nothing came out (although all the other gels I took were fine). While faffing with this, I managed to knock the lap button on my watch. From then on it gave me splits on the half-mile, which threw me off pace. And then there was a twinge on the outside of my left knee: the dreaded IT band pain that I hadn’t had at all throughout four months of training.

My heart sank and my confidence plummeted. I thought it meant it was over and I’d have to drop out of the race. I also felt suddenly lacking in energy. I slowed down. And I kept slowing down. Thankfully, the knee pain didn’t get worse, and it eased off at times, so I was able to cope with it.

I stopped to drink at a water station somewhere after mile 20. I felt a little light-headed. A marshal was concerned about me, but I assured her I was fine. I then told another marshal that I wished I hadn’t stopped because I didn’t know how to start again, and he said: It’s all mental. You can do it. Just keep going. I really needed to hear that.

I kept going. I ran all of the final 10k except for a brief walk at a water station. Although my legs and knee were hurting and my footing felt unsteady, I stuck to 10-11 minute miles and was very pleased to finally see the running track and the finish line.

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My time was 4:13:10. I am really pleased with this: it’s 12 minutes better than my Hannover time, and I’m glad I felt better in the last 10k of this race than I did in Hannover.

I do think that, had I been less ambitious and gone out slower (at, say, 9:40 pace), it might have been a less painful race for me. But I did the same thing at Hannover too: went out with overly lofty ambitions and didn’t meet them. Would less ambition have got me quicker times? Or did I need that bit of audacity in order to achieve the best times for my current ability?

When I crossed the finish line on Sunday, it felt obvious that I’d given it everything. My legs buckled and I couldn’t even stand, let alone walk, for a while. Much like with my first marathon, it amazes me that only three days later my legs feel pretty much back to normal.

During the race, I found myself thinking: Why the hell am I doing this again?? After Hannover, I was disappointed that I’d fallen over the week before and wanted to do another marathon to prove to myself that I could do better, so a week later, I signed up for Abingdon.

This time, I have signed up for a 10k in February, in the hope that having that to aim for will deter me from signing up for another marathon. I probably will do another one eventually, simply because I want to do it better. But for now, I think I need to let the dust settle and concentrate on other things for a while (and maybe even try to revel in my achievements).

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