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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I ran a marathon. Now what?

Completing a marathon is a strange feeling. There is a sense of achievement, sure; and it’s nice to be congratulated and to bask in the glory for a while. But, also, you’ve been working towards something for four months; it’s taken up so much of your time and energy, both mental and physical: and then, suddenly – nothing. It’s all over. What do you do then?

The sensible answer, I suppose, is to rest and recover, and maybe return to the things you used to do before you spent all your spare time running/thinking about running, if you can remember what those things were. I have tried to do that this week. I have definitely rested a lot. I am surprised that my legs have now returned to a near-normal state.

I did my first post-marathon run today: a 5k parkrun, back at good old lovely Bushy Park. It was a chilly morning, and yet I overdressed and got boiling hot. I started at the back of the pack and eased into it, getting used to using my legs again (I did feel a bit wobbly at first) then sped up for a progressive run and a strong finish. I would not say I feel totally recovered yet; but I undoubtedly feel much better than I did in the couple of days after the marathon.

I have a few shorter races coming up in the next few months: a couple of 10ks and also a half marathon (as part of a triathlon relay team). This is good, because it means some shorter and faster runs in training, and just something a bit different.

2019-04-07 23.15.33And yet. I realised today that I need a bigger goal. I thought about trying a new marathon training plan just to test it out; then maybe doing another marathon next year. But I don’t think that would work: without the goal of an actual race at the end, I probably wouldn’t feel motivated enough to follow a plan.

And I also realised: I want to do another marathon. Shorter races are fine, but the marathon is the one I care about. I want to have another one to aim for. I want to see if I am capable of improving my time. And, so, I am now entered for the Abingdon Marathon in October 2019.

I had told myself: no more marathons until at least 2020. But I felt lost by the thought of waiting that long. And I do feel happier now that I’ve entered Abingdon. I also feel: what am I doing? Isn’t six months way too soon to do another one? Well, it’s done now. Here I go again! (Although not for a while yet; I will still be resting lots and doing short, easy runs for the next few weeks.)