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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Abingdon Marathon training, week 16

So, it’s all done now. The hay is in the barn, or whatever the saying is. I’ve done 16 weeks’ worth of running, all geared towards one marathon tomorrow morning. And all because I had unfinished business from my first marathon, which I ran a mere six months ago.

What did I do this week?

Monday, Thursday: rest days. I did very little activity at all on Thursday. Rather than this making me feel calm and refreshed, I suddenly seemed to have loads of random pains in my legs and other parts of my body. I told myself this was just normal taper madness, but it’s still alarming when you’re in the midst of it.

Tuesday: One of my usual lunchtime runs – 3.5 miles easy, with 8 x 10 second bursts in the middle. Felt quite good on this run, I think. I always enjoy those little sprints.

Wednesday: My last marathon-paced run. At lunchtime again. 1 mile easy, 2 miles at marathon pace (run on feel rather than trying to keep to any particular pace), then a mile to cool down.

Friday: My training plan said 2 miles easy, or rest. As I was working at home and not doing much other activity, I was feeling a little restless and decided I’d do the 2 miles. Went out for an easy jog around the block. I’m glad I did, as I felt a bit more clear-headed and a bit less agitated afterwards.

Saturday (today): Again, I either had to run 2 miles easy, or rest. I opted for resting, but I did volunteer at parkrun this morning. I scanned barcodes. It was a little chilly, but a beautifully sunny autumn morning. I enjoyed watching the runners come in and admiring the grazing deer (from a safe distance). After a nice coffee with friends, I am now spending the afternoon with my feet up at home.

I won’t deny that there are some pretty frenetic butterflies in my stomach at the moment. I’m working on accepting them as part of the excitement, and calming them with peppermint tea and listening to music. 

Miles this week: 9.5

18 hours to go!

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I’m still terrible at remembering to take photos at the moment. I blame marathon madness. Here’s Bushy Park in July, at the start of my Abingdon training.

Abingdon Marathon training, week 7

Week 7 was a good week of training. Resting last Sunday was a good idea, as I seemed to handle the increased amount of running well.

Monday and Thursday – these were rest days.

Tuesday –  I ran 3.8 miles in the park at lunchtime. I did some fast bursts in the middle, which is always fun. I wore my new trainers again, and they seemed fine. Phew.

Wednesday – This was a tough run: 7.5 miles including 4 x 1 mile at tempo pace. The weather wasn’t great: warm, but wet and windy. I also realised afterwards that I had misread the training plan and made my recoveries after the tempo sections longer than they were supposed to be. Oops.

Friday – An easy run: 4.2 miles in the park at lunchtime again. Once again, it was warm but wet and windy.

Saturday – I cycled to parkrun with S. We were both volunteering: he as Volunteer Coordinator, and me as a marshal. I supervised a spot at a crossroads near the beginning where runners have to veer off to the right and not carry on straight ahead where they would be joining the end of the course (it’s tempting to take a shortcut at that point). I then joined the marshal on the other side of the crossroads to cheer the runners to the end.

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Deer in the park. It was nice to dawdle and appreciate the scenery for once.

After that, we cycled home. I (reluctantly) went out again and ran an easy 5k around the block. I wore my other new trainers. Unfortunately, although they felt better than last time, I still felt discomfort in my calf/ankle. And it rained again! It’s been a wet week.

Sunday – I did my long run – 17 miles. I followed a similar route to the 16-miler I did two weeks ago: an out-and-back along the Thames path. I felt apprehensive, again, as I seem to do before all my long runs. I checked the weather forecast. It said sunny and dry. It was sunny and dry for about half of the run – but then there was a torrential downpour which only got heavier. I wasn’t prepared at all for rain, let alone that much. I was cold and absolutely soaked – and I still had over an hour’s worth of running left.

I briefly took shelter under a tree about three miles from the end to phone S and ask if he could bring dry socks, trainers and extra clothes for me as I was supposed to be meeting him for brunch. I got to the brunch place looking like a miserable drowned rat. After changing and thawing out, I had a pot of tea and a cooked breakfast and felt better. I’m not sure I could class this as my worst training run ever in terms of weather conditions, but it’s probably in the top ten.

Total mileage: 35.8 (my highest ever weekly mileage!)

9 weeks to go!

Abingdon Marathon training, week 6

Once again I’m late with my training update. I think I need to bite the bullet and accept that I’m going to be late with it every week.

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I failed to take any photos last week. Here’s one from last summer instead.

Week 6 was a cutback week, but I ended up cutting back more than intended. I’m hoping that this has had a good effect, but it’s probably too soon to tell. Here’s the full recap, anyway.

Monday, Wednesday, Sunday – these were all rest days. I was only meant to have two rest days, but I missed my long run on Sunday because I was too tired. I did plan on doing a shorter run – but ended up doing nothing at all.

Tuesday – an easy 4 miles at lunchtime. I remember very little about this run, so I assume it was fine and uneventful.

Thursday – another lunchtime run, this time 6 miles with the mid 4 miles at marathon pace. I recently bought two new pairs of trainers, as my current ones are on the point of wearing out. I wore one of the new pairs for this run. I had tightness in my calf and ankle, but this eased off after a while. My feet also hurt a little. I’ve since worn the trainers again with no issues, so I think they just needed to be broken in.

Friday – another run at lunchtime. This was meant to be 5 miles, but I was so tired that I only ended up doing 2 miles easy. I wore my other new pair of trainers, and, once again, had a tight and painful ankle/calf. I haven’t worn these again since, so I need to test them out one more time to see if they are a problem or not.

Saturday – I did a 5.5k warm up with friends, and then ran parkrun with them, for 6.9 miles in total. It was an enjoyable run. I felt surprisingly good, especially considering how crap I’d felt on Friday. I wore my old trainers and had no niggles at all.

Total miles: 18.9

10 weeks to go!

Abingdon Marathon training, week 3

Last week’s training was – well, it was fine. Nothing spectacular, but nothing too awful, so I suppose I’m happy with it.

On Tuesday I did an early evening run – 4 miles into the park and back. The training plan said to do some short intervals at the end – only 10-second bursts, just to remind my legs what it’s like to run fast. I did the bursts in the middle rather than at the end. This worked out well logistically, as I had a nice long, wide path to do the speedy bits on. I actually enjoyed this change from grinding out the long, slow miles, even with the humid weather.

Wednesday was a tempo run, in the early evening again – 2 miles, with a mile warm up and 2 miles cool down. I ran this on feel and was slower than I wanted to be. I forgave myself because it was really warm and there was a headwind most of the way.

After a rest day on Thursday, I should have been feeling refreshed and sprightly on Friday. I felt far from that, for some reason. It was a wet, warm day. I forced myself to go out for a run at lunchtime, once the rain had eased off. I did the planned easy 4 miles, but found it hard-going. I had to stop and walk for a short time in the second mile.

Saturday was parkrun day. I reminded myself that I was supposed to be running it at an easy pace, but I don’t think I could have done a quick one anyway. It was still humid, and my legs felt heavy. Still, I ran a consistent 9-minute mile pace and felt okay by the end.

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On Sunday I substituted my long run for a shorter race – the Elmbridge 10k. I ran this with my other half, S., and a few other running friends. The race start is on a running track which is part of a fairly new sports centre complex. I did a one-mile warm up on the track. I could quite happily have run round and round it for a while. The race itself, though, went out of the sports centre and along roads, down a towpath, and back again.

I took part in this race last year and found it tough then. This year was no different. I started too fast – again. This is easy to do as it’s slightly downhill at the start, down a nice, smooth path. I faded very quickly. The next 5.2 miles were a relentless slog. The weather seemed to become more and more humid. The gravelly towpath felt like a difficult surface to run on. Any sort of mental strength seemed to desert me.

I finished with a time of 52:34. I had hoped for better. But it was two minutes faster than my time last year. It was my second fastest ever official 10k race time. So it wasn’t all that bad, really.

This week the temperature is supposed to get up to 35 degrees. I will need to plan my training strategically – which means early morning running. Ugh. I often feel like morning running is great while I’m doing it – but it’s getting up and getting out there that’s usually the problem. Wish me luck.

13 weeks to go!

Abingdon Marathon training, weeks 1 & 2

So, after feeling like I still had ages to go until I started training for Abingdon Marathon, suddenly I’m in the thick of it. I’ve been following this training plan. I’ve completed all the sessions in weeks one and two – and have already learnt some lessons.

In week one, I did two easy runs and one hard run in the week – an easy three miles, a five-mile tempo, and then four miles easy. Although this is more volume in mid-week than I’m used to, I did cope okay. I think it helps that there is only one difficult mid-week run in this plan, whereas in the plan I used for Hannover Marathon there were two, which was too much.

For the week one weekend runs, I was meant to do an easy three miles and then 10 miles with a strong finish. I did parkrun on the Saturday – but not at an easy pace. I did the 10 miles okay, though, and managed to make my last mile the fastest. So, a pretty good start to the training.

Week two (which would be last week) followed the same format – short, easy run on Tuesday; harder run on Wednesday (5 miles with 3 miles at marathon pace); easy run on Friday; easy three miles on Saturday; then a long run on Sunday. I got all the runs in the bag, but, once again, ran too hard at parkrun on Saturday.

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A nice morning for a parkrun

I think this had a detrimental effect on Sunday’s long run. It was meant to be 12 miles, with the mid 4 miles at marathon pace. I managed the distance, but found the run really, really hard (especially the marathon pace section). I had been thinking of my marathon pace as 9-minute miles – but it’s clear now that this is not what I should be aiming for. I guess it’s good to learn these lessons early on.

So, to summarise:

  1. I like the fact that there is only one difficult mid-week run in this plan.
  2. My marathon pace is about 30-40 seconds slower per mile than I had thought it was (or wanted it to be). This is a relief. I’m still going to follow the plan I’m using, but will adjust my pacing.
  3. If I do a parkrun on a Saturday, I should not get carried away. I need to run it at an easy pace.
  4. I am not sure if I can handle five runs a week, every week. I should look at how I’m feeling from week to week and adjust mileage if necessary.

14 weeks to go!

Post M-word limbo

It’s now just over three weeks since Hannover Marathon. I’m still in a post-race limbo. I’ve done several short, easy runs since then. I’ve had some knee pains which oddly seem to turn up on every other run and feel like faint echoes of the last few miles of the marathon.

Today, I ran six miles, which felt hard, even though the pace was easy. It is baffling that three weeks ago, I ran (okay, ran-walked-hobbled) that same distance after already having run 20 miles. I also watched some of the London Marathon on TV. For the first time, I felt like I knew how the runners’ legs were feeling when they crossed the finish line. A noble club to be a new member of.

Right now, I feel like my fitness has disappeared. I am trying not to think about this too much. I am hoping that if I keep plugging away, gradually bringing back some faster and longer runs, the fitness will return without me realising. One day, it’ll just be there again, and I’ll greet it like an old friend (“Oh! Hi, Fitness! Great to see you again”).

In other news, I have ‘given back to the community’ in the last few weeks. Instead of running the usual 5k parkrun on Saturday mornings, I volunteered. In the last few years, I have run parkrun so much that I accidentally forgot to volunteer. Last Saturday and the one before, I was a marshal.

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A ‘giving back to the community’ selfie

Last week was a cushy assignment. The weather was beautifully sunny. I bagged the first marshalling point where all the runners/walkers charge/stroll up the path and are all gone in the space of about five minutes, signalling the end of the marshalling duty.

The second one, yesterday, was less cushy but arguably more rewarding. It was windy and cold. After a short while, I could no longer feel my toes. I was stationed at a turn around 1.5k from the end of the run, where the field thins out considerably so there is a long gap between the first and last participants. The first speedy runners came through at about 9.10am; the last ones at around 9.50am. My fellow marshal and I clapped and offered words of encouragement. We received many ‘Thank you marshals’, waves, high-fives, and a selfie with an Australian parkrun tourist. I felt tired but thoroughly cheered by the end of it. It was refreshing to experience the weekly run from a different angle.

This week coming, I am, in theory, getting back into training again for the few shorter races (two relays and a 10k) I have coming up in May and June. I’m not feeling massively geared up for it at the moment, but, as I told myself on today’s run: just focus on the steps you’re doing and don’t worry about anything else. Sorted.