And so it begins –
I’ve run over 800 miles in training for this 5000 mile charity run, so don’t let on but in reality I’ll have run 5,800+ – however, I wanted to start with a marathon, to launch the Kirkwood 5000 in style. In order to train properly for a marathon you need to put the miles in.
I had a tough weekend aside from any running – I had to travel down to London on the train for an interview on Friday, then drive to Staffordshire to speak at a Conference on the Saturday, then drive back home. To be honest this wasn’t ideal preparation, but needs must.
The day itself though was nothing short of fantastic. Thanks to the lovely people at “Run for All”, they had very kindly arranged for me to have the special number “ANDY” in recognition that I was doing something more than just a marathon, but what I didn’t realise until just a few days before the event that as well as a VIP number I also got the VIP experience. This meant that I got a parking space fairly close to the start, and got to rub shoulders with the Celebs taking part, including Look North News anchor Nicola Rees and Yorkshire legend Harry Gration.
I queued for the toilet with Mr Burton from Channel 4’s award winning Educating Yorkshire…..
When we got escorted to the start line, literally down to the front, I got a cheeky selfie with the eventual race winner Edwin Korir…….
As you can see he was thrilled with having his picture taken with me!
The rather obvious flaw in this amazing plan was that my number was a “Zone 1” number, and I had no way of (or any desire to) getting to my more realistic zone, which would have been around the back of 2 / front of 3. I was at the front, loving the experience with the elite runners, and I was going to make the most of it.
When the countdown finally happened, I tried to hang back, which lasted all of 10 seconds, and then I set off – being overtaken by absolutely everyone around me. I had trained for a long time for this race, and I had a plan, a pretty simple one – run 8:45 miles all the way. This gets you through the first half in about 1 hour 54 minutes, and you are then looking at hanging on in there. That was the plan. I had successfully run over 20 miles four times in training, and every time I’d run the first half marathon distance in between 1:53 and 1:54.
So – I’m running along in this huge wave of people, which is weird when you are primarily a lonely runner, and I am trying to go slow, conscious of the fact that all the runners overtaking me are significantly faster. I get notifications on my app at every mile mark, and so I was waiting for mile one, and when I get it, it’s 7 minutes and 59 seconds. 7:59. That is not the plan. I’ve made the classic schoolboy marathon runner error, setting off to fast – not just a bit too fast, but 15% too fast, which in running terms is a lot. Slow down, slow down, I try to tell myself. I get overtaken by the 3:30 pacer just before the two mile mark, my second mile is more or less the right speed, so I’m back on track, but I can’t redo the first mile, and I start to wonder whether I’ll pay for that later on.
Mathematically, the easiest way I try to think of the 8:45 miles is in four mile blocks – I should do 4 miles in 35 minutes, 8 miles in 70, 12 miles in 105, 16 miles in 140 minutes etc. At four miles I was bang on 35 minutes, but that was only because I had a toilet stop just before the four mile mark. I then tried to just settle in and enjoy the ride. I tweeted out on the morning of the race…….
I was now thinking of the third one – enjoy the day. I’d worked really hard for this, if I achieved what I wanted to then it was going to be one of the best days of my life, and I damn well wanted to enjoy it! In order to enjoy it though, I needed to stay focused on what I was doing, and execute my plan (run 8:45’s).
A quick bit of history at this point, just for some context. In 2010 I did my only other marathon – it was a weird experience and I haven’t looked back on it particularly fondly. I always say to people that I’d “done” a marathon, not “run” a marathon. Today, I wanted to run a marathon. In September 2010, with about 500 miles of training behind me (but less knowledge and experience of running) I did the Nottingham marathon. This event is a marathon and half marathon which set off together, there is a great atmosphere and good crowds over the first 13 miles, and then all the half marathoners run to the finish, and the marathoners carry on along a river and out of sight – I ran the first half in about 2:05, my target that day was to finish in about 4:20 so I was going great, but over the first couple of miles of the second half of the race, a weird thing happened to me. I started to question what I was doing, and my mind kept telling me that I was only just half way. There were no cheering crowds, there were hardly any other runners around me, and I was starting to get really tired.
I recovered a little and managed to get to the 19 mile mark, but at that point I did the classic hitting the wall, I started to convince myself that I had something wrong with my knee, I stopped to get it taped up, but it wasn’t my leg that was damaged, it was my mind. I thought that I was mentally as well as physically prepared for the challenge, but this was not the case. I managed to finish, but walked most of the last 6 miles, much of it in tears, freezing cold, and I finished in 4 hours 57 minutes.
My emotions that day, and for weeks after, were really confused. I was kind of pleased that I’d done a marathon, but I was so disappointed with myself, any time anyone spoke to me about it I was negative about my performance, I felt like I had failed. I wasn’t sure what the future held for me running wise at that point, but I knew that running a marathon was an incredibly tough experience mentally and emotionally, and that if I were ever to tackle another one, I needed to be better prepared.
Back to today – enjoy the day! I had family waiting for me just beyond half way in the village of Stamford Bridge, with additional jelly babies and a bottle of lucozade sport (my fuel strategy doesn’t consist of endless gels, tablets, potions or anything else I saw being consumed by other athletes – I drink water beforehand and during the race, I have a couple of jelly babies at 10 miles, a bottle of sports drink at 14, and then more jelly babies as I feel I need them, plus water all the way – that’s it) so after stopping for another wee at around 11 miles (this time behind a hedge rather than in a cubicle!) looking out for them became my focus.
At the half way mark my time had slipped a little, I’d been conscious over miles 9 – 12 to conserve energy for the second half, that was going through my mind, and so my time had slipped a little and so I was surprised to find that my 13 mile split was over 1:55, about 90 seconds off what it should have been (it was a long wee). Not to worry – if I tried to make up this time by speeding up, then this could have an adverse effect later on, and who apart from me is counting? My target was to “run” a marathon – I knew if I did this my time would be sub 4 hours, which would be great. I thought I might be capable of 3:50 but didn’t want to break myself by pushing for that time. My wife’s target was for me still to be alive later that evening – she just wanted me home safe. So I took what I thought was a sensible decision all around, whilst my mental faculties were all in one piece, I’d just try to maintain this pace as best I could and keep it going – one foot in front of the other, execute the plan.
This worked pretty well for a while – from Stamford Bridge you run along one A road for a long time, then turn around and double back – that is mentally tough, because you are looking at people who are so far in front of you and mile markers that are so far in front – this is where I came unstuck last time in Nottingham, I remember seeing the 20 mile marker around the other side of a big lake, and feeling like I would never get there, so how was I ever going to do six additional miles? However, this time there were a whole load of differences –
- I was far better prepared physically in many ways – nutrition, shoes, training, I weighed less, I’d done lots of miles
- I was mentally tougher – although my body was 5 years older, my mind was five years wiser
- I had a clear plan – even though I wasn’t following it exactly, I wasn’t simply turning up and running like last time, I had goals, a mantra “Do your job, execute the plan”, and felt in control
- There were people depending on me – yes, I was running this for myself, but I’d had leaflets printed, had Press coverage, got the backing of my charity, I wasn’t going to let people down
- I had the previous knowledge of what I considered to be failure – I knew how I felt the last time, and I knew how much I didn’t want to feel like that again
Just past the 18 mile marker I got passed by the Look North anchor Nicola Rees. I’d met her earlier before the race and we’d had a chat, but not discussed times. I knew she was worried about her knee, and she just wanted to get around. I had a word with her, asked how she was doing, she said she was in some pain, but that she was trying for sub 4 so was just keeping going. I wished her good luck, and told her I’d see her at the finish. I decided to try to trail her but that didn’t last more than a couple of hundred metres as it became obvious that she was running a bit faster than me, and within a mile or so I’d lost her, and was back to concentrating on my own efforts.
Although I was feeling strong physically around miles 19 and 20, I was aware via my app that my times had slipped a little further, and I was now getting 9:05, 9:10 mile times rather than 8:45. Again, at this point, I tried to determine, through the fuzz that your brain becomes when trying to ignore the physical exhaustion, that I was better just plodding along rather than trying to speed up and risking a collapse. I realised about four miles previously that 3 hours 50 minutes was now beyond me and I had put that aside, and tried to focus on how awesome it would be to complete a sub 4 hour marathon.
I had a plan in my mind to use when getting towards the end of the race. I have a regular run along Leeds Road in Huddersfield, setting off from home, and running to B&Q and back is pretty much bang on 10k. I know exactly where all the mile markers are – what I wanted to do, once I got to 20 miles in the marathon, was to try to imagine that I’d just stepped out of home and was doing my regular 6.2 miles along Leeds Road. It didn’t work. My mind was all over the place, and I was starting to be irritated by my headphones, and my breathing was going funny (I had that feeling you get in your windpipe when you have hiccups, and you know you are going to hiccup, but in those few seconds before – well my chest felt like that all the time).
I started to argue with myself about drinking water. Have a drink, that’ll make the feeling go away – don’t have a drink it’ll make it worse – but you need to take on fluids – and why were my headphones now not working properly, and why were the inspiring tunes I had deliberately stacked up for the end of my playlist not inspiring me?
Miles 22 – 25 were really really tough – there was a long section with no people apart from the odd marshal, lots of people were doing what I had done 5 years previously, they were walking, broken, unable to run anymore – I kept on putting one foot in front of the other, telling myself “Do your job, execute the plan”.
Then, when I got through the 25 mile marker, a weird sense of calm came over me – we ran out of the country and into an urban area, people on the pavement shouting encouragement, and I knew that I was so close to the finish that I WAS going to make it. I was about 8 or 9 minutes from the end, and I gritted my teeth and just dug in – I knew that my family would be somewhere near the finish, down the straight – what I didn’t know was what was around the corner before the straight.
Someone had told me on twitter a few days before the race that there was “a bit of a hill” just before the finish. I run up and down hills at home all the time, I live around hills, so I wasn’t concerned about this. I’ve also done hill training with my running club, Roberttown Road Runners, so I wasn’t daunted. In fact, the crowds start to build when you get to that bit, and I just decided that my legs were strong, and I was going to do it, and there was loads of encouragement, so I just went for it. I overtook so many people up that hill, I wasn’t counting, but I didn’t break stride, just powered to the top, and when you get to the top, it opens out towards the finish, and the crowd are cheering and you forget that you are mentally spent, and so you just run, and run, knowing that you are going to make it, and then you stick your arms in the air and cross the finish line, and you’re done!
I saw my kids screaming and waving with about 200 metres to go, so I waved back and then just cruised to the finish line. My official time, which gets texted to you about 10 seconds after you cross the line, was 3 hours 53 minutes and 47 seconds. I’d done it. I’d exorcised the demons that I had since my 2010 experience, and achieved what I’d always wanted to. I’d waited 5 years for that moment. I hadn’t gone under 3:50. That was an over ambitious target I had set myself, and I was, and am still, absolutely determined that I am not ever going to be down on myself. Maybe I’ll run one faster in the future, maybe I won’t, maybe I won’t even try. I “ran” a marathon, 1 hour and 4 minutes faster than 5 years previously.
The family found me a few minutes after I’d finished, and we wandered over to the VIP area – had another nice chat with my new best mate Nicola Rees – she’d finished about 5 minutes in front of me (she is about a hundred years younger than me after all) – the kids got a selfie with her too so they were happy.
On the journey home I reflected on whether I’d fulfilled the three points in the earlier tweet
- stay focused – pretty much, but it’s hard to stay focused for 4 hours and in the later part of the run, when your mind is playing games with you, it’s tough, but compared to last time I was better – I’m giving myself 8/10!
- execute the plan – the plan was 8:45 miles all the way – my app says my average pace was 8:54, so 9 seconds out on average per mile, plus I ran the first mile far too fast, which could have had an effect – I had had a stressful couple of days, not ideal prep for the perfect race – so all in all that’s worth 9/10
- enjoy the day – absolutely, I had a wonderful day – rarely have I felt more exhausted, but so proud, totally worth it – 10/10 without hesitation.
All in all, a pretty good start!