Cambridge boundary marathon

I discovered this world record had been set after completing the London Marathon last April and instantly wanted to have a go at beating it. I’m a runner, I’m a postman & I’ve always wanted to get my name in the record books so it seemed made for me. At first the time of 3.47.35 seemed surprising slow as far as world records go but upon looking into the specifics of the record in more detail I realised it wasn’t going to be as easy as it first sounded.

As well as wearing full Royal Mail uniform including a cap, shirt, tie, jacket & trousers, the record attempt required me to carry at least 10 lbs of weight in a post bag. On top of this, as part of the evidence needed, I also had to take a photo of myself at every mile of the marathon distance to help prove I was in full uniform at all times.

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From April onwards I spent several months looking for an opportunity to attempt the record but I already had too many other events planned so decided to leave it until 2015. As soon as new year’s day arrived I was back on the look out but still only had a relatively small time scale to fit it in if I was to give it a go before the London marathon came round again in April as I also had Tough Guy on 1st February. I searched for races from mid February to early April but they were few and far between with the Cambridge boundary marathon looking like the only real possibility so without really doing much research on the race I entered it and submitted my attempt to Guinness.

I then had an anxious wait, only receiving conformation that my attempt would be valued 9 days before the race which didn’t leave me much time to get all the forms I needed printed out and filled in by the appropriate people. Witness statements were required from the race director, two other independent viewers, two time keepers and the course surveyor. I finally finished getting everything ready the night before race day and headed off to bed for a 5.30am wake up in order to arrive in Cambridge in good time for the 9am race start.

I had received an email the day before the race informing me that several sections of the course that were off road (I hadn’t ever realised there were any) had become very wet and slippery due to recent rain. This gave me a further indication that this wasn’t going to be anywhere near as easy as I first thought and make me wisely change my choice of footwear.

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I arrived at the race HQ at Cambridge university sports department to possibly the worst conditions I could have hoped for. The sun was out in force, just what I didn’t want when wearing so many clothes and there was a horribly strong wind. Normally before a race I strip down to my vest and shorts but this time I found myself putting various items of clothing on as I headed to the start line. Before I could set off though I had to be videoed weighing my bag to check it was the required weight. A quick photo with my selfie stick that I also had to carry for the entirety of the race and I was off.

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I knew to break the record I needed to run a pace no slower than 8 minutes 40 seconds per mile which sounded remarkably easy considering I would be setting out at under 6.20 per mile in London next month and for the first quarter of the run it did feel very comfortable. So much so that I was cruising along at 7.50 pace feeling good. It wasn’t long before I hit the first off road section, about 2 miles in, where trudging through muddy puddles was unavoidable so from there on in my feet and rather uncomfortably the bottoms of my think cotton trousers, were soaking wet.

I was doing my best to keep a steady rhythm going and despite having to slow down every mile to take a photo, constantly either trying to dodge patches or think mud, jump puddles or concentrate on just staying upright as I slid around on the uneven, sludgy ground I kept the pace up until around the 8 mile mark where my thighs started to tighten.

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Within myself I felt good and the weight in the bag wasn’t bothering me at all but this was the first sign that it was sure to affect me as the miles went on and the course certainly wasn’t helping matters. I reached the half way point 15 minutes ahead of schedule. There was also a half marathon race going on within the event which meant that upon crossing this point I went for the jubilation of reaching half way in good time, having great crowd support and runners around me at all times to suddenly feeling quite lonely, quiet and before long very low on energy and tired.

As I reached 16 miles the course conditions, weather and costume had all started to get the better of me and my pace began to slow. At mile 18 I reached the welcomed sight of my mum who was there supporting me and I decided to stop by her to a few seconds to grab a quick drink and try to stretch out what were now very uncomfortable thighs but this is where it all went wrong.

In that split second that I grabbed my foot from behind me I felt my record attempt begin to slip away from me as my hamstring agonisingly cramped up. For the minute that followed I was in excruciating pain but I knew the clock wasn’t going to wait for me so had no choice but to carry on. The camp had gone but had left the muscle very sore and tight feeling like it could ping with any sudden movement. My run had been reduced to a shuffle and my only saving grace was that I was currently operating on one of the few level paved sections of the course. This wasn’t to last long though and before I had any chance to recover I was back in cross country running conditions which lasted for the majority of the remainder to the race.

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I felt like my energy was being sapped with every step (or shuffle) I took. I was running on empty and still had 5 miles to go. I entered another open field and the sweeping wind once again hit me with all it had. My only option was to put my head down and push on but my pace had significantly slowed. I worked out that I needed five 10 minute miles to break the record. 5 miles in 50 minutes is something I could normally do without breaking sweat but as another muddy field reared its ugly head, this time with the added extra of a hill climb my legs were giving up on me.

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I managed 2 more miles at the required pace before my thighs got so heavy that running was no longer an option. I walked the last bit of yet another ploughed field then took a sharp right turn onto a downhill country road. I made several aggressive grunting noises and gave myself a good talking to. I said “I can still do this” and “you haven’t come this far to let it go now”. I began to run again thinking that however bad I feel, a 30 minute 5k is still achievable.

Just as I began to get a tiny bit of positivity back I came off the county road, turned another corner and the single last thing I wanted to see was there. A great big hill. Thinking back it probably wasn’t much of a hill at all, certainly not one that would stop me in my tracks in any normal circumstances, but at the time, with the way I was feeling and that bloody great bag on my back it felt like the steepest of mountings. I remember muttering to myself “you’ve got to be joking” as I leant over the fence next to me.

Just walking this hill took a massive amount both physically and mentally and as I scrambled my way up I had to come to terms with the reality that breaking the world record was no longer possible. I finally reached the top with 2 miles to go and 13 minutes before the required time to beat was up. Two 6.30 miles? On a good day maybe, feeling like this, no chance! The game was up.

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Those last 2 miles were almost all walked. As I saw my mum again just before turning the corner for the final straight I managed to muster one last run which saw me through the finishing arch in just under 4 hours. 3.59.44 to be precise. A time that was ultimately a failure of what I had set out to do but having ran so far in such strong winds and tough course conditions, wearing what I was and carrying what I did it really didn’t feel like I’d failed.

I stepped off the course and slumped to a crouched position knowing I had left absolutely everything I had out there. I’d given my all. Maybe I could and should have done it in a different way which would have been strategically better but I didn’t have that hindsight. I ran the only way I know how and that is with the confidence to get round in the fastest possible time. I should have respected the record more and paced myself accordingly but in all truth I’m not sure I would have achieved it on that course anyhow. Another course on another day however…… Maybe one day.

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