Things weren’t looking great. I’d barely ran in three weeks. My back injury wasn’t really showing any signs of going away. Twelve 3.5k laps was not the most attractive nor exciting of race options and heavy rain had turned the course into a bog in places. 24 hours pre race the organisers put out a message advising that trail shoes were a must, mine had recently split.
I lined up amongst a small group of no more than 40 runners, new road running shoes on that I’d only managed to cover 6 miles in previously, I wasn’t confident of my back holding out but I didn’t enter this race to beat any PB’s. I wasn’t planning on racing at all. It was all about preparation for Endure 24.
The gun went and straight away I found myself leading. I didn’t want that pressure so allowed someone to move ahead of me yet I didn’t really want the pace being dictated to me either. I sat on his shoulder as we caught and passed many of the half marathon and 10k runners who had set off just before us. Then I remembered I wasn’t supposed to be racing today. I tried to settle into a rhythm and run at my own, relaxed pace.
I purposely had no real pre race plan or pace targets set other than knowing that 8 minute miles should feel comfortable yet not too slow and that would see me finish in under 3 hours 30 minutes which I’d be happy with in a race that should be more mentally challenging than physically. Then I realised the GPS on my Garmin had failed to start and as much as I fiddled about with it wouldn’t get going. I would have no mile splits or pace guide. This wasn’t ideal at all but the lap splits would at least give me some indication of the consistence of my pace.
For this reason I decided to stick just behind the leader as my judgement told me he was running slightly faster than I wanted to be but pretty evenly. From there on in things stayed very similar until half way round lap four when my watch decided to start doing it’s job so for the next 13 miles at lease I knew what pace I was running at. I was able to work out that my judgements had been accurate and the half marathon split of 1 hour 38 minutes told me we’d been running at 7.45 miles.
By this point I’d realised that my fortunes had begun to look up. I had received no back pain, I was feeling good and I was right up there with the leader. Could I actually win this? Oh yes, I’m not racing remember!
I’d been happy to let the leader have it all his own way so far, I was close enough for him to know I was there but hadn’t put him under any pressure. Then as we came to the final stages of lap five his lead was tested for the first time, not by me though. From nowhere a new challenger had popped up and he looked like he meant business. He moved straight into first place which seemed to raffle the runner I had been closely following for the past 10 or so miles. He slipped back and I continued to occupy second position.
The mile splits began to improve. They still weren’t anything special but on this terrain it was enough to remind my legs what hard work felt like and enough to again make the race a two horse battle. Whoops, there I go taking about racing again. It wasn’t long however until I decided to let the leader go. My legs were starting to get heavy and I was working harder than I wanted to be with a marathon PB attempt in London only three weeks away. For once I wanted to get past 20 miles without dying a thousand deaths and it was right about that point that the GPS on my watch decided to give up again.
I eased, only slightly, off the pace but it was enough to loose sight of the leader and as the miles went on I didn’t expect to see him again. I was beginning to get tired, low on energy and board of running the same lap over and over. Then I reminded myself why I was doing this, what I had to overcome in under 10 weeks time with 24 hours on a 5 mile lap and the fact I should be thankful of being fit to run at all by this point. It motivated me to push on and on lap ten my pace increased. I was feeling good again and within a couple of minutes, to my great surprise, the leader was back in my sights. Ok, now it was a race!
He looked in the same way as I have done by this point in all of my previous three marathons. I sensed blood and went for the kill. I gained on him with every stride and flew straight past just before the start of lap eleven. With only 7k to go if taken the lead. Had I timed it to perfection?
I flew round that penultimate lap feeling as fresh as a daisy extending my lead all the way. The final section of the lap involved crossing within 50m of the finish line before heading round a few hundred meters on grass then up to the actual lap finish itself so opened up enough to get a clear view behind you. This allowed me the comfort of knowing there was nobody else in sight. I would had to do something dramatically wrong on a lap I had now already ran eleven times already in order to lose this race now.
I got round still feeling fairly good and the victory was mine. My first ever marathon win. In the end I’d stopped the clock at 3:28:34, a clear 13 minutes ahead of second place. It’s not a time that would win many marathons but then again there aren’t many marathons out there that involve running 12 laps of muddy trail. This wasn’t event support to be a race so winning was a massive bonus and the way I did it gives strong confidence going into future distance races. And most importantly I did it injury free. I can now crack on with the final preparations ahead of the London marathon.