A Tale of Two Halves

With a PB of 2.46.12 ran in London two years ago my target of running sub 2.40 in Paris was an ambitious one but with this being the first marathon I’d specifically trained for I felt it was a realistic one.

I’d put in 14 weeks of solid training since the turn of the year hitting 50+ miles per week consistently and with the acceptation of Tough Guy I’d sacrificed any other races that I thought could affect my plan. I’d committed to doing all the right things building my weekly long run up to 22 miles and hit pace on my 10 mile tempos almost every Wednesday. The sessions and steady running was all there and I’d ran a good confidence boosting half marathon at Thorpe park six weeks prior to race day.

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On the negative side I had found those tempo runs felt a little faster than they perhaps should have done. They were manageable and got easier as time went on but I always felt I should have been able to relax more than I was. I pinned my hopes on race day pace always feeling more comfortable due to the adrenaline and having others around me. I also had a disappointing half marathon with 3 weeks to go in Coventry where a combination of a hillier than expected course and a windy day meant a PB attempt turned into only just being able to hit marathon pace. There was no doubt I was still in the best shape I’d ever been in for 26.2 miles.

I was staying at Disneyland which meant catching the 6.13am train for an hour journey into mainland Paris for the 8.20am race start so it was a pretty early start but this is something I’m used to and don’t mind. As the train drew closer more and more participants and supporters got on at each stop and the excitement grew inside me but it all still very chilled from the outside.

My stop arrived and not exactly sure where I was going I followed the crowd. As I walked up the steps from the underground station and came out into the fresh air the sun was already shining and there were clear blue skies. I was greeted immediately with the spectacular sight of the Arc du Triomphe.

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As I gazed down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees I could see the starting arch standing proudly in the distance but I still had to do my final preparations yet. The crowds of runners were gathering (57,000 registered) and all walking in the same direction so I towed on. It was a good half a mile or more to bag drop but this offered a good chance to see where the race finished and got me thinking how I would be feeling when I was back here in round three hours time.

The pens for each bag were marked excellently with no hassle required and no queueing which was pretty impressive considering the volume of people expected. It was a lovely day so I was able to strip down into my full race kit and not have to worry about getting rid of an extra top after my warm up. I jogged to my allocated start point doing some drills along the way and I was ready to go.

It was jam packed with little room to move while we waited for the gun to sound which fuelled my worry of being held up in the early stages but that didn’t turn out to be an issue at all. In fact I was quite surprised with how soon the runners spread out and how much room I had and my first mile time of 5.59 turned out to be the fastest of the entire race. As I got into my running and tried to settle down into a rhythm I was shocked at how few people were around me considering the size of the field.

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I began to knock out mile after mile at the required pace. The plan was to get to ten miles feeling as easy as possible knowing I’d done that distance at that pace time and time again in my training runs. That part went as smoothly as I could have hoped for.

The next milestone was just 5k further on with the plan of reaching the half way point in just under 1 hour 20 mins. I got there in 1:19:45. Bang on. The sub 2.40 dream was still alive.

A slightly slower 6.07 mile followed and by this point the blazing French sunshine was becoming a hindrance. I knew the work had now really begun. I dug in and pulled out a 6.06 to put me back on track. The last few miles had felt a lot harder than they should had done at the point thought and number 16 was my slowest so far in 6.10.

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This was exactly the same point where the wheels had come off at my last PB attempt in London the year before accept this wasn’t technically a PB attempt, it’s was a sub 2.40 attempt. I knew if the next mile slowed much more I would have to abandon my ultimate goal and concentrate on bettering 2:46:12. If only it was that easy! I slipped to 6.23 a deep down I knew I wasn’t going to be getting any faster from here on in. Although I’d been taking in plenty of water and having my energy gels at the pre set times the sun was sapping me and more importantly my legs were giving in.

Mile 18 is a landmark mile in this race and one people tend to remember as a highlight as you pass the famous Eiffel Tower. For me it was one to forget. It was where the realisation kicked in that I wasn’t going to run the time I’d been training so hard to run and the likelihood I wouldn’t even be getting close to my PB was now also very apparent.

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As I saw my average pace on my watch drop below requirement for the first time after a 6.41 mile I reached the water station at mile 20 and stopped for a drink. I walked away cup in hand dejected before mustering up a run again. After that bit of recuperation I briefly picked up some speed again wanting to make the mile split somewhat respectable and managed to drag it back to 6.45. That was short lived as on mile 21, for the first time, my split creeped woefully over the 7 minute mark and never came back.

It was at this point that I made the decision to at least try to enjoy the final few miles for what they were rather than either kill myself to run at a speed I can normally jog for little to no reward or even worse, to wallow in my own self pity while still running slowly. So that’s what I did. I stopped for a while at the next water station, I had a couple of walks just because I could, I encouraged others around me on and I took in the atmosphere of the 25,000 strong crowd.

Although there was no hiding my disappointment I was able to release it in some ways during these final four miles. I tried to let it all go there and then so that I didn’t have it hanging over me for the remainder of my holiday. I was straight back off to Disneyland to rejoin my family after the race and I didn’t want anything spoiling that. Of course I would take time to reflect and assess what when wrong but that is almost always done best after a cooling down period anyway.

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Easing off meant that I could have mustered a sprint finish but I saw little point in any final lacklustre efforts but I didn’t want anyone else overtaking me either so I did enough to endure that didn’t happen. I stopped the clock at 2:53:19.

In hindsight maybe my target was slightly over ambitious and that untimely cost me a PB as well but you don’t know these things until you try. I’m glad I tried and failed than never tried at all. I still feel sub 2.40 is possible but just not on that day in that heat. Where I go from here I’m undecided. I have the London marathon in two weeks time but I very much doubt that will be a fast one so soon. Although it didn’t go the way I wanted it to Paris is an experience I’ll always remember predominantly in a positive way. Au Revoir for now.

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