In a bid to make up for a disastrous Berlin Marathon I hunted out a flat-ish marathon a month later to see if having another go would get me the results I wanted and prove my training was right and I could run 2:45 or pretty damn close, and this is what I came up with: the Chelmsford Marathon.
The race website describes the course as…
The Chelmsford Marathon course is a single lapped 26.2 mile course classified as fairly flat with some undulations. The course comprises of road running and tarmac paths.
… which sounded ideal. I prefer single lapped courses and fairly flat should mean a good time would be possible, and best of all, unlike Abingdon which was on the same weekend and would have been the ideal "second attempt" race, they were still taking entries. So I entered and then spent the next month keeping my running ticking over by repeating the final month of the programme I used for Berlin.
I'd checked the results from last year for this race and saw that it was a small event with around 800 finishers, but I wasn't expecting to to be quite so small and low-key. We got to the race HQ in Central Park at 8am to find the place almost devoid of runners and spectators. Everything was all setup as you'd expect, there just weren't that many people milling around which is quite unusual.
I picked up my finishers t-shirt - yes, it felt odd picking up my finishers shirt before I'd even started - and then the wife and I had a little wonder around the park. It was during that little wonder that everyone appeared out of the woodwork and the field became the bustling hive of activity I'm used to seeing, including the really long queue to the portaloos, which thankfully I'd had the instinct to use just before we went for our mozy.
I warmed up, stripped down, packed my pockets and then made my way over to the Shire Hall for the start, along with everyone else. The start showed more signs that this was going to be a small race. The start area was mostly open to spectators and runners and the pace-band signs were pretty close together. My wife stayed with me chatting until about three minutes to go when I handed her my t-shirt and they started with the pre-race announcements. Just before nine they moved us all forward to the start line and then we were off.
Everything so far was proving this would be a small race and this was further confirmed when I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in 9th place less than a kilometre into the race and the tenth place person wasn't keeping up. The lead guys weren't too far ahead of me and didn't seem to be pulling away too quickly either. It was so tempting to pick up my pace and run with them, but I restrained myself and dropped into a good rhythm. Whilst I was doing a fair amount of experimenting with this race, flying off with the lead guys and then holding on for dear life was not on the cards.
I felt really good and ticked over the k's as we wound our way around the east side of the city before heading back along the canal, through Central Park and out into the fields. I'd move up to seventh place by the four mile marker and could just see the sixth place guy in the distance.
I kept a pretty consistent pace and very slowly reeled in the sixth place guy who did go out with the lead chaps and seemed to be starting to struggle. I got to halfway bang on schedule for an even-split 2:45 marathon, despite having to pause briefly around 18k to yank the insole from my left shoe that had wiggled most of the way out of my shoe, and I was still feeling really good and confident my changes in preparation were starting to pay off. The k's were ticking over with ease and whilst my right sacroiliac joint was starting to feel tight, an exaggerated high knee stride or two loosened things up a bit and I fell back into my stride.
And then the "some undulations" started in earnest. There were a few in the first half of the race but the bulk of them came in the second half. I breezed up some of these but as I tired I naturally found them more of a challenge. Not as much of a challenge as the sixth place guy though . I caught him at about 28k's and then started working on the fifth place guy who'd stopped for a whizz and was now only just ahead of me. I caught him at 30k's, ran just ahead of him for about two k's until he passed me on one of the tougher hills. He pulled a good lead which I reigned in a bit and whilst I got close, I didn't have the mental energy to carry on and pass him in the final stages of the race. We did however reign in the fourth place chap who worked really hard to prevent us catching him.
It was around the 32k mark that I knew for sure a sub-2:45 finish was off the cards, but not by much. The undulations were just a little too taxing and I was starting to feel mentally tired. A sub-2:48 however was definitely still on the cards so I used that as my target time. This helped spur me on for the final few kilometres of the race and helped me keep the fifth place guy in my sights.
In the end I finished in sixth place in a time of 2:47:33 on my watch. I was so chuffed to bits. My training did work after all and my race day experimentation paid off. I'd just finished a marathon strong and smashed my PB by over SIX minutes!!! I didn't get the sub-2:45 I'd wanted going into Berlin but I'd got close and I now know sub-2:45 is definitely possible.
Now back to the experimentation I've mentioned.
As part of assessing my shocking race at Berlin I considered the fact that maybe I'd bonked and bonked early thanks to the added stress I put on myself and the lack of sleep, so decided I'd do a little bit of experimenting with my nutrition before and during this race. I also considered a lack of electrolytes could be to blame for the cramping as it's quite common for people on low-carb diets to have lower electrolyte levels than normal. In the month building up to the race I concocted my own electrolyte drink which I was consuming once a day so I could be sure my cramping wasn't due to an electrolyte imbalance and I also read up on carb-loading and race-fueling for the fat-adapted athlete that I am. Seems I've been expecting too much of my body by trying to rely solely on fat for fuel during the marathon as I'm now definitely running at a pace that is too fast for this to be possible for such long distances.
Starting on the Friday, I bumped my good natural carbs right up by packing in more sweet potatoes, vegetables and fruit and continued through Saturday with Saturday night's dinner being my now-standard pre-race roast chicken, roast butternut squash and roast beetroot. I ate my normal sauerkraut omelette and bulletproof coffee for breakfast and then would rely on gels during the race for in-race fuelling. I've not run with gels for many many years and have for the most part not really needed them, but then again, I don't run many marathons and certainly not as quick as I know I can now.
I know you're not meant to experiment on race day, but I'd not had the time to practice properly beyond a single long-ish run the weekend before, and I didn't think it would go too badly if it did; heck it couldn't go worse than it did at Berlin .
I ignored all the "recommendations" on how many and how frequently one should consume the gels - there's no way your body can process the gels at the rate the manufacturers recommend - and opted to take one HIGH5 EnergyGel Plus gel approximately every hour at the water station closest to the hour marks. This was so I could wash out my mouth after taking the gel. I also carried a few dates and a spare GU gel "just in case". We were informed there would be nine water stations on the course starting at three miles which worked out to be one every four to five kilometres. I took my first gel at the water station just before the 15k mark. This was only about 55 minutes in, but as there was a water station there and the next wasn't due for another four or fix kilometres, ~18-20 minutes away, it made sense to take the first one then. I took the second at the water table around the 33k mark which was at about 2:10 in. I was too busy duelling with the fifth place guy earlier to remember to take the gel at the water station before and it was around this point that I let the fifth place guy go so it seemed like a good time. I didn't need the dates or GU gel and found I had all the energy I needed to finish the race. Whilst I couldn't keep the pace I'd started with - my legs just wouldn't go faster - I had the energy.
In the end I finished sixth - I never imagined I'd finish a marathon in sixth place - feeling pretty tired but incredibly chuffed with myself. I'd experimented on race day and it hadn't gone wrong, but more importantly, I'd proven that my training works and I do indeed have a 2:45 marathon in my legs. I didn't get it this time, but a new PB of over SIX minutes is not something to sniff at.
My official times are:
Gun time: 02:47:32
Chip time: 02:47:31