This was the first marathon ever held in Preston, which featured as part of the Guild festival held every 20 years. From the moment this race was announced I was very excited about doing it and being from Darwen, a nearby town, this was the closest thing to a local marathon for me. The initial plan was to defend my title at Chester marathon and then do this race three weeks later. I then had the opportunity to run for England in the Toronto Waterfront marathon, which took place two weeks prior to Preston. The opportunity to run for England was too good to miss, so I shelved my plans to run Chester, but still decided that I would run Preston. This raised a few eyebrows to say the least, but I’m a firm believer that if you train with a good volume and consistency, then you should be able to recover fairly quickly from a marathon. I know great runners of the past like Jim Peters could knock out world-class marathons three weeks apart, so I felt I could do something similar at my own modest level, although I felt two weeks may push my luck a bit.
After the disappointment of Toronto I was determined to run strongly in this one. Again, the weather wasn’t brilliant, it was cold and wet with a bit of wind thrown in for good measure, but at least it’s weather I’m well accustomed too! Also, the wind would be behind the runners from 17 to 22 miles, before getting some shelter back in Preston. I was unaware of who I’d be up against, so I had in mind that I would try to lead from early on and see if anyone would try going with me. On start-line I noticed Thomas Abyu, who also ran two weeks earlier winning Liverpool marathon, but on top of that he won the Isle of Wight marathon only the week before Liverpool. His times were 2hr 24 and 2hr 28, so he may not have exerted himself too much, or maybe he wasn’t in top form? I decided to stick to my tactic, only choosing to implement it more aggressively by running the first few miles closer to half marathon pace. I quickly got a big lead and realised that Abyu probably wasn’t going to attempt anything faster than a 2hr 25 time. I hit 5 miles in 26 minutes flat and at 8 miles I was told that I had a 4 minute lead, which I found hard to believe, so I only let myself back off the pace slightly.
Coming up to halfway I was still feeling really good, which I was slightly surprised with, I had a gel at 9 miles and was focused on making sure that the issues that ruined my race two weeks ago would not be repeated. I checked my watch around halfway at 70:40, which I was happy with as I had been running in a headwind for the past few miles. I took another gel at 16 miles and shortly after the course starts gradually turning back towards Preston, which made the next few miles easier with a slight wind at my back. I reached 20 miles bang on 1hr 48 and then picked up the pace confident that I had it won and that I wasn’t going to blow up or suffer any bizarre leg cramps, in fact, it’s the best I’ve ever felt at that stage in any of the marathons I’ve done. I covered the next six and a quarter miles fairly comfortably, even tackling the last uphill mile without any trouble and crossed the line in 2hr 21:33, eight minutes ahead and two minutes quicker than Toronto.
So how can 2hr 21 on a undualting course seem so comfortable, when only two weeks earlier I could barely run the last 5k at the Toronto Waterfront marathon? The most obvious reason was that Preston was far better organised; I had no trouble getting drinks and gels, even though there was no elite setup as such. Drinks were available every 3 miles and four of the stations would also hand out gels, and I took one a few miles before and after halfway. Not only this, the volunteers at the tables would step out towards you and offer you energy drinks, water, or gels making it quite effortless to get what you need. This was in stark contrast to Toronto, where it ended up being more trouble than it was worth trying to pluck your drink off tables that were too small without any assistance. I’m pretty sure I could have run a pb two weeks earlier if things were organised as they were at Preston. The weather was also better, even though it was far from perfect. I’m one of those runners that performs much better in a colder climate without humidity, unfortunately most marathons don’t have Lancashire-type weather, so this is something I’m going to have to work on. The final reason is that I actually like running on my own rather than in a pack and I like to treat a marathon just like any other race. I think it’s possible to over-prepare for a marathon, why does it have to be put on this pedestal that you have to behave so differently in the final week or two leading into it??? I decided to run 88 miles and then 70 miles in those two weeks between and worked a busy Saturday shift in the shop the day before, yet felt far better in the race than at Toronto. This type of preparation obviously isn’t for everyone, but if you find that you are underperforming in marathons off very good training, then maybe it’s worth considering the theory that you have perhaps eased off too much before the marathon and changed your routine too much? It’s just a thought, as we are creatures of habit, the key is to try to find that balance between keeping fresh and not behaving too differently than you do prior to other races.