September carried on in a similar fashion to August as far as training goes, though I was certainly hoping for some considerable improvement after my run at Lake Vyrnwy. On the 25th September it was the Northern Road Relays at Sportcity in Manchester. I was determined to put in a good run for my team, which was the strongest we’ve fielded for some time; all six of us had recent times for 5km ranging from high 14’s up to 16 minutes. I was confident we’d spring a few surprises and break into the top 10, I even dared to think we might even make top 5! In hindsight that was wishful thinking given the standard of the competition that day. The course was a bit of a strange one, perhaps lacking clear markings and having a few more switch-back turns than I’d like, but there was a great atmosphere all around the route with each leg starting and finishing on the track, so that made up for the repetitive nature of the course. The distance of about 5.5km for the two laps was peculiar too, instead of being around the usual 6-7km
Rob Warner got us off to a great start and ran well in 17:40, which was backed up by Jack Hindle in 18:00 and Zach Howe in 17:58, despite these quality runs we were still outside the top 20, which gives you some idea of the quality of competition that was out there, perhaps the highest I’ve seen. We crept into the top 20 on the fourth leg with Tim Raynes flying along in 17:19, it was then on to myself. I was really keyed up and probably ran out from the track a bit quick, but I settled down and seemed to be moving along well, catching quite a few of the other clubs. I spotted Ian Livesey from our local rivals Barlick just ahead, he was running well, but I managed to pass him on the second lap. Joe Monk anchored our last leg and ran brilliantly to get us up to 10th place with 17:54, with Barlick Fell Runners just behind (for a change!) in 11th. I didn’t time my run, so I was really happy to find out afterwards that I ran 16:44, a huge improvement from my recent form. I felt in a much better frame of mind and I really enjoyed being the “old head” in a very young and talented team, which helped take my mind off my own poor running form up to that point. It was a great day for our club all-round, as we fielded teams in all disciplines and even had four senior male teams out.
Finally I was starting to run well again after a long consistent spell of training, I could only hope it came in time for the Chester Marathon, which was on the following Sunday, 2nd October. I was still a little apprehensive, but I knew I had prepared for it in the best possible way; I reduced my training in the final week by 20% and had a day off on Thursday. I’ve started to experiment with carbo-loading and had some success with it last year before the Potteries Marathon, so I followed this plan again with two days of low-carbs on Wednesday & Thursday and high-carbs on Friday & Saturday. I enjoy having routine in my preparation, so I decided to do a half-day at the shop on Saturday, helping John during the busy spells. Complete rest just doesn’t work for me, believe me, I’ve tried it!
The night before the race, I changed my mind on what race shoes to wear; my Saucony Fastwitch 7’s were gone and I was having doubts about running 26.2 miles in my Puma Faas 300’s, which served me well in the relays. I decided to dig out my old Fastwitch 3’s and after stomping around on the tiled floor in my kitchen, I opted for those, which I used for marathons between 2008 & 2009! Still, it proved to be the right call!
I was up at 5:30am on the morning of the race and felt pretty good. Despite finishing work late the previous night, Hannah was happy to drive me to the race and by 6:15am we were on our way. I was confident of implementing my plan of running roughly 27:30 for each 5 miles, which is around 5:30 pace. Whilst I train with a GPS watch and have done for 10 years, I never race with one, as I like to stay focused on “effort” without the obsession of clock-watching every few minutes. I like to use a good old Timex stopwatch for races, which means they never go on Strava…such a shame.
I was cautious at the start, letting Daniel Kestrel go off ahead and I hit 5 miles in about 27:50, running alongside Iraitz Arrospide and Andrew Davies. I wasn’t sure how fast Davies was aiming to run; he has the fastest pb, but with an international ultra race next month he was wisely running in preparation for that and we were starting to go a bit ahead him. I next checked my watch at 11 miles (missed the 10 mile marker) and was roughly on target in 60:28, but I was still a bit off the lead and some 200 yards behind. I was still feeling good at halfway (72:00) and at around 15 miles (1hr 22:14) I was starting to move away from Arrospide in third, but Daniel Kestrel was still some way ahead and he looked full of running. I was regularly taking on water and pouring it over myself to keep cool and had a gel at 12 miles and 19 miles, which thankfully caused no adverse reactions this time! By 20 miles (1hr 49:25) I was picking up the pace slightly and gradually starting to close the gap. Time was now irrelevant, it was eyeballs-out to try and get closer to him. He was still running strong and was easily going to beat his previous best, so I decided to make a big effort at 21 miles to try and get myself in contention. I caught him at 23 miles and for the next mile or so we battled it out for the lead. I gradually pulled away in those last two miles and even though I was starting to feel rough, that wave of adrenaline kicked in and I pushed on towards the finish at the Racecourse. It was a brilliant feeling to come into the venue for those last 300 metres and enjoy the victory; which seemed a very distant reality three weeks ago. It was also great to have so many people cheering me on along the way, there was certainly a strong contingent of Blackburn Road Runners (our neighbour club) out on the course giving me encouragement too, which was much appreciated! Daniel Kestrel still kept a strong pace and broke 2hr 25, with Andrew Davies putting in some great preparation for his ultra, taking third with 2hr 26.
I would highly recommend the Chester Marathon, I’ve done this four times and the organisation is terrific, as is the course, which is very scenic and fairly flat (I suppose that perception depends on where you’re from!). The support along the way is brilliant and it’s a real buzz finishing at the Chester Racecourse in front of a big crowd.
Results can be found here