The target race has arrived! 16 weeks of pretty much relentlessly flogging myself was all for this.
The build-up had gone well, & even the final week’s taper had been fairly painless! I think this was mainly due to being in better condition than previously. I therefore tapered right down & as a result I wasn’t in quite such a bad way come Thursday from the carb depletion (I take my last carbohydrates on Sunday evening & then have none as far as possible until Friday morning), whereas previously I have continued to train harder early in the week.
We now have the logistics & preparation for London sorted. An early run on Saturday morning, then the fast train to London to be in & out of the Expo collecting our numbers before noon. I don’t want to be on my feet any longer than necessary on Saturday & I don’t like all the nervous excitement that builds up in & around the Expo so I do everything I can to stay away from anything to do with the race on Saturday. Some lunch in the café round the corner from the hotel, a quick drink in a local bar & then back to the room for an afternoon nap. We did go over the road to the local bar for a drink with the other runners staying in our hotel at around 5pm, & although good to catch up with everybody we kept it brief & we were back in the room for tea by 6.30pm. Plenty of plain & simple pasta, a glass of red & an early night! I don’t normally sleep too badly before a race, but with a noisy room I did struggle a bit this time. 7+ hours though so can’t complain.
I’d struggled with my left IT Band/knee as well as some slight tendinitis at the front of my shin on the same leg so I decided to have a 10 minute shake-out in the morning. Everything felt in order & I was pleased I had done it to loosen off. At 6.30am it must have been about 2 degrees & we’d clearly had a storm through the night – hopefully that had cleared things up for the race!
More simple food for breakfast! A big jam cob, a large ripe banana & some good quality coffee. I’d got everything ready the night before, so it was just a case of getting dressed & relaxing on the bed concentrating on the race plan & keeping warm!
A mile walk to the start (very slowly for me!), a few photos with the gang & we were all off our separate ways. Jo’s been in the Championship start several times now as well so she’s quite relaxed about it & although it was drizzling & fairly cold we stayed outside by the side of the tent as it was already full! Reluctantly we stripped off, put our bags on the bus & said our goodbyes/good lucks before a short warm up. It was short as well! For some reason they now only use one side of a roundabout to walk us the 150-200m to the start line. As a result, by 9:45 there was already a huge crowd of runners congregated at the rope! It amazes me every year at how many people insist on trying to get right to the front, but more on that later… So I made my way through to the front, had a final catch up with Neil & started the process of gradually reducing any benefits I’d achieved from my brief warm up. It was cold (4-5 degrees), windy & wet. To make matters worse we were walked through several large puddles & by the time we were at the start line – 10 metres behind the Elites for some reason – my entire body was shaking & I could barely feel my feet.
I planned on settling in to a rhythm through the first 3-4 miles & then establishing a good group to run with through the ~16 miles, hoping this would include Aaron & Neil. Immediately I had issues running naturally as my feet & lower legs were so stiff & cold that I was mainly concentrating on not twisting anything & ensuring I was landing flat! I was in no-man’s-land through the first 2-3 miles but could see Aaron ahead & caught up to them at the bottom of the hill. That established a group of 4 – me, Aaron Scott (Notts), Paul Molyneux (Army) & somebody from Enfield. We were on a good pace, looking on course for a halfway split of around 68-69 although the downhill nature of the start means it’s hard to know precisely. I felt fresh, but never comfortable as I struggled to get warm still. Although a group of 4, the Enfield runner continually seemed to be pushing/surging & Paul was almost permanently out of sight sheltered at the back of the 4. There was a big group just up the road, & although tempting to work to bridge over to them (especially given some of the runners in that group) it wouldn’t have been the right move & we pretty much held the gap after 10K.
Over Tower Bridge with the usual huge crowds & through halfway in 68:40. Given the first half is net downhill & generally easier at London this was pretty much bang on plan for 2:18-2:19. At that point the Enfield runner pulled to the side, wishing us luck & ending his work for the day. Very frustrating that he hadn’t mentioned anything about his plans! I clearly let the whole group know last year that I planned on going to 15 miles at 2:18 pace before pulling out & that meant they all knew I was happy to do the work for the group. C’est la vie. Immediately through halfway Paul appeared & started to work. Between us Aaron & I each had patches where we were struggling from as early as 11 miles through to 15-16 but continued to work hard to maintain contact.
From 16 miles I was really struggling to maintain contact, for a variety of reasons:
- Having taken a few gels already I got a bad stitch that would be with me until 22 miles.
- The lingering issue with my knee/IT Band was now full blown pain down the outside of both legs.
- Having worked hard into what breeze there had been.
Due to some building works there were a couple of changes to the course – one being a climb up an overpass & the other an out & back dead turn, both of which came out exactly the wrong time for me! The climb was about 20 metres but felt like a mountain & the dead turn at about 18 miles could hardly be at a worse time in a marathon.
I was losing around 15 seconds a mile at this point, & although Aaron & Paul slowed slightly they were still pulling away from me. The few runners we caught from the group in front were struggling so much they barely represented a target as they came & went so quickly. The gap grew to around 90-100 seconds by the time we were through 22 miles. I had long since been running on empty, with my body feeling like it had shut down & in a world of pain!
The double back at around 14/22 sounds like it would be great as runners going the other way cheer you along but in reality I generally just find this somewhat of a distraction rather than giving me a boost. The drag up from Blackfriars was the usual joy but once up from there & into the wall of noise it was just a case of gritting my teeth & focussing on those up the road! I knew the changes had meant the finish was slightly closer to the palace so broke it down in to just two parts – the false flat along Embankment to Big Ben, & the final stretch along Birdcage Walk.
Although by no means breaking any records, by now I was starting to feel as though I was gaining ground on those in front! As a result of the IT Band issues, both hamstrings were feeling quite tight but nothing that caused concern at pushing the pace. Although pretty spaced out I was well aware of the distance remaining & knew it was just ~15 minutes/3 miles. So any pain was pretty irrelevant & could be ignored & I made sure I emptied everything out to the line.
Turning to Birdcage Walk I was still some way back on those in front but could see that Aaron had pushed on from them & was finishing strong. I picked up my effort as although I had no idea what time we were on I was keen to take every second I could from the run. The final turn this year was only 200 metres from the finish so I opened up properly from that point, managing to pick off one more & getting to within 2 seconds of catching Paul.
2:21:25, a PB by 2:44 but 3 minutes down on what the 4 months of training had been geared towards & 1:25 down on my ‘minimum’ target. BUT it was a time good enough for 7th Brit on the day, despite never feeling comfortable & genuinely not enjoying a minute of the race I raced well & took particular confidence on how I had been able to work through the bad patch to make significant progress over the final 4-5 miles.
Aaron was 2 places & 40 seconds ahead. Rob Keal (2nd V40, PB 2:25:44) was next in for Notts & it was soon confirmed we had won the team championships – a first national gold medal for me & Rob, Aaron’s second in two months & I now have a at least one of each colour! Neil Renault was less than a minute behind me at the finish, so a decent result for our group.
Immediately after I was quite happy given the conditions, but in the days following I was really struggling having missed all goals I had set myself. On reflection, there were a lot of positives to take & a few of those are:
- Coming off a bad virus over Christmas to cope well with the marathon specific training
- Injury free throughout 2015
- Racing well at The Hague
- Quality sessions throughout, although not as many as I’d have liked
- Quality long runs/tempo runs
- Maintaining some reasonable speed
- Running through a serious bad patch & finishing (relatively) strong
- Finishing injury free, other than needing a good rub down on my IT Bands
I had always planned on racing at Highgate in their Night of the PB’s on the 16th May with a view to using my marathon fitness to try to crack 30 minutes in a high quality race. Getting through the marathon injury free was the first hurdle, & then I needed to recover well. Suffice to say the week after the marathon was pretty much a write off – I was totally spent for 3-4 days, drank plenty of beer & ate lots of cake. But Highgate is a bonus race for me before we go to Lake Maggiore on holiday to freshen up before getting myself on the track & back into training.
Not the most enthusiastic or positive race report, but a genuine reflection on my race experience. Disappointment & frustration in equal measures on a personal level, but other than the conditions being against me there are already things I have identified as being able to improve on or adapt. At this stage I’m not decided on my autumn plans but will give that plenty of thought as I sip a few glasses of Piedmont’s best red overlooking the lake – I’ll definitely be thinking more clearly then!
To finish on a positive though, all was not lost in the Spencer family! Although Mum’s London debut was equally disappointing (similar issues with the body shutting down in the cold, although more extreme given she was on a stretcher in an ambulance arguing that she must continue – which she did & still finished in 3:49), Jo continued her amazing improvement over recent years! From just sneaking under 3:30 when we first got together 5 years ago she knocked almost 5 minutes off last year’s time to revise her PB to 3:07:51. A time she never thought she’d get close to, but which brings 3:05 in to sight…