Last year, after finishing the Greater Manchester Marathon in a time of 3:05, I decided that as a pre-30 ambition (I’m turning 30 on the 9th of June!) I wanted to run a sub-3 marathon. That meant I had a year and a bit to knock 5 minutes off my time; simple.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that the only events I would end up entering that year, would be hill-saturated, tricky trail marathons and I also foolishly got into running ultras. On top of this, another pre-30 ambition was creeping up, to run the length of the country; carrying all my stuff along the way.
Long story short; I turn 30 in a couple of weeks, and not even had one go at a marathon PB yet since Manchester. Oh shit.
I actually noticed this before setting off for Lands End, where I hastily booked the Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon as a last ditch attempt at this pre-30 challenge thing I’ve set myself.
When I first got back from John O’Groats last month, I would describe myself as “not in a state to try running quickly yet”. 14 min/miles were my thing now; I lacked muscle and any shred of power I may have possessed before I set off.
Two weeks later – I could now digest food again without feeling sick, and successfully put a little bit of weight back on. Commence training!
I suspect that my marathon training at this point was very different to a lot of people. Training for your first marathon for example is about gradually upping the distances and steadily improving endurance. Well I already had plenty of endurance; too much if anything. I needed to get faster; a LOT faster.
I started in the gym and on the running track; weights training and the dreaded 400m training sessions. Eventually building up strength until I could make splits of 1:20 again (if that means anything). Great result, but I felt like my lungs were bleeding every time.
Following this, then came a few “H.I.I.T.” sessions on the bike and on the treadmill. I HATE these sessions with a passion. In fact, the only good thing I can see in them, is that they tend to be done and dusted in around twenty minutes or so, usually.
All going nicely then; time to try my hand at a marathon again! Not a racing one, just a friendly, social run to see where I’m up to (plus it is so funny trying to explain to non-runners that you are just doing a “casual” marathon. That never gets old.) I wasn’t disappointed. It felt great to be running distance again without a heavy backpack on my back. Running unadorned, chatting all the way round on a picturesque, sunny day in Stratford. A comfortable 4hr 20 time. Decent progress, but a fair way short of breaking that three hour milestone.
Back to speedwork training again! Some high tempo runs, ensuring a fast second half each time. Progress was getting swifter now as 7 min/miles were becoming more and more comfortable again. Training was interrupted only briefly while I had a broken toe for some reason, but overall, I was pretty happy with how things were going.
Then came that part of training I always find the hardest; tapering.
The days get so much longer whilst tapering for events; the very reason I don’t normally do it. I thought I’d better give it a try this time however, with a bit more at stake. So I was bored a lot for a week leading up to the event.
Race morning: Liverpool
The sun came out at 6am. A relief really, as the most part of the previous day was spent walking around in a torrential, rain-drenched Liverpool city centre. I had stayed at the Youth Hostel where there were plenty of runners staying, so the morning was spent in typical fashion, trading stories and PB’s.
I got to the race start at Albert Docks and to my eternal relief, everything was really well organised and signposted. The morning of a big race, the last thing you need is stressing about where to be and where to leave your belongings; especially as people are arriving in their droves.
There were bands tuning up everywhere you looked, as was the theme of this “Rock ‘n’ Roll Series”. I wouldn’t even say that any of it was my kind of music, but it was certainly a pleasantly unique atmosphere for a marathon.
I waited at the start in my corral (whatever a corral is). I was in ‘corral 1’ on account of my ambitious 3:00:00 self-proclaimed race-prediction on the registration website. This was great! I’ve never started at the front of a race containing over 2,000 runners. The race was then started by England rugby legend Austin Healey and we were away!
Start as you mean to go on.. I ran the first mile in a time of 6.12. A tad on the fast side when I only needed to be running at 6.45 to 6.50 pace – “Steady on, Frodo” I thought. Following this, I generously slowed a touch, only to watch the top runners to effortlessly glide past me. Talented bastards!
I heard a lot of talk afterwards from runners, of the horrendous hills in the first half. I’m guessing none of these people train in the Peak District, as I genuinely didn’t notice any significant hills. I did however notice the magnificent view of the Liverpool skyline at the top of the first park however; that was a highlight for me.
I had a sneaky suspicion that the race’s declaration of “a band every mile” might have been a slightly extravagant claim. There was music every two or three miles I guess; that’s not too bad all things considered I thought.
The miles ticked over as my pace was getting increasingly more difficult to hold onto as we approached twenty miles. Spurred on by the burning ambition of a sub-3, I did hold onto the pace in a head down, don’t talk to anyone kind of way. The marshals and volunteers were all terrific and supportive as always! I did do my best to at least say thanks to everyone by way of a smile and a courteous head nod. These people are a BIG part of the race.
The usual mind wars ensued in typical fashion. I tried intently to not look at the big picture: “Six miles to go, so that’ probably another forty minutes or so of running…. NO! I’m just doing another mile. Checking the pace, then doing it again”. The final, painful four miles were along the coast of the Mersey, which was pleasant enough.
It was really within the last two miles when I KNEW I was going to make the sub-3. I was aware it was well on the cards when I reached half way, ahead of schedule and still feeling pretty fresh, but this was different now. Excitement started to build exponentially as the big ferris wheel by the finish line got bigger and bigger in the distance. Then I looked up and saw the timer on the finish line reading 02:56:30 and counting and my race suddenly became: “Get there before it ticks over to 02:57:00”… I lost. 02:57:01 as I crossed the line and fell to the floor in very quick succession. I lost my mini-race, but I’ll take the result.
The bands playing on the stage at the finish were all great and more than made up for the “relatively” less than advertised music on route. The sun was shining majestically, and just as I thought things couldn’t get any better, I was handed a “free beer ticket”! Beer… Not had one of those for two whole weeks. This could potentially by the nicest tasting beer I’ve ever had… I wasn’t far wrong.
If I were to wind back the clock one year, and tried to explain to myself that I would not only achieve BOTH of my frankly ridiculous pre-30 ambitions; but achieve them both inside the same three months; I would probably have given a highly incredulous look of disbelief, and possibly make a few scoffing noises in addition. So there we go, the answer to the age-old question: Can you run the full length of the country unassisted and then go and get a marathon PB within the same three months? Well apparently “yes” as it happens. Turns out that nothing is impossible when you try hard enough.. And have no discernable social life. Although that last part might just be a coincidence.