The lead up to my second attempt at Chester Marathon had been quite tumultuous. Training had been going well for a couple of months and then suddenly I found myself with a very niggly knee/thigh/hip injury. This resulted in several trips to a sports physio and the osteopath to get me in some sort of shape where I could hit the starting line and at least finish.
I’d had a couple of good runs in the build-up as I was recovering from my injury, York Vale and Warrington Half Marathons, so I was confident of at least putting in some sort of effort to try and achieve my ultimate goal of sub four hours.
I was actually quite blasé about the whole thing and had adopted the attitude of just seeing what happened on the day. I could easily have a recurrence of my injury during the marathon so I was just going to listen to my body and see what was achievable.
The event was set to be a DH Runners family affair. Lindsay, Kev and Jo were all attempting their first marathon, Wes had done Chester numerous times before and Gravesy was doing Chester for the first time. Also, a contingent of support crew was heading down on the Sunday morning to provide encouragement and cheers.
I’d decided to head down to Chester on my own as I’d managed to bag myself a trip down in first class for a knock down price. It was nice to stretch out and have somewhere to put my case for change.
On arrival at Chester I made my way to the hotel, The Mill Hotel, and settled in to the room before joining up with everyone in the Jacuzzi late afternoon. Usually they say not to do anything different the day before a race but here I was sitting in a Jacuzzi and then making my way to the sauna. Heading to my room afterwards I was a little flustered and regretting my decisions.
We’d all decided to reconvene later in the evening and make our way to Pizza Express to load up on some food before heading back to the hotel to get our heads down for the night. Before sleep though there was some stretching and foam rolling to be done. I’d been following Martin Rooney’s hip stretching exercises as these seemed to be giving me some relief and helping me recover quickly.
And so, after a great night’s sleep, the morning arrived. This was totally in contrast to last year where I barely got a wink of sleep thanks to loud music and noisy neighbours. I felt totally refreshed and spent an hour getting my stuff together, checking I had everything, having some porridge and drinking coffee. We’d decided to meet at the front of the hotel at 7:45. This meant that I had time to get a fry up down me. I know some people roll their eyes when I do this but it has worked for me time and time again (and the times I haven’t done it I’ve felt massively hungry during the run) so why change it?
We arrived at Chester Racecourse just after eight and most of us immediately joined the queues for the toilets. This was pretty much the last time we all saw each other before the start of the race as we all went our separate ways to start our warm up routines etc. The support crew had arrived and were providing hugs and well wishes which were much appreciated.
After my stretches and another trip to the toilet I made my way over to the start and plonked myself in the 3 hour 45 minute pacing pen. This was strategical on my part as I wanted to see how long I could stay ahead of these pacers before they caught me up. If I could stay ahead of them until at least half way it would give me an idea of how close I was to achieving my sub 4 hour pace. Having done Chester before I had an idea of where I slowed down last time and where I could push it. My aim was not to stop at the last portaloo at 23 mile and to get to the last hill around 24 miles and keep my legs ticking over rather than stop. These were things I’d done last year and they’d affected my performance in the last three miles as I’d found it hard to get the legs moving again. I had also decided not to run with music this year so it would be interesting to see if I could keep my mind focussed on the task at hand.
At 9am we were off. Everyone made their way through the racecourse and out into the city. I checked my watch at 1 mile to find I had run the first mile in 7:04. Personally I thought that was a little too fast and I was eager to slow down. However, I got sucked into a group of runners and found myself running 6:29 for the next mile. Now it was definitely time to slow down.
I had set my targets as thus:
7 miles at 1 hour 2 minutes
14 miles at 2 hours 4 minutes
21 miles at 3 hours 7 minutes.
This would leave me 52 minutes to do the next 5.2 miles to get in under 4 hours.
So naturally when I hit six miles at 49 minutes and then seven miles at 56 minutes I was a little shocked to find myself well ahead of target. As it was I hit 8 miles at 1 hour 3 minutes so I was almost a mile ahead of my target. In the back of my mind I was telling myself to slow down but another part of me was saying just keep this pace up and see how long you can manage it.
Myself and Wes crossed paths as I was hitting mile 12 and he was heading towards mile 15. The obligatory hi five and keep it up was exchanged. I was really settling into my pace now and I hit the half way mark at 1 hour 46 minutes. This enabled me to hit 14 miles at 1 hour 53 minutes and by 15 miles I was well past 2 hours 4 minutes. I was over a mile ahead of target.
I was loving the support from the crowd throughout and one woman who kept appearing with her ‘GENERAL ENCOURAGEMENT’ sign. I had a chuckle to myself every time I saw that. It was around 18-19 miles that the metric marathon runners joined in with the marathon runners. Some of them were very chatty which is nice but when you’re kicking in to the back end of a marathon the last thing you want to do is strike up a conversation. After a barrage of questions from one metric marathoner I had to ask her to please stop talking to me. I was trying not to be rude but I was struggling to focus at this point and the constant questions were throwing me off pace. In the end I just had to power ahead and leave her be to bother some other runner. I had started flagging a little at mile 20 when I happened upon some people handing out jellybeans. After knocking back a handful of them I was perked up again. It was at this point that one of the 3 hour 45 minute pacers passed me. I checked my watch and thought they were going a bit too fast to be honest. Another runner passed me and confirmed my suspicions when he also said the pacer had bombed off the other pacer. I ended up hitting 21 miles at 2 hours 58 minutes at this point I was well ahead of target. Providing I could get past the 23 mile marker without stopping I was good to go.
I arrived at 23 miles and felt well enough to carry on without having to use the toilet facilities. At this point I also ended up binning my running belt. I’d used all my energy gels and it was starting to get on my nerves a bit so it was a case of either carry on and let it bother me for the next three miles or bin it.
I was hitting all my targets and I had one left to go. The big hill at mile 24…I could see it in the distance and all I needed to do was to hit it and keep my legs ticking over to get me to the top. As I hit the incline I just kept saying over and over…DO NOT STOP.
I was still running when I hit the top and I had two miles to go. I was on 3 hours 30 minutes at this point. Things were going well. Providing I didn’t have a major meltdown I was going to hit my sub 4 hours.
At 25 miles I was on 3 hours 38 minutes. I genuinely couldn’t believe it. 1.6 miles and everything will have been worth it.
As I made my way towards the racecourse the encouragement was amazing and really spurred me on to the end. I pushed hard and hit the racecourse and immediately spotted the DH Runners flag, it wasn’t long until I heard them as well. At this point I really was sprinting and I was finishing hard and still overtaking people towards the end.
I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 3:49:22. Not only a sub 4 hour finish but a sub 3 hours 50 minute finish. I was chuffed to bits and quite emotional. As the support crew made their way over to congratulate me I let myself have a little cry. All the DH Runners had done amazing and everyone was happy with their achievements. I’d decided to head off and have a massage and shave my lucky beard off and after that I was going to meet everyone back at the hotel for an evening meal at La Tasca where I happily stuffed myself silly.
The next morning, after breakfast, I was on my train from Chester to Warrington where I was due to catch my connection to Carlisle. Things were looking bad when I heard that trains were being cancelled left, right and centre due to an issue on the line. I managed to jump on a train at Warrington and get as far as Preston before I had to get off and get on a replacement bus. It was a race for the bus…I honestly didn’t think I had the legs but I won it. I got the last place on the bus and I overheard that the next bus wasn’t due for 45 minutes. Result!!! It was a shattering bus ride back and I found myself drifting off every now and then. On arriving back at home I recounted the story of my weekend to my wife and son. I was amazingly proud of my achievement and I hoped they were too. I was also amazingly proud to be part of such a supportive group in DH Runners and was as pleased for their results as I was for mine. But my year wasn’t over. There were still runs to take part in…more on those next time.
DREAM, BELIEVE, TRAIN, ACHIEVE.