Milton Keynes Marathon 2018 – finish lines not finish times

I had initially planned for Milton Keynes Marathon to be my target race for the 2018 Spring running season before I signed up to the South Downs Way 100.  When the weather forecasters predicted the hottest May Bank Holiday on record though, I was glad that this marathon wasn’t my sole goal for the Spring and I changed my plans for the race.

Milton Keynes Marathon medal 2018

I say I changed my plans, but I really wasn’t sure what to change them to!
I’d had a great run a week before race day.  I’d set out to run eight miles at tempo pace with a mile warm up and a mile cool down.  I found the run easy and could have quite happily turned this run into 10 or 12 miles at tempo pace, had I not needed to come home and get ready for work that evening.8 mile tempo runIt gave me a real confidence boost going into marathon week, although Oscar then became ill at the start of the week and very clingy.  He passed whatever it was onto me and we both ended up feeling rather rubbish for the rest of the week, resulting in Oscar missing two of the groups he usually attends and me missing a large batch of my training runs.

Added onto this I would be working nightshifts the weekend of the marathon.  I had decided that I am best off saving my holiday allowance for target long distance races over the year, and as Milton Keynes Marathon was no longer a target race and wasn’t one of the longer events planned for this year I ended up not booking the weekend off.  As luck would have it though, my manager messed up my shifts the previous weekend, calling me in on a day when I was not needed, so I managed to convince him to let me have the Sunday night before the marathon off in exchange.

It did mean though that I worked through the night until 7am on Friday (with no pre-work nap as Oscar was poorly) and then through the night again on Saturday with a two hour nap in the morning before traveling over to Norfolk for a friend’s baby’s Christening.

Oscar and I at Oliver's Christening

Back home by 6pm to pack my bag and get an early night, only Oscar (who was still feeling poorly, teething and was definitely feeling the heat from the day) had other ideas.  I might as well have gone to work and earnt some money for all the sleep I got that night!

Despite poor sleep and having felt poorly that week, I did still manage to get an amazing night-before-the-race pizza in.

Pre-race pizza

So, no sleep, on the back of being poorly and on a day which turned out to be 28 degree heat…very glad I’d struck Milton Keynes Marathon as my goal race!  I was sweating before I even got into my car that morning!

Heading out to Milton Keynes Marathon

As an ambassador for this year’s marathon I was given a priority parking pass and invite to the VIP room where there was cake, drinks and nibbles laid on.  Best of all though, – no queues for the toilet as we had our own(!)  I nervously stood by a table in the room having only met one of the other ambassadors before the weekend.  I needn’t have worried though and I was soon busy chatting away to the other runners about training, race plans and shoe choices.

MK Marathon VIP area

A little after 9am we headed downstairs along with the pacers for the race to have our photograph taken on the pitch.

MK Marathon ambassadors

(I’m in the bottom left of the shot.  Picture by Tim Bullard)

Milton Keynes Marathon ambassadors and pacers

(I’m third from the right, wearing sunglasses.  Picture by Walker McCabe Photography)

It probably wasn’t the best idea to have the pacers knelt down in front of everyone as their balloons kept bobbing up everywhere!

Milton Keynes Marathon ambassadors and pacers

(I’m third from the right.  Picture by Walker McCabe Photography)

When we returned back to the VIP suite ‘good lucks’ were said as we all dispersed to find friends and family before the race and to carry out any pre-race rituals.  I made my way back over to the spot by the entrance where WDAC runners always seem to congregate before the start of the MK event each year.  There were several of our runners there and I happily chatted away sizing up who was running which distance and who would be in my start pen for the event.

I nipped back to add some more vaseline to my arms before the start.  I knew that I would be pouring a lot of water over my head in order to keep cool and didn’t want the top of my arms to rub as a result.  Luckily, we were allowed to leave our bags in the VIP area during the day, which meant that I didn’t have to worry about the bag drop and could check my phone/make changes to my kit until the last minute.

The start was just outside.  Slightly different to previous years when I have run it, – this time the snake of runners waiting to start curved back onto themselves.  I was in the blue start, the one before the last pen and so found where I needed to go and located the 4:45 pacer I had decided to start alongside.

Although I didn’t enter the pen until 9:50am (with a 10am start time) it took a fair while before we crossed the line.  I began to feel a little queasy and ‘penned in’ despite not really being packed into the pens and so located a van parked to the side which several runners had already made a bee-line for and were leaning against in the shade.  I felt much better after a few minutes of time out in the cool and then made my way back to the starting pen where I bumped into Kev from my club.  He had been out crewing another club member at the Thames Path 100 that weekend and is coming down to crew a different member when I run the SDW100 next month, so we spent 20 minutes catching up and talking tactics before we crossed the startline ourselves.  It was nice to take my mind off how hot things were and how poorly I had felt whilst stood still in the heat that morning.

I ran with Kev for the first couple of miles before he disappeared behind a bush.  Kev never wears a watch but had planned to run somewhere around 5 hours that day (5h 00m 19s!) as it was his longest run in quite a while following injury.  Just before two miles he asked me what pacer had the balloon bobbing away just in front of us.  I told him that it was the 4:45 pacer, but that I thought he was probably going a bit quickly.  (My first two miles were 10:20 and 10:30 and the 4:45 pacer was a fair way ahead of us, despite crossing the start line alongside me.)  Someone turned around to say that he was just catching up with the runners he was pacing as she had just seen him nip into the hedge, but even so, he was going too quickly.  I had heard him mention that he intended on running the flatter bits faster so that the group may slow down on the uphills.  It’s a tactic used by lots, but I personally prefer to run fairly evenly if possible.

I made the decision to run my own race, without pacer and aim for 10:30mm – up hills, along the flat and also on the downhills (were there any of those?!) keeping an eye on my heart rate as I went.  I have really enjoyed my tempo runs lately working towards a set pace for each mile and find that it gives me a mini focus all the way through a session, breaking a run up into manageable chunks.  Dan was planning to bring Oscar out to come and watch the race and would be at mile 12.5 and mile 15.5, both shaded areas and fairly close together so that Oscar wouldn’t be out for too long in the heat.  The plan was to hold onto 10:30mm pace for as long as I was able, but to reassess at mile 11, just before seeing Dan and Oscar.

It felt easy.  Really easy.  I had to keep slowing myself down.

As a race ambassador (and also due to not wanting to rub in the heat!) I had decided not to wear my club vest for the race, but instead wore my MK t-shirt and found it super comfy and cooling with it’s light colour.  One of my favourite things about the switch backs at the start of the MK marathon/half route is that you can easily see other club vests coming back in the other direction and cheer other runners from our club.  I knew that I wouldn’t be spotted by any club runners this year though without my club vest on and almost felt a little like I was secretly spying on them all running by!

Miles 1-6: 10:20, 10:30, 10:30, 10:24, 10:22, 10:21.

I had been told that a group from WDAC were biking over to the six mile point to cheer the runners on so kept a good look out for them from the 6 mile marker but saw no signs of anyone.  There was a lot going on at this section as we ran through a little park, passed the section for the first relay runners to handover to their teammates and crossed the first block of timing mats, so there were lots of people around and I hoped I hadn’t missed our cyclists.

Heading towards mile 7 though I remembered there was a pub on the side of the road and knew they would be fairly close.  Sure enough I spotted them cheering directly opposite and madly waved to get their attention, almost running into them before they spotted me out of club uniform!

It had started to heat up now.  I’d been passing occasional walkers from about 3 miles in, but now many had adopted a run-walk technique, especially up the small ‘hills’ that cropped up.  I was still feeling good, my heart rate was still fine (160ish) but I was feeling rather hot.

Miles 7-11:  10:23, 10:29, 10:26, 10:27, 11:01.

I dropped my gel at the start of the 11th mile and loudly swore twice as it had interrupted my stride whilst running an uphill which I then decided to walk.  I shouldn’t have walked as the sweat then poured out of me and I could feel myself heat up further.  It was at this point, looking around me and seeing not another single person running up that hill that I decided to just enjoy the rest of the race and make the most of the day.  SDW100 is my main aim for this season, not MK Marathon and I wanted to be able to continue running the rest of the week, not have to take a week off after running a hard road race where I might shave a few minutes from my time.  There would be time for that later in the year instead.

So, from that point I did not care about my time at all and thoroughly enjoyed the race experience in a way I feel you only can if time does not remain a factor.

I sat down with Oscar on the floor for a minute at 12.5 miles who was busy munching on his picnic and excitedly shouting at me “Law Law – run, run, run!” as he had just seen Laura run past.  Dan told me that Laura was only a little way ahead of me, despite initially aiming for a sub 4 marathon that day.  She had unfortunately fallen early into the race and had ripped open her knee.  Dan had loaded her with wet wipes to try and help stop the bleeding when he saw her, but her run had changed to walk now as her knee began to stiffen.

I ran on.  The people of Milton Keynes were AMAZING on Monday.  They came out in their hoards to support the runners.  I ran under more sprinklers than I could count.  Dipped my hat in at least four buckets of water to cool my head down, enjoyed jelly babies, orange segments, watermelon and a couple of slices of frozen melon.  <<  This was the best thing ever.  I’m already putting a request in for frozen melon on the SDW100!  There were so many kids (and adults!) out with water guns on the course and it was so refreshing even when the squirts came to the face!  I took water from every water station, high fived hundreds of kids, thanked all the volunteers and even had a little dance to the band on route.  I passed local residents kindly letting runners sit down on their garden chairs and one even nip in for the loo!  I always thought London Marathon had a great atmosphere, but London was NOTHING on the buzz that was Milton Keynes on Monday.

I plucked up the courage to start a conversation with a runner wearing a Run Mummy Run top, chatted to several runners about how we had been training in ice and snow for a marathon in 28 degree heat and let one woman know that her belt had ridden up her back, potentially causing nasty sores for her later on.

One of my favourite photos from the race is one which Dan took as I was running towards Oscar at mile 15.5.

Milton Keynes Marathon - spotting OscarI stopped for a little while here to reapply some suncream, hand back the nakd bar I knew I wouldn’t eat and collect some ‘Free hugs’ from Oscar.

Milton Keynes Marathon - stopping with Oscar at mile 15Milton Keynes Marathon - stopping with Oscar at mile 15Dan said that Oscar had been enjoying cheering runners on that morning and had been busy clapping away and shouting “Run, run, run!” at everyone that passed.  (He’ll make a great coach!)

I bumped into Laura just after 18 miles and walked with her for the following mile before jogging off so that my legs didn’t stiffen up.  We saw a couple of members from our club here where I nabbed some watermelon slices and another bottle of water. Mile 19 of the Milton Keynes Marathon with LauraI was a little confused that I hadn’t seen any other pacers pass me, but it turns out many had struggled on the day, despite running times often an hour slower than their own PB and pulled from pacing duties.  I have never seen so many people walk during a marathon before and there were a couple of miles where I could probably have counted on my hands how many runners I saw!

I had taken a bottle of nuun water from Dan when I had seen him at mile 12.5 but to be honest my body was telling me that I had probably drunk too much water and not enough electrolytes/other stuff.  I was struggling a little with my right ear, which sounds ridiculous, but it’s usually the first telltale sign for me that I need to slow down on the water intake. I walked a little way with two other ladies for a couple of miles from mile 22, deciding to lay down on the verge to cheer some runners past by mile 25 for a little while.  I had salted up a fair bit by this point and felt like I was beginning to get heat stroke, so decided to take it fairly easy and took maybe five minutes to myself in the shade on the side of the path before continuing on.

Salted up post marathonI obviously had to run the finish though.  Milton Keynes Marathon has a fabulous finish – running down into the stadium and then 3/4s of a lap round the pitch before heading under the finish gantry.  I looked up to hear cheers from other runners in my club shouting me round, and then also saw a runner in a giant rhino costume not far behind. MK Marathon finish in the stadium with a giant rhino costume (Picture by Tim Bullard)

Erm wow.  Just take a moment to think about how incredibly impressive that woman was.  She ran a Rhino PB that day – a little under 5h 30m in that insane heat whilst wearing a ridiculously hot costume.  Legend! MK Marathon finish in the stadium with a giant rhino costume (Picture by Tim Bullard)

I crossed the finish line and immediately turned to congratulate her.

My slowest road marathon by far…

Official time: 5:32:01
Position:
1625/2028
Gender position:
375/557
Category position: 100/150

…but for the first time I genuinely didn’t care.  I had thoroughly enjoyed myself that day.

The layout following the finish was slightly different this year.  Normally runners head back out through the underpass and down into the underground section to collect medals and goody bags.  This year though, runners had to walk up the steps inside the stadium collecting their medals and goodies as they went.  I heard a few people moaning about this, but one of the benefits to taking the race easy was that I could jog up the steps at the finish and by Tuesday my legs even seemed to have forgotten that they had covered 26.2 miles the day before!

Milton Keynes Marathon collection of medalsAnother benefit was that my official photographs look great!  This almost never happens to me in a race.  I’m usually the beetroot-red, top-ridden-up runner with her eyes closed!

Milton Keynes Marathon official photosI’m very tempted to buy them, despite the result of the race being so poor.

A post-race family trip to the pub for dinner was definitely in order on Monday night!

Dan, Oscar and I heading to the pub

I’m just waiting for the date for a Decathlon brand trip in September before booking an Autumn marathon to target this year, but after the 100 I’m looking forward to running a few marathon distances again, so will be booking up more soon!

Did you run out in the heat on Monday?
Do you suffer from running in the heat?
Have you run a marathon ‘just for fun’ before?
Photos: to buy or not to buy?

Summer has finally arrived and changes to my race plans

The hundred miler I entered last year is now seven weeks away…Seven weeks!

But first, how absolutely lovely is it to finally have full on sunshine after so many weeks of doom and gloom and all that heavy snow in March?!

Oscar and I had a day out planned at a sand and water outdoor area a few miles away today but my car wouldn’t start this morning so I had to check it in at the garage – crushing our plans for the morning.  Although we couldn’t make it to the water park we did still make time to get outside in the garden this morning where Oscar happily held my hand for a good twenty minutes whilst stirring various sticks through the weed in our garden pond!

Oscar by the pondOscar by the pondWe have big plans for our garden this year.  When we bought our house three years ago we didn’t have a child, but our garden is definitely not one I would describe as child friendly at the moment.  (See picture below.)

New house garden(Picture taken just before we moved in to the house – long before the garden became overgrown with weeds and the bushes grew out of control!)

Our pond definitely needs a cover on it now that Oscar is toddling around and we hope to remove the monkey puzzle tree which has grown out of control at the back of the garden, putting everything to the right of the path to grass for Oscar to play on.  Wish me luck.  It’s going to be a big job over the next few months whilst trying to keep a very active toddler busy!

Bella joined us outside earlier and rolled around in the sunny patches on the brickwork most of the morning!

Bella in the garden

I can’t wait to get some sunshine trail miles in and Dan has promised that when he gets home from work this evening the three of us can head out on a family run with Oscar in the running buggy.

Dan, Oscar and I on a buggy run togetherDan said that he would like to get some more running in the other week and now that the nights are lighter again as long as we head straight out as soon as he returns home from work (6:20pm-ish) we can fit 5-6 miles in before getting Oscar ready for bed.  We went for our first family evening run together the week before I ran SDW50 and it was so nice to spend time together as a family whilst I was getting some miles in my legs.  Oscar loves being out in the buggy with both of us and you can hear him constantly singing away and pointing things out that he can see along his ride!

I did have my alarm set for another 5am wakeup call this morning, but a late night last night and backlog of lack of sleep over the past six months meant that my miles this morning needed to be replaced by an extra hour of sleep, so snoozed my alarm and rolled over for another hour instead.

I have arranged to meet up with a few other ladies from the Run Mummy Run Facebook group for some early morning runs over the coming weeks and I’m hoping this will help to encourage me to get out for some of my miles first thing in the day.  I much prefer running in the mornings and feel so much better for it for the rest of the day then.  The poor weather and dark nights has meant that my early morning runs have been mainly on the treadmill this Winter, and there’s nothing more depressing than a solo treadmill run in a silent, dark house when you’re feeling tired!  I’m looking forward to being able to chat running once more!

Dan has also promised that he will ask at work if he can adjust his hours for a Thursday – meaning that he will start and finish earlier, giving him time to get home and take over Oscar from me, allowing me to get out on a club run in time.  I’ve really missed running with other club runners since Dan has been at this job and I would love to be able to get back out there again.

So, back at the end of last year when I sat down with my race calendar for 2018, achieving a marathon PB and completing a 100 mile ultra were the two big goals right at the very top of my list.

Fast forward a few months and I am now less than three weeks away from running the Milton Keynes Marathon and less than eight weeks away from the South Downs Way 100.

Following my performance at the SDW50 a fortnight ago I feel fully prepared for the 100.  It was a real confidence boost that I achieved a time I hadn’t thought I was capable of, even though I didn’t actually ‘race’ the 50 event, slowing in places as I was concerned my calf injury might reappear.  Touch wood, all being well, I am feeling fairly confident of completing the 100 at the start of June, provided no outsider issues ruin the day – heat, nutritional, etc.  I’ve been talking tactics and times with some of the guys from my club who have finished the SDW100 in the past and every time it’s mentioned I can feel my excitement about the event continue to grow!

The marathon is a different ball game though.
Ultramarathons are all about tactics – getting your nutrition right and keeping moving, knowing which sections to walk and where to pick up the pace.  Road marathons are a more pressured environment and can be time-driven.  My continuous runs haven’t been very continuous and I haven’t completed as many longer runs as I would have liked throughout this training cycle.  The plan I roughly put together for this training cycle was based very loosely on the Hanson’s Marathon Method and I am certain that this is a plan I would do well using when training solely for a marathon, – I just haven’t had the full opportunity to do so yet!  Last year I ended up traveling back to Norfolk to visit my Mum several times during each week and this time round the plan could never have my full focus as the bigger goal has always been about running 100 miles.

I want a sub 4h 30m marathon this year, but I don’t think I will achieve that at Milton Keynes next month, and I don’t want to break myself by trying.  I no longer plan on tapering for the marathon and instead plan to treat it as a long training run (with other people, and a shiny new medal!).  I have been running strongly on my runs, and so, (with a current marathon PB I am aware doesn’t do my running justice) know that a new PB is perhaps possible even if I don’t ‘race’ the event as such.  But if not, that’s OK too.  My new target for the sub 4h 30m marathon is going to be a marathon at the end of September/start of October (still to decide which one) meaning I will be able to focus on solid training purely for the marathon over the Summer months when I won’t be persuaded to run other races (as it will be out of race season) and when I will be able to run outside rather than on the treadmill for the majority of my runs as it is already light by 6am in the mornings.

Have you changed your goal races for the season before?
Do you prefer Summer or Winter running?
How is your garden currently looking after such a rough Winter?

A tightening for GFA London marathon times

I have serious marathon envy at the moment.  April is the month of the year in terms of marathon running.  It’s the when London hosts one of the six World Marathon Majors and everybody in the country becomes interested in running and marathons, whether they run themselves or not!

I’ve had so much fun tracking everybody’s marathon adventures online over the weekend at Brighton and Boston.  So many amazing times being achieved!  I’m not sure I can wait until May when my marathon rolls round!

Obviously there are so many other great marathon events to be enjoyed.  It’s not all about London, despite what some people might think!  I have heard the phrase “I’d run a marathon one day if I can run London.” so many times from non runners.  I was lucky enough to gain a place in my running club VLM ballot and take part in the race in 2014 and really enjoyed my experience, much more than I ever expected to.  I’m really glad I did get the opportunity to run London that year as I’m not sure if I will have another chance now that there have been so many changes made to the way runners gain a place for the event.

The most popular form of entry for seasoned runners is via Good For Age entry.

New times have been released today which runners must achieve in order to gain a ‘Good for Age’ (GFA) entry to the Virgin Money London Marathon in 2019.

London Marathon Good For Age (GFA) times 2019(Image taken from the VMLM website)

The main changes appear to affect men wishing to qualify.  As a senior male you would now need to run a marathon starting with a 2:xx:xx in order to take up a spot using this entry system.  As a runner at a large running club, just six of our members ever have run a sub 3 hour marathon.  Several of the age categories have also been split down further than in previous years.  For example, a female falling into the Women Age 40-49 category would have had to achieve a sub 3:50 time in order to receive a guaranteed GFA place at London next weekend.  This category has now been split between 40-44 (sub 3:50) and 45-49 (sub 3:53).

Another big change, probably even more noteworthy than the actual qualifying times is that achieving these times no longer guarantees you a spot at the London Marathon the following year.  There are a maximum of 3,000 female GFA spots and 3,000 male GFA spots available for the 2019 event.  If more than 6,000 runners apply for a GFA position, then ‘the qualifying time will be reduced evenly across the age group categories listed above until 3,000 runners of that gender are accepted’.  Meaning that you may have worked super hard to achieve a 3:44 qualifying marathon time as a senior female runner, only for the goalposts to be moved after you have submitted your entry, due to high numbers of other runners also applying for a place and you may not actually end up with a race place at all.

Another change is that although as in previous years you will still be able to defer your GFA place by a year if unable to take your place up for the year you originally entered, you will most likely have to prove you are still capable of running a GFA time.  The qualifying period moves to the January of the year before you run the race.  So, for example – You run a marathon in a GFA time in December 2017, granting you a GFA place in April 2019.  You wind up injured so defer your place, but the race you qualified at is no longer in the qualifying time period before London 2020, as this will become 1st January 2018 – 12th August 2019.  You can keep your guaranteed deferred position, but only if you run another qualifying marathon time before August 2019.
I can see this rule hitting women much harder than men.  I know several female runners who have qualified for a GFA position, but then deferred their place when they have fallen pregnant.  It might then be potentially much harder for these women to bounce back quickly enough to prove still worthy of a GFA place.

Like last time changes were made to the entry requirements it seems these changes have come at the wrong time for many.  Right in the thick of marathon season, when runners have set target times at races in order to achieve a GFA entry to London Marathon for 2019.  Running 5-10 minutes faster than planned when you are talking about marathon times of just 3 hours is actually a huge difference and I imagine plenty of runners will blow up trying to achieve times they haven’t trained for, or hit their original targets which now fall short of gaining a guaranteed place in next year’s event.

Several runners may have already run their target Spring Marathon by this point and achieved what they thought to be a qualifying time, but now no longer is.

The VMLM website advises that due to the new changes, all hopeful runners of the event also make sure to enter into the general ballot when it opens at the end of the month, as unless they have run a marathon a large chunk under the qualifying time for their age category they will not be guaranteed a place for 2019.

It has been incredibly difficult to enter London Marathon via the general ballot in recent years.  In 2015, the ballot system for the 2016 event changed.  In previous years, the ballot for the following year opened a week after that year’s marathon had finished and remained open until 125,000 wannabe runners had entered their names into the metaphorical hat.  In 2015 though, the lottery system changed and the ballot entry system remained open for five whole days, meaning that in total, twice as many (247,069) wannabes were in the hat ready for the draw to take place months later for even less places in the race.  The VMLM website stated that this change was made to reflect the large number of people previously unable to enter due to ‘religious holidays, shift work, family commitments and other reasons’.

In total, there are 50,000 places issued for the race each year.  (Apparently just 35,000 of this number make it to the start line on race day for one reason or another.)

This number accounts for ballot entries, the high number of charity entries, elites and the list of Good For Age (GFA) and Championship start runners.  Basically, your chances of getting in through the ballot are very small indeed.  Allegedly the quality of runners we have in the UK has increased substantially over recent years and so a few years back, the GFA guidelines were tightened and have now been tightened once more.

London marathon medal 2014

I won my 2014 place through my running club ballot.  Every affiliated running club in the UK is issued a number of ballot places dependent upon the number of runners in their club.  In the past, our club had always been allocated four places, but in 2015, despite membership numbers increasing, we were offered just three and this year we were down to 2 places.

VLM number

The most common way to gain a place in the London Marathon has become via a charity place.  I hope to run for a cancer charity in 2019 – a decision I made last year, long before all of these recent changes had been announced.  Running for charity isn’t something that is accessible to all though.  As a regular runner with a couple of jobs and a young family I know that I would struggle to find the additional time to fundraise alongside training on back-to-back years.  I will need to be creative in my fundraising.  Having run several ultramarathons (hopefully including also a 100 mile event by next year) people aren’t going to be so willing to dig into their pockets just to sponsor me to run the race.

So, there we have it.  I’ve rambled on a lot about the Good For Age changes, but in all honesty they don’t really affect me a huge amount.  The only hope I ever have of running a GFA place is if I am accidentally entered as a 65 year old.  I might stand a chance then!

As it’s a long while until I turn 65 I’ll be checking out some other UK marathons to add to my bucket list for the next couple of years.  Chester is currently sounding really appealing for the Autumn…

Have you run the London Marathon before?
What do you make of the new changes to entry for 2019?
If you have run a marathon before, which was your favourite?

The EnduranceLife Gower Marathon (Pt 2)

(If you missed the first part of my recap of the 2017 Gower Marathon, you can find it here.)

Although it had been fairly windy at the start of the race, I had been able to take my jacket off a few miles in.  It wasn’t really cold, and we never had any rain actually during the race at all, although from talking to friends afterwards, both the ultra runners and the half marathoners got some light rain during their run.

I had wrapped my jacket up into a little ball, encasing my phone, and then jammed it into my bag, hoping that despite all the padding my phone would still track the miles I ran using the Strava app, although I wasn’t too worried if it didn’t.  Annoyingly, this meant that I couldn’t really take any photos out on the course during the day though, and I also never really knew at what mileage point I was on the course.  From the position of aid stations and the pace I knew I was roughly running at I could kind of work out how many miles I had run, but it’s not quite the same as having a Garmin beep to tell you each time you’ve ticked off another mile!  The EnduranceLife aid stations are also quite good in that they display a large board showing what mile the aid station is situated at and how many miles you have until you reach the next checkpoint.  I guess the marshals get these two questions a lot!  Perhaps this is an idea we could nab to add to the ultra checkpoints for Go Beyond events too?  I’ve just put my name down to marshal at Country to Capital again next year.

I had been debating whether or not to wear my new pair of trails for the run.  I say ‘new pair’, – they must have run about 100 miles or so by now – but as my feet are quite wide, I find it takes several runs in a pair of trainers before I don’t feel the pressure across the top of my foot from when my feet expand during a long run.  I paused not long after my fall to loosen the laces over the arch of my foot and tighten the laces higher up instead and this seemed to ease the pressure.

I didn’t stop at the first checkpoint.  There were a large number of people already spread out around the table and I didn’t want to waste any time getting to the cut off point at mile 19.9.  I just dibbed in, grabbed some jelly babies and left again.  I kept trying to work out at what point I was on the course by landmarks and the time of day, as I was still rather concerned about making the shortened cut off time.  We came down a very steep and muddy hill onto a blind bend section of road.  I think perhaps it was at about mile 8.  There was a marshal here – ensuring runners could stop their legs in time before hitting the road.  We turned sharply to the left, took the next right hand road turn and then climbed a stile into a field and were away again.  As I ran down the hill I asked the marshal at what mile point we were at currently.  She told me mile 12.5, with a half mile to go until the next checkpoint.  This confused me a lot.  I know that I definitely had not run 12.5 miles of a course with hills like that in under two hours!  And it then took a further hour for me to reach the next checkpoint which definitely hadn’t been only half a mile away!

EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017I paused briefly at the second checkpoint to get my water bottle topped up and to grab a couple of custard creams.  I never buy custard creams but after EnduranceLife events I always think I should probably run with them at my next race.

The second beach was much easier and shorter than I remembered and once again I managed to run steadily across the whole distance.  As you come off of the second beach you are greeted by hundreds and hundreds of uneven steps heading uphill through the woods.  They are really tough going and I had completely forgotten just how much they take it out of you at this point on the marathon.  I had not long told another runner that they worst part of this event was over now, with all of the major hills early on in the course!

Gower gully steps in the wood(Picture taken part way up the steps back in 2015.)

I ran up behind a family along the steps and heard them say “Move aside, there’s a runner coming up”, to which I responded in between rather heavy breaths… “I’m not doing much running I’m afraid!”
The journey back down is not much better as you can’t really find your stride with all of the steps being at different heights and lengths.  I was glad for that section to be over!

Soon I had made it to the third and final beach.  You need to run along a rather loose, sandy section before crossing a bridge and making it over onto the full beach.  This section seemed to go on forever.

Gower marathon scenery(Photo from the 2014 event.)

I crossed the bridge at 2:05pm, knowing that the 19.9 mile checkpoint was at the far end of the beach and that official cut off for the race was at 2:15pm.  I wanted my legs to hurry, but at the same time I didn’t want to hurry them so much that they burnt out and I had to keep stop-starting across the sand.  As I saw the time on my Vivofit get ever closer to 2:15pm I figured I could probably blag my way by 5 minutes or so.  Perhaps 10?  My watch changed to 2:16pm just as I pulled off the beach and turned towards the checkpoint.  I had made it!

I paused to top up both bottles here, and having made the one and only cut off in time I rewarded myself with a long walk and a chance to pull my pretzels from the bag on my back.  I’d devoured two Clif bars early into the race, and eaten the custard creams at the last checkpoint, but I’d been craving salty pretzels for the last few miles and daren’t waste the time stopping to rearrange my bag.  The pressure was now off though!  I could walk the rest of the way and would still be ticking off my thirteenth marathon before the day was out.  Having pushed it (although comfortably) I knew I would be in with a good chance of beating my previous time on the course as well, even if I did end up deciding to walk the rest of the way!

After quarter of a mile I was ready to run again, and so held onto my bag of pretzels and set off.  I had passed several people at the final checkpoint, – I’m guessing people who were also rewarding themselves for making the cut off in time!  We then went on to play leap frog a few times for several miles as we took it in turns to pass each other.  Although I don’t have any pictures of the course on the day, we did walk the final 7 miles of the course on the Sunday on our trip over to the pub (and back again!) so I took some pictures then, which I’ll share in a separate post.

The final checkpoint was the point at which I (along with several others due to the poor weather) was pulled last time I ran the event in 2015, and I was surprised how much of the course I remembered having not run this section since 2014.  There are several steep, slippery climbs where you need to use hands to help yourself up, but also a few longer sections of grassy trail where you can make up a little bit of time.

Annoyingly, my phone died at mile 25.3, so I couldn’t take my traditional photo of the ‘One mile to go’ sign.

Gower elevation(The grey is the elevation, and blue line my pace.)

A mile before the finish I saw a familiar shape hobbling towards me.  Kev, the guy who had persuaded me to run my first ultra back in 2013 and who has been super supportive of my running journey ever since made his way back along to track to give me a hug and fill me in on how the others had gotten on in their races.EnduranceLife Gower marathon 2017Kev and another injured runner, Sandra, had been stood on the final mile post for hours, seeing everybody through to the finish.  The other runners from our club had all had a fairly good day, with just Tracey dropping down from the marathon to the half on route as planned, and Tom dropping from the ultra down to the marathon due to an existing injury.

Official time: 7h 03m 53s
Position: 125/129

I had beaten my previous time by more than half an hour.

It absolutely tipped it down just as I crossed the finish line where I bumped into James, the other marathon finisher from our club who had been back for 25 minutes or so.  We waited the worst of it out under the comfort of the marquee before making our way back to the cottages to a cheer from the runners who had already returned back, showered and eaten!  We were the last to return, so once showers were had it was time to really start our weekend away!

Do you like to take pictures during your races?
Have you used the Strava app on your phone to record your runs?