Training for a road marathon is certainly not something to be sniffed at, but put in a couple of hard relay legs and a fell race in the weeks leading up to it, and try to plan long distance training around those is quite a thing to do. It was only really about 6 weeks ago that I got my road shoes out and started practicing pavement pounding with a vengeance.
To be honest, I was absolutely certain I could run the distance.... On a trail. Its the minor issue of doing it on the road that was worrying me. First go out, I was nigh on hobbling home with calf muscles burning after just 7k. The second time out, after 13k I was hobbling for 3 days with calves that just didn't work. Even up to about 2 weeks ago with a planned 30k run cut short to 24k or so because of a bit of a niggle in the knee was a cause for concern.
I haven't run a road marathon since 2010, and that was London, which I finished in 3:45. This was to be my first as a Glossopdale Harrier, and all things considered, might be interesting.
We travelled to Wales and registered on the friday. I took the opportunity to have a quick recce of the 2 footpath sections, totaling about 3k of the entire route. The weather wasn't great, and I ran it in x-talons, noting that as long as it didn't get any worse in terms of wetness, then road shoes would be fine for the whole thing. After meeting up with a few of the guys at the Snowdon Ranger Hostel, we ate, drank, chatted, and finally got our heads down. Morning of the race is always the same. But here, in Wales, it was absolutely chucking it down. Buckets and buckets of the stuff. It was also pretty cold.
All the chat about road shoes from the previous night evaporated, and the trusty xtalons came out. They might have done more than 1000k already and lost most of their grip, but they're still game for a wet, and partially muddy marathon. I was hoping that I would be able to keep pace with those around me til the last 3k, when the grip would really give me an advantage. The minor issue being, could I manage the prior 39k at speed, on road, in fell shoes?
Everyone was having clothing dilemmas. How hot was it going to get? Would the rain continue all morning? Would it stay this cold? As we're going up to the top of the pass would it get colder, what with the breeze? Decisions, decisions.
I met with Paul Skuse and Vicki H in the race HQ, and also managed to catch up with Jim and Sharon from Helsby, but it didn't take long for the clock to tick down and we had to wander through the rain and the cold to the start, just a bit beyond the Castle at the beginning of Llanberis.
Al was also there, as was Nick (in his stockport colours), and we were soon joined by Caity, Chris and Neil. Everyone still in their disposable see through macs, listening to the starters announcement, waiting...
Then it was macs off, stand in the pouring rain for just a few minutes before we were given the off. I started and locked my watch a bit before the gun went, as is my habit... It stops me having to faff at the start, and worry if the timer is going or not, and it stops me from worrying about looking at my watch obsessively through the race as its not actually on race time. If I'm not running as hard as I can, then I need to speed up. If I need a time in my head to speed up then I'm obviously not going fast enough.
The gun goes, caity, who was stood in front of me shoots off like a rocket and is already 5,6 people ahead of me within seconds... These road marathons start quick. It takes me about 300m to catch her and ease into a decent running rhythm, and then the endless road started. How fast do you start a marathon? In a fell race, you know there are hard ups and downs that will break up the pace, make you run faster and slower.
Admittedly this marathon has some ups and downs, but nothing quite on the scale of a fell run. Start at a speed and see what happens. In the second km, Rob Grantham, winner of the North Wales fell series appears at my side, tapping out a decent rhythm and we run through nant peris together. It became apparent that he wasn't slowing down, and the pace was a bit too hot for me, especially as the first climb up Llanberis pass was fast approaching, so I let him go, and eased up a little.
|Just down from the PyG|
I fell into step with a guy wearing raidlight mitts, and we ascended the pass pretty much stride for stride. People passed, we passed others. Eventually he pulled away a little, and I went over the top by the Snowdon Carpark through the drinks station, still clutching my windproof, thoroughly looking forward to the downhill section. I passed a couple of guys on the way down to the Pen y Gwyrd hotel, and was really happy to see Lynne standing at the side of the road shouting encouragement. I ditched my waterproof and ran on down onto the bridle way.
This section was a bit stoney, and I was a little disappointed not to be gaining as many places as I thought I might, considering my footwear choice. It was still raining, but there was that niggle in the back of my mind if I'd chosen the right footwear. Even now I was feeling it a bit underfoot, having not worn road shoes. No time to worry now. Back onto the road, and there was a gaggle of us, all pressing over to the left. There were a few cars on the road, but by no means was it a normal amount of traffic. With numb fingers I extracted a geobar from the pocket in my shorts and ate that, wanting to stave off a crash as much as possible, and the next few miles passed in a bit of a blur of keeping up with people, not being dropped and wondering which corner was the last one before Beddgelert.
Finally the town appeared and gels were being given out at the feed station. I stupidly shunned them, having got my own gel out just prior... it saved me having to slow down, and it reduced the weight in my pocket, but maybe I should have used their gel and saved mine til later. No matter, through the town, and Dylan from Sarn Helen had obviously been keeping his powder dry for the first half as he sliced his way through the field.
The 13mile mark came and went, half way through and I still hadn't checked my time. I was looking at my Heart rate, to ensure I wasn't sending it through the roof to something unsustainable, but had no clue how long I had been out. The road climbed out of Beddgelert, and it went on and on. We had driven up this yesterday, and I was prepared for a long drag. I managed to keep up with another runner for quite a while here, and used the fact that he could go at a pace to my advantage... if he can, then I can.
On and on we went. Rob Grantham was in sight but never seemed to get closer, but all of a sudden, it wasn't an uphill struggle, and the road leveled out. I began to stretch out my legs, though various bits were hurting. Knees, ankles, shins, hips.... by the end of this I'm going to be a bit of a mess. If this was a training run I would certainly be walking by now for fear of damage and a bit of a lay off training. But this is a race. I downed another gel, my last bit of food, and kicked it up a gear. Rob was coming back to me, and although it was a decent few miles to the Snowdon Ranger, the distance flew by and we were there before I knew it.
Neck and neck with Rob, he seemed to come to life again, and the pace quickened. I tried to hold him to it, but this far into a marathon on road... not going to happen. I held for as long as I could before thinking... theres still a good distance to go, you might need some power soon, don't run out. I was never out of touch with him until we hit the final town, the uphill section where we turned right. Final feed station and I grabbed another gel, knowing that we were in the last few miles now. Rob was powering off ahead and there was not a thing I could do about it. The main thing now was to just keep running. Whatever time I came in at, as long as my legs kept turning, and I kept running, it would be fine. If I walked, there would always be the question.... but what if I had kept running?! Up the climb, faster runners overtook me. Despite regular hill rep sessions, climbs are still a serious weakness, and I need to continue to practice.
The road narrowed, and eventually became a track. A track with a river running down it. Even now, people in road shoes were still going at the same speed as me. Have I made a massive miscalculation? Should I have been in road shoes all along? My feet and legs were screaming at me, telling me that, yes, I certainly should have been. Towards the top of the hill, through a gate, where Sikobe was standing, shouting support for us Glossopdalers, and finally the downhill.
Down the track, with 3 miles left, my legs stretched out, ignoring pain. Downhills are great, no matter what you're doing. Slowly I began to overhaul some of the guys that had passed me on the ascent. The path got worse. It got wetter, steeper and grassier. Footsteps that had shadowed me from the top of the hill faded behind me, 2 guys in front were having great difficulty staying on their feet. Tired legs would have a bad enough time just providing the braking force going down the hill, add the uncertainty of underfoot conditions, and they really didn't want to play. I zoomed past on the outside, sliding a little.... 1000k of running wears down studs on x-talons, but I still had more grip than road shoes that started with next to nothing.
|Trying a bit hard on the final straight|
Down, and down through into Llanberis, a final right turn, and the finish line beckoned. A crowd lined the street, and above the finish line, the timer read 2:58.... 2? Sub 3? That's absurd, that's ridiculous.
|Over the line - Thanks Lynne for the support and the pictures|