“Very foolish”, “You idiot!”, “What’s the point?”….these were some of the responses from friends after explaining how I’d earned my latest bit of running bling. More on this later.
I love Bournemouth Marathon for a number of reasons: 1) It has a stunning coastal route, 2) It has a start time of 10am and my in-laws live 10-minutes drive from the start and 3) It has fantastic SJ support along the way. When Bournemouth was launched in 2013 I decided this was going to be ‘my marathon’, the one where in 10, 20, 30 (he’s hoping), years’ time I can say I ran them all. So, within minutes of finishing the 2016 marathon I logged on and secured my place for this year’s race.
Race day arrives and unusually I’m the only SJer on the start; I know Martin Gould is here somewhere, but as he’s probably wearing his other club’s vest I can’t spot him. Thankfully I’m not entirely on my own as today I’m running with my brother in law Simon. Simon is a yam yam (look it up), and he loves nothing more than to talk and talk and talk with that beautiful dialect of his. It’s Simon’s love of the spoken word which distracts me from my usual pre-race routine, and I find myself in my starting pen without my cap and sunglasses; and if there’s ever a day I need these it’s today! I curse Simon and request he stays quiet until at least mile 5, which obviously he ignores, and before I know it we’re off.
The first few miles always go so quickly at Bournemouth, probably because I know my wife and kids are waiting for me at mile 3, where I have a very brief stop to hug them all and explain how I forgot my cap and glasses, before continuing on our way, blinded by the sun that’s soaring above Hengistbury Head. It’s a quick run up the road before turning back on ourselves and heading towards the coast road and beach section of the course. Simon continues to talk away, and because of this I’ve failed to hear my daughter India, who’s been running alongside us for some time, holding out my sunglasses that she grabbed from the car after seeing me at mile 3. Thanks to my excellent support crew I can now carry on running without the risk of retinal damage.
Between miles 5 and 10 is where I usually get to see fellow club runners on the other side of the road, they’re quicker and a few miles ahead of me, but this year I missed my high-fiving mates Paul Alexander and Sarah Hyatt as they weren’t running, but happily high-fived Martin after spotting him.
Down on the beach section and I see my family again, a bunch of mates from Godalming who were down to run the 10k, two of whom were stood there on crutches (torn ligaments!), and the loud and proud bunch of SJers including Jenny, Graham, David, Nikki and Mark, apologies if I’ve missed anyone. A run around Boscombe pier, another shout out from the SJ gang (you guys are brilliant!), and then it’s head down until mile 17, which in my view is the worse part of the course. Not only do we have to run under the finish gantry (how evil?!), we have to navigate a short sharp incline, and couple of tight turns, a brief steep downhill, before heading up the side of a mountain! OK, that last bit is a little embellished, it’s not a mountain, but it’s a mighty long climb to the top of the cliff.
It’s always my race plan at Bournemouth to never take a walking break until I’ve reached the top of the cliff at mile 17, and this was even more important this year than any previous year. Remember the uncomplimentary responses I mentioned in my first sentence? The reason behind these less than flattering responses lies in the fact that I ran Bournemouth marathon after just two training runs, and with such a lack of preparation I knew I simply had to reach this point on the course before taking a break, which I’m proud to say I managed.
Some friends think I’m using the ‘only two training runs’ as an excuse for my slow finishing time, which was 4.44, but the truth is I’m not. I know my limits when it comes to marathon running and I’m the first to admit I’m a plodder, but to silence my critics; in the last 6-weeks leading up the race day I ran one 10-mile run, one 15-mile run, and a 4-mile run in the final days. I know technically that’s three runs, but that 4-miler hardly counts as marathon training.
As a runner who for years has religiously followed a 16-week marathon training plan, my decision to run did seem odd, and somewhat terrifying, and I can see why some friends thought it foolish or stupid that I made the decision to run after such a short training period, but I disagree that it was either foolish or stupid.
Bournemouth 2017 was my 16th marathon over a period of 13 years; my quickest time is 4.02 (Edinburgh 2011), and my slowest is 4.58 (New York 2008); and it was my second marathon this year after running Southampton in April in a time of 4.21. The early years of my marathon journey were dogged with injuries, notably chronic cramping of the quads, and so during this period I sampled and played with every training plan I could get my hands on in order the find the ‘right one’. As my training improved so did my finishing times, but at Bournemouth 2015 my nemesis returned and I found myself hobbling the final 2-miles of what had been up to that point a great run from me. After much post-race analysis I determined that my lack of mental strength was holding me back when things got tough in the latter stages of a race, and so I set about working on fixing that.
In the last two years I’ve ran four marathons on minimal training, with varying degrees of success – 4.18 at London 2016, 4.29 at Bournemouth 2016, 4.21 at Southampton 2017, and this week’s 4.44. The plan at each of these races has been to run for a time somewhere between 4-hours and 4.20, with the idea of using a number of different mental strategies to get me through those last few tough miles. Strategies that usually work include slowly counting to 400, by which time another mile has hopefully passed, or using positive mantras such as “I’m feeling good”, and “Keep moving forward”. I’m hoping that by running marathons on minimal training I will develop the mental toughness required when attempting to bag that much sought after sub-4; a race I know will require the respect it deserves, and therefore I will properly train for.
The final 9-miles on Sunday were tough, very tough. I was so close to getting a DNF when running through the finish gantry at mile 17, I was desperate to stop, but again I used the power of the mind to get me past that point. I knew that once I was at the top of the cliff with the finish area behind me I’d finish the race. I knew it wouldn’t be a good time, and I knew I’d be in a bit of mess, but finish I would do, and with additional knowledge on how to fight the urge to stop.
Simon was pretty quiet during the final few miles, I think he knew I was struggling and just needed to keep my head down and get to the finish line, and he showed great respect in letting me do just that. I saw Martin again with a mile or two to go, he was looking far stronger than me, and once again managed a hug with the family at mile 26. Simon wanted a sprint finish, but he wasn’t getting one. With arms aloft we jogged across the finish line together, and despite the time I was pleased with my achievement…. I’d finished when at one point I seriously thought I wouldn’t, and actually I didn’t feel too bad after all. Yes, the usual muscles were sore, and yes I was tired, but I was walking fine and breathing normal so can’t complain too much.
I think it was Vicky Rice who asked if I’d recommend my (lack of) training plan; and of course the answer is no; as Charles St.Aubyn pointed out, the marathon is a distance to respect. However, if you’re a runner with a few marathons under your belt, and you’re generally fit and healthy, but your training plan took a few wrong turns, I certainly suggest getting yourself to the start line and giving it a go as there’s always something to learn. Bournemouth 2017 taught me I had more willpower than I thought I had, and it taught me the importance of blocking out and ignoring those negative thoughts that creep in when it gets tough – both lessons will no doubt be enormously helpful when the times comes for getting that sub-4.
So what next? Another marathon of course! As a brummie, and with Birmingham holding its inaugural marathon this coming Sunday I simply have to do it. Well why not, at least I’ve got a long slow run in the bag.