I decided to enter this less than 3 weeks before the event, after I had returned from doing the Jerusalem Half. And I was doing it for a similar reason, to accompany Jon, my son-in-law, in his quest to join to 100 Club; this was to be his 68th marathon. As in Jerusalem, again it seemed ‘sensible’ that as I was going to be there I might as well run myself. An extra incentive was provided by the fact that I had missed the 2 hour mark in Jerusalem; I claim it was because of the extreme hilly nature of the course, so I wanted to
rectify prove that. I pictured a pleasant run on a warm early Spring morning over a flat course. The later was dispelled somewhat on the way over when Jon said the previous weekend, while he was in Rome completing the marathon, number 67, he had met a fellow runner from Marseille who described the course as somewhat undulating. The idea of a ‘warm early spring morning’ had also started to recede with the weather forecast suggesting the possibility of some showers. Oh how that was wrong, little did I know how some aspects of my Riddlesdown Parkruns over the past couple of months would be revisited.
Our hotel, up market compared to the prison-cell-type-accommodation-with-visions-of-trainspotting that we had in Jerusalem, was only a couple of minutes walk from the start. We were a little surprised when we made our way back to the hotel at about 9.00pm on Saturday that there were no signs of the start needed for 6000 runners. Even at 7.00am on Sunday morning, when I was out walking to loosen up, they were only just starting to put things together (for an 8.00am start). Some runners were starting to arrive, huddling in doorways, yes because it was raining. And it didn’t stop during the rest of our stay, just like a typical Saturday at Riddlesdown. Rather than using the bag drop we left the hotel wrapped in plastic and made out way to the start, arriving with 10 minutes to spare and slotting into our respective pens. Well there weren’t really any pens, just a matter of looking for pacers that might be approximately suitable. Both the Half and the Full marathon were starting at the same time from the same place, Jon of course way ahead of me in his positioning. I ended up nearer the 2.15 flag. I discarded my covering just before 8.00, but it seemed an age before we started, and then quite some time before I reached the start line…this was to be a point of contention later.
It was crowded, that didn’t matter too much initially, if I have learnt one thing from previous runs it was the importance of a sensible pace during at least the first quarter of the race. However it did prove a problem at about 4k, when it was combined with and one on my complaints, how narrow the course was in places. In one of the narrow section we suddenly slowed to a walk. No obvious reason, but there was a parallel flow in the opposite direction, so I wondered if there was a 180° turn just ahead. We were walking for 60-90s when the reason suddenly became obvious. There was a large puddle stretching across ¾ of the route and no-one was willing to go through it! Other Riddlesdown Parkrun participants would have been incredulous as I was. The surface was very poor in stretches during the first 6k, potholes had to be avoided
The rest of the run was pretty uneventful and I was running at a pace that allowed me to actually look at what I was running past; that could have been the beach where Popeye Doyle watched the volley ball, and was spotted by Chanier in French Connection II? Motorbikes came past us around the 14k mark, horns blaring and indicating for us to move over. Suddenly we were passed by 4 speedy black runners, the full marathon course had reconnected with us. Only they had done twice our distance and were still running at a pace I could only dream of. It was about here that I looked at the Kalanji GPS watch for the first time, great disciple to ignore it until then. But as I had passed the 2 hour pacer during the first 5k and I was running comfortably, if those in front weren’t getting away from me, and I wasn’t being overtaken except by the very occasional nutter, things were going OK. The undulations were having no more effect on me than anyone else, and I was even overtaking people on some of the rises. Anyway it confirmed what I felt, the sub 2 hour was going to happen, unless something untoward struck me. I even enjoyed the longest uphill just after 18k, knowing that the end was almost gentle down gradient. Along the waterfront toward the finish line was as relaxed and enjoyable finish as I have ever had (too much left in the tank!), even though the timer over the top said 1:57: ?? I knew the time I stopped my Kalanji at, 1:53:29, was almost spot on and a PB by over 4 minutes.
But then something unusual happened. Well after moving over the timing ‘cables’, the chips in our number were hand scanned; it is easy to imagine missing this if a bunch of tired people didn’t see it happening. It didn’t seem necessary, but maybe because it had been so wet, and the running number were only paper that many people ended up having to carry them as they had fallen off (and it was not unusual to see ones lying on the road), it was a sensible precaution.
There was a good selection of fruit, drinks etc in the village, but no thermal foil insulation wraps; so I made it straight back to the hotel for a shower, and returned to the finish to see Jon complete his 4th marathon in 5 weeks, in 3:18:39. 3 of his 4 have been under 3;20, the only one not to be was the ‘notorious’ Jerusalem. The shame about the rain in the afternoon was we didn’t feel like a do-it-yourself French Connection II tour; OK the bar where Popeye peels and eats a hard boiled egg, and after struggling to get the barman to understand what drink he wants ends up getting himself and the barman into a state to sing a version of ‘Madamemoiselle from Armentieres’, couldn’t be there, but it would have been interesting looking for it.
The snow and freezing temperatures that had us wondering if we would get to Marseille a day earlier caused us problems getting home on Sunday evening Our flight was an hour late (because of waiting to be de-iced before leaving Stansted) which meant it wasn’t possible to get the train and tube to Victoria. the coach arrived at 1.05am, meaning I had missed a train by 5 minutes. Victoria is locked at that time of night, so I had to walk around the block to keep warm until being let in at 1.45. I had to take a taxi for the final part of the journey, getting back at just after 3.00am, 3 hours later than expected.
But the whole event wasn’t yet over. When the results were published the next day, they were wrong. They were showing all times from ‘the gun’ with mine appearing as 1:58:07. Complaints flooded into the Official Marathon Facebook page, and initially the organisers denied/ignored the problems. 24 hours later they had done something and a REAL TIME is now shown, for me 1:54:05 and interesting my ‘gun time’ has become 1:58:43. The differences between my watch and the Real Time, and the 2 gun times that were shown are within a couple of seconds but I do not expect any more revisions will take place. At least I have a new official PB, just less than 4 minutes better than before…and I have a target of 1:50 for the next race, which I hope will be at the end of April or early May.
But of course all of this is now just training for my first full marathon, Amsterdam in October.
And did those feet, in (not so) ancient times, walk upon…well, yes, actually at one stage they were forced to.
This adventure started as an early Christmas present to myself. My son-in-law, he of the 64 full marathons at that time, said he was going to run the Jerusalem marathon and Mrs Marathon Widow decided she wasn’t going to go out there, so I decided I would like to accompany him. As there was a half marathon at the same time it seemed like the obvious thing to do, indeed it really would have been a waste of an opportunity to do my both first ‘big city’ and ‘overseas’ event at the same time. So everything was booked late on Christmas Eve.
At that stage the thought of the run didn’t cause me any great concern. Although I had only done 2 official halves and a 15k before, I had done plenty of ‘that distance and further’ training runs over the previous couple of months. But on January 17th ‘something changed’; the stairs in The Sultan Palace Hotel, Zanzibar deceived me and I was left with a grade 2 quad strain, with a recommended recovery time of 4-6 weeks; with age to contend with I was expecting to be at the upper end of that range. That would take me to 28 February, the day before the Half! Not very hopeful.
Well recovery did go well, better than I could have hoped, possibly the fact that I was participating in Janathon and so even with the injury did something gentle everyday helped, and I managed a comfortable 10k and an 18k in the 12 days before the day of the run, with very noticeable DOMS as the only aftermath, so I did begin to believe I would be able to complete the Half but with no expectations of a good time. The later part of the hope was further strengthened when I looked at more detail into the course Quote from the website “Jerusalem is well known, as a very hilly city and the organizers have done their best to include some of the very best hills on the race course”. The profile of the course confirmed this.
My first Expo experience was made positive by the provision of gluten free pasta (although only one plate of it was available at the late hour we arrived), but the goodie bag was sparse with one nut bar, the T-shirt and the usual advertising fliers. The T-shirt does produce comment as it says ‘Winner’ on the front and back, and when non-runners see it for the first time they do think…I was congratulated a number of times on the plane coming home (and yes, I was still wearing it!)
The 4/5k walk to the start, with the help of the impressive map reading skills of a group of Finns was made
amusing irritating when 2 Americans joined us, insisting that they had the way there sorted, only to take us a considerable distance the wrong way down one road; we should have realised earlier that when there are locals, i.e. people wearing Kippahs, who are in running gear walking in the opposite direction they probably know best…But we still got to the bag drop and start with plenty of time to spare.
If there has been a positive outcome from my injury, and I will attempt to make sure I keep it going, is that I am making a conscious effort to control the pace I run at, particularly over the first half of the course. I have always gone off much too fast and suffered at the end. So I started at what I perceived to be a comfortable pace, which turned out to be 5.3min/k over the first 10k.
During the race the actually running did not prove a problem, the thigh strapping may not even have been needed. But the hills started to take their toll. “There
is a green steep hill are many steep hills far away without a city wall, where our poor legs were crucified…” The sadistic course designer put the steep ones at the end, starting at the 17k mark and at that stage I quickly calculated that a sub 2 hour time was just going to be outside my reach. Only by a minute or so, but anyone who has done any running at all knows that senior amateurs like me cannot increase their pace by the amount necessary, especially at the end of a race with a HILL to come, to claw back even a minute. So I did the opposite. Not wanting to miss 2 hours by only a minute or so I eased up and actually did something very out of character, walked up some of that hill, and the shorter but even steeper one at the 20k mark. Actually I’m not really sure I had much choice in the matter, the hills had won. In the end, 2:05 was a perfectly acceptable time, if I had been asked at the end of January what I would have been happy with “starting and finishing would have been my answer! To put the whole race/course into perspective, Jon who I was accompanying and now a 66 marathon veteran (he had achieved a PB of 3:11 in the Seville marathon 5 days earlier!) said it was the most difficult city course he had run and he considered his 3:56 on this course to be at least equal to his achievement in Seville.
Anyway a few ‘observations’ from a newb.
- It’s a shame that, on a course with so many sights to take in on the way round (yes, it was still possible to do that while running) there were no signs in English saying what we were running past.
- I’m sorry, but event T-shirts should NOT be worn until after the race has finished! You might have paid for it as part of the entry, but it hasn’t been earned until the 21.1k/42.2k is over.
- Is it really necessary to push through a gap half the size of the average runner, or cut across in front of someone (me!) in order to slap hands with random spectators.
OK these are minor irritations, the whole experience was brilliant, and has certainly whetted my appetite for more of the same, maybe even sooner than would normally be expected?
And then there are the extra bonuses of the run far away from home that is on an unusual day, an excuse to start drinking unusual beers at midday on Friday in the sun.