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.