The first question I usually get asked when people know I am running alphabetic marathons is “Where will Z be?” not realising that Z is the easy one to find. As soon as I started looking into possible alphabetic marathons, X was the one around which all others had to be planned, indeed I worked backwards from it. Xiamen in China was the ONLY one, so the first weekend in January was set in stone and no matter what happened W had to have been done and I had to in a fit enough state to be able to run. The hernia op had to be scheduled to give enough recovery time, and when this was arranged I went ahead with the registration. Any hiccup during 2016 would have resulted in a delay until 2018. By allowing the four weeks the surgeon had said was needed between the operation and returning to any sort of running I then had six weeks to prepare myself for Xiamen.
Unfortunately I had missed the early, very cheap entry date so rather than a couple of tens of dollars it was a few hundred dollars, making it more expensive than any of the US marathons and probably the most expensive city marathon in the world! But this conferred special status on me, I was with the elites in starting zone A, and there were Ethiopians!
During the time spent in Xiamen before the race, at the expo and before the 8am start non-Asian faces were almost non-existent. Theentrant wall at the expo, with 30,000 names, contained just a few 100 in our roman alphabet and all except less than 10 of these were English written Chinese names
This lead to many requests for photos to be taken with me before and after the race and even selfies as we were running during the race.
The support was very vocal especially as soon as I acknowledged anyone with thumbs up, it lead to some of the most enjoyable running time I had had during the 24 marathons.
It was a hot run, I used all water stations which were every 2.5k sometimes just to soak a sponge. It was an out and back course around the southern portion of the city with sea views in many places. One of the outstanding sights were the running statues which
stretched out over a couple of km right next to the road we were running along. They were facing in the direction we were running on the way back, and I sure some of them overtook me as I ran that section!
Some features of the race were unique. Spectators handing out sustenance to runners, jelly babies and bananas are usual; but to see cigarettes offered was a surprise to say the least! As it was a Gold Label race, my first, exceptional organisation was expected but the precision of the signage still surprised. Not ‘water station ahead’ or ‘water station in 100m’ signs but ’99m to water’ or other exact distances.
I’m not sure if the runners wearing tops stating ‘Marathon Police’ were actually present to make sure we were all running correctly, no heel striking or wearing the race top before completing the 42.2k, or were they just a running club (without clubs).
The start was rather frantic, as many of the runners in zone B, designated for 3-4 hours, clearly had faster aspirations, and being very aware of the proximity of my next marathon I had decided before the start to run within myself. This did mean that over the first few km I was regularly being overtaken but as soon as I was in my proper place in the field that stopped. Marion was at the 18k point which was easy to get to as there is an excellent modern bus system in Xiamen which runs on an elevated road built exclusively for it. The plan to provide me with sweet coffee didn’t work as expected as the bespoke flask bought at the expo worked too well and the first sip provided a tongue burning experience; and probably had the same effect as the caffeine would have done.
The 6k loop at the end which showed faster runners heading off to the finish was a bit of an unwelcome feature, but marathons aren’t meant to be just fun are they! Over the final km a local, who was running in clothing more reminiscent of what I wear for colder runs at home, decided to accompany me to make sure I didn’t get lost which would have been impossible. Marion was waiting at the final bend and shouted so I knew she was there, I’m not very good at spotting people when the finish line is in view. With such a big race, clearing the finish took quite some time; we exited through the very large hall used for the expo. The medal is probably the most classy I have and a very unusual but great extra item was a beach towel that brilliantly advertised the race, and a plastic banana keeper.
I had spent most of the first nine months of 2016 wondering about Warsaw. In January, after returning from a long and muddy training run along the North Downs Way I noticed a bulge in a place there shouldn’t have been one. A bit of gentle pressure and observation, followed by Dr Google suggested an Inguinal Hernia. With the next 5 alphabetic marathons and my first serious ultra (NDW50 miles) already at different stages of organisation I had two immediate choices.
1 See my doctor, get the self diagnosis confirmed, and be told either that it wasn’t bad enough to need an operation in the coming 12 months so keep on running OR immediate op needed so all planned runs for the year cancelled.
2 Tell no-one, carry on running and perform all actions that could exacerbate the problem with extreme care.
Being a bit of a ‘glass half full’ male, option 2 won.
So before, during and after every run and at times when I might notice the bulge I always wondered, ‘Will I get to Warsaw and be OK to start?’ Well I did
I had met Victoria Tetlow when we both ran Utrecht in March and she said she had already entered Warsaw. Quite randomly we bumped into each other on Friday evening as we walked around the old town, and even with over 6000 runners in the event we met again as we jostled with everyone at the start. We ended up running a majority of the race no more than a few metres apart, but she actually was stronger than me at the end and finished 20s ahead.
It is unusual for spectators to be anything other than supportive, especially over the final hundred metres or so of a marathon. However here one spectator, who I think had moved out into the wide road to congratulate someone she knew then decided to return to the side without looking at all, and I ran straight into her…yes I did swear quite loudly and as she was still standing I didn’t wait to ask if she was OK, I was more concerned that I successfully finished!
Without doubt my management of the hernia over the year had been successful, but it also meant that I wasn’t ever going to make good use of a flat fast course. Just completing number 23 was all I wanted, and by being half an hour inside my Athens time, my other aim, to run the other 25 faster than my first, was still being achieved.
Within a couple of minutes of finishing, when my wife joined me I disclosed my secret, knowing that a visit to the doctor as soon as we returned home was essential…