Marathon #1 of ?
When I started running in 2016 I quickly found myself testing out various distances to see what I was capable of. My journey began at Newport parkrun and quickly progressed through 10K races, a 16-mile trail run and then a 36-mile ultra marathon in the Lake District. For some reason I had skipped the marathon distance. I think it was the lure of the ‘fun’ of ultra marathons and the fact that less emphasis was placed on the time in which you finished the race.
I had never ruled out doing a marathon, they just weren’t on my radar. In early October I saw a post on Twitter for the Limassol Marathon the following March. A weekend away in the sun at Cyprus’ official marathon was quite a draw and at just €36 to enter was a good deal. Within a few days I had signed up.
When I signed up for the marathon on October 12th, 2016, I had recently completed the St Bega’s Ultra 35 and a week before had got a PB of 1:37 in the Cardiff Half Marathon. I saw a marathon as the next logical step for me and another distance to tick off the list.
With the race not until March, between now and then I would have a 34 mile ultra around the Gower and a 44 mile ultra between Brecon and Cardiff. I figured my training for those races, along with cross country fixtures and other trail races, would suffice and I wouldn’t have to follow a plan.
My weekly mileage ranged between 40-50 miles and sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. Interspersed with the long runs I would include intervals, tempo runs and hill work – everything I probably should be doing.
I knew the distance wouldn’t be an issue, it was just how long it would take me. During the marathon-distance training runs and ultras, I had made the distance but there had always been opportunities to stop, either at checkpoints, to take photographs or to walk up a hill. This was going to be the first time that I was going to run non-stop for the full distance (at least that was the plan).
In the weeks leading up to the marathon I had developed a pain in my left foot which whilst it didn’t necessarily hinder my running, I was concerned that by continuing to run I would cause more damage.
Luckily I was heading towards my tapering period so was starting to run less which would help and I also sought advice from my sports physiotherapist. It appeared that I wasn’t suffering from Morton’s Neuroma or Metatarsalgia so a couple of massage sessions along with some Rock Sauce applied twice daily seemed to help although at times certain footwear would make the problem return.
My final week before the race involved a much reduced mileage (around 25% of my peak training mileage) as I didn’t want to aggrevate the problem and if I wasn’t ready a week before the race, extra running wouldn’t alter anything.
Foot problems aside, during each of the last runs every little niggle was amplified. ‘Are my toes going numb?’, ‘Why am I tired after just 2 miles?’, ‘I never used to get stitches, why am getting one now?’.
With just a couple of weeks to go, it suddenly dawned on me that most of my training runs and races had been taking place in characteristically British weather. The weather in Cyprus was almost certainly going to be warmer, sunnier and probably more humid.
On the coolest of days I sweat profusely as soon as I start running and even on a cold and frosty morning I’m stripping down to a short sleeved t-shirt after a mile. I was concerned with how I would cope in the heat so had a few sessions on a treadmill in a warm gym. The additional layers helped me work up a sweat but I’m unsure whether it would help in any way.
Usually my packing regime for trips is to not quite leave it until the last minute but it’s definitely a night before activity. Based on the importance of this trip and the the fact that there are quite a few items that I can’t afford to leave behind, I started packing a full three days in advance and was 99% packed before the night before.
Yet, even though I had made a list and religiously ticked off each item as I packed it, the bag may as well had been empty. No matter how many times I rechecked each item, I was still not sure it was there! I’m sure there will be at least one item that I will have forgotten about but at least I will have something to run in.
A decision I struggled with was which trainers to take. I committed to Hoka One One a while back so I knew I was wearing a large, cushioned shoe. The ones I owned were designed for distance so that wasn’t an issue. The decision lay in which pair — the Infinites with 450+ miles In them or the newer, more cushioned Bondi 5 with only 75+ miles in them?
The Infinites were the first in the bag and I was set on taking them but a last minute run in the Bondi 5 made me switch shoes at the last minute. Was it to be the right decision? Would it even matter?
Up, fed, watered and out by 0830 for a jog to test out the heat. Even though it was early it was warming up. It wasn’t hot but warm enough that it could pose issues during the race. I would have to make sure that I keep hydrated throughout the race ensure that I take my salt tablets.
Whilst I had a recce of the start/finish area and took note of the very long finishing straight. Measuring what is probably a kilometre, there will be no sprint finish when turning into it!
I spent the day relaxing, exploring the old town, taking photographs and trying out some souvlaki. I probably ended up walking too much but had time to kill until the pasta party in the early evening.
T-Minus 3 Hours
The alarm was set for 0330 although I knew I probably wouldn’t need it. At 0215 I awoke with a jolt thinking that I was late. Now that I’m awake I may as well stay up. I went through the routine of double checking I had everything, eating some porridge from a small glass (I really should have double checked that the room had a mug) and trying and trying to go to the toilet but it just wasn’t happening!
My hotel was approximately 1.5 miles from the starting line so I either had the choice to walk or take the free shuttle buses that would be running along the promenade. I opted to catch the 0530 bus and arrived at the bus stop in good time.
By 0545 when the second bus was due, the first hadn’t arrived and by 0600, three buses that were due still hadn’t arrived. With a 20 minute walk to the start I opted to abandon catching the bus. Buses did eventually arrive but due to overcrowding they weren’t stopping at every stop. Due to the overcrowding on the buses the start of the race was delayed by around 15 minutes.
At the gun just the marathon runners were off. We were going to be taking a little 9K detour before rejoining the main route along the promenade. I’d only taken a few steps and my shorts were already falling down! The gel and zip pockets clearly weren’t designed to carry 5 gels so after a kilometre of continually pulling up my shorts I lightened the load and started to carry 3 of the gels.
I settled into my desired 8min/mi pace and ran alongside some other Brits who appeared to be maintaining the same pace. This section headed down to the New Port then loops and heads back towards the Old Port. Barely 4K into the race and the two Kenyan men who would go onto win the race shot past at the 7K mark. They had already opened up a sizeable gap ahead of third place.
I made good use of the the aid stations every 2.5KM which were either stocked with just water or water, sponges, electrolytes or gels. All was going to plan and then the runner’s trots made an appearance. I was around 10 miles or so into the race and I was probably a kilometre or so away from the next toilet. I contemplated how long I’d be able to last but realistically I don’t think I’d make it farther than the next toilet and the quicker I sorted out the issue, the quicker I could get back on track. I picked up a bit of speed to regain some lost time and by the halfway point I was just behind schedule.
An unexpected incline at mile 14 which, whilst not particularly steep, did slow me down. I presumed that the entire course was flat and I think caught some people off guard. Of course, if you are heading uphill, you will have to head back downhill so there was that to look forward to.
Up until mile 19 I had been doing everything right. I wasn’t dehydrated, I was consuming enough electrolytes and salt and my legs were fine but my feet started to really ache, so much so that I reluctantly had to resort to slowing down to a walk. This certainly wasn’t part of the plan!
I wasn’t sure if the sore feet were down to the shoes, the issues I’d had with my feet prior to the race or fatigue. I had started the race knowing that I was capable of going further than a marathon so I wasn’t sure if it was fatigue. I was more convinced that it was due to issues that I’d had with my feet.
For the next 5 miles or so then became difficult mentally. Due to the small field and the lack of spectators along parts of the route there were times when you were running alone and when people passed you and continued to run into the distance that knocked you back even more. I muddled on. Not finishing was never an option, the time I was going to finish was up for debate.
Let’s Get Under 4 Hours
With a couple of miles to go I started to try and calculate whether I could still finishing in under 4 hours. It was certainly possible but would be dependent on the pace. From that point onwards I kept moving at a steady pace and then gradually increasing the speed. Luckily the closer I got to the finish line the more spectators were present to cheer you on. As tough as it was on my feet, at this point, walking was never an option.
I passed the 40K sign and then then the 41K sign and then turned onto the final straight along the promenade which at around 1K is a killer. At this point there were increasingly more people pushing you along so I kept going until I could see the timer but at that point I wasn’t going to make it under 4 hours. Nevertheless I didn’t slow down and crossed the line in 04:01:06.
What a tough experience! I entered the race knowing that running the distance wasn’t going to be easy. Even though I had completed races covering longer distances, running a marathon was a completely different experience. In the days after I have had time to reflect on things that I would do differently and how I would adjust my training (my training was probably more ultra focused).
As with any tough race, if you were asked during the race whether you would do another you would instantly say ‘hell no’, but it’s surprising how quickly afterwards you look back at the race and consider how you’d make improvements and what you’d do differently.
Even though I had issues along the run, it’s all too easy to use those as an excuse for the time you got. With all the variables that occur on the day, plus the fact that it’s my first time running the distance, I’m happy with my time and I’m sure that I’ll be able to better it in future races.
Race Analysis and Map