By Dan Robinson
I found myself on the start line of my local marathon just a week after smashing myself to pieces to run a new PB of 2.29 at Chester Marathon. Conventional wisdom would tell you that this isn’t the ideal preparation for 26.2 miles but luckily I had only entered the race with the intention of pacing a training partner as far as I could manage and then jogging home and enjoying what I hoped would be a good atmosphere.
08:30 was an early start time which didn’t help reduce the sluggish feeling in my legs and I was just focused on trying to get up to speed off the line. I genuinely didn’t know how long I would be able to hold the pace my friend had requested, of around 5:45 per mile but I just determined to follow the old cliché of taking one mile at a time. As it was the first year of this event we weren’t too sure about the depth of the field. As we set off from Alexander Stadium it quickly became clear that there wasn’t much of a field at all and I was quickly in 6th place as the first few guys rapidly spread out.
The initial miles were relatively rolling with not much in the way of crowd and at that stage it felt like it could be a very long day. At 10km we were fractionally off the anticipated pace but given the hilly start I wasn’t too concerned. My pal was already starting to struggle though and I tried to reassure him that we just needed to run the course to effort and forget about split times. Luckily, we were soon onto the first of two loops which took in the very familiar territory of Cannon Hill Park up to Bournville and back. There was far more support on this section of the course which was great and the miles seemed to tick by much more quickly. By this stage I was needing to encourage my friend a fair bit, he was struggling well before halfway which I knew would be psychologically really challenging. We worked our way through halfway about 90s down on time and in the same position. By about mile 18 he was really beginning to struggle and my presence was probably more of an irritation than a help. For the next mile he kept encouraging me to push on. I was reluctant at first but I think he wanted to drop to his own pace. Finally a shout from the side of the road that a couple of guys were struggling ahead convinced me to push on and try and get the podium on behalf of my mate as that had been a big target for him. I picked it up slightly and actually felt much more comfortable. I reflected that if I had had these legs the previous week I would have been able to improve my PB by a considerably greater margin. It shows that despite spending so much time thinking about preparation there are things we can’t control. It was a great feeling to be so in control in the final miles of a home race and my club vest was attracting plenty of support. It is a rare thing to be able to enjoy the final miles of a marathon so I just relaxed and did exactly that, even hi-fiving people in the final few miles. I passed the third placed runner at about mile 23 and ran my fastest 400m of the race immediately after just to make sure he didn’t harbour any illusions of hanging on so that I could resume my relaxed state. The finish was a little more subdued than the previous half marathon finishes in the city, largely due to the location limiting the number of spectators but there were still enough there to make it feel special.
There are races which are satisfying because you have targeted them and worked hard to achieve a specific goal. On the other hand, this was just an absolute bonus with no pressure and a real sense of enjoyment from a personal point of view. I was disappointed on behalf of my friend but he still showed tremendous guts to finish 5th, an amazing effort given the way he felt on the day. For me, this was simply a matter of enjoying the fitness I had worked so hard for and taking advantage when my legs felt so much better than expected.