Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Robin Hood Marathon Race Report

The Robin Hood Marathon, Nottingham 2014, the second time I have ran this marathon in addition to the two times I have completed the half, my fourth marathon overall and the second in my three marathons in three months series.

Despite experiencing an awful build up the run had a very satisfying if surprising outcome I must admit.

Although I missed out on my sub 4 hour target I still achieved a PB of 4.09.55 some 16 minutes knocked off my PB time!

The Robin Hood Marathon has started advertising its new route as being flat with great PB potential and this proved to be very much the case. Any hills I remembered from the old route have been taken out to leave a course as flat as a pancake!

Arriving in Nottingham on Saturday afternoon I was eager to stretch my legs after the long car journey and I did so with an enjoyable walk along the Trent to the race village.

Its always nice to settle yourself by seeing the start area the night before and to get an idea of things before the storm of some 10,000 runners hits!

The only other preparation I did was to make sure I drank plenty of water so I was well hydrated and to lay out my race kit ready for the morning. 

Along with a steady 5 minute jog on the hotel treadmill I also had a good stretch before treating my legs to a relaxing 10 minute Jacuzzi session which I found most beneficial!

Saturday evening I picked a local Harvester restaurant for my pre race dinner as I thought this the best option to replicate my usual pre race dinner. I ordered a half roast chicken with mashed potato and tucked into a bowl of salad from the salad cart managing to restrain myself to not adding any of the tempting but fat filled diary based sauces and dressings. For any regular harvester customers in case your wondering, the salad cart really loses its appeal when you take the sauces and dressings out of the equation!

I did cause a certain amount of confusion from our server when I requested a side order of a jacket potato in addition to my mashed potato. I don't think anyone had ever not ordered chips as their potato based side before and the shock at someone wanting to order what is surely the least attractive side option in the form of a jacket potato was clear to see by the   confusion on his face. Still I managed to get enough calories and carbohydrate from my evening meal to stand me in good stead for the race ahead.

Race morning came around after a pretty good nights sleep and despite the same lack of enthusiasm for marathon running that had haunted me all week I felt OK.

By OK I mean that I felt tense, pensive and all together not in a good mood but physically just about alright.

The race itself

My aim was clear, I knew to have any chance of running under 4 hours I needed to clock the first half at comfortably under 2 hours and I was aiming for around the 1 hour 50 mark.

After some terrible organisation and lack of communication with runners the race finally got under way along and I set off along with around 10,000 other runners.

As you would expect from a large race for the first few miles I was somewhat cramped in and unable to run at a natural pace and had to very much go with the flow. I was still happy enough with the early pace and once I got settled into a rhythm decided I needed to work hard through the next few miles to get myself on track for hitting 10K and then halfway on target.

The early miles were plagued by concern over my bladder as soon after the start I started to develop toilet urges, luckily these were only for a straightforward call of nature for a number 1 and the dreaded urge for the far more complicated number 2 never came.

Most of the scenery in the early part of the course was pretty grim as we ran around the roads in and out of the Boots factories and warehouses so I was able to concentrate on the running. I did work hard and managed to get ahead of both the 2 hour half marathon pacer and the 4 hour marathon pacer. 

After several miles in I was pleasantly relieved to notice the worst hill (going through the University of Nottingham campus) I remembered from previous years had been completely taken out! 

We were soon heading back towards the city centre and out onto the Trent for the split at 11 miles where the marathon runners go on to complete their 15 extra grueling miles away from the buzz of the city centre and race village. 

I think it is this race that has galvanised in my mind that I much prefer smaller events with a few hundred runners as opposed to the mass participation city centre affairs. With this in my mind the split with the half marathon runners held no fear for me, to give you an idea of the split and the solitude of the marathon around 1500 people complete the marathon compared with some 7500 half marathon runners. As I approached the marathon split it must have been easily a 80%+ split of runners heading to the finish to complete the half marathon.

With the marathon now well under way I felt pretty motivated as I kind of thrived on the sense of having a superiority over the half marathon runners as I was partaking in a grander challenge.

I duly hit the 13 mile mark in a little over my target time of 1 hour 50, now it was time to get to work and focus if I wanted to finish in and around the magical 4 hour mark. I set myself a target of 25 minutes for the 16 mile mark and my next energy gel, 8.20 mile splits pretty tough going but attainable. I rose to the challenge with relish trying not to focus on the scenic part of the course around Colwick Country Park.

16 miles was hit in my target time and I allowed myself to walk for a bit while I adjusted my hydration pack, took on an energy gel and gathered my thoughts for the remaining miles. I felt good with a feeling of having plenty in the tank and knowing that I was still ahead of the 4 hour pacer made me feel confident. 

As I prepared myself to start running again half a dozen or so runners breezed past me running strong, a white haired gentleman in the middle had the 4 hour pacer flag attached to his back.

Gutted! A real body blow punch tot he stomach kind of feeling! 

Undeterred I was confident I could keep with them until at least the 20 mile mark. The pace however I found a bit much and I fought to keep up, by mile 18 I realised maintaining the faster pace was not only not doing me any good but was not sustainable.

I had to slow it down, I have always considered miles 18-22 the toughest miles in the marathon, its where many runners hit 'the wall' and even though you have broken the back of the race 8 miles is a hell of a long way to go and there is a whole lot of running ahead of you!

Miles 18 & 19 were tough, it was a constant battle to not walk while I tried to push myself to keep going as fast as my legs would carry me.

The mental battle raging in my head was not helped by the sight of at least three other runners on the road side looking in a bad way receiving medical attention. On the one hand I was trying to push myself to my limit while the plight of other runners passed out on the floor warned me to not push too hard.

Luckily these miles didn't drag on too long and mile 20 was soon in sight. This was the part I remember vividly from my last attempt where my aim had been to run to the 20 mile mark. Mile 20 is the point of the course where you come out onto the great expanse of water that is Holme Pierrepont the former national water sports centre.The lake is 2km+ long and a few hundred metres wide and the marathon route encompasses about three quarters of it. Many runners find this section completely soul destroying as the water seems to go on forever, which to be fair it pretty much does! I was prepared for it though and stuck to my tactic of only allowing myself to walk small pre defined sections before running again.

Mile 22 came around pretty quickly and with it the smell of the finish line. By now I was in a great routine of running as far as I could, slowing down to a walk, taking a few deep breathes, counting out ten paces before setting off running again. The tactic was working well apart from a sharp pain that kept reoccurring in my left hip which did curtail my efforts. 

The last mile or so of the course  really tests your mental toughness as you head back towards the finish all be it on the wrong side of the river. You can hear the cheers from the finish area, the commentator welcoming runners to the finish but although you are only a few hundred metres away there is still over a mile to go, so near and yet so far! 

The relief at crossing the bridge towards the finish life injected me with a shot of caffeine like energy for a few hundred metres at least. The last half mile I managed to keep a steady jog going as I pursued my new target of finishing in under 4 hours 10, unfortunately my watch was out of sync with the official timings so I ended up a bit close to comfort to my target!

Overall I was pleased with my performance and felt satisfied with how well I ran. Being honest I know I wasn't in as good as shape as my last two marathons and my last two weeks of preparation left me in a much weaker state physically and mentally than I had been previously before a marathon. 

My initial reaction to finishing the marathon was to repeatedly mutter 'running is horrible!' which indeed it is! I came close to a Steve Redgrave moment of almost declaring to my wife I didn't want anything to do with another marathon ever again but I knew the pain and anguish would only be temporary.

The last few days since the marathon have reminded me how great running is though as I reflect back on my achievements and bask in the glow of a great accomplishment. The great feeling of running a marathon that lasts for 2/3 days after running one is an almighty feeling that drives me on and motivates me to want to run more marathons despite the hardships of training and the pain endured while running.