Paul Bainbridge- A Brief History of Time
Oh no, not another marathon race report I hear you gasp!
Well, I’m not one for writing reports but I feel it is my duty as I won one of the two club places AGAIN! So I feel in debt (almost).
Let me rewind a little though and give you a brief history of my running life.
I only started running in 2012 when a friend mentioned parkrun; I’d never heard of it, so I headed off to Albert Park and gasped round the course in half an hour. I went the next weekend and was two minutes quicker. I was enjoying this. Anyway, this friend! bet me £20 that I wouldn’t beat him by the following Christmas. He was easily finishing 5 minutes ahead of me. I’m no gambler, or runner, but I love a challenge, so I secretly joined a running club; NYMAC. After months of finishing behind him and Christmas only three weeks away the pressure was immense. I won the bet, but I’ve never beat him since!
While at some of the club training sessions, club mates would talk of marathons and I always said I’d never do one. Didn’t want to, but could never run that far anyway.
Fast forward to now and my fourth marathon. Or three marathons plus the Manchester one that was about 400m short!
I booked the accommodation in May 2018 after a disastrous and incredibly hot VLM 2018. There was no way I was leaving that performance as my final marathon! I was on my days off for VLM 2019 according to my shift planner and the accommodation was free cancellation so nothing to lose. I got the expected “Sorry you’re not in” email. All is not lost, I’ll put my name in the club ballot. I’ve got the hotel booked, I’m on my days off work for it so I’m almost there…….Well, my name got drawn and the good news was delivered to me. Oh no, not again was my initial thought!
Training began in January, I didn’t really follow a plan this year, just looked at my last two plans that I’d tried and picked what I fancied from that; normally a rest day. That, coupled with Catherine’s plan would do me as we’d planned to at least do some long runs together. Training went well, apart from two long solo runs that knocked my confidence slightly, but just one of those days; well, two of those days! And, with six weeks to go I realised I’d cocked up my shift dates and was meant to be at work on marathon day. Panic set in, so I approached a work colleague who is also a club member to ask him if he could work for me. He cancelled a planned drinking session and worked for me. Thank you.
My target time was 3.30, a little ambitious I thought but at least have a go. Anyway, a week before the marathon I was questioning whether I could actually run 5min/km for the distance so I input my recent Mermaid 10k and Coast Rd 5k results into a race predictor tool on the internet and that told me that in my current form I should be good for a marathon time of between 3.23-3.26. So obviously, 3.30 should be a breeze. I was also carrying an injury, what felt like a pulled muscle in the pit of my stomach, or a double hernia said Mark Brown sarcastically.
Saturday morning before race day I picked up Catherine and Darren and we made our way to the train station, dropped off by my wife, now a runners widow. We dropped our bags off at the hotel and made our way to the Expo to collect our numbers and buy some memorabilia. I bought a New Balance tee shirt for casual wear, more about that later! Numbers and timing chips collected, we made our way back for a couple of hours kip, before heading off to meet up with Phil and Kerry Jarvis at Pizza Express for a 3 course meal deal and a bit of banter.
Race morning, I woke up before my alarm, had I even slept I wondered. I took my two pots of porridge up to the restaurant, added hot water, and stealthily sneaked back to the room feeling good about saving £5 for inclusive breakfast. Porridge consumed, I slowly began getting ready, pack bag, kit on, drop bag off at reception to collect later.
Off to Kings Cross, and navigate our way to Blackheath blue start, and yellow start for our sub 3 hour mate Darren. We hung around for a bit, anxious, nervous, excited, why am I doing this again? We eventually went to our respective start areas and decided we should probably go to the toilet, you know, just in case. We queued for far too long, then heard on the tannoy that bag drop off and start pens will be closing soon. So we stripped to our kit, I fought with a black bin bag eventually getting it over my head, it was a bit chilly, and jogged to the baggage wagon. “That’s 60 metres I could have done without running”, I thought to myself. We swiftly marched to our Zone 2 pen to be faced by a huge crowd, we fought through to the front, our pen was closed. Damn! And damn again when I realised I’d left my running belt and food in my bag! I’ll have to survive on water, Lucozade and jelly beans at miles 18 and 23. We spent the next 20 minutes shuffling our way to the start line, seeing the 3.45 pacer a long way ahead in the crowd. As our shuffle became steps I launched my water bottle overhead at the precise moment that Catherine asked for a sip, oops sorry, then I threw my bin bag, along with Catherine’s top, overhead missing almost everyone. As the crowd thinned I prodded my double hernia, everything felt intact, I’ll run it off. We wished each other good luck, broke into a jog heading towards the start line and go…..as I started my watch.
We’re off, I checked my watch, damn, I pressed LAP instead of START, so I started my watch 9 seconds late. We weaved our way through runners for miles at around 4.45min/km pace. Oh, that’s quick, but I felt really strong and confident and after all, the race predictor reckoned I can go sub 3.30 anyway so I kept going. We passed the 3.45 pacer and kept gaining ground. Eventually, and inevitably Catherine passed me asking if I was ok. I must have slowed slightly. I let her disappear into the distance, “I’ve got to run my own race”. I got to the half distance in 1.43 and still felt good. Maintain this and prove the race predictor got me right. The next few miles ticked away with no drama. I got to, I think it might have been the 19 miles water station and I caught sight of Catherine taking a drink, “are you ok” I asked, “NO”. We ran together for a while, my watch beeped at 30k, 2.28 on my watch, wow maybe I can do this, “if I can maintain my target pace I’m good for 3.30 here”. I stuck in a couple of good k’s and lost Catherine behind me in my charge for victory. 34k was a bit slow and 35k onwards I was calculating how slow I could go to still manage a PB. I accepted 3.30 was now off so just enjoy what was left. “HOW FAR CAN 7k BE”, i screamed, in silence! It dragged on. I kept looking at my watch waiting for the k’s to beep away and kept looking into the distance for the next mile marker. I could feel a popped blister squirming under my foot, and my big toe nails complaining of another year to grow back! Got to the 23 miles drink station, I couldn’t physically drink any more, I plodded on, missing the next two mile markers. Wondering how far to go now, looking at my watch for time/distance but not making much sense of it. What do all these numbers mean, where’s the finish. Finally, I could see the 1k to go marker, my watch read 3.31, guaranteed a PB unless I collapse.
(When I ran VLM 17 with 800m to go a guy right next to me collapsed like he’d just been shot by a sniper. Did I stop? No, I looked at my watch and kept running, I didn’t want to get shot!)
After what felt like another km I could see the 600m to go sign and a photographer caught the desperation on my face. Then I could see the “Only 385 yards to go” sign hung on a gantry but that just confused me. “How far is that “ I questioned, as I ran under the sign and round a bend, I could see the finish line and see how far 385 yards actually is. “I’ll never run that far” as my feet keep slapping the tarmac like I was wearing a pair of flippers, moving me closer to the finish. I crossed the finish line and exhaled some expletive I won’t repeat here, and told myself, “never again, I won’t beat that time “. 3.36.45 and a 3min22 PB. Pleased, with a hint of disappointment; why are we never happy? The medal was draped around my neck, I jumped on a podium for a couple of photographs, grabbed a bottle of water, collected my bag and shuffled to meeting point N. There was Phil and Kerry, Phil having PB’d by 1 sec, Darren Carroll sat on the ground staring at it looking like he hadn’t PB’d and a bit pale. He was clearly disappointed, and we told each other never again! We waited for Catherine to meet us, then made our way back to the hotel for our luggage, an unexpected room laid on for a shower, and a complimentary cocktail for all finishers.
We strolled to Kings Cross for food for the train journey home, while Catherine hoovered up the snacks out of her goody bag. On the train and finally on the alcohol again, we kept reliving moments of the run. A relaxed journey home and a sigh of relief when I opened another beer and sat on the sofa at home. Ah, I’ll try my New Balance tee shirt on. I held it out in front of me, oh no, it’s a ladies. I tried it on anyway, it’s like a muscle vest on me, but without the muscle! I’m blaming Darren for that as he said it looked the right size when I held it against myself at the Expo.
A good weekend in good company.
I highly recommend VLM, a well organised and reasonably priced event. I’ve heard it’s difficult to get a place but I’ve done it the past three years so I must be doing something right? Would I do it again? I said never again, but some memories fade quick and by Tuesday night, that’s two days, I’d entered the 2020 ballot. If I get in, which I probably will; run sensible and pace myself I reckon I can get a PB.
Thanks for all the advice, encouragement and company during training. You all know who you are.