If there’s one thing I know about marathons it’s that it never gets easier.
I suppose after the first one you’ve completed there is a sense of reassurance that you can actually do the distance and not combust after mile 18, but it is never easy. And, at least for me, I’m never going into without feeling nervous and terrified.
On the morning of the marathon I got up at 6am, got dressed, had a quick black coffee and made my porridge to take with me in the car.
My parents were driving me there and then supporting me. So at 6.30am we piled into the car and headed to Chester, which was about 1.5 hours away from where we were staying in the cottage. Thankfully a quick petrol station stop allowed the necessary pre-race toilet requirement to be achieved (whew – runners, you know what I mean!) and we arrived at Chester at 8am, the time that the Chester Racecourse car park closes. This didn’t matter as my parents were just dropping me off and then heading off to find breakfast and mile 15ish to wait for me. However, we were very lucky as the road closures were literally happening around us at that point (we didn’t realise the roads to and from the racecourse would be closed. Normal well-organised people might, bt us chancers? Noooo).
The temperature was very nippy and I was thankful for having a charity shop purchased fleece to keep me warm.
The race village was quite cool being in the racecourse. There were several tented areas full of things to buy and the bag drop area but I headed out to the main grass area to get into the loo queue because really what else can you do when you have about 45 minutes to kill before a race?
The grass was wet and my trainers were annoyingly getting a bit soggy. I noticed several people had blue plastic shoe covers on their trainers to keep them dry and wondered where they got them from. But I wasn’t bothered enough to hunt them out for myself. A loo visit was more important! There didn’t seem to be a huge number of mobile loos it must be said but I was able to go twice so I can’t complain! No bad loo experiences so that’s always a plus!
Eventually we were called to the start. I felt really nervous. For me, a marathon is never a proper marathon unless I have some sort of ailment to worry about beforehand and in true Anna-style I was worried about my calf. It had been feeling very tight and a bit, dare I say, niggly during the week. I felt it a bit at parkrun the day before…In normal circumstances a week off would have probably put it to bed but not possible when race day is that week! But anyway we started and it just felt a bit tight so I tried to ignore it.
The first mile is run partly on grass as you come out of the racecourse and then onto the roads of Chester. There were quite a few clusters of small crowds and local running clubs who cheered us on. It was a lovely atmosphere. I remember distinctly how easy that first mile felt and thinking how it would later contrast with the final mile…
I hadn’t really got a strict pace plan. I decided to see what felt comfortable and go with that – as long as it wasn’t under 8min/miles as that would be silly considering my training. I stuck pretty consistently to 8-8:10min/miles and felt very relaxed, if not a little bored after we came out of the main city (which happened fairly quickly). Don’t get me wrong though, the Chester Marathon course is beautiful. So scenic. The first bit through the city was cool because of all the old walls, the Tudor-style buildings and the Chester Cathedral that you run past.
To take my mind of the monotony I listened in to other’s conversations around me and checked out what people were wearing. One man amusingly had some sort of race finisher’s t-shirt that for some reason, amongst all the other writing, had the word “Male” printed largely at the bottom. I wondered why!?
As we got deeper into the countryside I decided I just had to take a photo. I was wearing my Flipbelt so my phone (and my gels) were easy to get out.
It was just perfect. Or at least it would have been had the sun not been shining directly in our eyes for about 90% of the first 10 miles! I envied those who were wearing sunglasses.
But that blue sky! The temperature was still fairly cool, especially in the shade, so it really was perfect running temperature. The course was not entirely flat, with a few undulations here and there but nothing major.
So the first 10k went by fairly uneventfully. I chatted to a guy who was running the same pace as me (his 14th marathon) and we had roughly the same time goals, though he was more keen to get closer to 3:30 whereas I was more generally 3:30-3:45. I know it sounds a bit off but I didn’t really want to chat too much. I was happy to just sink inside my brain and not think for a bit rather than make conversation but we stayed in the same pace range and it was nice to have his company there even if we didn’t chat a huge amount.
We ran over a mat at 10k so I knew my parents would know how I was doing on the tracker thing. My first main milestone was 8 miles as this was when I was to have my first gel. My watch was already out from the mile markers annoyingly so I made sure to wait until the actual 8 mile mark rather than my watch (because I’m neurotic like that). The gel was an SIS Red Berry with caffeine flavoured one which I hadn’t had before. I’ve had SIS gels before but not this particular flavour. I’ve never had an issue with gels before and I’ve tried quite a few and thankfully this was fine. Though the flavour was DISGUSTING. So pleased I have an entire pack of them at home…
At 10 miles I was grateful to final allow myself to listen to a podcast (the BBC 5 Live Film Review). The pace was still consistently around 8 min/miles and though the country side was beautiful I was a bit bored. The podcast really helped though as I lost myself in that until 13 miles, when I had my next gel. Oh the excitement! 😉
After my gel (one I’d picked up from an aid station – a High5 IsoGel – very liquidy) I started to look forward to seeing my parents. As I got to 13 miles I realised my parents wouldn’t be at 15 as it was a weird part of the course that goes off and does a big square before turning back towards the city at mile 15. So mile 13 and 15 are practically next to each other if that makes sense.
At this point you can see the super speedy people running back towards you as they’ve already done the square – I saw the sub-3 pacer storming along and realised that the square would take about 30-40 minutes. It was nice to see the other runners coming towards you so that amused me for a while.
As I got to 16 miles, around a small village called Holt, I spotted a crowd of people and scanned them to see if my parents were there. They were! I was so pleased to see them!
I went a bit crazy cheering and waving much to the delight of the spectators. I think they must have thought I was mental!
Then I was off again. My next milestone was 18 miles for my final gel. This time it was a Honey Stinger Acai and Pomegranate flavoured one which was a bit thicker but so tasty; fruity and sweet.
There were so nasty short inclines around this point that were actually quite tough.
I tried to ignore how tired my legs were and just get them done. The nice decline afterwards wasn’t entirely welcome either because that still works the muscles pounding downhill!
As I got to mile 20 I wondered if I had anything in me to boost up the speed for the last 10k. I didn’t feel I did and wondered if this was the difference between doing speed work during marathon training and not…But I decided to put on my “let’s get going” playlist and see what happened.
Well, it certainly helped boost me along! I thought to myself, just get to 23 miles and then it’s just a parkrun. It definitely helped. When I finally reached 23 miles I was smiling and feeling good and shouted to a marshal it was just a parkrun to go and he laughed and said I looked too happy.
There was a nasty hill around 23-24 miles but I could smell the finish line and just pushed on. I started overtaking people and several people cheered me on, one guy yelled with a lovely Northern accent, “You go, girl!”. I don’t know what happened but suddenly I was flying. The crowds of supporters got bigger and I kept a smile on my face and they cheered me through. I just kept passing people and it was such a buzz. We ran alongside the River Dee and loads of people were having lunch or coffee in little cafes alongside the river or standing and cheering and it really helped keep my momentum going. One more mile, the quicker I do it the quicker I can stop. The finish was in sight, we were now back on the grass of the race course and I just needed to get to the end. And I was done!
I checked my watch and couldn’t believe it: 3:28:22. Sub 3:30! My A Goal! I also couldn’t believe how I managed to pull out a sub 7 minute last mile. Over a minute faster than my first mile and about 100 times harder!
I got my medal, a foil blanket, a technical t-shirt (very nice) and a goodie bag and then spotted my parents who were waving madly to me. Ahh so nice to see them so quickly after finishing!
I was on cloud nine 🙂
My calf was a bit grumpy, I won’t lie, but otherwise I was feeling fantastic. The sun was shining and I was over the moon with how consistently I ran and how much speed I was able to pick up in the last 10k. It just felt fantastic running past all those people and hearing the crowds. I’ll never forget it.
Right, I’ll leave it there as this post is already far too long. Chester Marathon is a fantastic marathon and I’m so glad I did it. It was well organised, well supported, scenic and just a joy to run. Top marks!
Have you ever done Chester Marathon before?
What kind of course do you prefer: countryside, city, etc.?
How many gels (if any) do you take during a marathon and what’s your favourite?