Every year for the last 5 years I have come to Abingdon and run a marathon pb (personal best). It is my local marathon and my pb course. But this year…
After running Spartathlon 3 weeks before and the Autumn 100 only a week before I had low expectations for Abingdon Marathon. Plus I have only run nine marathons in total and two of them were trail marathons, London once and Edinburgh, my first marathon.
Why I Love and Hate Abingdon
I don’t enjoy road marathons. Give me a trail to run on any day, but there is something about Abingdon that I love and keeps bringing me back. It is not just that I break my marathon pb every time I run there or that it is only 30-40 minutes easy driving from my house. I love the small personal feel run by enthusiasts not for commercial gain, one of the qualities that attracts me to many ultras. I love the finish on the athletics track, as it makes you feel special. And I love that it is a runners race, you don’t see people in fancy dress here, as the standard is high in order to beat the 5 hour cutoff. Running with high quality runners makes me run better and I hope that is also true when I run Boston in April.
I don’t like running on roads much, but this year I have been training for Spartathlon, so I have learned to find pleasure in road running, if only a bit. I also don’t like running through the business park with an industrial estate feel, twice!
Running Abingdon Was Fated
In early September I looked at my race calendar and realised three things; (1) I had entered Abingdon Marathon, I seem to do this automatically every year now, (2) I had Spartarthlon 3 weeks before the race and (3) I had Autumn 100 a week before Abingdon. This looked like lunacy, even to me, so I posted to my running club’s Facebook page offering to transfer my Abingdon Marathon place to anyone who wanted it. Next day, Shaun told me he would have it and a couple of weeks later I emailed Shaun and the Abington RD informing them I was transferring my place. A few days later Shaun rang me to say, unfortunately, he could not sort out child-care and he could not run. I emailed the RD to ask if anybody on the waitlist wanted the place, but by then I had passed the transfer deadline. Oh well, I let the RD know that they should send me the number and I would amble round. Thinking that after Spartathlon and A100 I would feel rubbish, but I was wrong. Thank you Shaun for not taking my place.
On the morning of the race I arrived around 7:45, plenty of time to put my stuff in a locker, meet fellow runners from Cherwell Runners & Joggers (CRJ) and warm-up on the track. It was cold for October, about 6 degrees centigrade, so I had a hoody and my insulated ‘artificial down’ jacket on for the one mile walk from the car park. I was pleased about it being overcast and cold. Conditions suited me and were good for a fast pace. I physically felt great and I had not run for a week since finishing at Goring on the A100. I stripped off to my salomon tight trail shorts (no imagination needed) and a thin top with my club vest over it.
I bumped into Roz Glover inside the sports centre attached to the athletics track at Tilsley Park. She was sporting her Centurion finishers shirt from the A100 and we both congratulated each other on making it to the start. Roz commented that I seemed to be taking it more seriously, as I was wearing my club vest. I bought a race pace armband for a 3:15 finish, thinking to myself that is a bit optimistic. To be honest, I thought I would use it to check how I was doing after the first half to see if it would be worth speeding up to try and break 3:15, as 3:15 is the Good for Age (GFA) qualifying time for London Marathon, yes I know I said I don’t like road marathons.
Thinking Back to London and GFA
I have only run London once, in April 2018 and I had trained for it specifically, well more than I usually do for marathons. I went off comfortably fast and hit the half-way point in 1:33, but due to the heat I blew up and finished in a disappointing 03:22:22. I ran London this year because I could enter directly into the race without going through a ballot because I had a GFA qualifying time of 03:19:25, from running Abingdon in October 2016. The qualifying standard for my age group VM50 (veteran men over 50) in 2017 when I applied was 03:20, so I just scraped in. This year just before the Marathon in April they changed the rules, so now a GFA qualifying time only entitles you to enter the GFA ballot, it is no longer an automatic entry. Plus, they moved the GFA VM50 qualifying time to 03:15, so my time from Abingdon Marathon in October 2017 of 03:19:19 no longer qualified me for a GFA entry.
Pb in 2017
Oh well, I would just have to try harder. Those of you who were paying attention in that last paragraph will notice that even tho I improve my pb at Abingdon every year, sometimes by huge amounts, last year I only improved by a whole six seconds! In my defence I had run the Canalslam, Thames Ring 250 and King Offa’s Dyke Race, a total of 855 miles in just 5 races, if I had completed them all. Although, I had a DNF in Thames Ring after 134 miles due to a torn calf that bled into the muscle, so I had run 739 miles in 5 races. Anyway, a 3 hour 19 minute pb after all that just 3 weeks after KODR seemed pretty good, especially as I had not trained spefically for a marathon. Anyway, back to this year…
After dumping my warm clothing and bag in a locker, I went outside to see if I can spot anyone from CRJ, but no luck, so I jogged a couple of laps round the track until I spotted Danny Batchelor and some of the others. They went to the start. I went for one more lap and then joined Danny at the start. Not too close to the front, but also not at the back, mid-pack. I learnt from last year, not to start right at the back, as it is was frustrating fighting through all the slower runners for the first mile. I said to Danny I would take it easy at first and hang with him for a bit. Soon the gun went, I started my watch and we were off. That was the last time I saw Danny.
I threaded my way through runners around the track and out onto the road. This is always a bit crowded as you are running in one lane with traffic in the other lane. I saw Kate Young here and caught Kevin Northam. I ran with Kevin for the first couple of miles until the field thinned and we turned off the road. I think we were averaging 6:50/mile at this point and I said to Kevin it was a bit fast for me and I needed to drop off the pace. Kevin went on to ‘kill it’ with sub-3 hour finish (02:57:xx)
The First Half
I was running my own race from this point and decided to try and maintain between 7:00 and 7:15 per mile for the first half and then see how I felt. I ran on my own and did not see anyone I recognised apart from Paul Core on the first time through the business park. Paul was a fellow 100 Grand Slammer, who beat me this year. Paul was at Abingdon to cheer on his wife. I raced a few people but do not remember much, apart from feeling really comfortable. I got into a rhythm of sucking on my refillable energy gel pouch (gu vanilla bean flavour) just before every second water station. I would then walk through the water station ensuring I didn’t choke and drink some water to wash down the gel. Soon I had completed the first lap and the first half in 1:32:39. I didn’t need my armband with the paces on it to know I was way ahead of schedule. I had maintained an average pace of 7:04 per mile and I knew I only need to maintain 7:35 per mile to get underneath my 3 hours 15 minutes target.
The Second Half
My body and mind knew I had a lot of buffer, but from 16 miles I started to struggle. I was feeling tired, so I gritted my teeth and tried not to slow too severely. I had gone off fast and I now needed to hold-on. The second time through the business park I had slowed to around 7:35 per mile. I was still taking gels and having a walk through the water aid stations. At the 22 mile point I slowed for my final gulp of Gu energy gel, swigged the water and went for the last effort. As I ran back into Abingdon along the river Thames again I was struggling and I was down to 8 minute miles. The run through the town is a lift and you think you are nearly there, but I knew from previous years that I still had 2 miles to go. I kept it going steady underneath the subway underneath the road, up the cruel ramp and through the housing estate past the last aid station. Now only a mile out.
This last mile always seems littered with casualties, people who are walking or limping home after blowing up or nursing injuries. Eventually after what seems an age there is a left turn back into Tilsley Park, across the car park and up the slope into the stadium to run around the athletics track. That 350m seems to take forever and I could see that the clock was saying 3:12 something. I tried to speed up and but did not manage to increase my pace until the final bend. Where I saw Jeff Trybus and Simon Piper cheering me in. I was spent. I had left it all out there on the course. Finishing with 3:14:26 on the display (gun time), but that meant a chip time (the one that counts) of
3:14:05 – beating my pb by 5 minutes 14 seconds and achieving a Good for Age qualifier by 55 seconds
I was happy with that performance, worth the temporary pain and suffering of the race. To top it all everyone from Cherwell Runners and Joggers had achieved pb’s, all weight of us. Congratulations. Here is a list of the times.
Simon Piper 2:49:32
Jeffrey Trybus 2:56:37
Kevin Northam 2:57:15
Simon Prytherch 3:14:05
Danny Batchelor 3:20:32
Rachel Piper 3:32:08
Sharon Darke 3:47:00
Rose Ashton 3:51:17
Time for a month off from training and racing. More time to get this blog off the ground.
- Breakfast – 3 hours before race. 1 slice of peanut butter on toast and 1 slice of marmalade and butter on toast with black coffee.
- 500ml of Tailwind Rasberry Buzz (caffeinated) in the 2 hours before the race – carbohydrate and electrolyte drink
- Approx 8 Gu Vanilla Bean energy gels – before the race and then every 20-30 minutes
- Water from aid stations everytime I consumed energy gel