Thursday, 14 April 2011

Part Two: The Race

First 14 miles
Despite the pre-run nerves I felt nicely in control in the first half of the race.

I'd been due to do 4 miles on Thursday but had skipped the run, promising myself I'd do 2 on Saturday morning, then skipped that too. Despite that I managed to find my rhythm fairly quickly for an opening mile just slightly over target at 8:04 then increased the second and third to target with 7:53 and 7:56.

Mile 4 included the first food/drink station but I only lost a few seconds as that came in at 8:00 - bang on pace. The drinks stations generally were a bit chaotic so I was pleased to get through that one but did have to abandon one plan there. Knowing the weather forecast I took a couple of nuuns tablets with me to drop into water bottles so I got some electrolytes, but the only way to carry them was in a little plastic bag in my hand. This got sweaty and the act of undoing a bottle top, opening the bag, dropping in the tablet, doing up the bag and then bottle all while trying to run at race pace proved too difficult. I managed that first one but ditched the second tablet. Hindsight says I shouldn't have. Anyway, despite the minor distraction I managed to get back on track, clocking 7:56 for the next and 8:02 mile for mile 6, despite a quick pee stop, before entering the Bois de Vincennes.

Until then there had been plenty of shade as I ran along Champs Elysses, Place de la Concorde, Rue de Rivoli, Place de la Bastille etc. In the park the shade was a bit more patchy but a slight downhill for mile 7 meant a fastest mile to date of 7:49, followed by 7:58 and 7:57 in the park.

Next two miles had the park on the right but we were running on a round with houses to the left. One notable bit was where a little boy and his mother had bought big bags of chocolate bars and were handing them out to runners. As I approached everyone seemed to be ignoring him (in fairness a bar of chocolate isn't top of the list of requirements in a marathon) so I felt obliged to take one and then obliged to eat half before dropping the remainder. First mile along there was 8:01 and the second, mile 11, proved my fastest of the day at 7:41. Not sure what happened there. Might have been some downhill but I suspect it was just that I was feeling good and got a little carried away with the atmosphere. Either way, as the park was left behind I deliberately slowed myself to clock 8:05 for mile 12 and mile 13 and then 7:58 for mile 14. That was to prove my final under target mile.

Miles 15 - 18 Here's where things started to change. At first all was well. I reached Bastille again - where the crowd were incredible - but also where the streets narrowed. That forced the pace down. Prior to then there had been occasional runners who clearly were not running at the pace their starting position suggested but generally there were no hold ups and the wide boulevards allowed any slower runners to be passed fairly easily. Not so easy here and despite still feeling good I just missed target pace in miles 15 and 16: 8:03 and 8:01.

By this time I was running along the Seine and the heat was far more noticeable. not just in how it made me feel but also in what I saw. In mile 15 there is an airless tunnel of just over a kilometre to run through and at one point a female runner just in front of me stepped to the side, threw up, shouted 'Papa', threw up again, before her dad (who she had been running with) spotted she wasn't with him. End of run for both of them. Vomiting runners wasn't that infrequent a site from here. A mix of the sun and dehydration.

By miles 17 and 18 I was certainly feeling the heat and my pace was imperceptibly dropping. At this point I was more or less running with the the 3:30 pacemakers. I say more or less as at the start of the Seine section they were just behind me and by 18 miles they were passed. This caused a bit of a problem as it makes for a moving bottleneck of runners. In the mass of runners behind the 'hares' it won't be so bad the runners in front create a path for you, but to the edge of them its tough as there's little room to get past slowing runners without jumping up/down kerbs, slowing down behind then going for a gap with sudden spurts of speed.

Times for those miles were 8:07 and 8:12. Not massively over target and I still had time left 'in the bank' but at the end of that bit I accepted that I wasn't going to make 3:30. I'm not sure if I accepted that too easily as there was no regret, just a happy thought that I could carry on at that sort of pace, or even drop quite a bit more, and still hit 3:35. Thinking about it, my PB was 4:26 so I knew then that I'd smash that anyway so maybe that made 3:29:59 less meaningful? Or maybe I just realised it wasn't going to be getting any cooler or easier!

Miles 19 - 25
The beginning of mile 19 was marked by the Trocadero feed station and here I took the decision to walk through. These were hectic places with plenty of bumping into other runners and I felt I needed to walk through, drink and recover, and then set off in the low eights again afterwards.

Not sure it was my best idea though. Firstly it cost me a lump of time, as the mile was 9:10, but also it dented my confidence as near the end one of the volunteers called and asked if I was OK. Now, there were plenty of others having a quick walk and plenty of runners began dropping out from here but the fact that he asked me made me fear that I looked worse than I felt - that perhaps I wasn't allowing myself to realise quite what a state I was in. Unfounded fears but by that stage you want to hear how good you look not the opposite!

From here my legs were aching (calves, hips and quads), and I felt hot but maybe the biggest problem was my stomach, where I was getting cramping pains. This caused me to walk through two more drink stations and to stop once for the best part of a minute in the Bois de Boulogne. I'm fairly sure it was dehydration related but tended to get worse the faster I tried to run.

I knew I was shedding time at an alarming rate but I'm fairly happy with the mental resolve. At one point I said to myself (as runners were passing me)"You can either pass or be passed - its up to you" and I upped the pace in response but within a couple of minutes that had caused the cramping pains to return.

Mile 20 was 8:36 and 21 was 8:20 but 22 had a walk through 2 drinks stations (one water, one Powerade) and dropped right down to 10:13; then 23, 24 and 25 were 8:51, 9:49 and 8:53. You can probably see where I had to stop but also that the overall pace was down anyway.

Last mile and a half
In the last mile I opted to speed up again only this time I ignored the pain (or was able to ignore it as I knew the end was close?) and kept saying to myself that "I won't be beaten now". Quite what that meant eludes me now and probably then too, but it was just a sort of mantra to keep me going. I knew my face was screwed up and I was hurting but mile 26 was 8:24 (probably 9 and under 8 for the two half miles) then the last 0.36 mile was done at 7:08 pace as I pushed to the finish.

I'm pleased with that response but it just leaves a slight nag that perhaps that's what I needed to do at 18 miles - that running like that for an hour not for 10 minutes - is what it takes to fulfil the potential on the day.

I don't know though.

Equally I wonder that if I'd tried I would have been one of the many who didn't make it to the finish. That meant I crossed the line in 3:38:48 garmin time and 3:38:50 chip time.


~Jessica~ said...

Goodness, that sounds tough: there were a couple of guys on the sidelines retching at the Conniston 14+ but nothing like the scenes at Paris from the sound of it. I know how much of a psychological knock it can be when there are loads of people breaking down around you: it provides a visual manifestation (albeit an external one) of all of our niggling fears and doubts about our own abilities. Plus, I always feel so sad and achingly sorry for anyone I see on the sidelines sick or injured. I think you were right to play it a bit safer: those conditions sound intense and it's better to cross the line in one piece!


Laura said...

Sounds like you ran a great race under tough conditions. I know how much seeing people breaking down or passing out at the sidelines affected me in my first half, I completely freaked out and got really emotional. You definitely did the right thing, and you still PRd even if it wasn't the PR you were hoping for!

BabyWilt said...

Well done, have been wondering how you got on and you did amazing :-)

Running Rob said...

Sorry there's no formatting in this - it was there when I previewed....but Blogger keeps doing this.

Alison said...

I've never actually seen anyone vomit in a race myself. It sounds like under those conditions you did well to get round in good shape, let alone make 3:38. And this is the reason why it often takes people a few times to pb -- you can never entirely predict the conditions on the day (who thought the weather would be mid-20s!), and you also learn tough little lessons about electrolytes and plastic bags.

As for letting yourself off at mile 18, I don't think you gave in too easily. When you give up on a time because you've psychologically given up, you end up doing what I did, which is to stop clock watching completely, and sauntering along the best you can, stopping to stretch, and talk to people you know. You fought right to the end, but in a sensible way and within your known limits. That still gave you a stonking PB, and has set you up brilliantly for Chester. Most important of all I think is the confidence you can take in being able to run a smart race. Who know whether if you'd have pushed more at mile 18 you'd have gotten closer to 3:30, or even made it. But you might also have blown up completely, and gone plus-4, or even DNFed. Far from letting yourself off too easily, I think you did the TOUGH thing under those circumstances, and kept your head.