Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Yorkshire marathon race report

My first visit to York was as a kid, when my parents took me to the Minster. I started crying because it was so dark in there and it scared me so much they had to leave. My Dad still winds me up about this now, even in my forties!

I don't why I decided to enter Yorkshire marathon. I wanted an autumn marathon that wouldn't cost me too much (ruling out Chicago). I'd run a couple of the Tomlinson events before and thought they were decently organised. I go to York quite a lot for meetings and thought, that looks like a nice place to run. I've been to the races in York, and had quite a fun weekend. Maybe I wanted to give the Minster another chance. So I entered as soon as it was announced.

The race rapidly became my target for the year. Supposedly flat and PB friendly, this seemed like a real chance to make a dent in my marathon PB. I was bit worried about running a smaller marathon in rural areas, as I thought that there might be long stretches where I was running alone with very little spectator support.

We arrived at the University for the start. I headed straight to the toilet queue before going to drop off my bag. The queue for the bag drop was worrying long when we arrived, and not moving at all. It didn't seem likely I'd have time to drop my bag and get to the start pen, but then after a few minutes the bottleneck cleared and the queue started to move quite quickly. After dropping off the bag, we then had to make our way through the narrow bridge walkways of York's lakeside campus, which made for a lot of congestion. Initially I thought that we would never get off on time, but somehow, miraculously, we made it through to the pens with time to spare.

As far as my sub 4 plans were concerned, I'd decided to follow the 3:56 pacer. As I was queuing for the toilets pre-race, Beloved went on a fact finding mission to spot a good post-race meeting point. He returned to tell me that he'd seen the 3:56 pacer, and he looked rough. Beloved reckoned he'd been out the night before and wasn't to be relied upon. I think this was all part of a strategy to relax me, as when I was in the start pen, stood by the pacer, Beloved started miming necking pints, then pointing to the pacer, which had me in fits of giggles and really took the edge off my pre-race nerves.


And then we were off. The race defied the weather forecast and turned on the sunshine. We all banged down the downhill from the university with the pacer but as we hit on the first bit of flat, I decided that I didn't want to stay with the pacer. I felt it was too fast for me, and I didn't feel comfortable at that pace. So I eased off about 10-15 secs and felt immediately at ease. I managed to stay really consistent with my pace, knocking out very even splits. The plan was working.

Running through central York was a bit of a mix. As we ran through the shopping area, most of the people watching were just a bit bemused about how to get across the road, and there wasn't much noise for the runners. Then we turned towards the Minster, and it all changed. There was a massive crowd, making a significant noise, and the bells were ringing out for the runners. I had my first little cry here, I found the bells quite emotional - it just felt like the city itself was cheering me on. Obviously the Minster wasn't holding my childhood hissy fit against me.

Running through York's surrounding villages, the locals really turned out in force to keep us going. I needn't have worried it would be really lonely out in the countryside - there was support at every village, and even at points in between.

Happy at mile 5

Every now and again, I felt the odd twinge in the left ITB but was able to manage it by changing my stride slightly, moving to more steps per minute. This immediately eased the pain, so I tried to stay with the quicker turnover, and it still felt comfortable.  At mile 14, I was well on target for a sub 4, with a bit of wriggle room. I felt properly good.

Then it all went wrong at the mile 15 water station. My pace always eases off at water stations, otherwise I get quite windy, so I tried to push on a bit a few 100 yards after I'd finished my drink, and my left leg just went. Everything above the left knee went into meltdown - my quad, my hamstring, my hip. It was like a mass muscle tantrum. It was a slight incline so I thought I'd just ease off a bit and pick up when we got back on the flat, but my leg had other ideas. There was no picking it back up.

I saw Beloved again at mile 18, and gave him the double thumbs down. But he shouted back that I was only 2 minutes off my time, so I tried to push on. It was just not happening, my leg would not work. I was dragging it like Igor in Young Frankenstein. At about mile 19, a woman slowed beside me to check I was ok. She was also struggling and we shared our leg pain woes. But we plugged on.

I did all the mental calculations - was it a problem that meant I should stop? Or was it just one that needed me to slow down? I wasn't in agony, my left leg was just seizing up, so I plugged on, trying to inject spurts of (relative) speed as often as possible. As long as I didn't stop, I could make it. The miles ticked away, slowly. By the time I reached mile 23, the last point where I knew I would have moral support, Beloved said it was obvious my leg had just given up, that I was dragging it along. But he kept these thoughts to himself and cheered me on. By now, my pace was so slow I might as well have been walking it!

It was such a strange marathon. The first 15 miles were pure fun, I felt on top of my running game. The rest of the race was not about me anymore, it became about the support. It took every ounce of mental strength I had to keep running, albeit slowly. When it became obvious I wouldn't make sub 4, I tried to make sure I would get a PB. And when it became obvious that a PB wasn't going to happen, I had to make sure I finished and got a medal for this ordeal. I don't think I could have managed it without the spectators and the marshals. In the last four miles, it seemed that everyone I passed shouted my name and gave me encouragement. I haven't experienced personal support like that since my first marathon in New York in 2009. Maybe it's just places that have York in the name that really get behind people in that way, but it made all the difference. In mile 25, a woman spoke to me with such warmth, I burst into tears. Not sad tears, but grateful tears.
Unhappy at mile 23
Then I saw that last hill, and I felt like crying again. What evil organiser puts a hill in the final mile? A Yorkshireman of course. At the top of the hill, a woman told me it's the only hill in York. I wonder if she thought this would make me feel better? She was wrong!

After cresting the top of the hill, my legs cruelly decided that they would respond positively to a final push and I sprinted down to the finish, trying to get done as fast as possible. A photographer snapped me just as I was grimacing, and we had a bit of a laugh about how much I would hate that photo. As I came to the end, and the announcer read out my name, all the disappointment about my time was replaced with a sense of satisfaction at finishing my hardest marathon yet.

I can't lie - I was gutted not to finish sub 4. But I had kept myself going by telling myself I had run a marathon, which is more than most people had done that day. I just felt relieved to have done it at all. Stubbornness always beats disappointment in my world!

In a last ditch attempt to cheer me up, the organisers had given us some Seabrooks salt and vinegar crisps in the goody bag. I couldn't have been happier if I'd found 10 £50 notes in there. It was the final Yorkshire touch.

Where did I put those crisps?

I'd definitely recommend the marathon for future years. It wasn't pancake flat, and putting the worst hill in at mile 26 is pretty cruel, but it was worth doing it for the support along the route. I'd been worrying for nothing. Old York can give New York a run for its money.

Disappointed with my time, but delighted to finish

I will do that sub 4 one day - I feel confident from my first 15 miles. If I stay fit, I can make it. Particularly if there are crisps at the end!


  1. You did so well! I had a very tough half marathon just recently where my legs just refused to move and I'm not sure I would have been able to finish if it had been marathon distance.

  2. Loved reading this, sorry about your ITB, hope its on the mend now :)

  3. Well done, it's an amazing achievement regardless of time :) You should be proud, and who doesn't like crisps in a goody bag x