Previous blog readers may remember that Strathearn marathon is a favourite of mine. I first ran it in 2014 and have run it every year since- getting progressively slower each time! I was therefore keen to take part this year even if I wasn’t feeling marathon fit. My running still isn’t great, but I’ve been seeing some improvement- I’ve had a few decent parkruns, have lost a few pounds, and have been really enjoying a weekly personal training session with Stu. I hadn’t done any long runs since D33, but had some middle distance runs and some high mileage weeks (up to forty miles) so I figured I would get round alright, though I was fully prepared to continue my ever slower streak.
The Friday before the race was the Beach 10k- this has usually been after Strathearn as it was previously on a Tuesday evening, but this year it was decided to try a Friday night, and therefore it fell before the race. I decided to enter anyway to support my club, figuring I could have an easy run out. In the end I did just that, running with my mum and my friend Diane for a few miles, as well as picking up a random stranger who was running her first 10k. It was a very pleasant evening, though the pace didn’t feel as easy as it should have really! Saturday morning brought a faster than planned Hazlehead parkun- it was lovely to have my friend Ronnie back at parkrun again but he was much quicker than I expected!
I stuck around for coffee which I rarely do at Hazlehead but it was really nice to catch up with everyone. It was then time to do some shopping, have some lunch, then head down the road. Staying down the night before worked well last year so we had decided to do the same again, opting for the same hotel ten minutes from the start line. Stu was planning to cycle around the route again which meant that he was driving (no bike rack on my car!) so I had a nice relaxed journey down and dozed a little. We arrived in good time and I went for a walk around Comrie to stretch my legs- the weather was perfect running weather, mild with no wind. I hoped that it would stay that way.
We had booked a table at an Italian in Crieff so we headed there for what turned out to be a very delicious meal. I had a glass of wine and then we stopped at a shop to pick up some beer for Stu, some more wine, and some snacks, then headed back to our hotel room for a nice relaxed evening. I showed amazing self-restraint and didn’t drink the whole bottle of wine- great success!
I slept reasonably well, waking up again very grateful for the extra couple of hours in bed gained by staying down there. We didn’t need to leave to hotel til around 8am for a 9am race start, which also minimised the time hanging around. I registered easily, picked up my chip and shirt, and deposited my Lucozade for the 18.5 mile water station. I had decided to wear my ultra-vest this time as it’s easier for carrying food (Haribo!) and my phone, and that also meant I could carry Lucozade and water, so I didn’t feel I needed anything at the 10 mile stop. I did also have a can of rhubarb gin and ginger ale that I considered leaving at the 18.5 mile stop but decided against it, not wanting to risk wasting it!
I saw a few familiar faces, had the obligatory loo stops, and soon enough it was time to head for the start. The weather was funny- it had been really quite mild at one point and I worried it might get too hot, but just as we were heading to the start the rain started and the wind picked up, dropping the temperature significantly. Luckily there wasn’t long to stand around in it, and it passed by reasonably quickly.
I had decided to do a run/walk strategy from the beginning, using 90 seconds run/30 seconds walk which has worked well for me in the past. I ran the first mile around the campsite, but then as soon as we exited and started heading for the hill I slipped into the rhythm. The plan was to stick to the ratio unless the walk break was downhill or maybe flat, in which case I would run through it. I hoped that this would conserve my legs, and also give me more motivation to get walking again in the hills that I knew would come in the later miles.
Because of my run/walk strategy I was leapfrogging with quite a few people here. I felt like I was very far back in the field- there was no piper on the first hill, and I don’t know if he just wasn’t there or if I was too slow this year! The rain had dried up now and conditions were pretty good, if a little windy. I was in a vest, shorts and buff which was just right, and was grateful to have my Lucozade to sip on regularly.
I’ve lamented those first few uphill miles many times in this blog, so I won’t harp on about them again. I chatted to a few people here- one young lad said, “I’m guessing what goes up must come down?” and I replied “Yes… eventually!” I also chatted to a lovely South African lady, as we watched the woman ahead of us nearly get run over on more than one occasion- if you have to wear headphones so that you can’t hear (I tried to talk to her at one point and she had no idea what I was saying!) at least don’t run in the middle of the road…
The run/walk strategy was working well on the hills and I was making steady progress. I was starting to worry a bit about Stu here- I thought that whichever direction he was going if he was doing loops of the route he should have passed me by now. I started to hallucinate that every cyclist coming towards me (and there were quite a few!) was him. I decided that if he still hadn’t passed by the monster hill after mile 10 that I would text him.
I enjoyed the downhills- not trying to push the pace any but running through my walk breaks, and leaving a few people behind me. I reached the bottom of the horrendous hill feeling pretty strong and cheerful. Knowing I only had to run 90 seconds a time up that hill really helped, and although it was tough- the sun had just come out and it was getting very warm which didn’t help- soon enough I was up and over and enjoying more downhills. I had texted Stu and he’d replied saying he was fine and would be with me soon, which was a relief.
The wind picked up a little here, but I was quite grateful as it was cooling me down without being too strong a head wind. I hit halfway around 2:22/23ish, feeling pretty good (considering my best half marathon time last year was only around 2:20 this was a good sign). Stu caught up with me here and it was nice to be able to tell him that I was feeling strong. I started to wonder if I could maybe get under 5 hours- a 2:25/2:35ish split seemed feasible, but I also know I’ve run many second halves much slower than that.
I was now taking my walk breaks on the flat, though still running the downs. A woman passed me and asked if I was ok and I said yes, just saving my legs for what I knew was coming! As we approached the hill leading up to mile 16 she said “is this what was coming”… “yes… and then some!” Still I kept rigidly to my ratio, and sure enough it was now working in my favour, making me start running again when I might otherwise have walked for longer. The miles were ticking by nicely. I took my Lucozade at the personalised drinks station and quickly filled up my vest bottle- I think this was the only time I slightly extended my thirty second walk break! I was soon back on it though, and the walk breaks helped me survive the horrible hill at mile 19. I reached 20 and knew that the worst was behind me, though the last three miles are a bit of a drag.
I saw Stu with about three miles to go and said “I think I might get under five hours” – he replied “you’re definitely getting under five hours!” In fact I was starting to work out that it looked likely I would totally smash five hours, and even come close to the holy grail of a negative split (never yet managed!). I wondered if I should try to drop the walk breaks but I was starting to tire so I kept taking them unless it was downhill.
Sure enough the last few miles were tough- that last drag up the road before heading down into the campsite is a killer, but my last two miles ended up being faster than many of the previous miles, and though my knee was starting to tighten and I was really hurting, I managed to pick up the pace to the finish (though not quite catching the guy in front). Stu had told them it was my fortieth marathon so it was really nice to cross the finish line with a personalised congratulations- it felt pretty special. And I was absolutely delighted to finish in just under 4:47- quicker than the last two years and only thirty seconds or so slower than three years ago. It may still be 25 minutes outside my PB, but given where my running has been lately I was so chuffed- and not least because I had enjoyed it and felt strong throughout.
Stu met me with my can of gin and it went down incredibly well. I sat and basked in my glory for a few minutes- removing my shoes was pretty heavenly; bringing hotel slippers for afterwards was a genius move! I got my selfie with the Strathearn squirrel before heading back up the road- we had a date with Secret Life of Pets 2!
I am really pleased with how the race went and happy to have reached a nice round number- 35 marathons and 5 ultras. It’s time for a break from the long stuff now. I’m going to get a proper training plan, get back to focussed training, and focus more on the shorter stuff. Keep going with the diet and the strength stuff, and really try to find my love again so that every run ends feeling like Sunday did.