Three magical little letters.
When I ran my first marathon I had no idea that people like me could run marathons that quickly. Several years later running my first ever sub-4 marathon I just didn't know how I'd be able to go faster.
Many failed attempted later with joyous results such as heat stroke and refusing to even talk about how the race went I lined up once again for the Dorney Lake Marathon on Saturday 3rd April 2021 with the goal of going sub-3:45.
Training by yourself for 3 months in lockdown is not ideal marathon training. I've realised how much harder it is for long run miles to tick by solo or how different speed work feels without friends dragging you along. I was determined though and week in week out I'd turned up to my sessions, committed to strength and conditioning and tried to find some confidence to have another go at achieving a GFA time.
In recent years, my close-but-so-far results have actually caused quite a bit of trauma with road marathons. They stopped being enjoyable. So my primary goal on race day was actually to have a positive experience. Then to get a PB (3:45:47 to break) then get a GFA (sub-3:45).
I'd chosen Dorney Lake Marathon as I'd heard really positive things about the socially distanced event they'd put on safely in 2020 so I knew the chances of it getting cancelled were as low as possible and I'd feel it was a safe event on the day. Strange how our choice of marathons has so dramatically changed in the past 18 months. Active Training World, the event organisers, did an incredible job - I thought it was fantastically organised and with just 465 participants with start times spread over 3 hours it felt a good way to do a 2021 Spring marathon.
My wave was at 11am which made waking up / travelling and eating pre-race all feel like a normal long run day - no 5am alarms needed. This helped keep me calm on race morning and I kept reminding myself that 'What will be will be'. No point stressing now. Dorney itself is beautiful - a long tree lined rowing lake which made for a 4 lap but quite windy course. My wonderful coach had offered to pace me which was a delight as I knew I'd go out too fast (I did) and I'd have a meltdown at some point (I also did that) but more than anything the course could have been quite boring and Claudi helped keep the day fun and positive.
We set off at a decent, albeit a bit fast pace, but I felt brilliant - marathon pace felt super easy. I didn't drink until about 7.5k which in hindsight was probably a bit long and I definitely need to practice with cups/bottles on long runs as I've been spoilt with the ease of drinking from a hydration vest. The thick salt stuck to the side of my face at the end showed this is a definite future point to work on.
Because training in lockdown isn't ideal I had developed a bit of a niggle caused by a tight achilles - something a sports massage or two could have dramatically helped - so I was in my workhorse shoes not 'the' shoes that every other runner seemed to be wearing.
We passed halfway in 1:47:15 which is a good time for me (my PB is only 2 minutes faster) but I felt great although the repeated laps and the wind was starting to grind me down a little mentally. My pace started slowing a tad and at about 28km the relentless laps and the prospect of having to keep my pace up broke me a little so I stopped and walked for a pathetic little cry, some electrolytes and a good old fashioned pep-talk.
Feeling suitably sorry for myself but acknowledged off we went again. About 32km I'd found some rhythm again and while not at quite the blistering pace of the first half I'd done the maths and realised it was still enough for the sub-3:45 time I so desperately felt I deserved. So we gritted our teeth and dug in. That last 10km lap was so hard but I was grateful that I'd brought more gels than perhaps I expected to use and I switched to taking gels every 30 minutes which helped mentally if nothing else.
The km at 40km we hit the head wind and it was really hard to keep pushing but I was so determined for that PB that as we rounded the windy patch at 41km I was determined: no matter what: I would finish strong. My wonderful pacer Claudi was almost screaming at me with 500m to go, as were my legs, but I fought hard and pulled off what must be the best sprint finished of my life with my average pace in that last 1/2km dropping to 4:11/km (faster than my 5km pace!).
Over the line I collapsed in a heap on the floor and let myself finally give in to the waves of tears. 3:43:50. I'd finally broken 3:45.
More than that I'd broken it after 3 months isolated training. I knew there was more. And I'd broken the horror of the marathon. As I crawled my way to the nearest patch of grass to rip my shoes off and continue to cry my eyes out I could hardly fathom it.
3:43:50. Good for age. Finally - I'd done it!