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Friday, 20 December 2013

Pisa Marathon 2013

Sunday 15th December 2013 - Pisa, Italy

The question posed at the start of the last post was 'Why run a marathon just SEVEN weeks after the previous one?'

Well, that was on 1st December and the question this time is 'Why run a marathon just TWO weeks after the previous one?'

Quite simply Pisa was the back up plan marathon should Lancaster on 1st Dec have not happened, which had looked a distinct possibility with the forecasted gale force winds. Of course in the end Lancaster did happen and quite a pleasant experience it was  too :)

But Pisa was booked so we weren't going to go along just to watch, so a bit of carb loading and off we went ..........

Just to join the dots, so to speak, this is how the two weeks in between looked:

Sun 1/12 - Lancaster Marathon 2:54:17 (Comeback PB)
Mon 2/12 - 10K @ 9:05/mile
Tues 3/12 - 10K @ 8:53/mile
Weds 4/12 - 10K @ 8:50/mile
Thurs 5/12 - 10 Miles @ 8:24/mile
Fri 6/12 - 10K @ 8:32/mile
Sat 7/12 - Harrogate parkrun 18:45 (6:02/mile)
Sun 8/12 - Londonderry 5K 17:31 (5:38/mile) (Comeback PB)
Mon 9/12 - 5K @ 9:24/mile
Tues 10/12 - 10K @ 8:35/mile
Weds 11/12 - 5K @ 8:44/mile
Thurs 12/12 - 10K @ 8:27/mile
Fri 13/12 - 5K @ 8:41/mile
Sat 14/12 - Lincoln parkrun 19:47 (6:23/mile)
Sun 15/12 - Pisa Marathon 2:54:09 (Comeback PB)

Arriving at Pisa airport at around midnight it didn't take long to find the first evidence of something happening in a few hours time:

The logistics were great in the sense that you walked out of the front of the airport and the hotel was a 2 minute walk directly ahead.

The race start/finish area, ie The Leaning Tower of Pisa, was then pretty much a straight line walk of 3k or so in the morning. No need for working out public transport systems at this event.

As we walked to the start we crossed over the river Arno and this was the scene. As can be seen from the reflections in the river there wasn't a hint of wind. This was to be the early part of the course, running down the promenade on the left side before returning up the right side of the pic at about 4k.

No matter how you photograph the tower it doesn't seem to give a true impression of just how much it is actually leaning, you keep looking at it wondering just how the hell it is actually still standing. If it did fall over the point where the top of the tower would hit the ground was exactly where the finish line of the marathon was situated. Ah well, it has loitered at that angle for quite a while now, it was unlikely to pick the very moment of my hobble across the line to perform it's crash, wasn't it?

The Race

There were no expectations in terms of what would come out of this, after all I had never run a marathon just two weeks after the previous one before ..... and a thoroughly daft idea it seemed too. On the other hand, once under way if it started to feel similar to Lancaster then who knows?

Of course Hannah had very recent experience of running two marathons close together when finishing 5th at Yorkshire with 2:57:53 on 20th Oct just 7 days after a 3:01 PB in Budapest on 13th Oct!

Start - Halfway (1:27:04)

We were in no rush to get off the start line and since it was a bit chilly early on we were quite happy to get huddled deep in the pack of runners waiting for the start:

As we rolled out through the first few kms it seemed like a never ending stream of balloons ahead. There were pacemakers in both the half marathon and marathon, and plenty of them. It was like a fun game show where you chased down a set of balloons and only when you caught them did you get to find out what you were chasing, 3:15 marathon, 1:35 half, 1:30 half, 3:00 marathon, 2:59 marathon ....... it kept me entertained anyway :)

I didn't really need to glance at the watch much as the balloons were giving a good enough idea of how it was going. The only splits I remember in the first half are 9:13 at 2km, 33:10 at 8km and 1:06:15 at 16km.

The idea was to wait until halfway, see how the legs were feeling and then decide what to do next.

Halfway came in 1:27:05. This was the first point at which any thought of running a time anywhere near the 2:54:17 at Lancaster had emerged. But clearly there had to be a chance off that first half split.

Just after halfway came a turnpoint. As soon as I rounded the cones I could see Hannah right there approaching the turnpoint no more than a minute or so behind. As it turned out she had gone through halfway in 1:28:20, which remarkably meant that her 2:57:53 PB from Yorkshire was starting to look under threat even though this was her 4th marathon in 9 weeks.

It was still relatively early days yet though so the overriding thought was still about hoping for the suffering to be delayed quite deep into the second half.


The 28km point really stood out in this race. Not only did it mark the 2/3rds distance but the views as we ran along the coast were absolutely stunning. No photograph would do the scenery justice but because of the complete stillness it felt as though you were caught in an artist's painting, it really was breathtaking.

And how could this possibly be 10 days before xmas in December, it was like mid Summer.

Back to the race and it was flowing along far better than I had imagined it could, already into the last third and heading for home. The sun was shining, there were no hills to fret about and the pace was staying constant in the region 4:05-4:10/km.

I used to really hate this part of a marathon and yet here I was for the third time in just nine weeks actually enjoying the prospect of getting stuck into the closing stages. Happy days :)

At around 30km a guy on roller blades came past in the opposite direction. Since the blades made quite a rumbling sound on the tarmac it came as no surprise a few minutes later to hear a similar rumbling coming up behind me or at least it came as no surprise initially. However, it kept getting louder and louder. How could roller blades make that much noise?

I then became aware of a shadow looming over me as the rumble finally came alongside. I looked over to my left and saw this (okay, something similar to this!):

Something had spooked it in it's field and it had made a bid for freedom, escaping from it's field around where Hannah was and then galloping alongside the marathon. It must have carried on for some distance because some of the runners well up the field had reported being worried about being taken out by it. Never a dull moment.

Into the closing stages and I couldn't have been more pleased with how the legs held together. The pictures below are myself and Hannah at about 41km. I might not look pretty but let's just say that I can remember photos looking a lot worse than that towards the end of a marathon:

The Finish (2:54:09)

What a great setting for a finish!!

It doesn't really show from this angle:

But that finishing arch is just to the right of the tower in this pic:

There was no expectation of a decent time when we set off to Pisa but the fastest marathon for 20 years (albeit by 7 seconds) was a very nice bonus:

A nice chunky medal too. They don't skimp on the metal content either as my bottom lip will testify after I somehow managed to smack myself with it while in post marathon clumsy mode:

Now that shows the lean a bit more:

Oh look, a random Airedale Dodger who it is rumoured ran 2:56:54 for another stunning marathon PB in her 6th marathon of the year and 4th in 9 weeks. it makes me feel lazy! :p

It seems that not paying too much attention to the watch doesn't harm the pacing too much - 1:27:04, 1:27:05. I blame that rogue second on the horse........

And 1:28:20, 1:28:34 for the Airedale Dodger, a woeful pacing effort :p

In the absence of the usual celebratory refreshments, we had to make do........

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The 3-1-5 Lancaster Marathon 2013

Sunday 1st December 2013

So this was the 4th marathon of the year, the most I've attempted in one year, following on from London (3:11:29), Cork (IRL) (3:06:19) and Budapest (2:58:53).

Why another marathon just 7 weeks after the previous one?

Good question.

Previously I have always thought that you needed sufficient time since the last marathon so you could conveniently forget just how much hard work/pain was involved!

However, the week following Budapest in October had been noticably different to other post marathon weeks in that I was actually itching to do another one pretty soon. So when it was suggested by a certain Caz Hall, while enjoying a beer or two after spectating at the Yorkshire Marathon on 20th Oct, that Lancaster was on 1st December it was hard to dismiss the idea.

And despite the fact that Hannah had just run two marathon PBs in two weeks she also seemed keen on the idea.

What did the 7 weeks in between look like?

The 7 weeks in between just followed the usual pattern of running every day, with every 'training' run being slow. 'Slow' means whatever speed feels comfortable but a typical run of 10k or 10 miles would see a first mile of around 10 minutes and an overall average of about 8:30/mile.

We would then race and/or parkrun every weekend with the 7 weeks between Budapest and Lancaster looking like this:

Sun Oct 13th: Budapest Marathon 2:58:53

Sat Oct 19th: Temple Newsam parkrun 18:14 (1st)

Sat Oct 26th: Scunthorpe parkrun 17:49 (1st)
Sun Oct 27th: Accrington 10k 37:57 (12th)

Sat Nov 2nd: Kingsbury Water parkrun 18:00 (2nd)
Sun Nov 3rd: Lode HM 1:22:04 (2nd)

Sat Nov 9th: Larne parkrun (N Ire) 18:39 (3rd)
Sun Nov 10th: Forkhill 10k (N Ire) 39:03 (2nd)

Sat Nov 16th: Sheffield Castle parkrun 18:10 (1st)
Sun Nov 17th: Brampton Carlisle 10 Miles 59:14 (44th) (Comeback PB)

Sat Nov 23rd: Hull parkrun 17:27 (6th)
Sat Nov 23rd: Norman Woodcock 5 mile 29:24 (Comeback PB)
Sun Nov 24th: Northumberland Big 10 1:02:58

Sat Nov 30th: Doncaster parkrun 20:03 (6th)
Sun Dec 1st: Lancaster Marathon 2:54:17 (1st) (Comeback PB)

So, in effect, all the 'sessions' between the two marathons are in the list above.

And the definition of a  'Comeback PB' is basically the fastest since 1993, or 20 years ago!

Race Day

Because the weather predictions for Lancaster on 1st Dec had been for winds of 20+ mph just 7 days before we took the option of not entering in advance and waiting to see if things were going to be calm enough to have a decent crack at what promised to be a very good marathon course.

As it turned out conditions were absolutely perfect so we went over to Lancaster and entered about 40 minutes before the start.

0-10 miles (1:06:18)

The first 10 miles were run on the cycle path up to Caton and then back down into Lanacster, pretty much the same route used by the Trimpell 20 in March of each year.

There was also a Half Marathon taking place at the same time so there were plenty runners around in the early stages as I tried to click into a sustainable rhythm.

Just out of habit I counted the runners in front before realising that there wasn't much point considering that there were two races mingled together. Nonetheless, there were 16 runners in front at the 3 mile point.

There was no way of knowing who was in the marathon as the only indication was the colour of the number which, of course, you couldn't see from behind.

At 7 miles the course went back past the start so I asked the Race Director how many marathon runners were in front. The response was 'not many'.

At 9 miles I was running alongside Sheena Logan, who clearly did have a marathon number on and she was wondering the same thing about how many people in front were actually in the marathon. I was up to 12th now so I reckoned it may possibly be as few as 2 or 3 marathon runners ahead. That would be a nice position to be in!

Not long after I noticed runners turning around and coming back towards us. This must be the half marathon runners. Counting them as they passed I got to 8, then 9, then 10, then 11..... Hold on, if all 11 in front have turned to finish the Half Marathon who exactly is ahead of us in the marathon? Nobody! That's who!

This was confirmed as a man in a fluorescent jacket jumped on his bike and said 'follow me'.

So I'm actually leading a marathon, right? Really?

Okay, deep breath, 16 miles to go ....... let's get on with it.

10 miles - Halfway (1:25:59)

The section from 10 miles on Lancaster quayside through to halfway at Condor Green is run along the estuary path below. This was a path that I used regularly for training runs as a student and as such I knew that it could get pretty slippy and squelchy at times. But on Sunday it was spot on and allowed a nice regular rhythm to be maintained just under 6:30/mile.

I was really enjoying this but there was also a voice telling me not to get carried away.

The point in the picture below is just after 13 miles on the way out and just before 20 miles on the way back with a road loop around Glasson Dock in between.

Halfway - 20 miles (2:09:58)

Glasson Dock in the picture below was at about the 15 mile mark

I remember thinking at the time that this is usually the point in a marathon where things start to get a little bit more serious and you start to wonder about when things are going to start hurting and getting uncomfortable. But there was none of that. I was really enjoying it and the legs just seemed quite happy with the prospect of another 10-11 miles at the same pace.

It remained to be seen whether that was reality or just bravado from leading a race.

20 miles in 2:09:58 or 6:30/mile average led me to start thinking about whether a sub 2:50 might be possible. Even if the mile markers were a little bit out it could just be on.

Still concerned about overdoing it and ending up doing a slow death march to the finish I decided to keep the current rate of effort ticking over to 23 miles and then, if I could, really have a good bash at the last 5K.

20 miles - The Finish (2:54:17)

It wasn't until back on the quayside at Lancaster that the legs started to moan a bit but since this was now the 24 mile mark I couldn't complain at that.

24 miles was reached in 2:37:05. So was sub 2:50 still a possibility? 12:55 for 2.2 miles at the end of a marathon? Probably not but as is the nature of these things it is always worth giving it your best shot as you just never know, the mile marker could have been a bit late, you might have misread the watch etc etc.

25 miles was passed in 2:43:37 which told me a couple of things:

a) A 6:32 25th mile meant that the legs were holding together very nicely indeed.
b) The idea of a sub 2:50 marathon was probably gone, not that I was overly bothered as a 2:51 or 2:52 would have certainly been grasped with both hands before the start of the race.

I was determined to finish strongly so really got stuck into the last mile back up the cycle path. Even though I was putting a lot of effort in now there was one extra gear kept in reserve for when I got sight of the finish, just for that last little finishing flourish.

But where was the finish?

I kept thinking that the lead bike was going to turn right into a finishing area but he just kept going on straight ahead further up the cycle path. I looked at the watch, 2:50 had gone (which was no surprise) as had 2:51 and now 2:52. Surely I should be able to view the finish by now?

Eventually I saw a crowd of people up ahead and there was still a little flourish at the end but when I saw the time at 2:54:16, a time that I was still delighted with, I couldn't quite reconcile the near 11 minutes for the last 1.2 miles as opposed to the 8 minutes that would have been expected.

As the other runners came in every single runner mentioned the same thing so at least it wasn't me going bonkers.

My first thought afterwards was how surreal all this was thinking back to 2008 when I decided to start running (or rather walking) again at 5 stones overweight. Winning a marathon? What me? Never! :)

If nothing else, at 47 the ageing process hasn't won yet :)

Below is a pic with the ladies' winner, Sheena Logan, with a time of 2:59:59 and 2nd place lady, a certain Hannah Oldroyd running her 3rd marathon in 7 weeks and coming away with a 3:02:50 to go with the 2:57:53 from Yorkshire and 3:01 from Budapest. Not a bad collection in 7 weeks.

More impressive performances were also landed by Kelvin Dickinson (3:00) and Caz Hall (3:29) who told us about this event in the first place and then dragged us screaming to the pub afterwards to celebrate.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon

Sunday 20th October 2013 saw the inaugural running of the Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon, starting and finishing on the campus of York University.

I wasnt entered in this race and didnt really expect to be here at all after myself and Hannah opted to run the Budapest Marathon last week instead.

Since we had bagged times of 2:58:53 and 3:01:18 respectively in runs which had gone as well as we could have hoped we were really enjoying our post marathon week of laziness, eating and drinking. 

It wasnt a lot different to a normal week to be fair, running every day with every run at 8 mins/mile +, the only difference being that the distances were shorter.

But by mid-week it was becoming noticable that neither of us had legs that felt like they had just done a marathon. Hannah's attention started wandering to the entry she was sitting on for Sunday's Yorkshire Marathon, she had tried to sell it earlier in the year but transfers weren't allowed so it was still there and available to use.

My first comment was along the lines of 'dont be bonkers' but it didnt take long for me to actually become jealous that she had an entry and by the time it got to Sunday morning I was itching to do it as well.

Temple Newsam parkrun

On Saturday 19th we went over to Temple Newsam in Leeds for our usual Saturday morning fix of parkrunning. Because Temple is quite a testing 5K course we reckoned that this would tell us whether we were just imagining that the legs had come through unscathed or not. Before we got going though it was great to see just how healthy Ronnie Bray was looking just 6 weeks after his heart attack. He was as bouncy and loud as ever as he went about his usual motivational routines!

The intention was that I would run it pretty hard and Hannah would run it at a similar effort level to that at Warsaw parkrun a week earlier.

My legs felt great and despite there being two muddy sections where I came to a virtual standstill, recording an 18:13 on a hilly course 6 days after a marathon without pushing overly hard suggested recovery was going very well.

Hannah looked very comfortable as she ran an untroubled 21:30, an identical time to that run in Warsaw last week, the day before Budapest. With this being about 3 minutes slower than she could potentially have run this acted as a nice leg stretcher without doing any damage.

The Run Director for the day was John Robson and John was also running the Yorkshire Marathon with an aim of going sub 3 for the first time or at least a very big PB. His training, which had been blogged for the previous 16 weeks, suggested all was nicely set up.

So did this mean that Hannah had now decided to run on Sunday? Well, kind of ......... but we still needed to go to the pub to consider some more :) She then came out with my favourite line from Saturday - 'Maybe I should think about doing some carb loading then'! :p Not really textbook to start considering carb loading on Saturday evening, but better late than never I suppose.

Race Day

After finally deciding to run, there was no particular aim in mind, Hannah was just intrigued as to what the legs could do when they were feeling so sprightly. If it went pear shaped at any point it was no big deal, the usual precautions had been taken of carrying a foil blanket and having a rough idea of the best dropping out points. Also, it was useful to find that there was a live tracker so at least I would have some idea how she was getting on.

Nobody at all knew that she was running. Well that is until I bumped into John Robson in the pre race loo queue and he asked the direct question.

 The Start

The honour of getting the race under way was handed to that famous Barnsley lad going by the name of Dickie Bird. I'm sure that he has never had to follow on from Tony Audenhaw's tales of pre race poos before but there's a first time for everything.

0-10K (42:24) :

After running 3:01:18 in Budapest a gentle start was the most important thing, 2 or 3 minutes slower in the first 10K is a small price to pay to ease the legs through keeping them as fresh as possible for pushing on later.

So when I saw 42:24 come up for the first 10K, ie 6:50/mile or 2:58:30 marathon pace,  I was hoping that it had been an easy section of the course because it looked too quick. 44 or 45 minutes would have been more comfortable but she isnt one to get carried away in the early stages so it was going to be interesting to see how things developed from here on.

I only became aware that there was a live leaderboard when John Broom sent me a message to say that he had noticed that a 'Hannah Oldroyd' had gone through 10K in 15th. The leading ladies had gone through the same point in 37:20, with 5th place being 38:43 and 10th place being 40:43 as can be seen below:

 10K - 20K (40:54) :

Having thought the first 10K at 42:24 was a touch on the quick side at 2:58:30 pace, to then see the next split at 40:54, ie 6:35/mile or 2:52 marathon pace, made for much more relaxed viewing. She was clearly enjoying herself and would probably be pulling out at some point!

So 1:23:18 at 20K. The leading ladies at this point went through in 1:15:17, 5th was 1:18:47 and 10th was 1:23:10. This led to the first double take at the leaderboard! This meant that she was only a mere 8 seconds off breaking into the top 10. Well, this was getting interesting:

Halfway (1:28:27) :Just 1.1K after the previous split there wasnt likely to be much change from the previous but just for the record the leader was now through in 1:20:22, 5th in 1:23:44 and 10th in 1:28:18. So still just a handful of seconds outside the top 10, the next split at 30K was going to be very intriguing!

Although it then dawned that before we saw the 30K split they were going to be running right in front of us. I had gone over to the 18ish mile point which was an about turn point on the marathon course and had been set up as a Marathon Talk motivation station by Tom Williams.

As I kept an eye on the tracker to see what progress the runners were making, Mr Williams (on my right) had to contend with both the coldness (having just got back from Hawaii watching Kona) and sleepiness, having been doing some serious hob nobbing the evening before (see pic below):

For those that dont recognise these guys, they are Noel Thatcher, 6 times Paralympic Gold medallist, Paul Evans, marathon PB of 2:08:52 (and I believe the last British runner to break 2:10), Tom  and Dave Moorcroft the former 5000m world record holder.

Impressive line up indeed but back to the race and as the leaders came through we couldnt help but marvel, as usual, at just how easy they make it seem:

As the leading ladies started passing it would have been no surprise if Hannah had lost a few places and earmarked the point where we were waiting as her dropping out point with it being the closest point to the finish. It wouldnt have mattered, she would have been happy enough having run a lively half marathon or so the week after smashing her marathon PB.

Counting the ladies past I got to 8 and then guess who appeared next up the road? So she was clearly still going well, was up into 9th place and significantly ahead of the 3:00 pacing group. This was now getting very intriguing. Was she on the ragged edge and about to fall apart or could she actually finish this in a decent time?

Well, this picture answers that question pretty well:

And in close proximity was an equally joyous John Robson:

You dont look that happy in a race just before you're about to drop out so onto the 30K split:

20-30K (41:18):

That meant that the 3rd 10K had been covered at 6:39/mile or 2:54 marathon pace and was starting to get into the realms of I wasnt sure whether the tracker was working properly!

The leading lady went through 30K in 1:53:28, 5th place in 1:59:05 and Hannah was now in 9th place with 2:04:36.

Absolutely anything could happen in the next 10K.

30-40K 43:18:

Anyone who has ever fallen apart in marathons will know that you can lose time hand over fist once the wheels come off so to see a split of 43:18 or 6:58/mile for this section with the Budapest Marathon still fresh in her legs was the most impressive part of the race.

The leader at 40K went through in 2:31:47 and 5th place was 2:47:52. But hold on, who is that in 5th place? Either the tracker really has gone off into loony land or a certain Hannah Oldroyd is now up to the lofty heights of 5th! How did that happen?

Obviously if that was correct it just about guaranteed a sub 3, something which hadnt even been considered. This was just meant to be an experimental run to see if the legs could get round two marathons in two weeks, not an attempt to go even faster.

The Finish (2:57:53):

The actual finish time didnt matter at all now, whatever it turned out to be was bound to be impressive and way beyond anything even remotely expected at the start of the day:

There is a downside to running quickly and that is that your journey to the pub can get delayed. This was the post race interview with the Yorkshire Post, which was shortly followed by a lengthy chat with Mike Tomlinson. But after having TV cameras thrust in front of her straight after finishing in the last two weeks at Stormont and then Budapest she is at least looking a little less freaked out by the post race interrogations now.....

This was the final result finishing 5th lady and, equally impressively 43rd overall. She was probably the only person on that leaderboard wearing a number, the rest had their names displayed:

Other Performances:

Kelvin Dickinson (3:08:18):

Just ahead of the 3 hour pacers at the 18 mile mark. Kelvin (in white with green hoops) was that 3 hour pacer just two weeks ago at Chester doing a fine job in coming home in 2:59:45 on that day. York wasnt a target marathon in any sense having done his most impressive marathon work for 2013 back in January when he ran 2:58:32 one day and then 2:56:42 the very next day!

John Robson (3:01:55)

John ran a massive PB taking 26 minutes or so off his previous best to bring his marathon time more into line with his impressive times at shorter distances. There will be more to come but this was a big step forward in conquering the marathon.

Jocelyn Payne (DNF)

This was a disappointing race for Joss and, although she probably wont agree at this stage, in the fullness of time it will probably prove to be of little importance in the great scheme of things.

2013 has seen Joss become the fastest U23 marathon runner in the UK for 29 years with 2:45:58 at Manchester in April. The early pace was ambitious going through the first 10K at approx 2:43 pace and here she is below running alongside Shona Fletcher in the early stages. By 17 miles it was over but there will be quicker marathons in the future and probably on quite a big stage;

Caz Hall (3:25:09)

Caz also acted as pacemaker at Chester two weeks ago pacing the 3:45 group around but that clearly took nothing out of her as she ran a very evenly paced race. Highlight of 2013 was at VLM where Caz landed a PB of 3:11:44.

Ian Ogden (3:09:21)

A fine performance to bring home a 5 minute PB beating his previous mark of 3:14:14 set at VLM this year.

More than can be said for his posing though:

Adam Prentis (3:22:36)

A valiant effort by the Harrogate parkrun Event Director to beat his PB of 3:21:41 set at Chester last year. Adam is one of those 'tougher than steel' characters who completed Comrades just a few short weeks ago.

Marathon spectating is thirsty work so shortly after the finish, and being the weak and gullible types, we were led astray by Kelvin and Caz in the direction of The House Of Trembling Madness on Stonegate in York:

 It was here that the day took a distinct turn for the worse when I realised that to match my age grading from the week before in Budapest Hannah would have needed to run 2:58:23......... and she ran 2:57:53! Umphhhh :p

Friday, 18 October 2013

Budapest Marathon Adventure

Budapest Marathon
Sunday 13th October 2013

It has been a little while since the last post but that doesn't mean that it has been a quiet time on the running escapades front.

In fact, since the last post 16 weeks ago there have been 46  races/events of various kinds across distances ranging from 800metres to the marathon and geographically spread across England, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Netherlands, Poland and Hungary.

In summary, it has been a brilliant and fascinating 3 or 4 months culminating in last Sunday's Budapest Marathon run along the banks of the Danube.

As a bit of background to this, the marathons attempted since getting the running shoes out of hibernation in 2008 have been:

2009 April - Blackpool Marathon 3:24:17 (Age 42)
2009 September - Fleetwood Marathon DNF (Age 43)
2010 October - Amsterdam Marathon 3:04:27 (Age 44)
2010 November - Milton Keynes Track Marathon DNF (Age 44)
2011 April - London Marathon 3:18:30 (Age 44)
2012 April - London Marathon 2:57:04 (Age 45)
2012 October - Chester 2:55:36 (Age 46)
2013 April - London Marathon 3:11:29 (Age 46)
2013 June - Cork Marathon 3:06:19 (Age 47)

Inevitable Slowing ?

For the first 20+ marathons that I completed there was always an inevitable slowing of pace towards the end, sometimes a steady decline but sometimes a complete falling off a cliff scenario. Even my PB involved a 12 minute positive split!.

However, since London 2012 things have been different in that the second half slowing is no longer an inevitability. Apart from London this year, which involved a strain from tripping on a water bottle, the other three marathons have involved holding an even pace or even slight negative split.

And with that background the main hope from Budapest was to achieve more of the same and try to feel strong towards the end, thus helping to convince myself that the others werent a fluke.

So, after a brief visit to Warsaw, which included a trip around Warsaw parkrun, it was onto race day.....

Before the start:

This is what we were greeted with just before the start in Heroe's Square - misty, calm and mild. Absolutely perfect for the early stages although we knew the sun was forecast to be out and burning our foreheads before we returned back at lunchtime.

The Start:

Off we go and 26 seconds in all is going well so far with Hannah clipping my heels....

0-5K 21:55 (projected finishing time 3:05:00)

The aim was, as always, to build the race layer by layer with eight 5K layers being laid on top of each other followed by the final push for the line.

5-10K 21:30 (proj. 3:03:14)

It all felt very pleasant early on with the very wide boulevards allowing you to run in your own space almost from the off without the usual barging from the over enthusiastics. The first two 5K layers were just about allowing tendons, muscles etc and everything else to get up to working temperatures with minimum strain.

10-15K 21:24 (proj. 3:02:21)

After that first 10K was out of the way the course passed over the Danube via the Chain Bridge onto the Buda side of the river. The Buda side is the hilly part of the city but thankfully the course stayed close to the river and remained very flat.

It was around the 14K mark that I first saw the Sub 3:00 pacers as we negotiated one of several about turns. I wasn't going to chase them as such but nonetheless their bright balloons were going to prove a useful visual clue as to how things were going as the race progressed.

The 14K about turn was also the point where I first saw how Hannah was getting on. Clearly she was going well timewise as she was only about a minute behind but she wasnt looking particularly happy with proceedings so it was a case of fingers crossed that it was just a bad patch. 

15-20K 21:10 (proj. 3:01:27)

From 14-21K was a nice flowing section although by now the mist had gone, the sun was out and the temperature was climbing quite rapidly. But it was the same for everybody so lets get on with it was the thought at this point.

Halfway 1:30:47 (proj. 3:01:34)

20-25K 21:02 (proj. 3:00:38)

After halfway and back across the river onto the Pest side I was now entering that questioning stage, trying to make my mind up as to whether I was starting to fade and was going to have to be careful or whether I was actually feeling pretty good and could afford to get stuck into the last 10 miles. Cautiously I was tending towards the latter.....but you never know!

25-30K 20:52 (proj. 2:59:55)

Pre-race, I had mentally prepared for the section on Margaret Island being the make or break section of the course with it being the crucial 28-33K

As we got onto the island there was the first real feeling that this wasnt going to fall apart. We were now entering the final third of the race and I was still thinking in terms of building the race rather than hanging on as has often been the case in the past.

There is a 5K long running track on Margaret Island with a proper track surface but only one lane wide. When I first saw it I thought that it might be a welcome change of surface for a kilometre or two. Wrong! It didn't take long to get back off it and realise how wonderful hard tarmac is.

30-35K 20:57 (proj. 2:59:27)

Just after 33K:

Because I had mentally made the island the make or break section, it felt wonderful to be coming off it at 33K feeling ready to push on and having the sub 3 pacers now right in front of me.

9K to go with everything still working smoothly was a nice place to be. The well being factor was also growing due to constantly passing runners. It was more to do with their slowing than my speeding up but it still helps the cause :)

35-40K 20:53 (proj. 2:59:05)

There was a really nice feel to the last 7K with the sun now shining brightly, the noise of the crowds building and the little legs feeling like they have never felt before in the closing stages of a marathon.

Approx 35K:

Returning to Heroe's Square at 37K:

Finish 2:58:53

It wasn't the fastest marathon, or even a comeback PB, but the feeling of crossing the line after enjoying every section of the race was a definite first....... but hopefully to be repeated :)

It was nice to turn round and see these guys finishing shortly after considering that they had been out of sight in the early stages:

And look at this for a finish, Hannah completely off the ground looking for all the world as if she is finishing a 5K rather than smashing her marathon PB out of the park.

3 marathons in 2013 and 3 negative splits - London 3:16:29, Cork 3:09:51 and Budapest 3:01:18

 Post Race:

Not bad for October, relaxing post race in glorious sunshine with cheap beer on tap :)

The Walk Home:

Our route back to the hotel later in the evening took us back through Heroe's Square and it has to be said that this sight is pretty stunning:

Monday Meanderings:

The day after race day we went for a coach ride............with a difference:

In short, a great venue for a marathon and one to be highly recommended.