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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.