I've done this race four times, well, I've done the half twice and the full marathon twice. So when entries opened for 2018 I automatically entered it without thinking. Then I got into Chicago Marathon which would take place just one week after this. So this went from a PB chasing attempt like it was in 2017 to "should I even be running this?" as the time drew closer.
Even on the day of the race itself, in fact even at the #ukrunchat meet-up I was thinking to myself "should I go home and do an easy 8 miles?". I think part of me knew that it'd be very hard not to put effort into a race. I figured if I went for just below my target marathon pace at 07:20-07:30/mi it'd keep my legs about fresh enough for the marathon. On the morning of the race I chose my favourite running tee instead of my usual purple #UKRunChat #OneTeam tee, and my heavier 'plodding' shoes instead of my racing shoes. To try and pyschologically take myself out of the race I chose not to take any fuel with me, and I would not use any of the water stations. Sounds to me like it could work…
There were quite a few of us meeting up this time, so was nice to see some unfamiliar faces along with ones I've seen before. There were some wearing #ukrunchat tees, some with Racecheck visors, and a couple keeping warm in runr hoodies. It was like a gathering of running communities. It was nice to see them all as sometimes it can get a little lonely before a race. They didn't really believe me when I said I'd be taking it easy - but that was genuinely what I wanted to do.
It was however a bit on the chilly side - it didn't help I'd only got my shorts and t-shirt. Over the next hour whilst we stood around talking it was feeling colder and colder. By the time we parted ways to head to the pen I'd decided that I'd do the first mile slightly quicker, around 07:15/mi, just so I'd warm up quicker. My watch had just 39% power left - hopefully enough for a couple of hours use.
Usually there's a lot of noise at the start as there'll be a radio station playing music and doing announcements - but it was quiet. All that could be heard was the sound of runners talking to each other. Ahead of me was the 1:30 pacer and just behind me was the 1:35 pacer. I figured I'd stuck with the 1:35 pacer to start with, and would then slow down after the first mile. I looked at my watch - it was 09:30 but the race hadn't yet started. All of a sudden there was a horn to signal the start of the race - no countdown or anything! My legs felt a little tight, so I figured it'd help with keeping me slower.
It felt strange starting a race at the pace I was - it meant I was being overtaken quite a bit, but at no point did I find myself needing to look for space to keep the pace I wanted. It felt weird.
The first mile ticked by pretty quickly. I'd started to take every turn wide so I'd be out of the way of people wanting to run this faster, so I realised I'd be going slightly over the distance overall. That's okay though - the first mile was done in 7:06/mi so I slowed myself down ready for when I'd reach the Park estate, and what I think many refer to as 'the hill'. I think a more appropriate name last year would have been 'the hill of doom' as that was where it'd all gone wrong for me.
Anyway, I reached Castle Road and thought it felt steeper than I remembered. Okay, I don't want to stop, so I'll slow down a little more. I then did the same after reaching the proper hill inside 'The Park'. At the point I checked my watch I was doing 07:30/mi so had slowed to my target pace as I was approaching the end of the first 5K. It had been a tough climb, but at the slower pace I felt it more manageable - I think the cooler temperatures helped too. After this was the long downhill section to the next turn towards the Jubilee Campus. I remembered this well from previous years, yet still got distracted by the architecture around this area. I was feeling good, and it felt like I was going at a nice easy pace - so I decided there was no point looking at my watch any more since what was left would be mostly flat. Should be easy to maintain pace on that!
On Wollaton Road I started to think of the people I knew that would be spectating today - I knew Jason and Amy were in different locations, but I couldn't remember where either would be. So I started to keep an eye out. When I got inside Wollaton Park I realised I'd forgotten about the relatively small hill they've got there - maybe 'The Park' in previous years had been enough for me to forget about any other hill in this race. The park is a nice area to run through though - people lined the path cheering every runner on. It passed Wollaton Hall, and eventually goes along the tree-lined driveway out of the park. It made me think of the Mo Running event I'd done there - I was trying to figure out what route it had taken, though I also remembered seeing thse trees shrouded in mist once before - maybe that was when during one of the marathons?
Just before leaving the park one runner passed and yelled "aaargh" as if in pain, though he carried on running and made no further noises so I figured it was momentary discomfort or an increase in effort. At the end of Middleton Boulevard we were now on our way back to Victoria Embankment, and now had oncoming runners on the other side of the road. I figured this would be a good time to look out for anyone I know.
When I turned towards the University campus again I hadn't yet spotted anyone, but then saw a runner collide with a student running across the road ahead of me. They both seemed unhurt as the runner had sort of rolled around them on impact. When I looked back ahead of me, Sherie was running in the opposite direction so quickly waved and said "hi" on passing. It's nice to see runners I know during a race, though I still managed to miss the majority of those I knew would be here.
That was 8 miles done; that time had flown by - taking it easier had meant that the distance so far hadn't been exhausting. It actually felt good - like an easy paced training run should. However, things were about to change…
I rounded the corner onto Derby Road and could see runners on the other side of the road. Moments later I saw a pacer passing by with the 1:25 flag so my first thought was that considering he was passing the mile 9 marker, there must be something amiss. I looked ahead of me and could see the 1:30 pacer was not that far ahead of me. To start with my assumption was that they were going slower than they were supposed to be - I'd been running at around 07:30/mi hadn't I? No… I had not. I looked at my watch for the first time since The Park and realised I was going at a 6:30/mi pace and was gaining on the pacer.
I'd messed up - it seemed my speed had crept up over the last few miles and I'd gained enough time to have caught up with a pacer I never expected to see. I was disappointed in myself for the lack of control as I knew it meant I'd just ruined what little chances I'd got of a PB in Chicago a week later. I figured, if I've already messed up Chicago then I may as well maintain the pace and see what time I can finish in. I'd not used any of the water stations yet, nor would I use any of the remaining ones. I didn't even have the usual bag of jelly babies in my pocket so I knew it would get difficult before the end.
Not long after mile 9 I waved at Amy as I passed her - so it was just Jason left to spot. To my surprise, it wasn't long after this that I spotted Nic and Emma - two more good friends who are simply the best. I hadn't known they'd planned on spectating today, and it was a nice surprise to see them. All I'd got left to get through now was the length of a parkrun.
Since realising that I was ahead of where I'd wanted to be, I think my brain caught up with my legs and realised they must be tired. So sure enough, they started to feel tired. Though the next two miles didn't actually feel as bad as they could have - it didn't feel like I was forcing a pace (if you know what I mean) - I was simply letting my legs do their thing. However, after the mile 12 marker the tiredness did hit me, and I started to slow down. It was a relief to see the entrance to the park as I wasn't that sure how long I could maintain the pace for.
I was certain I'd remembered the route going passed the entrance to the park before and looping back - but maybe my memory was playing tricks on me as once passed the bandstand this was the last bit. It could have been a slight change as this year there was no longer a splitting point - they'd ditched the full marathon this year.
As long as nothing went wrong now, I was going to get my first ever sub-90! As I got closer to the last turn I slowed to a walk, took a deep breath, and then quickly got up to sprinting speed as quickly as I could. At 4:46/mi it felt like I was going fast - do you know that feeling when you're putting everything into it and it feels like you could either fly or throw up? Fortunately this time, I didn't feel ready to vomit - everything felt good.
I'd just set myself a new PB of 89:52, finishing 210th out of 6,089 finishers. It was my first time under 90 minutes and I had no idea how to feel about it. I'd done something I'd been wanting to do for so long - so I should be happy about it. It's a step closer to the sort of times I want, yet in doing so I'd potentially ruined my chances of a good time in Chicago. A slower marathon time would mean I'd be no closer to the dream of a Boston qualifying time - which as it happened had moved five minutes further away during the week.
Not knowing what to think, I stopped, caught my breath, and then collected my medal and finishers bag. Inside was a cotton finishers tee, a Yorkie bar, and a pack of something called Berocca. I didn't actually look until I got home as I was eager to get out of there. It gave me time to think, and to decide that maybe if I'm lucky I could recover enough in time for the next race. Only time would tell…