Archive | May, 2015

We Are The Champions

1 May

So, how was I going to follow up Frankfurt 2014?

The initial answer was to improve my 10k PB twice, taking it down to 37.23 in late November, when I was first woman and Scott Overall won overall. He was over 7 minutes faster than me, but it still looked nice in Athletics Weekly!

I also had some good cross-country results in November/December and was pleased that I seemed to have handled my post-marathon recovery perfectly. It’s fair to say I was probably pretty smug about it.

Christmas Week marked 18 weeks before the London Marathon and so a return to P&D: I’m very much of the view that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; plus I don’t have time for more than 70 miles a week so I might as well do their version of 70 miles a week with a little tweaking here and there to fit in other racing commitments.

My first race of 2015 was a bit of a disappointment: at the South West Inter-Counties Cross Country Champs I just couldn’t get my legs turning over and finished lower down the field than I should have done. A 5 mile race later than month in some of the windiest conditions I’ve ever endured also did little to rebuild my confidence as the time was much slower than I’d have liked. Thankfully, there was a glimmer of hope in my final race, the Midlands Cross Country Champs, as I finished just outside the top 20 and secured team gold for my club. Phew!

February saw a lot more racing, but it felt like only one of those (the Bramley 20) really went to plan, and even then the last 10 miles, which were supposed to be at marathon pace, felt like fairly hard work. The National Cross Country Champs was a thoroughly dispiriting affair, as I trudged along feeling aerobically strong but simply unable to run at any pace in the glutinous mud. Urgh.

And so to March: I started with the Bath Half marathon, and this was the point where my self-belief didn’t so much hit rock bottom as get up and leave the room, apparently intending never to return. For some reason I had no energy and struggled round to a time which was 90 seconds slower than the Bristol Half in September 2014, feeling like I was working really hard for a frankly disappointing time.

The Reading Half marathon towards the end of the month was a bit more encouraging: I ran 30 seconds faster than Bath but felt like I was running much more within myself. I can’t say it was quite marathon-paced effort, but it definitely wasn’t flat out.

And so to April, and my final race: a ‘long’ leg at the National Road Relays in Sutton Coldfield. It was a pretty windy day, but I managed to run a fairly solid race, although probably not quite as fast as I wanted. It seemed to the story of 2015.

It’s fair to say that by the time the London Marathon came round my main difficulty was persuading myself that I hadn’t gone from being a person who had run 2.52 feeling strong and in control to someone who was going to struggle to run that time. I had done the miles and the speedwork. I just had to believe they would work.

And so to race day. I headed over to Blackheath fairly early and made my way to the national championships start area. After a bit I found Jenny, one of my team-mates, although I didn’t see my other team-mate, Helen, until shortly before the start. The weather forecast had been a bit hit and miss in terms of conditions, but it was clear that we had been blessed: it was cool, cloudy, dry and there was very little wind.

It was hard to keep emotions in check as they announced Paula Radcliffe running her last competitive marathon, and it was perhaps best that the gun rather surprised me. It took me a few seconds to cross the line and then I was running. The first mile was a bit slow (6.40) but I reminded myself this had happened in Frankfurt 18 months ago and I’d finished really strongly then. Even the second mile was a little slower than would bring me a pb (6.35) but I told myself to stay calm and see how I felt at 5K. There’s a gentle downhill throughout most of the third mile and so by the time I hit 5K I was pretty much on 2.50 pace. By 10K I was starting to feel a bit more comfortable and knew I had about 15 seconds in hand thanks to the downhill.

The amazing thing was the crowd support: perhaps there have always been that many people and I’ve simply never taken it in before, or perhaps the 2 year break where I’d run a smaller city marathon had made me forget. The noise was stupendous! For a fair few miles I was running near F1 driver Jenson Button, and the screams for him were deafening.

At 8 miles I went past my cousin, Chris, and his wife, Kim. I was starting to feel more comfortable and my breathing felt ok. Perhaps that 2.50 dream wasn’t so stupid after all.

I ran for a bit with a guy who was also aiming for about 2.50 and it really helped having someone running at the same pace: sometimes I would drift ahead and sometimes he would drift ahead, and it made me pick up the pace a fraction to keep going.

My splits show that the usual amazing cheers on Tower Bridge made me pick up the pace a little more: I ran my fastest 5K (sub 20) at this point! Perhaps it was the brilliant cheerpoint manned by a crowd from my club!

The amazing thing about this year was that I spotted loads of people who were out supporting me. Although I knew I was working hard, I still felt like I was in control, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much during a race!

At 20 miles and then at 35K I knew I still had about 30s in hand for the splits I had written on my arm, and those splits would bring me home in 2.50.10. I realised that sub 2.50 was potentially there, a target I’d postponed until the autumn given my mixed racing performances.

I reminded myself that in Frankfurt 2014 I’d had to consciously overtake people to keep my momentum going, and so I focused on my technique and stride turnover, and on gradually reeling the runners in. It was at this point that I became slightly less aware of my surroundings. Sometimes I would spot a supporter and at other times I would hear my name and not see anyone or even quite recognise the voice. One of the people I did see and hear told my later that I looked like I was hurting, but in a good way, and that’s exactly right. At 40K I did some calculations. It looked like sub 2.50 was still possible. I forced my legs to keep turning over at a rate that was just faster than they really wanted, and focused on using my arms to ensure my stride length didn’t shorten. At 800m to go my brain said it was fine, sub 2.50 was going to happen, and at 600m that was still the case. At 400m my tired brain panicked and thought that I’d blown it: in desperation I picked up my pace as best I could, wondering how I’d let that happen. It turned out it was user error: the clock was still showing 2.49 as I crossed the line, and I stopped my watch at 2.49.40, beaming from ear to ear. Official ‘gun’ time: 2.49.51; official chip time: 2.49.39 🙂

And as for the title of this blog entry? I was third scorer for Bristol & West behind Jenny and Helen. Provisional results say we won the team race, and so I am now a national champion.

Before I broke 3 hours, I always underestimated how much of racing was in the mind. Of course you have to do the training, and there is no substitute for proper mileage and proper speed work. But Charlie Spedding was right: you need to think caterpillar if you want to succeed. Suddenly, sub 2.45 is the sort of time I can realistically aim for, and 2 years ago, as I sat on a tube, crying my eyes out after dropping out, I’d have told you that was a time for butterflies.