Abingdon Marathon -
23 October 2016
2016 has been really special for me. I’ve worked really hard and run personal bests at every distance that I’ve run. I ran my second marathon in Manchester in April; I was pleased with 2.48, but I fell apart big time in the 2nd half and was determined to put it right with an autumn marathon.
After a bit of research (and encouragement from training partner Gary Blaber of MKAC who had already entered) I entered Abingdon at the end of October.
My training couldn’t have gone better. I gradually increased my weekly mileage and averaged 80 through the summer and early autumn. My results got better and better winning the Bedford 10k, Tour of MK, Northampton Half Marathon and breaking the club record for 10km; I felt ready!
Abingdon had the big advantage that it was just over an hour from home so I could sleep in my own bed and close enough that family and friends could be there to support. In my determination to get my pacing right I organised the support team to be spread out across the course and supplied them with gels so I didn’t have to carry any on me!
My wife Sarah dropped me off at the start about an hour before the start and I felt relaxed. I’d slept pretty well and had a big bowl of porridge before leaving! I tried to stay warm in the sports centre by the start/finish area and met up with Gary and another really good friend Matt as well as wishing Warren well as I passed him!
I had two main issues at Manchester, pacing (I went off too quick) and nutrition (I didn’t take enough gels and didn’t drink enough water). My plan was to run just over 18 minutes for each 5km split and hope to cling on to run in the low 2.30s.
We set off bang on 9am with a gentle lap round the athletics track, I knew I wouldn’t feel so comfortable when I ran it in reverse a bit later! We hit the main road which was closed to traffic and a lead group of about 6 flew off; I kept to my plan and let them go. The route followed the main road for a couple of miles and then joined some country lanes which was lovely.
The course is made up of a figure of 8 where you run the bottom circle twice.
Suddenly, we turned down a small path and the terrain was more like a trail race. At around 5km I was bang on pace but had caught a couple of the lead group, this meant I had some people to run with and have a chat about what we were hoping for. One of the group was Paul Fernandez a local runner who’d won the race the before and had a PB of 2.32; he seems like a good guy to stick with!
We soon arrived into the centre of town and were running along the pavement. There were lots of marshals but they weren’t making it obvious if we were supposed to be on the road or not, not good! We ran past my good friends Liam & Louise at about 5 miles who gave me a nice lift; then disaster struck for the lead runners (and the race in general). The lead cyclist turned too early (on the course that was used last year) and so the two runners leading went completely the wrong way. They were about 200m in front of us which confused us big time, but Paul knew the route and reassured the rest of us, at that point we were in the lead! About 5 minutes later we suddenly saw the two leaders coming towards us, before stopping and turning around. The cyclist must have realised his error and added on a bit, how embarrassing! Paul was happy that they’d covered enough distance, so I was happy. If I was one of the two I would not have been happy at all and I’m certain that it will have effected them mentally.
Paul and I left the other two behind and were feeling good, we passed my main support crew of Sarah, Mum, Dad and Chloe at about 9 miles and I grabbed a gel. I was very pleased with myself for starting to fuel earlier than in Manchester; we passed the fuel station and I grabbed a cup (I hate those things). It had barely a mouthful of water in it which wasn’t good news.
At 20km I was bang on course and feeling fine, we approached another fuel station, but frustratingly a runner in front of me missed his first cup and then took the cup I was aiming for, there wasn’t enough in it to share. I tried not to panic, but it definitely ruffled me.
We crossed halfway at just under 1.16; exactly where I wanted to be and by now Paul and I were striding side by side feeling good. As I took another gel from Sarah the road turned right, up a cycle path. Suddenly the nice smooth surface became a trail, generally solid but nowhere near as comfortable. This only lasted about a mile, but I knew it would be harder when I ran it again at about 22 miles.
I had a great lift as we passed Gary’s family, they gave me a big cheer! I felt like I was running on pace, but Paul pushed on ahead, was I slowing? Things then started getting a bit harder, I took a gel from Dad (who was on a bike), a gulp of water and my sunglasses. I was definitely slowing, but felt pretty good. As I hit 30km the last 5km had taken 18.36; slower but not terrible. I saw the support crew again which was a nice lift, although I knew then I wouldn’t see them until right before the end!
It started to feel harder and harder but I took confidence from the fact I felt a lot better than at Manchester, I crossed 20 miles in 1.56ish and willed myself on. The sunglasses started to steam up a bit, but I thought it was better to have them on as although it was cold the sun was pretty bright. At 35km I was starting to really feel it, I lifted my sunglasses up and suddenly realised that the blurred vision I was getting was in my eyes, not just steam in the sunglasses, this was not good!
I pushed on and kept believing but knew I was slowing, by now things were so blurry that even if I had looked at my watch I wouldn’t have been able to read the time, I just had to get to the finish (I later found out between 30km and 35km took 20 minutes). The cycle path was indeed a lot harder the second time, I was lapping people who very kindly moved to the side, but it all seemed like very hard work. As I approached the town I knew I could get there, I lost a couple of places but didn’t care.
I had great support from Liam and Louise with 2 miles to go and then navigated the underpass ok (yes there really is an underpass at mile 24 of a marathon!!) and headed for the track to finish. I saw my support crew again at about 25 miles who were all cheering. I gave them a wave as I loved the support, but mainly so my mum wouldn’t worry about what state I was in! It was a great relief to get to the track again and I definitely enjoyed the ¾ lap round the track to finish. I clenched my fists as I went over the finish line and saw the time had just ticked over 2.42; a big PB of almost 7 minutes. Yes it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I still felt a big sense of achievement. I later found out the 8th 5km split had taken 23 mins with the last 2km taking almost 5 mins each.
I spoke to Paul Fernandez again in the changing room, turned out he’d run a negative split and gone on to win the race in 2.30; incredible! The two lads who went the wrong way both ran a full marathon distance on GPS, but were understandably frustrated and wondered how much the error had cost them.
I had a decent massage and some fantastic brownie made by Sarah; I felt a lot better! It was great to see Gary (who’d run 2.48) and Matt (3.09) who were both pleased with their runs but didn’t quite get what they wanted. Marathon runners always want more!
I treated the support crew to a pint at a local pub, they were such a huge help. Thank you to Sarah, Mum, Dad, Chloe, Liam and Louise for coming and being so awesome.
Sarah and I then jetted off to the Seychelles for 2 weeks recovery. I was very worried how my legs would react to a long haul flight, but amazingly (apart from two pretty shocking blisters) they were absolutely fine the next day! We had a great holiday and now I’m refreshed ready to tackle the cross-country season .
If all had gone to plan I think I wouldn’t have done a marathon in 2017, but now I’m fired up for London in April. I’m very proud of the year I’ve had, running 4 times (3 half and 1 full marathon) that qualify for the Championship Entry at London, something I never thought would have been possible even 18 months ago. Bring it on!
Review of the Abingdon Marathon 2016
A marathon put on by runners for runners. It's well organised and very friendly; I really recommend it.
Pretty cheap to enter (£40), not many marathons cheaper than that!
The course is flat with mostly excellent road surfaces.
Easy for family and friends to support; the course is a figure of 8 shape so supporters can see the race 3-4 times at least with little effort.
An autumn marathon those of us in the south east of England can get to easily.
Negatives (the positives far outweigh the negatives!):
The course is pretty dull and you have to go through an industrial estate twice.
You have to jump up and down pavements quite frequently and there is a few stretches that are more trail than road. Not big issues, but particularly difficult on tired legs!
Very little crowd support. It's a lovely local marathon, but if you need a big crowd to boost you this isn't for you.
The official car parks are a good 1km away from the start/finish. Again, not a big deal, but could be important to some.