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The Chester Marathon

On Sunday 4th of October was the 6th running of the Chester Marathon. I was attempting my 8th Marathon. I have run Chester before back in 2012. Back then, I was nowhere near the same level of fitness I am at now.

First things first, Chester is a lovely city. The irony is that the marathon only stays in the centre for about 1.5 miles. The major part of the marathon is out on country roads away from the City. From doing it before, I knew there is a naughty incline at 24 miles. Not quite the heartbreak hill in Boston, but Chester can be equally proud of this one. What I did forgot was quite how hilly it was but more about that later. The race itself is very well organised and has won numerous awards. Starts and finishes at the racecourse. The start being virtually a full lap of the course before heading into Chester city centre. The weather at first was ideal. Cool and overcast. Sadly this wasn’t going to stay, as it was really hot by the end. Well for a geordie anyhow.

In the build up to the race, I have undertaken probably my best marathon training block ever and I don’t say that lightly. A big thanks to Rob Salter for lending the Advanced Marathoning book by Peter Pfitzigner. Definitely gave my training more purpose and guidance. As said in a previous blog post, the amount of miles I have done in this block far exceeds any that I have done previous. Just needed to convert this into race day success. What transpired was a total mix of emotions….

As I knew what was coming in theory there should be no surprises. I say in theory. I was down in Chester with my fiancée, Jo. Her first run in Heaton colours officially after joining from Great Western Runners. We were joined by teammates Sam Daley, Les Smith and Andy Burden. The later running his first marathon in his home town. Sam, Les, Jo and I were all staying in the same digs. A very smart guest house, a mile from the main street. Felt like a proper team taking on the race and showing the Lancastrians exactly how it’s done. After having the usual Italian the night before, race morning was upon us. Once getting to the race course, we all discussed what we would love to do. Les 2.51 ish, me obviously 2.58/9 and Jo was sub 4 hours. Sam was doing the metric marathon and wanted anything around 1.55. With Andy doing his first marathon he was focused on firstly finishing but ideally under 3.15. More on the outcomes later.

The race itself does not have pens, just suggestive start areas where you should be starting from. Never an issue of people moving to the front who really can’t run anywhere near the time they are flattering to do. The pack thins out pretty quickly. After the town cryer gave a kind of rousing speech, we were off. Sounded more like he enjoyed too much ale the night before more than anything. Garbled and a bit wishy washy. Game plan, stick to the three hour pacer. Nee bosh he says. The first few miles were more of a warm up. Rather than haring off as i have done previously, I stuck to the two lads like glue. Especially after viewing one of their power of 10 stats. I do think Smithy’s comment about one of the pacers was class. I quote, ‘he is too fat to run a sub three marathon’. On looks alone, I would have agreed with him. Once we left Chester and headed out to the countryside, the banter in the sub three group started. The shear fact we were talking show how little energy we were using. Turns out that the ‘tubby’ pacer has a 2.45 on his record and did a three hour marathon two weeks prior to the race. Just to see if he could comfortably run this. He could. As it happens he 5k, 10k and half marathon times aren’t too shabby either. I digress.

Les at this point went off at the pace he wanted. Put it like this, on the long straight country roads, I couldn’t see him. The first 10k passed and nothing to write home about baring that the group I was running with was getting less populated by the minute. After a very uneventful 10k, the half way mark soon followed. As one of the pacers said, we hit halfway in 1.29.40. We had a 20 second window. With having this greater discipline, and talking to take my mind off the race, I felt in cruise mode. Everything was going spot on. Sadly I knew the second half ain’t as easy as the first. Saying that, once we hit 16 miles, I had only had two gels and energy levels were good. I think like any good runner, you need to listen to your body. I know the tell tale signs of when energy stores were low and they were definitely not here.  At this point, Andy Burden was behind me, but I never knew by how far. Smudger (Les), was somewhere in front of me.

Now transcends the part of the course I don’t have much love for. On the way back into Chester you pass a few villages. Each one with a cheeky incline just to shag the legs just that bit more. This is slightly counterbalanced by the crowds that come out and support you. Nowhere near Paris or London levels, but enough to keep you motivated. Then the first team casualty would come into view. Smudger had blown as a gasket at 19 miles. As the 3 hour train passed, I tried to get him to follow us, but had a pained face on him. As a marathon runner, I knew that face. No words were needed. As one teammate was down, I needed to focus on my race. 20 miles past with no drama. The inclines I could just feel were gradually increasing my heart rate which had been pretty steady to this point. Then came the wobble. The wobble that I dreaded. For some ungodly known reason my body thought I was tired. I slowed and fell off the back of the train. What was I doing. Legs felt fine. Power was still there. My head was saying I was tired. I didn’t feel dehydrated nor out of gas. Thus my three hour dream was over yet again. Once I got to the 23-24 mile marker I politely  manned the f**k up. Reached down and grabbed a pair. I told myself the 3.05 London qualification time was still in reach, just need to get on my bike.

Suddenly the energy and power returned. Instead of negative thoughts, more positive and a determination to finish off in style engulfed my mental state. I hit the gas. From practically walking, I got my pace back up to 7.20 – 7 minutes a mile. The hill at 24 mile suddenly became a non event and did it with ease. I started to believe in the training I had done. I was flying. Started passing people for fun. Pushed hard as I could to the finish…

Sadly I finished outside all three of my goals again. I finished in a time of 3.06.02. A mixture of emotions engulfed me.

  • Anger – why the hell did I tell myself I was tired. I clearly wasn’t blown
  • Belief – Next time will be different. I now know what training suits and how to overcome confidence wobble such as this
  • Determination – I can run a lot faster and not worry about blowing up. It was my best disciplined race so far

So to finish, although I was disappointed with the time, the race was a vital stepping stone. Not only did I get a marathon PB by 45 seconds, I got a course PB as well. Beating my previous best by 16 minutes and 27 seconds. My finishing position was 121st out of 2295 runners. Roughly top 5% of the race ain’t bad. 1st back from the club too. Les finished in a time of 3.17.12 and Andy finishing in a time of 3.18.13. What made me more chuffed was the performance of Jo. She absolutely smashed her PB. Breaking the 4 hour barrier and the 3.50 barrier. She finished in a time of 3.48.22. Knocking over 19 minutes off her time. The marathon I now believe it’s 50% physical and 50% mental. She believed that she wasn’t tired and pushed through the boundaries. A lesson I now know. So I can’t really grumble too much with a PB and my goal is getting ever closer. Even had more elevation that Kielder so another reason not to grumble. So the question is where to next…watch this space…

Stats

Distance: 26.31 Miles
Time: 03:06:02
Average Pace: 7:04 Minute / Mile
Elevation Gain: 596 Ft
Calories: 3,227
Average Cadence: 159 spm
Max Cadence: 248 spm
Average Stride Length: 1.43 Metres
Average Speed: 8.5 Mph
Maximum Speed: 11 Mph

Mile Splits

1: 6.41
2: 6.40
3: 6.50
4: 6.50
5: 6.50
6: 6.47
7: 6.58
8: 6.51
9: 6.46
10: 6.57
11: 6.45
12: 6.51
13: 6.46
14: 6.48
15: 6.38
16: 6.54
17: 6.54
18: 6.53
19: 6.56
20: 6.42
21: 7.17
22: 7.40
23: 9.08
24: 8.15
25: 7.55
26: 7.26
0.31: 2.08

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About Andrew Bell

As a kid, I always wanted to do the Great North Run. I am a proud member of Heaton Harrier. I have ran 8 marathons to date (including London, competed at northern and national cross championships, over 100 parkruns and countless other races. Road, trail and fell.

Author: Andrew Bell
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