This was a one off event organised by Enigma Running to celebrate 50 years since England won the world cup. The start was 3pm to match the kick off from the match which was a nice touch and meant a decent lie in. The downside is it messed up my pre-race routine and had to substitute a late brunch breakfast in Debenhams café and a shopping trip with the family to loosen the legs off.
As it was a themed event most runners were sporting England outfits and I was resplendent in my £4 England tee from Primark. Being a pro I knew a cotton tee would not be ideal for a marathon so I’d packed a spare club vest to change on one of the laps. Being an idiot I’d packed it with a leaking drink bottle so it was sodden in sports drink before I even started leaving me a choice of friction inducing cotton or wasp attracting technical fabric.
Walking to the start it was already hotter than I prefer but better than a July afternoon could have been. Unusually I’d had a short taper into the race as I was ahead on monthly milage so hadn’t run since Wednesday morning, knowing the marathon would tick me over the 200 mile target. The result was I felt pretty fresh and coupled with a new pair of On Cloud lightweight shoes I’d finally decided to buy, was feeling confident I might hold it together for a sub 3:30. Looking around the other runners and encouraged by the RD I began to think I might have a good chance of podium if I could keep to a 7:45 average pace. This went a little out the window as we set off and I ran the first few miles nearer 6:40 with a fellow runner on my shoulder throughout. We settled down after 4 miles to a slightly less suicidal 7:00 pace and on the second of the 7 laps he slipped past and I ran on his tail. We both admitted we’d gone off too fast but given the third place runner was only a few hundred yards behind neither of us wanted to risk slowing down further. Still together on the third lap he joked we were expelling a lot of effort for a potential win that earnt the same medal as everyone else, and weren’t likely to get a last minute call up to Rio Olympics as a result of our time. Running for pointless and worthless pride was the only reason we kept pounding around the lake, dodging dog walkers and countless Pokemon Go players, eyes glued to their screens looking for hidden characters.
At the end of the third lap I grabbed a flat coke to augment the Lucozade I’d started on, and dumped a bottle of water over my head. Nearly halfway and I was feeling the heat, wondering how long I could keep at the pace and whether I’d be seeing 1st place slipping away. It was interesting following alongside or so close behind another runner to see the different lines and approaches taken to the same course. I’d pull ahead on the uphill slopes and lose ground on the flat, regaining it on the downhill slopes. With reminders from a recent running form coaching session in my head I concentrated on fighting the slump I’m prone to and did my best to visualise a helium balloon tied to my head pulling me up straight. It seemed to work and I kept with him.
Somewhere on lap 4 our tandem running convoy inevitably ended and we parted ways. Unusually it wasn’t me that flagged and I started to slowly pull ahead. Heading through halfway in a PB of 1:34 I realised how much I’d overcooked the start. This was either going to be an amazing race for me or one that ended walking or vomiting into bushes.
The train of thought was soon broken by another runner creeping up behind me. He’d been safely third from the beginning, paced well, and was gaining. He’d already passed my running buddy from the first three laps. It was inescapable that he’d catch and pass me as my pace fell and I wondered if I’d blown my one chance of a win by yet again setting off too quickly. When would I ever learn to have confidence in a steady consistent pace?
This guy obviously knew pacing and seemed relaxed as he caught me on lap 5 and pulled away. The early pace was taking it’s toll and I was dropping the occasional mile slower than 8:00 pace whilst he kept a metronome steady stride. Resolving to stick with him I kept pushing, fighting the heat and growing weight in legs. Coming to the end of the lap I caught him as he seemed to have a brief muscle issue and pulled to one side. I was back in first place with only 7 miles left. Maybe I hadn’t blown it?
The final two laps were spent sweating in the cotton tee and looking over my shoulder. Around one of the looping sections of the lake I looked back to see he was a few hundred yards behind. Not much of a margin with 5 miles left, keep pushing. Passing the lap point and hearing the bell I was still infront and just 3.5 left but was fading further and splits were closer to 8:45. What had seemed a potential 3h20 finish at half way was looking close to just under 3h30. Pulling my ipod out to select some appropriate motivational music I set off again to battle Pokemon collectors, the heat, dog walkers, recalcitrant geese and the looming spectre of second place runners behind.
With a mile to do I started to believe I’d finally done. My 78 marathon plan of keep plodding until the fateful day the fast boys and girls where elsewhere had finally paid off. I could hear the pub calling and could almost take the first pint. Seven laps past the beer garden, watching drinkers enjoying the weather had not been in vain and I staggered over the line in 3h27. Contrary to my earlier discussions we had unknowingly been battling for more than glory and I was present with a first place trophy. Sure it was a plastic replica of the Jules Rimet World Cup trophy and may not have the weight of the value of the real thing, but as the only running trophy I’ve ever won it was destined for a spot on the bookcase forever more.