It’s the first weekend in October, we’re at the seaside (or mostly sat in traffic on the way), it must be the annual pilgrimage to Bournemouth marathon festival.
Now in it’s 6th year, this is a high point of the year. Milton Keynes marathon in May and Bournemouth in October are the two events I do every year, irrespective of whatever running goals I have going on. I ran MK the day after a 100 miler which was ‘fun’ in a beer and pizza fuelled heatstroke haze. Bournemouth is a little bit more planned and I’ve sort of tapered after some biggish mileage trying to get some speed back from the ultras and the cheating bike ride, compressing 16 weeks of sensible training into two months.
Last year I was chased down by Matt, failed in my 3h15 attempt but managed to scrape a 3h17. Using it as a foundation I’d worked over winter and bagged a 3h13 in March that was briefly a Good For Age for London.
Knowing GFA shape was a long way off, this year the plan was to relax for the weekend and enjoy it. The weather had other ideas and the usual ‘wet Saturday morning, nice by lunchtime’ never happened and I lined up with the kids to run the 2k race in heaving rain figuring I couldn’t make them do something I wouldn’t. The sprits were mostly high and both kids finished looking wet and mostly happy before returning to the hotel before they were swept out to sea. Throughout the race Billy delighted in running through the river cascading down the course until I reminded him that optimistic Daddy hadn’t packed him spare trainers, just flip flops, so he best try and keep those dry for the weekend.
Also on the optimistic side was Billy’s last minute decision to run the ‘midnight race’. The 5k Supernova event started at 7pm on Saturday. Billy had never run over 2k and with just a few days between his decision and the event had no time to train. He’d run 2k a few times so was ignoring the traditional 10% distance increase per week rule, and instead went for a 150% increase on his longest run. He evidently gets his foolhardy approach from me, but fortunately his pacing from his mother. Taking the distance sensibly and with a few walk breaks we chatted as he gradually upped the pace, each mile quicker than the last and delivered a brilliant negative split as he dropped me on the pier to race under the finish gantry and complete his first 5k declaring it was pretty easy and he could have gone faster. In particular he was amazed to see scores of runners still out on the course.
As a post race treat for the kids we went to Taco Bell, recently opened in Bournemouth. A spicy taco dinner was the ideal accompaniment to the hot Korean curry I’d had for lunch and certainly wouldn’t haunt me the next day as I made an emergency last minute portaloo stop on way to the start pen and wondered if it would ever stop. Anyone heard that song “Chocolate Rain”? Yeah that.
Finally in the pen I had a couple of minutes to compose myself, double check the world wasn’t about to fall out my arse again and consider pacing. Garmin may have predicted a ridiculous 3h03m based on recent runs but I knew that was off. 7min30 per mile seemed a good pace for a 3h15ish. As usual I promised myself if I felt good by mile 20 I would pick up the pace. It’s the same outright lie I use when I declare I won’t finish off the entire tube of Pringles. I am not going to feel good at mile 20 without illegal narcotics and I am not going to leave crisps in the tube unless physically restrained.
After a countdown we were off and I jogged on the familiar course, winding through the suburbs on way to the seaside. The out and backs were great for sharing encouragement and high fives with other runners, a dozen or so of which I knew. For me Bournemouth and Milton Keynes are both the perfect size. Big enough to feel like a real event, not so congested and crowded due to money hungry corporate giants that you can’t even see the floor under your feet.
Just before we dropped down onto the shoreline I was joined by George, a new runner friend who’s cab I’d jumped in on the way to the start. It was great to have company but unfortunately his “relaxed pace, not really trained much, just running because the wife wanted to run it” was more like my “wow it’s getting hot, are you hot? Why can’t I breath?” and I had to let him go.
I walked the hill at Boscombe pier. Not just the steep bit at the end but the whole thing. As soon as out of sight of the crowds I dropped to a stroll, drank some water and forced some Shot Bloks down. I’d resigned myself to just enjoying it now, all interest in a performance evaporating as enthusiasm dwindled. Halfway came bang on 1h40m. Pre-ultras I would normally be around 1h35m and feeling strong. Today I felt deflated, not physically tired but certainly not on it and that awkward voice in my head noted that a PB was well out of the question, as was a course PB so why bother? If the only goal was completion I could walk it in. The lazy part of my brain was winning.
Dropping down into Bournemouth before the out and back I was met by Cloe and the kids and handed a cold Lucozade which seemed to perk me up for the out and back. A second meeting with a Red Bull as I walked Bournemouth pier gave me a boost for the tantalising brush with the finish gantry at mile 17 before the climb up to West Cliff which I walked again. There was a lot of walking going on for a running race. In the words of Enigma Race Director Foxy “This isn’t a sponsored walk you know!”. Cresting the brow of the hill I start to recognise a few random runners from earlier in the race. I wasn’t faring well, these were far worse and the use of strategic ultra style walks was seeing me slowly moving up the field in the bright sun.
The ultra part of my brain also pointed out there was only eight miles left which was pretty much nothing. The final leg of the GUCR145 had been 13 miles and that had felt like the finish. Maybe I could stop being a sap and run properly?
Certain races have points of significance that stick with you. Mile 13 of the MK marathon is where I often fall apart when I set out too hard.
Mile 19 of Bournemouth is where two years previously my stupid attempt to run all four events was saved by a magic second wind from the running gods. The same sorcery repeated itself and I began to feel good. Really good. It was hot, I was thirsty but this was nothing on the sweat baths I’d endured over the summer. Knowing clubmate Mark was closing the gap it was time to man up and I steadily pounded the final out and back to Poole harbour. Once again I was that annoying chipper bloke carving through the runners trying my best not to be a patronising arse as I encouraged them on, whilst they responded through gritted teeth “Looking good mate”, “Wow great pace”, “Where’d you get that speed from” and “You’re a b&stard and if I catch you I’ll slap that smug smile off your face”.
With a final welcome visit by the family (Did Billy have an ice cream? I want an ice cream. Why are my reactions so slow?) I finished in 3h25m. For a race with too much walking and very truncated training it’s probably better than I deserve. Time to do the comical HUGE walk to the baggage trucks and meet Billy for the melting ice cream.
The following day I return from work to the customary loser email from London Marathon. Fate is telling me it’s time to knuckle down and get that GFA time. Turning 40 in March means I have a window of March to August 2019 to get a sub 3h10 ready for 2020 entry. Best get at it.