2020 has been an odd year. I should be sat at mid-December on a (hopeful) PB at London Marathon in April, a triumphant return to Lakeland 100 in July and a blow-out November long weekend in New York for the marathon. There would have been the odd marathon and ultra in the mix, and it would be a successful year, a jump forward both in both marathon and ultra performance. A level up in ability and experience.
Then we had a pandemic.
London went, New York went, Lakeland 100 went.
The other thing that went was my legs. They’d been broken at Lakeland 100 in 2019 and it took expert attention by Rudi at The Treatment Lab and coaching by Katie at Clean Coach Katie at start of this year to get them back to the 3h30 marathon range. The 520 Mega May Miles undid this repair and I limped around Shires & Spires in summer and had a wet and cold fake London marathon in October, just under 4hrs.
It’s now December and I’m sat in the car, watching the rain come down. Sunday morning and my last marathon of the year and I’m not feeling it.
Given my watch is likely to end up buried somewhere up my sleeve I decide to try something I’ve never done before on a marathon – run to feel. The advantage of a small scale marathon in MK is there are no crowds, no packed start pens to drag you off too fast, and not even any clocks or mile markers to refer back and inadvertently measure your progress. It’s seven and a bit laps, so I just need to count laps. The position of the sun and how many podcasts I get through will be the only indication of how I’m getting on.
After setting off (staggered starts, it’s just me and two others for this slot) I make sure the watch is counting, pull my sleeve down and settle in. I will not look at my watch again until back in the car.
Most marathons if trying for a PB I have the screen on elapsed time and pace for each mile. Don’t worry about what mile you’re at, just that each is within a few seconds of your target pace. Today I won’t.
The race starts with a mini loop then the main seven loops. Running past the start I can grab my McDonalds coffee I didn’t get to finish at the start, and use it to wash down the breakfast roll from the same fine establishment. Yep I’m an athlete.
The laps click by, the rain comes down. The low numbers, staggered starts and lap format means I don’t see many people. I’m overtaken by a speedy bloke with a later start. He laps me towards my penultimate lap. You can tell he’s a proper runner as his feet come up so high he’s splattered mud the full length of this body. My ultra shuffle barely gets my calves muddy.
I’m alternating water and locuzade each lap, taking a walk break as I finish the bottle and lob in the bin. Start of lap 2 and 5 I have an Ella’s Kitchen fruit pouch. It’s baby food and tastes like mashed banana and strawberry.
I have a plan to start the penultimate lap and check my watch. Should be around 20 miles, so can make a guess of how I’ve got on. 3hrs and on target for 4hr? If not I could hustle and get it back.
Instead I decide to stick it out. Put my faith in my (stiffening) legs. I’m definitely slowing so wonder what this will do overall pace. Lack of runners means I can’t even judge from relative progress. Pretty sure I’ve missed the 4 so maybe a 4h15. I berate myself for the whole stupid idea. Sub4 doesn’t really matter but it feels like a step change. I don’t want to be over. I probably could have been under had I not done this stupid mystery marathon pace. Idiot.
Coming up to the finish I see Kerry has just finished. She started ahead of me so gives me little hint to where I am. I’m going to stop the watch and then unwrap my sleeve like a rubbish advent calendar. Except I don’t need to. Foxy times me over the line and announces 3h56.
Sub4 blind. Blinding.