A good race report should tell two stories, that of the event and that of the person running it. Often the two things are intrinsically linked, the course dictates the pace or the event organisation can make or break an experience. Sometimes though, other factors influence your enjoyment of an event, and that was the case in Bournemouth this weekend.
Firstly, the event. The brilliantly conceived “Bournemouth Marathon Festival” ran over the whole weekend with races covering all the key distances. A 10k, night-time 5k and half marathon preceded the main event, as well as kids races. By the time we lined up for the 26.2 the coast had been at running fever pitch for 24 hours already. (I met one chap from Malvern Joggers on the marathon who’d run every event. Good work sir) The organisation was as good as you’d expect from a city marathon, but the start area was a strange one. Baggage drop was 500metres from the start line, with the main hub of toilets and cafe in between acting more as a corridor, so there was little atmosphere at the start. Once we were off and running though the route was very well marked and marshaled. Starting inland and working through a residential area the crowds were out in force and the atmosphere soon built. There were plenty of ‘facilities’ on the course and I didn’t see any queues for those who needed to dash off and answer the call of nature, which included us at the earliest opportunity! After a few miles we were on the coast, firstly on the upper coast road and eventually dropping down to the Promenade. This was an interesting part of the course, after running on closed roads for 13 miles suddenly we were surrounded by beach goers, people making bacon sandwiches in their beach huts as well as cyclists/walkers/children going about their business. They offered lots of support and encouragement but I always felt like I was intruding on their day and it lost some of that shine that marathon running should have. After 24 miles having the reactions needed to hurdle a small dog wandering in front of you or react to some idiot dinging their bike bell to get you to move would test even the greatest athletes. There were many sections of the course that were out and back and the Promenade especially was a long drag along a straight course watching the pain of those several miles ahead of you as they came the other way closing in on the finish line. That made the going tough! The other thing to mention is that this is NOT a flat course. I’d checked the course profile and I knew it had a few small bumps, but it turns out those bumps were between the seafront and coast road and often very steep both up and down. The finish area was well supported and the MC was doing a brilliant job of knowing who was finishing and personalising his cheers, although by that point he was the 312th person to comment on my “Almost Athletes” top with the same “you ARE an athlete” response and by that time I just wanted to throttle everyone who mentioned it! Once over the line there was a short walk to the medal and goody bags but as with the start the baggage reclaim, charity village, finish line etc were all several hundred metres away and all in different directions, so not ideal. All in all it was a decent event, one I’m glad I experienced, but I don’t think it’s a course I’d rush back to run again.
So what of my marathon story? Well it didn’t go to plan, that’s for certain. I was running with two friends, one who I’d done the Cheltenham Half and a lot of training runs with but who had been injured for a month, and the other who was ill halfway through training and had only been running again a few weeks. We started well, passed the first half in 2:22 which I was happy with, especially as that included a few toilet stops. But from halfway one of the guys started cramping quite severely and there were a few stops to stretch him off. We had gone well enough that I wasn’t worried about the time at this point, but the stop-starting was beginning to play havoc with my own legs. We passed a few other casualties around this time, taken down by the unseasonable heat (it really was a hot summer’s day in October, just what we didn’t want!) and after a while my friend, fuelled by his own annoyance at failing legs, disappeared in to the distance on a one man mission to overcome the conditions! He has my eternal respect after recently becoming an Ironman, but after spending 30 minutes nursing him around the course refusing to leave a man behind to see him ignore the pacing and leave us without a word was a bit wounding! Over the next few miles things started to get really painful, IT band, quads, that dodgy achilles and my hips were all going but we pushed on. By this point a run/walk strategy had been adopted primarily for my sake, the remaining friend seemed completely unaffected by the day’s exertions! We caught our cramping friend around the 20 mile mark and for the next mile or two adopted a more walk/run strategy finally breaking down in to a walk around mile 22. I know he was suffering, I know I was suffering, but after doing the math I realised we were not going to finish inside my disappointing time for the London Marathon back in 2011. I started shuffling again, but soon realised I’d opened up a gap on my mates. I stopped to wait for them but another look at the watch and I knew it was decision time. As much as I wanted to be a team player and finish the event together I just couldn’t bring myself to put in 4 months of hard training and not come away with a PB, even if it was 20 minutes slower than I’d wanted. I ran the last 4 miles on my own, ignoring everyone around me, focused solely on the watch on my wrist as the time ebbed away and the distance didn’t. It took a huge effort but I finally closed in on the finish with 2 minutes to spare. I stopped just short of the line wanting to wait for my friends, but the marshals weren’t having any of that and bundled me over the finish. I waited in the finish area, stretching and drinking water for 42 minutes for the guys to come over the line and join me before giving up worried that they’d walked off the course. They’d actually come in 3 minutes behind me and somehow I’d missed them, I was gutted. By the time I got to the baggage reclaim and my phone they were already in their cars and on the way home.
So, after 4 months of training which included some great time spent with one of my oldest friends and some brilliant running results over other distances, the final event was a disappointment. I didn’t do the run I wanted (neither did my two friends, these things happen), I didn’t get to cross the line with my boys, I didn’t even get to celebrate with them at the finish. I know you’ll say a PB is a PB, but actually I think that ranks as my PW run to date. The second half anyway, when it all fell apart, up until then I loved being with my buddies.
Brighton is in 6 months. Here’s hoping I can redeem myself then.
Saying it was your PW is not good mate. I’m sure there are still a ton of positives to pull from the race that would trump all of the negatives you can think of. But also, since both of your friends didn’t make it to the start fully prepared like you did, you should have asked them before the race if it would be cool if you did it at your pace. I’m sure they would have understood and respected your goals.
The plan was always to run together, and even up until mile 19/20 we looked like sneaking in a respectable time given everything that had happened, and one I’d have been happy with. It was the next few miles that undid the dream and although the boys only finished a minute or two outside my PB I couldn’t face leaving the marathon course without proving I’ve improved as a runner. It was a PW because I left the guys and didn’t get to share the experience with them. The fact I finished 2 minutes faster than last time is a hollow victory, but one that I’m still very very glad I pushed for, it just came at a higher cost than sore legs or blisters! Next marathon is in April, new course, new approach…new PB?
Sorry it was a tough race for you. I found it very difficult too – the sharp hills and heat were both more than expected and it looked as though almost everyone was walking in the last 2-3 miles. However .. You still got a cracking PB!! Well done!!!
Cheers, it was a testing 26 miles and no mistake! Bring on Brighton!