Monday 27 August 2018

Blackpool Marathon – Revisited – 22 April 2018

My first marathon was Blackpool 2014, completed in a time of 04:21:24.  Between then and now, I’ve run Chester (2014), Boston UK (2017), a Genuine FakeMablethorpe Marathon (2017) and Hull Marathon (2017).  I was drawn back to Blackpool this year, to have a go at beating my previous time.

It’s taken a long time to get around to writing about this, simply because I seem to have had a busy year with work, running and other life stuff!!  But, better late than never – I’m not minded to just skip into the present.  This marathon was special for a particular reason, so I am not going to leave in unrecorded.

Early Training

The initial training had its ups and downs.  I think I was complicating things too much; I’d read too many training guides and articles with conflicting information and got myself a bit mixed up between what was meant by intervals and tempo sessions.  I found myself tired out and distressed because I was working far too hard on some sessions and just lost track of what I was doing.

Friends support in so many ways.

All this was sorted out for me following a run with Sarah and Mike.  Over a lovely post-run lunch, Mike had a look at the results of my lactate threshold testing from Lincoln University, jiggled about with the training zones to make them more suited to how he observed me running and simplified my plan.  The new plan took account of the fact that I thought I could only reliably run 3-4 times a week and divided this up between long runs, speed work and recovery.  It kept it flexible and took the pressure off. 

We had some bad weather in the winter, which caused some training runs to be postponed or re-routed, but on the whole all went well, especially as we were able to do some of our training runs with Sarah and Mike as well as other people along the way.  When I say, ‘we’, I’m referring to Chris and I.  After Chris’s unhappy experience at Boston, he was joining me again to run Blackpool marathon to put the whole marathon experience to bed!

Defining goals - revising goals.

In March I ran Retford HM to see what kind of shape I was in.  I verbally predicted a time of about 2:10, but in my head hoped for nearer 2:05.  Therefore I was outwardly happy but internally slightly disappointed with 2:09.  This made me review my goal for Blackpool.  When I started my training, I had hoped to beat my PB - my Chester time of 4:19:59 or at least to beat my Blackpool 2014 time.  However, after the Retford result, I realised I was nowhere near that and revised my goal to 4:30:00.

Race day eve. Keep a normal routine.

The day before the race we went to Cleethorpes parkrun on Saturday morning, followed by the usual parkrun / CRC breakfast in JD Wetherspoon - ColiseumPicture Theatre.  After breakfast, we said our farewells to and were wished good luck by our running friends.  We organised to have them follow us on my Garmin tracker, at the same time as following other friends running the London Marathon and watching VLM on TV.

It was a baking hot day and was forecast for the same on Sunday.  We had an easy drive through to Blackpool, found our Premier in and then went for a wander, the 2 mile to the sea front to check out where to pick up our numbers in the morning and to get something to eat.  It was SO hot and sunny.  Blackpool was heaving; it was lovely to see – but we dreaded it being that hot on Sunday.  We’d trained through wind, snow, rain and sleet.  We weren’t ready for heat!

Sweet Relief

I am amused by the detail I was focused on when I first ran a marathon (how much water / home made energy drink / worries about whether had I eaten enough the night before / multiple breakfasts / how many gels to take) compared to this time when my main concern was the weather!  We woke up to a bright morning and I feared the worst,  However, by the time we walked to the start and picked up our numbers, it had clouded over beautifully and was spitting with rain.

Expect Miracles

We were nicely loosened up by our 2 mile walk to the start and I resolved to just set off nice and steady.  Although I had revised my goal following Retford HM, I was feeling good because the long runs had gone well after that (Retford) and I had tapered well. As I checked the pace of my first mile (10:19) and the second (10:01), my favourite passage from “The Art of RunningFaster” (by Julian Goater and Don Melvin) sprang to mind: 

I was feeling good during mile 3, which turned out to be 9:35 pace, a pace which I would go on to keep up for much of the race.  Chris wasn’t going for a time, but was happy to run at my pace.  He’s quicker than me over 10k and HM distance but just wanted to have a better experience than Boston.  We agreed in advance that if one of us was struggling, the other would go on and see what we could do.  The weather was cool (although I was soon plenty warm enough) and drizzling slightly and Chris and I were chatting.  

You could have knocked me over with a feather!

Somewhere around the end of mile three, I thought I could see a Lincolnshire flag in the distance.  I commented that I must be hallucinating because I thought I’d seen a Lincolnshire flag.  At the same time, we both realised that indeed there was a Lincolnshire flag ahead of us, along with some CRC hoodies!!!  Then we heard a shout of “here they are” and heard the sound of a whistle, a cow-bell, maracas and coconut shells!  As we got closer we could see it was Sarah, Mike, Jo-Mo and Chris!  What a surprise.  I couldn’t believe it!  We’d said cheerio less than 24 hours ago and they’d wished us luck and said, “see you Tuesday!”   So emotional!  We exchanged hugs and... well, I can’t even remember what I said, but very quickly we were ushered on to keep going.

Blackpool Marathon is a 2 looped affair, with 2 x out and backs in different directions, so I knew we would probably  see them again. The surprise of seeing them kept going for the next few miles up past the Tower, the Pier, Golden mile and back and the 9:30ish pace continued.  We saw them in the same place on the way back – this time they were on the other side of the  road, so we couldn’t have gone across to them without crossing the path of other runners.  This was no bad thing because I was just so overwhelmed to see them, I just felt rude not stopping to chat like we do during Dukeries!  It was fantastic..... the sound  and sight of the CRC super-supporters.  We found out later that other runners appreciated their support too – because of the out and back looped nature of the course they saw everyone multiple times and cheered up a runner in a bridal outfit, sadly without bridesmaids, who didn’t seem happy at all initially, but she managed to crack a smile the fourth time they saw her!

When the going gets tough, the support gets going.

After our second sighting of ‘the gang’ we headed off toward Lytham-St-Anns.  It’s quite a nice run in one direction, but gets a bit bleak on the way back, with little support on the route, other than a few rather quiet marshals.  We saw our entourage again just after the halfway point – possibly about 15 miles. I’d slowed down a little by then but was still consistently under 10 min pace.  I shouted across to them that it was getting tough now and felt a bit quick.  My face in this picture reflects that.

We probably both hit the wall within a couple of miles of each other.

At mile 19 I was feeling tired and said that I needed to slow down some more, but didn’t (yet)!  We caught up with a man and woman running together.  The chap had a really loud voice.  He was encouraging her but at the same time he was making it really obvious to everyone within earshot that he was running at her pace, not his own. It annoyed me.  He seemed a bit patronising.  We were catching them up but when we got past, it seemed to take forever to lose the sound of his voice. Once it faded away, at least we were another mile on the way.  At mile 20, Chris and I were both tired.  I had a couple of jelly sweets and offered Chris one. He took one on this occasion, but had to spit it out straight away as he felt sick.  I started to feel a little better again fairly quickly and Chris said , “you just go on, Fran. This is all I’ve got.”  

Soon after that, I saw Jo, Chris, Sarah and Mike again... possibly at about 21 or 22 miles as I headed off towards Lytham-St-Anns for the second time.  This was a real boost as the last few miles are tough.  Chris was only a few metres behind me at that point but I was to find out later that he had to stop for a few minutes to be sick and gather himself together.  This happened just after he had passed our gang and they were able to check if he was OK, offer water and Mike offered to run with him.

I was tired, but going well and realised that I’d kept under 10 minute miles from mile 3 onwards and that many of the earlier miles were around 9:30 pace.  I couldn’t do any maths but I knew that with 4 or 5 miles to go, a PB was in reach if I could keep the pace going.  It was encouraging to entertain that thought and reflect again on the ‘Expect Miracles’ passage.  

The wheels have a wobble.

However, towards the end of mile 23 / beginning of mile 24, I got a stitch – or rather a severe pain in the position a stitch happens.  It was not a stitch like I’ve ever experienced before. Much more painful and just continued to get worse, even though I slowed down... to a walk.... and then to a standstill, bringing in every trick I know to make a stitch go away.  After a couple of minutes standing still it eased slightly and I started walking again.  Then looking back, to my joy I saw Chris, steadily trotting up behind me.  I wasn’t ready to run yet and told him to go on, but he was ready for another walk.  We brisk walked a maybe half a mile and then I was ready to trot again. Even though I’d lost time (mile 24 was 14:28) I was still harbouring the hope of a PB so I tried to push on.  As will my 2014 experience, when I reached the turn point and spun round to come back along the lower prom, the head wind hit me full in the face.  The last two miles were a real battle, partly the wind, partly fatigue and partly because I still had a quite bit of pain in that stitch area.  Mile 25 clicked over and I remember looking at my total time so far and realising that I wouldn’t get a PB even if I could really pick up the pace.  In any case, I couldn’t go any quicker and the last couple of miles were around 11 minutes.  The last bit was just a case of getting to the finish, which was slightly different (and better) than the 2014 finish.... no further turns, just straight to the arch...... and there were Sarah, Mike, Jo-Mo and Chris again; how my spirits were lifted.  Check out Jo with the coconuts and Sarah with flag and cowbell. 

It was a really emotional finish.  I was totally happy with my finish time of 04:24:51 – only about 4 minutes slower than when I was 4 years younger!  My only regret was that Chris wasn’t with me at the finish, but he wasn’t far behind, finishing in 04:29:53 and gained extra kudos for picking up another woman en route, known as,  “doing a Frankie!”

What a great day.  I had a really good run and was pleased with the pace I maintained in the middle section (well, up to mile 24, actually) and Chris got a marathon PB by about 38 minutes!  But the best experience by far was our surprise supporters.  The photos in this post were taking by Mike – I wouldn’t have had any photos  if our lovely friends hadn’t been there.

After the finish, we headed off to J.D.Wetherspoons - "Albert and The Lion" where, as well as reliving the race, and having a celebratory pint, we quizzed them about how they came to be here, in rainy Blackpool instead of comfortably on the sofa watching VLM on TV!  Amazingly, Mike and Sarah had had their hotel booked in Preston for over a month and Jo-Mo and Chris had driven down that morning!  What fantastic friends we have. It was really funny hearing how Mike and Sarah had set off from Cleethorpes to Blackpool not long after us.  Later were then keeping an eye on my facebook check-ins in the afternoon as they were strolling around Blackpool at the same time we were!  They were keeping a look out for us and making sure they didn’t go in the pub where we had checked in.  I could just picture them, dodging around Blackpool, looking out for us and making sure they didn’t bump into us and spoil the surprise. 

Whatever future runs and races I do, regardless of training and times, PB possibilities or anything else, this one will always stand out in my memory as special because of the unexpected support from awesome friends..... so much so that I just want to end this post with exactly the same photo I started ..... and say, "thank you, thank you, thank you, Sarah, Mike, Jo-Mo and Chris."

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