So, I’m half way to the 100 Marathon Club! When I ran Brighton Marathon in 2014 I hated every minute of it and vowed never to run another in my life. That was pretty much the last running I did full stop for another three years. I’d never heard of an ultra marathon before (and had I done, I would have said it was the most stupid idea I’d ever heard of) and the idea that anyone would ever run 100 marathons would have seemed insane. Times have changed.
As I’ve mentioned previously, the last year has been all about the ultra marathons and I’m now back to aiming to get my marathon time down to sub-3, having neglected speed for the past 12 months. Richmond Marathon was going to be one of two things. I was going to set out at a decent pace and depending on how the early stages felt I would (a) push for a sub-3 today; or (b) ease off the pace and use it as the starting point for the sub-3 training. It would turn out to be the latter.
The Marathon had an 8am start (?!). It only takes about an hour and a half to get there from my house on public transport but at that time in the morning the trains weren’t running and the local stations were all shut. Deciding I couldn’t be bothered with a taxi, I booked a hotel 20 minutes walk from the start line and Naomi and I headed down the night before.
I opted for an early night. Naomi asked what time I’d set the alarm for. “5.30”. Silence. “We’re 20 minutes from the start and it starts at 8…”. “I know, but I need to start eating a couple of hours before.” More silence. “Well I’m not getting up.”
Noms suffers a lot in the name of my running. My alarm went off at 5.30 as planned and I munched on a couple of bagels before we both wandered over to Kew Gardens. Naomi was going to be running the half marathon, which started 55 minutes after the marathon start. The sun was starting to creep out and I thought it would be a warm day. It turned out to be far hotter than expected.
I was in Wave 1 so was in the front pen, just behind the 3 hour pacer. The start was fairly abrupt: “I’m going to count you all down. Ready, go!”. Off we went. The first four or five km looped around Kew Gardens itself. The Gardens are a lovely place to run around but when you’re part of a tight pack it can be difficult as the corners for the various parts require sharp turns, so there was a fair bit of stumbling and dodging before people spread out.
I fell into a regular pace and was broadly feeling good. Paul Galt, another Phoenix regular, ran alongside me for a few minutes and we chatted about various recent running achievements and goals, before he shot off into the distance. I was in a gentle feeling 4:10 per km pace and the legs were warming up. My running sunglasses adjust automatically to the light conditions which proved really helpful at this time of the morning in Kew. There were frequent periods of running through heavy shadow with almost no light before turning a corner and running straight into the low-rising sun. A few people stumbled.
After about 6km of twists and turns, the course exited Kew Gardens and headed around to the Towpath along the Thames, in the direction of Hampton Court. It was only about 8.20am but the day was already warm.
Richmond Runfest bills itself as London’s flattest marathon, which is a very different thing from saying it is London’s fastest. A lot of things go into making a fast course. Elevation is one of them, underfoot surface is another. Field size, a lack of sharp twists and turns etc (as well as non-course specific things for any given race such as weather).
Richmond may be flat but about 50% of the course route along the tow path is on a loose stone/gravel type surface which moves and slides under your feet. It makes grip difficult and a consistent stride hard to maintain.
My pace along the towpath slacked off slightly, down to about a 4:13 per km pace. I kept this up all the way along the towpath, through Richmond Lock, Teddington Lock and eventually all the way up past Kingston Bridge. In doing so I passed through the area at which the Centurion Thames Path 100 Miler had start, what seems way back in May.
There was relatively little variation along this stretch of the Thames, other than a fairly frequent switch between stony ground and concrete paths.
Just after the 19km mark, the course turns back on itself and we were running the other way back along the same path before crossing the river at Kingston Bridge. Once over the bridge the path turned left and back up the other side of the river, once again towards Hampton Court. I passed the half way point in 1 hour 28, bang on target for a sub-3 but I knew it wasn’t going to happen. My legs were starting to feel the pressure too early and I was struggling with the heat. My shoulders were starting to sizzle.
Pre-plan B it was. I eased off the pace and settled for using the race as the reset for the sub-3 training. The rest of the race was something of a coasting it home. I let the three hour pacer pass and slowly pull away as I trotted on to Hampton Court.
Reaching Hampton Court, the course entered into the outer courtyard at Hampton Court, back out of the other gate and then back up along the river once more, past those running in the other direction.
All the way back to Kingston Bridge and back over, then turning left and heading once more back towards the start/finish at Richmond. 30km down. Another 12.2 to go.
With 6km remaining, the marathon course rejoined with the half marathon course. Then things got a bit crowded. The marathon runners at my pace were still moving faster than the half marathon runners at that stage of their race, resulting in quite a lot of weaving, dodging and at times slowing right down due to a packed path.
That’s in no way a complaint about the half marathon runners – their race was just as important as mine. It is however a recurring issue with organisers holding multiple distance races simultaneously on the same course.
The race finished just up the road from the start line, ending in the Old Deer Park. With just under 1km to go I figured that I may as well finish strong, so I pegged it.
The final straight had a great atmosphere as Richmond Runfest had set up something of a running festival at the finish line, with the final 500 metres packed with people cheering.
Across the line and I grabbed my medal and t-shirt. A finish of 3:24:36. Not too long ago that would have been a PB. Now it’s far from it but I was content. This was a return to speed work and the starting point for bigger things.
And it was Marathon 50 completed! I’ll happily take that.
Naomi smashed out her half marathon in a brilliant 2:02:27 despite the heat.
N.B. I was in the kitchen area at work last week when a colleague asked if I was running at the weekend. I said “I have Richmond Marathon on Sunday, it will be my 50th.” To which they replied, entirely seriously, “That’s great, I wouldn’t say you look quite 50 yet.”
I am 29. My family find this hilarious…