After a decent block of training and averaging 60 miles a week for the 16 week schedule it was soon enough race day. I
I decided on a more structured marathon plan this time and used Pete Pfitzinger’s ‘Advanced Marathoning’ book as a guide for my 16 week schedule. I used the schedule from the book as more of a guide and more to look at the mileage and swapped the specified sessions to fit with what my running club (Arena 80) were doing on the track / hill sessions. I added a couple of marathon paced sessions which I have to admit I really struggled with and actually I only got as high as 8 miles at target race pace (6:50 minute miles). I did however race quite a lot in the 16 weeks. I raced parkrun 6 times, raced 3 x 10ks and 3 half marathons. My fastest half was 1 hour 25 minutes at Windsor Half Marathon – I used this as my guide for the full marathon and doubled the time and added 10 minutes which gave me exactly 3 hours as a prediction for Florence Marathon. I thought that maybe on a good day, that this could be achievable given I still had 7 weeks to go until race day.
However, 2 weeks until race day and I ran a half marathon in Bexhill, I had a really bad stitch and even though I slowed down quite a lot, I continued to run through the stitch, for some reason this gave me a pain in my abs for almost 3 days! I’m not sure what it was, maybe it wasn’t a stitch initially but I couldn’t run for 4 days after that – this got me worried, what if this happens on race day? I managed a very easy 13 miles the week before the race and to be honest, I was still getting a bit of pain but I couldn’t work out if it was a stomach pain or my abdominal muscles, it was a sharp stabbing pain like a stitch but why did I have it for a week!? The taper madness continued and I added an extra rest day on race week. I had no idea what was going to happen on race day, I hadn’t run a marathon paced run in what seemed like forever – I had no idea what to pace on marathon day! We flew to Florence the day before the marathon and visited the expo, everyone else I was with was really relaxed and enjoying their long weekend away in Florence but I couldn’t help feeling stressed. I don’t want to go home having run a 3:0X something marathon. I needed a sub 3.
Race day: did my normal pre-race routine.. eating porridge 3 hours before start time, doing a few stretches, Vaseline in places, gel belt organised, race number on… it’s time to go. I slowly jogged the mile to the start line, it was really busy and quite chaotic, the pen I was allocated was really far back, it was the 4th pen – how can I try to run sub 3 hours from the 4th pen! They were really strict on pen security and they had gates up and security guards on each pen checking your bib colour! It was time to panic, I needed a faster pen!! I managed to somehow sneak into the 2nd pen, but I was standing next to the 3 hour 30 minute pacer guy – but this will have to do. I was surrounded by Italians, people wanted to chat and I had no idea what they were saying, I watched a woman in front of me squat on the floor and wee! Then they announced there would be a 10 minute delay to the start due to it being live on TV or something, I just wanted to go!
Finally, we were off, it was a slow start, the first half a mile was super busy, some people running in front of me were videoing the first mile, some were taking pictures! I tried not to waste any extra energy and thought maybe the slow start was what I needed. First mile done in 7:00 minutes flat, wasn’t as slow as I thought. Up to mile 3: my calves felt tight but I knew this feeling would go after a while (I get it often in races), Mile 4 - 6: was very crowded, I managed to keep with 3 Italian guys that seemed to know their exact pace (I’m assuming so, but they were all sticking together like a pace group).
Miles 6 - 10: I took gel at 6 miles and felt like had an energy surge to mile 11. I saw my dad, my sister and Phil (my partner) around mile 10 – this gave me a boost too.
Mile 11 - 13.1: I felt a lack of energy, I took a caffeine gel just after 11 miles and then felt like I was getting back into rhythm on the river front about 12m, I found that the bridges made it hard to keep pace consistent. I went through halfway in average pace of 6:40 (1:27:20 pace).
Miles 14 - 16: I felt generally good, I felt like I was running in good rhythm and even against the wind a little bit. I took gel about 15 miles. Started to feel a bit tired around 16m along the railway, then I started to feel very tired when it came to the top turn around, I was really surprised to still be running 6:45 ish miles when I felt that tiredness. I started to count to 100 in my head (I read somewhere that Paula Radcliffe had done it in races). I took another gel at 18.5ish miles. The soles of my feet really hurt and I felt like I was lacking energy. I really started to question whether I could really run sub 3 hours when I got to 19 miles.
Miles 20 - 24: one of the dreaded bridges, at the point before the bridge it felt like a stitch was just about to hit me, and walked a little bit over the bridge and tried to push my stomach in where it was.
I started to run again at the top of the bridge and told myself that I wasn’t going to stop again until I got to the finish. It was now really painful and so tiring, I had my last gel at 22 miles, it seemed like it didn’t do anything, I kept asking myself "how much do you want it" over and over and over again I repeated this in my head, shouting it in my head. Miles 23 – 24 seemed so slow and seemed like there wasn't anything I could do about it, I could see the pace slowing on my watch and I tried so hard to pick up the pace but it felt like I couldn’t lift my legs up. I really wanted to stop, and I asked myself again "how much do you want it" in my head. I knew I was near to 25 miles, I’m near the end, I just need to keep going. I tried again to speed up and nothing seemed to happen! I saw my family at mile 25 and my dad shouted "one last push"
Mile 25 to 26 hurt like hell, my body was done. I kept going as fast as I could, I actually got overtaken by the 3:00 pacer who had like 5 or 6 balloons attached to him and one of the balloons hit me on the head as he overtook me! If that wasn’t a wake up call then I don’t know what is!! But annoyingly, I felt like I couldn't do anything about it. I turned the last turn for the riverfront and I changed the setting on my watch to show me the overall time. It said 2 hours 56 minutes and 26.0 miles, I knew the course was going to be a minimum of 26.4m (It came up as that on my watch the previous year I ran it) so I thought maybe I could still do it but it would be close! I started running as fast as I could, overtaking quite a few people on my sprint to the finish line. My watch turned to 2:59 and I turned the last corner! I knew I had to keep sprinting and wasn't sure if I was going to make it in time! It was going to be close! I crossed the finish line and the clock said 3:00:12.... My heart sunk, then I remembered I was in the 2nd pen and needed to check my watch – my heart was pounding – did I do it? (I know this story is spoilt by the title and those that already know the finish time, but I remember that feeling so well – it made me feel sick!) The watch showed 2:59:45 and I to this day, that was one of the most amazing moments of my life and when I think back to that moment, it really makes me smile and I still can’t believe it happened, but I worked hard for that. Then I celebrated with my family in Florence and we went out for a massive dinner and lots of wine and I had to listen to my family moan ALL EVENING about how much they had walked that day to watch me run the marathon. My dad said he must have walked a marathon that day! Haha. Love them. So anyway, it's 5 years later and I’m going to do it all again and I have more family coming too! The pressure is on, today I have booked Florence Marathon for November 2017!