Sometimes you have a running ‘itch’ that you just have to scratch and for me that itch was to come in the form of a road marathon. The Seville Marathon to be specific. I had toyed with the idea of having a crack at my Marathon PB for some time but I had never been proactive at finding an event that would fit around the ultra-marathons that I wanted to do.
Berlin 2015 had been the last time that I had really focused on running a fast marathon so it was high time that changed. After 2018 was blighted with injury, I had made some big plans for 2019 and Seville fitted nicely with those. A conversation with Sarah Sawyer whilst crewing at the A100 in October put the nail in the coffin so to speak and I booked the race shortly after.
The truth is I had slipped into that comfort zone that plagues runners. I had stopped working on my speed and had convinced myself that just clocking up mile after mile was enough to compete at the front of the ultra’s that I was taking part in. The hard truth was that although some of my times had improved a little, I was falling further behind the competition and guys who I was beating in 2016 were now showing me how it was done. I realised that I needed to find my road speed again if I had any hopes of being able to compete at the level I wanted to in 2019.
I took the decision quite early that I would change my training for Seville. I didn’t want to follow the traditional marathon plan as I have seen so many people arrive at the start line, fatigued and or injured, then fail to reach their goal. I wanted to be stood on that Seville start line fresh.
Through November and December I kept my weekly mileage relatively low (for me) at 50 – 60 miles and took part in the Three Counties X-Country races for the first time in 3 years. I was also running more Parkrun’s and ensuring I had one or two faster 10k efforts through the week. I held back on the long runs because I have seen so many people start running 18-20 miles so early in their training plans that it has had a detrimental effect and they are burnt out. I booked one race in January, the Folksworth 15 which would be my one marathon effort race 4 weeks prior to the big one. This race went perfectly to plan as I averaged just under 6 min/mile finishing in a new PB of 1:29. I was in a great place and then the dreaded man flu struck so I was laid up for the next 7 days with no training.
Don’t get me wrong I did do some long runs, but a couple of these were with Claire at her pace and then one was in the snow with my good buddy Matt in the Peak District so although there was huge elevation compared to a usual run in Bedford we didn’t take too much out of the legs. During the plan I did slot in a 14,16, and 18 mile run but that was it, the rest was shorter higher intensity work.
So with training completed all that was left was to trust the plan… I had decided that I would aim to run consistently at 6 min/mile and attempt to hold that pace for the duration. I wasn’t going to get greedy and go off too fast, if anything I wanted to hold back and have some in the tank for that last 10k that usually ends up biting so many of us in the butt. Going at this pace would ensure that I met all my pre-race goals if I was successful.. c.) I would go sub 2:45, b.) I would set a new PB and a.) I would break the MV40 Bedford Harriers club record.
We flew to Seville on the Friday and headed straight to the expo to get registered, before finding our accommodation. The expo was close to the airport so it was just a short taxi ride and whilst quite small compared to say London’s Marathon expo it was smoothly organised. Saturday was spent scoping out the start and having a look round the city. Seville is a lovely city with some magnificent architecture and I would highly recommend it should you fancy a little bit of winter sun. It was quite surreal as we walked round though as you wouldn’t of known that there was a gold standard IAAF marathon being run the next day. There were no barriers up, there were no km markers out, and you had to look closely to spot the green line on the floor that had been painted to guide the marathon runners.
That being said the temperature was perfect for the event and it promised to be ideal conditions on Sunday for a fast race. The usual pre race nerves were kicking in the night before as the realisation of the effort that would be required was beginning to dawn on me. Thankfully some messages from friends back in the UK helped to keep me calm and distract me from what awaited.
I had been overwhelmed by the messages of support that I had received prior to the event, and I knew that a few people would be watching the tracker back in the UK once they got back from their morning run!! I didn’t want to let them or myself down and this started the adrenaline pumping. There were some good tunes pumping out of the speakers as we dropped our bags off before heading to the start and the atmosphere was electric. It was time to do the business…
I left Claire in her start pen and made my way to the front. I was lucky to have been allocated a starting slot right behind the elite runners and hence the start pen was relatively spacious. Behind us held back by a couple of marshals and a thin rope was the rest of the field, fidgeting eagerly, anxious to be off. The Spanish announcer was trying to whip up a frenzy but all I could make out were the words ‘Marathon de Sevilla’ which he shouted with gusto!!
5 minutes to start and the field edged forwards, 3 minutes to start and you could feel the whole field right behind you, 1 minute to start people started to nudge trying to find a bit of space to sprint off, then the gun went and 13,000 runners charged off on a mission. As usual some people had obviously mistaken this for a 5km race and they flew off up the road, however I was keen to avoid this.
The course consisted of an 11km loop on the far side of the river, before completing the remaining 20 miles in and around the main city of Seville. The route was pancake flat, there were some cobbles and a few tram lines to negotiate but other than that the it was perfect. I didn’t think many people would come out and watch considering how early it was, but the crowd support was fantastic as the people of Seville came out in force to cheer us all on.
I settled into my race plan and just began churning out the miles. The first 10k passed quickly in 37:30 and I felt comfortable, I maintained that pace and went through 10 miles in around 59:20. I was on track… imagine that a plan that was actually working. At 18km (11-12 miles) I some doubt started to creep in as my right hip started hurting and the hamstring started to grumble. I have had some history of hip issues when I expose it to prolonged fast effort and now I started to feel like I was slowing down. A quick check of my watch confirmed that I was still on pace and I tried to push the discomfort to the back of my mind as there was a long way to go.
I had said to Claire the day before that I wanted to go through halfway in 1:18:30 and as I crossed the half way timing mat I saw the clock tick round to 1:18:29, which perfect. I still had to tell myself to relax though, ‘See Ian you are on pace’… ‘this is what you wanted yesterday’…. ‘keep it going’. I tried to relax, knuckle down and refocus, ignoring my hip and trying to stay metronomic.
I was due a second gel at 14 miles, but after one gulp I stupidly dropped the packet on the floor. I was not going to stop and pick it up as I didn’t want to break my rhythm, so I settled for a few chewy sweets that I was carrying, but these didn’t go down too well. It’s hard to chomp on some jelly sweets when you are running at a fast pace.
I started to struggle a bit mentally again as I neared 20 miles and km’s 30-32 seemed to take an age. I passed through 30km in 1:51 and then I went through 20 miles in 1:59 and I told myself that if I could just hold it together then I’d be ok. I had 39 minutes to run 10k (doesn’t sound much does it) and I would achieve all my goals. I knew that sub 2:45 was in the bag as long as I did nothing silly. At points like these I use silly methods to keep focused, I use mantra’s like ‘only 2 parkruns to go’ or I imagine that at each timing mat I will see the people who are watching at home, both of these just help to give me a lift when I need it the most.
I had my last gel at 33km and then it was a case of push on to the finish. However at 36km I started to feel my right calf twitch with cramp. ‘Please don’t let this happen to me’ I thought, I have less than 4 miles to go and if I cramp now that is it… game over! I spent the next 4km’s worrying about my leg, and each time I had to go round a corner it threatened to cramp, each time I stepped up on a curb or over a tram line it did the same! At 38km I tried to have some water to help but I just ended up tipping most of it over my face!
Passing through 39km and heading into the town centre I actually felt aerobically like I had more to give, but I was having to hold back and manage the legs. Through 40km in 2:29 I now knew that as long as I didn’t cramp I would do it, I told myself to not get greedy, don’t aim for 2:36… just get that club record, just set a new PB and for goodness sake please don’t let the calf cramp.
As we ran past the huge cathedral and the palace the crowd were cheering, and the atmosphere was immense. This is what I had trained hard for, this was how I wanted my year to start and I actually didn’t quite believe how it had gone. I really wanted to open the legs and push hard for the finish… there was a mile to go. I didn’t want to mess it up though and I knew I had to listen to my body.
I turned into the home straight straining to see what the clock said, it ticked over to 2:37 and I pushed as hard as I dared to come in under 2:38… it seemed to take an age to reach, but I crossed the line as it ticked to 2:37:53, I knew my chip time would be slightly quicker…. job done.
As usual we were ushered through the finishing funnel quickly, given our medals and our goody bags before the slow painful trudge back to the baggage tent. Prior to the race someone had told me that the oranges at the end taste like angels crying on your tongue… I’m not sure I’d go that far, but they did taste delicious and very refreshing.
To give you an idea of how close I was to cramp ruining my race as I walked back to the baggage tent both of my lower legs seized up and I couldn’t move for five minutes. I had to stand on the spot and glug down some Powerade just so I could make it back to my kit bag. Imagine if this had happened just a few minutes earlier… I would of struggled to make 2:45.
This just shows that it is important to listen to your body during events, as if I hadn’t listened I would of been robbed of all three of my goals.
In the end though it was a very successful race and now all that was left was to enjoy the sunshine and wait for Claire to finish.
I would like to thank everyone who sent messages of support and congratulations to me whether directly or via social media. It meant a great deal to know so many people had their fingers crossed for me and I am truly humbled. Lets hope that it is the start of things to come for 2019…. it’s going to be a big year!!