Gloucester City marathon
6th August 2017
Last year I took part in the Stroud trail marathon, my first marathon of any kind in almost 15 years. Subsequently, I promised myself I would enter a road marathon. I didn’t. Fast-forward one year, Stroud trial marathon again completed. I committed myself to a road marathon and entered Gloucester. I’d heard some positive feedback from one or two who had completed it in 2016 and liked the idea of a local marathon with a route that should be reasonably familiar to me.
Unfortunately I seem to be developing a nasty habit of finding my preparation for long races somewhat curtailed with either injury or illness. I’ve completed two trail marathons (see above) and two 20-mile races in the last 18 months, none of which I can say that I have been properly prepared for!
I was hoping to get at least one long (18 – 20 mile) run in ahead of Gloucester but, alas, it was not to be. Just to add insult to that, I picked up something in the week leading up to the event, finding myself having to make frequent (and rather unsavoury) visits to the bathroom.
On the plus side, I did arrive at the weekend feeling in pretty good spirits and, having marathon experience under my belt, was confident that I would complete it – if not particularly quickly. I collected my race pack the day before and used the opportunity to determine where best to park up on race day (and how to get there ahead of the inevitable road closures!).
Race day arrived and I had a little time to say hello and wish luck to familiar faces before we gathered in the Start area, in the Docks. Both the half- and full marathon, were going off together, which made for a good-sized crowd. The full marathon would be a single loop, with the half marathon peeling off after five miles to follow a truncated version of the loop. Not a two-loop race for me, which is a bit of a relief – I’m not the biggest fan of a multi-loop race (though I’m a lot more accommodating to it that I once may have been!).
With the size of the crowd, it was almost impossible to make out the race briefing. I did manage to hear the countdown (so at least managed to start my watch at the right time), and off we went. The first three miles took us through the City centre, past Kingsholm (where Chris was cheering us on), around Plock Court and through Longlevens. I did not see the first couple of mile markers, which did not do too much for my race plan.
Knowing that I was short of training miles, I had opted to adopt a strategy of run-a-mile-walk-a-minute; the idea being that a little recovery time on a regular and frequent basis should extend my stamina. I just needed the necessary discipline to see it through, having tried a similar format at the Berkeley 20 earlier in the year before failing to stick to it.
A slight revision, therefore, to my plan saw me take a 4-mile ‘warm-up’ before breaking into a walk at that mark. 120 paces (or, approximately, one minute) later, off I went again, only to bump into Kim and Kasha and exchange a rather sweaty hug – managing to knock Kim’s coffee cup clean out of her hand in the process! Chris, meanwhile, had pedalled up ahead to give us more encouragement.
Out of Churchdown and just after five miles, the half-marathoners peeled off to left (towards Down Hatherley), thinning out the field a little! Robert and Petra were on hand, though, to take the sting out of this with more encouragement and I headed on towards Staverton in a good frame of mind. Through Staverton, around Barrow and past Boddington, maintaining the minute ‘break’ at each mile, I passed Lesley (Cottle), taking a little time for us to wish each other well for the remainder.
A dog-leg across the main road by the Old Spot and onwards we went in the direction of Stoke Orchard. I had passed the 10-mile point and so far, so good. Just sixteen to go! We passed Hardwicke and took a left turn onto Cursey Lane, which would take us to the A38. A little more vocal support, in the form of Tewkesbury Allrunners was quite welcome, particularly as I found that lane to be a bit of a drag.
We crossed the main road and made out way in the direction of Apperley, me stopping at the next water station to both top up and, thanks to a handy portaloo, relieve myself. What I was unaware of at the time was that this water station had earlier ran dry, leaving several faster runners without hydration as they approached half-way. This would unfold later on in the race.
The 13-mile mark arrived midway up a climb, very hand to slowly jog up to before breaking into my mandatory minute’s worth of walking. Half-way there, and on what I deemed as the return leg, generally heading back in the direction of Gloucester. We passed lower Apperley and I somehow managed to miss both the 15-mile mark, leaving me with rather a long stint before turning into Wainlode Lane and finally getting some relief at the 16-mile point.
My mood was still quite good, not least knowing that there would be a decent crowd at the Red Lion up ahead. Sure enough, as we approached the pub (which was not yet open!!!), we were greeted by a great cheers. A good Almost crew were there, including Michelle, Nicky, Debs, Jules, Thom, Andrew, Chris (again!) and Matt (having completed the half in a great time and cycled out from there). Michelle even accompanied me up Wainlode Hill and past the 17-mile mark (yes – I did the minute walk again, but she insisted on me jogging past the marker and to a van parked further up). I posted this on the day on social media bit I’ll say it again - #bestsupportcrewintheworld.
That climb had taken a little out of me but I was still able to jog to the next mile mark. I was, however, becoming more relieved to be able to take a minute’s rest before continuing on; the lack of mileage was starting to show. Co-incidentally, I caught up with former Almost (and probably slimmer of the moment!) Gray Davis. He was one of those who had been without water at 12 miles and was suffering the effects of dehydration. This was not heled by him vomiting a couple of times whilst I walked along with him.
Fortunately another water station was just ahead, where he was able to rinse, and take on board some vital fluid. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the damage was done. After we ploughed on together over the next mile, he waved me on. He would shortly be advised to quit the race, such was his condition (in a nice gesture, he was given a medal for competing the half-marathon distance).
I followed the A38 through Down Hatherley and Twigwith and made to 20 miles just before we were due to turn right towards Sandhurst. Once we turned into the lane that would take us past Wallsworth Hall, my legs decided that they would no longer carry me for a full mile at a time and I went into that mode where one jogs painfully for a short period then walks for a slightly longer period.
In this fashion, I drew alongside Ian, who was pretty much doing the same. We passed the Hall and through a farm (farmyard smells are generally manageable but, at around 21 miles, one does prefer a more aroma-free sensation). As I attempted my next jog-come-shuffle, I wished Ian good luck (and he to me likewise) and silently screamed at myself get through the final few miles.
One particular stretch of country lane was so scenic, and so well laid, it just begged to be run upon and I found myself frustrated that I was unable to oblige. The 4½ hour pacer came by and encouraged me to go with him for the remaining four miles; I lasted approximately a quarter of one. The jogging periods became shorter, the walking periods longer. I was cursing myself to walk faster.
I did not see any further mile markers from there in. Perhaps, in my state, that was not a bad thing. Back into Gloucester, via Longford, I was at the stage where I’d attempt to start a jog and my legs would simply say No. Around the back of St Oswalds and following the Severn along a scenic footpath, I was swinging between self-motivation, self-frustration and self-defeat. Occasionally I’d be aware that my peripheral vision was starting to go and that I wasn’t necessarily walking a straight line.
A squeeze of the eyes, shake of the head and a little silent profanity seemed to provide a temporary solution and I made it as far as the foot bridge that signalled the final section. As I crossed it, Lesley drew alongside me. With her encouraging me on and a gentleman informing us that we had just two corners to go I managed to break out into a jog again. Amazing how, knowing that the finish is close, your previously tortured body manages one last hurrah.
It seemed like an awfully long jog to the first of these ‘last two corners’ but, as we rounded it, we saw the crowds by the finish, heard the cheers and pushed ourselves on. I did manage a little wave at the line but must confess that I don’t recall being quite so relieved for a race to be over! A brief word of thanks to Lesley before I found a spot suitable to collapse onto. However, lying down was not comfortable, so I collected my bag and shuffled to where a few Almosts were cheering home the runners.
I managed a brief exchange of congratulations and thanks to Rachael, Oliver (who had both completed the half marathon in a very respectable time), Beverley, Kasha, Lorraine and Sue before seeking out a spot where I could stretch / get comfortable / collapse again. I did not have much success! I did see Ian come in followed shortly by Cos who finished looking as if she had completed a 5k (and smashed her 2016 time into the bargain!).
I’d clocked 4 hours 45 minutes. Having had no idea what to expect I was unsure whether to pleased or not. The 4½ hour pacer passing just before mile 22 revealed that I’d effectively lost 15 minutes in the last four and a half miles. It also meant that I had been managing a 4½-hour, or better, pace to the point where my legs cried enough. Above all that – I survived. Road marathon under one’s belt – check.
I did enjoy it… if you call 20 miles of happy, followed by six miles of agony, enjoyment. I may well consider doing it again next year. Just, please, let me get my stamina up first.