I went to Sixmilebridge (County Clare) with John today to run a marathon around the town along a 1 mile loop. Our race was one of the short ones on offer with a 52.44 mile double marathon starting at 7, a 30 miler at 10, the marathon at 11 and a half marathon at 12. Overall there were about 100 entries, which is just about enough to ensure there was no congestion around the 1 mile urban course, which remained open to traffic, although the course was coned off.
The marathon started close to the high point of the 1 mile loop with a 0.22 mile net drop to the start/finish area, another 0.44 mile net drop down to the center of the village before a 0.33 rise back to the highpoint. So no big hills but the 26 small ones proved enough of a challenge.
I decided to start relatively conservatively at about 8:30 pace and gradually increase the pace over the opening 6 miles to below 8 minute miles with the aim of getting under 3:30. John's plan was slighthly different - 8 minute miles for a sub 3:30 (No 6 mile cut-in). Hopefully I would bump into him in the second half. The temperature was a few degrees above freezing which called for my club singlet over a long sleeved top and gloves. I wore compression socks for my recently recovered calves and a relatively new pair of Asics Gel Hyperspeeds. The first drops of rain began to fall as the countdown began - the start of a progressively wet and windy day.
My opening half mile was at 8 minute pace, but the rise at the back of the course knocked that back to 8:21 for the opening mile. Mile 2 passed in 8:15. Coming into the 2.2 mile start/finish the front runner passed me - bloody fast 3.2 miles (5.18 km) in under 19 minutes. My pace gradually reduced to below 8 minute miles by mile 5 (7:57) 40:50 overall - only 50 seconds behind 3:30 pace. Coming into the end of lap 7 one of my laces became undone and after crossing the timing mat to begin lap 8 I stopped to tie it. On resuming running I noticed the Garmin display "auto-resume" - "Shit" the timer was paused while I was stopped. I had not tied the lace properly and had to stop again before the end of the lap to tie it again. I reckoned I had lost about 40 seconds, when checking my time against Ken Begg's Garmin a few laps later.
I was on 3:30 pace by mile 10 (1:19:12 on the Garmin - close to 1:20 real-time). No sign of John ahead though. In fact I did not catch him until coming in to complete lap 15. He reckoned we were 1:50 below 3:30 pace. Miles 10 to 15 had typically been at 7:40 pace (7:20 on the downhill, rising to 7:40 by the time I crested the high point). I had to tie my bloody shoe lace again - nearly cutting off circulation on the top of my foot to make sure it would not unravel again. I went ahead of John before the end of lap 16 - 10 miles to go. The laps to mile 21 were at a steady pace just under 7:40 miles. With 5 miles to go John was back on my shoulder and pulling away from me (a few bars of chocolate had given him renewed energy - I had taken a gel at mile 13 and was saving my second one for mile 22). I could not respond and preferred to stick to my relatively consistent pace, which would get me to the finish line in the most efficient way I knew - and who knows he may slow before the finish - although the way he was moving I doubted it. I was just glad that I was reasonably comfortable and not slowing down (a good sign for pacing Clon in 3 weeks time) Niall, who was stewarding close to the start/finish, was encouraging both of us to race as we passed.
Coming in to complete laps 23 and 24 I was about 30 seconds behind John and figured I would finish up to a minute behind him. Coming up the rise towards the 25 mile mark, however, I noticed I was gaining on him, which encouraged me to keep a steady effort as I gradually eroded the gap between us - crossing the start/finish mat at mile 25.22 a few yards behind him - one lap to go. We ran down to the village center side by side. Knowing that John has a much faster finishing kick than me I knew that the only chance I had was to kick from the bottom of the rise (about mile 25.6) as I appeared to be stronger on the uphills over the last few laps, with John pulling away on the downhills. If I could put enough of a gap between us by the top of the rise I might just be able to hold on over the last 0.3 miles to the finish.
Off I went - pushing harder than I had over the last 25 laps -
knowing hoping that the effort I was enduring was harder for John. I didn't look back but was certain he was right behind me - very difficult to tell where he was, as we passed quite a few runners and every footfall I heard behind me was John's. Finally I crested the high point and opened up the throttle as hard as I could - running scared - this wouldn't be the first time that John would blaze past me over the closing few 100m of a race. I hoped I had done enough on the hill. I kept hearing footsteps behind me - almost stumbling on the last bend in my eagerness not to lose speed, 50m from the finish - pushing for the line crossing just a few seconds over 3:23 on the Garmin - so about 3:24:xx counting the stops to tie my shoelace. John came in a few seconds later - claiming that I had done enough on the hill to keep ahead. My last 0.22 miles was at 6:36 pace - good to know that I had something left in the tank. Today was never about puhing my limits but more about getting some confidence that I am fully recovered and have a reasonable chance of pacing a hilly 3:30 finish in Clon on December 8th.
Well done to Tom Enright and all the stewards today - great organisation, support and encouragement and a tough job to be standing out there in the rain all day. "Welcome to hell" Tom said to me when I passed him somewhere around mile 23, splashing through the rivers flowing down the road - but to be quite honest it was nowhere near hell. I only noticed how wet it was after I finished.
PS: The results give me a 3:24:02 finish in 5th place (out of 34). 1st was nearly half an hour ahead in 2:55:40 - although he slowed significantly in the 2nd half (1:18:40 to mile 13.2 and 1:37:00 for the last 13 miles to my 1:44:13 & 1:39:49).