"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Chico Memorial Marathon - Bristol/Bath - February 27th 2021

I usually start any race report with a laundry list of excuses about how unprepared I was, but recently I have managed to start targetting races and preparing pretty well. Preparing well for a marathon can mean many different things though - my Bruce Tulloh book tells me I should peak at 70 miles a week, but I know my body won't take that without breaking down. The most I have ever maintained for a number of weeks together is around 50 miles. This time, after a 2020 dedicated almost entirely to 2-mile, 5k and 10k racing I set aside two months for marathon build up and peaked at 45 miles a week for the hard month of training. That was a 20 mile long run (3 of those in total, plus one 18 miler), a 10 mile marathon pace run, a 10 miler at 8-min pace (about half way between half-marathon and marathon pace) and a 5 mile recovery jog. I was also doing one or two bike sessions a week but those were short and easy. The taper lasted about 3 weeks with the long runs counting down to 15, 10 then 5.

Race day was cold and misty - only 2 degrees when I got to Bitton Station. I was running in a winter training jacket with a large waistpack holding 1.5 litres of electrolyte, 2 energy bars, 3 SIS caffeine gels and my smartphone. Timing was all on GPS and the course was flat and beautiful. I felt ready for it and very happy to be challenging the immortal marathon distance as part of an international "virtual" race (although I was of course running solo). The Chico Memorial marathon is something we run to commemorate Sri Chinmoy's marathon run 40+ years ago when he clocked up 3.55.07 which later became the qualifying time for our Invitational event held every April. Although I knew I would not be able to go to New York for that race in 2021, I still wanted to run the qualifier. I narrowly missed out in 2020 so it seemed like a good target and I felt sure I could achieve that time or maybe something better, thanks to the better training.

I started out at 8.45 pace heading towards Bristol on the cycle track before turning at Warmley, then eased up to 8.30 by the time I ran back through Bitton and out towards Bath. The path was busy but not crowded and it proved the perfect course for a solo marathon run with just enough company to make it feel like a race. I started feeding at 11 miles with a gel and planned to alternate bars/gels every 3 miles from then on. Coming off the railway path on to the riverside trail in Bath I started running with a buff over my face - not sure how much difference that makes but I can tell that other people on the same path or pavement appreciate it. I was on an average pace of 8.37 when I came to the turnaround point just after crossing Pulteney Bridge. I actually took a few seconds out for a selfie opposite the Abbey.

Heading out of town I was pleased to still feel strong and not too stiff despite having clocked up 16 miles when I rejoined the cycleway. It was even more heavily populated now but I still had no significant trouble staying at my chosen pace and weaving between the families of walkers and pairs of cyclists out training.

The sun had come out in Bath but as I headed back into the valley of the Avon the temperature dropped again and the mist was still hanging low and cool over the river. Miles ticked by and the stiffness gradually began to come on as it inevitably does in a marathon. My energy was good until I got to around 20 miles and I found the energy bar I was scheduled to eat at that point quite hard going - I discarded the last bit of it but I had managed to get most of it down, on the assumption that I would desperately need those calories over the next 40 minutes or so. My average pace began to rise - 8.39, 8.40 then rapidly slowing to 8.44. I discarded my waistpack at Bitton with 4.6 miles still to go and just ran with a handbottle and one last gel to take at mile 23. Everything became a struggle on the leg out to Warmley and by the time I approached the last turnaround with 2.3 miles left to run I was seriously empty of energy and wondering if I would still manage the three-forty-something that had seemed very much in the bag at my half way point.

Just at that moment I saw one of our Sri Chinmoy Triathlon tee shirts approaching and that instantly gave me a lift. The runner wearing it was going just a little faster than me which was exactly what I needed. I turned at the point where the path crosses the road at Warmley and ran back on my final leg to Bitton, pushing myself just that little bit harder to stay at the same pace as the triathlete who was acting as a perfect pacemaker, with 3 pictures of Sri Chinmoy and a quote from his writings on the back of the tee shirt to give me something to focus on. It was as good as having my own personal lead-cyclist like the faster runners in our Rockland Marathon.

It was very hard to stay on pace and keep following the Sri Chinmoy Tri tee shirt but I managed it for a mile or more to the final road crossing then went ahead to maintain that pace to the finish. Although I didn't manage even splits, I ran the second half at a reasonable pace without any major crash and finished in 3.48.45. Seeing as 3.55.07 had been my main target and three-forty-something an aspiration if all went well, I was more than happy.

After the finish at Bitton I just sat in the sun resting my face on my hands unable to stay upright for around 15 minutes. Then I felt able to finish my flask of tea that was in the car and safely drive home to Bristol. When the results finally came out I found I had finished 6th out of 30 - and on this occasion that wasn't good enough for 1st vet 50 as Namitabha had come in several minutes faster. The outright winner was Dhavala with an amazing 3.34 - nice going. Apparently she didn't really train either!

I had achieved my main goal of the 3.55.07 invitational qualifier though so that was more than enough reward for the training. The marathon really is a special distance - a sacred distance. The experience you have when you step up to that distance, in terms of the application and dedication you need to complete the run, is in another dimension compared to half-marathon or 10-miler. The changes the body has to go through, the determination you need on a mental level, the way your heart and soul are tested in the closing miles, all those things make the marathon unique. I may not be particularly good at racing 26.2 miles, but I hope I can keep on doing it for years to come as it really is the transformational distance.


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