Following our successes at Prague 70.3 at the end of July, I had just 4 weeks to recover and get my legs ready to take on 26.2 miles for the first time. I knew that some probably thought I was silly to be attempting this just 3 weeks before the ITU worlds in Australia, but I didn’t care. 2018 was to be the year of going long with running, in an effort to improve without breaking myself as per 2017. I had already decided before I actually hit the “enter” button that I would be running to raise money for a little known charity called “Papyrus”, who work at preventing young suicide. I lost my cousin Paul to this in 2012, and it’s something I would never want another individual or family to have to go through if possible. The race was due to occur the day after what would have been his 30th birthday, and I couldn’t think of a better birthday present than trying to accomplish something I swore I would never do, and putting my heart and soul into it
Remembering back to 2016 Majorca 70.3 when it took me weeks to feel normal again, post-Prague recovery went surprisingly smoothly… a 50 minute date night pedalo around the swim course the following day was clearly a winner! Training resumed with relative normality once back in the UK, and I managed both 26km and 32km long runs in the lead up to race day without too much bother. I normally get bored with looped runs, as I find I have to play a near-constant mental battle not to pull out way before I’m supposed to. However, Paul put his all into planning my 32km run around Arrow Valley Park so that we could use the car as a drinks/gel pit-stop, and I completed something like 5 1/2 loops to make the distance. And it wasn’t even that bad 🙂
Race weekend rolled around quickly, and we flew to Guernsey from Southampton. One of those diddy planes which I am always amazed how they stay in one piece in the air, we had a bit of drama with some ever-so-slightly over-sized hand luggage which had to be checked in at extra expense. Otherwise we landed in no time, with clear views of the island whilst descending. I was going to be running around that tomorrow! We found the lovely boutique hotel Ziggurat and checked in. Very warm and welcoming place, but can you imagine my dismay when we found out there were no rooms with baths, only showers?! Post-race soak was out, booooooo! Also, there appeared to be access to the hotel only on foot, via a billion steps… Careful not to do too much time on feet, we grabbed a sit-down lunch and then picked up a few breakfast provisions from the nearby Co-op, before retiring to the room for a bit longer to study the course and chill. 6pm we got our running togs on and went for a 5km leg stretch to check out the main hill on the route – a brutal 71m of ascent within the first mile. I felt blimmin’ awful, battling a stitch for the majority of the half hour we were out. Determined not to let it worry me about my performance the next day, we went straight to the pasta party and to register. I tried my best to avoid the cheesy/lactose-filled dish but couldn’t resist a couple of mouthfuls… sometimes I despair of myself! Back to the hotel and a quick shower before lying supine for the rest of the evening.
Race day arrived, and I don’t think I slept too badly. Up too early for the hotel breakfast and wanting to make sure I didn’t upset my tummy, I chowed down on a tuperware filed with sugary rice crispies and had a tasty danish pastry chaser. Breakfast of champions 🙂
Down to the start – thankfully only a 5 or so minute walk away – and it started drizzling and wasn’t very warm. A little jog around to try and get the legs firing, and it soon became apparent my gel belt wasn’t the most sturdy as one plopped to the floor – argh! A bit of jiggery-pokery and I was basically crossing my fingers that I would have some nutrition left once we started. Paul and I had made a plan that he would go back to the hotel to take advantage of the nice breakfast, and then jog out to meet me at the halfway point on the other side of the island for a bit of moral support.
The start horn blew and we were off! In my head I had a vague plan to aim for 5:18/km pace overall, which would sneak me under the 3:45 finish time. However that first hill was purely done to effort and would skew the average pace for quite some time! So in the end I pretty much abandoned looking at my watch and went off perceived exertion/HR. I found several lovely people to run with in the first 10 miles, including a Scouse/Chinese man who had done several marathons and admitted after about 2 miles together that he was going far too fast and shortly after dropped back…whoops! There was a woman who was doing it as part of a relay and consequently felt quite fresh and chipper about the whole thing and offered up some tourism advice, and then a friendly rowing chap called Chris who was doing it as part of a relay but said he’d probably carry on and see what he could do over the whole distance anyway, for bants. Good lad 🙂 We were actually quite well-matched pace-wise and probably ran 3+ miles together, though then he dropped me like Geraint Thomas’ microphone and I found myself on my own for a while. Not to worry, that side of the island was quite picturesque and there were some war bunkers to look at on the beach, and I got into a steady rhythm for a while. By the time I approached the half-way point, where there was a relay changeover area and water station, the weather had begun to take a turn for the wetter. Worse, I saw no sign of Paul. Had I missed him? Was he lost? I made a split decision to keep going, knowing his slow running pace is faster than I could ever dream of running a half marathon, and surmising that if I had somehow beaten him to the meet point, he would be able to catch me without problem. The only glitch being if he thought that I was behind schedule and waited for me to get to him… Turns out this almost did happen, save for the fact that he caught a glimpse of me running into the distance just as he arrived… so he put a sprint on and caught me and all was well.
The next 13 miles went OK, I had my remaining 3 gels exactly as I rationed them, topped up with some slightly soggy jelly babies from Paul’s run pouch… mmmmm! Around mile 18 my knees started to hurt, and I had to have a little chat with myself not to stop and walk for a bit. Then, when we reached the top of the island, the rain really set in. By the time we were headed back down the East coast it was absolutely pissing it down and the wind had picked up just a tad! I think I had probably slowed a bit by this point as I was starting to get a bit cold, but one by one I managed to pick off a few runners, including another lady who must’ve been in front of me from the off, and Chris the rower. Seeing the “3 miles to go” sign was a bit of a boost, knowing I had less than a Parkrun remaining. Paul left me to it, getting to the finish before me (and confusing the spectators when he didn’t go down the finish chute!) so he could get some photos of me crossing the line. Running the last 100m, and at that moment I had a little cry for my other Paul, remembering why I had put myself through this in the first place. I looked up at the timer and was gobsmacked at what I had achieved as a “non-runner” – smashing my target and coming in under 3:37. A mixture of sheer sense of achievement, pride, loss and suddenly bilateral quad cramp flooded my senses, and I was done.
I tret myself to the most painful massage I’ve ever encountered, all in the name of donating to Bowel Cancer Guernsey. Trying to make conversation with the lass doing it was more awkward than Michael McIntyre’s sketch about the masseuse getting dangerously close to his balls! But I’m sure having one was the right thing to do in that situation. Paul came over whilst I was suppressing yelps and duly informed me that I had come 4th lady overall, and better still was the fastest virgin marathoner of the day – what an accolade 😀
After a day of sightseeing, it was back to England and minimal recovery time before the build-up to Gold Coast worlds. I think I had 2 days completely off, and then started back with some moderate intensity training. Obviously I had succumbed to a cold, so it was a delicate balance of building back some speed into the legs whilst avoiding making myself more ill.
Departure day rolled around before you could say “G’day mate”, and then all of a sudden we were at Golden Sands on Main Beach. We had entered the “fun” aquathlon on my birthday, in part to serve as a swim recce (as there wasn’t going to be one for the actual race), and in part for bants… I mean, what’s $20 when you’ve spent a heap more just getting there?! My swim was averagely mediocre but not a disaster, whilst the run was a hot, bothered, sorry state of affairs that saw me barely break 4:50/km pace for 5km. I will admit I got a bit grumpy after this, but tried to swallow my pride and show Paul how proud I was of him getting the bronze. I love him, but he’s annoying good sometimes!
A few more days of swimming at the Commonwealth pool complex (2x50m pools, a 33m pool, a 25m pool and an indoor pool no less), bike recce, team briefing and Main Beach Parkrun tourism, and then it was the day before race day. We registered, racked and tried to rest the legs as much as possible. As the evening drew in, there was increasing speculation among the GBers about whether or not disc wheels were going to be allowed. The forecast was a little windier than the previous few days, but nothing too spectacular until the afternoon, and we were due to race early doors. No sooner had we resigned ourselves to have a customary nightcap to settle the nerves, the official announcement from ITU came through the app: NO DISC WHEELS. Cue absolute pandemonium. Although only around 10% of racers had chosen to rack with discs, this was still a hefty subset to try and source an alternative wheel with less than 10 hours to the start gun. Paul immediately went into selfless mode and created a spreadsheet to keep track of swaps in the group. Thankfully, I had met a fellow Robinson who had raced the sprint, who loaned me his rear wheel – all we needed to do was drive around Southport in the dark to find his motel! Unfortunately Paul was not so lucky, but we managed to contact a local wheel supplier who agreed to rent one to him in the morning. Talk about drama!
Race morning arrived, Paul got his wheel, and I just about made it up to race start by the skin of my teeth. There may have been some start pen jumping involved..! Barely a couple of minutes of treading water and we were off. The swim course was a pretty straightforward A-to-B straight line along the shore; I felt better than my time out of the water reflected (25:37 for 1500m) which was a bit annoying. An uneventful T1 and we were out on the bike. Annoyingly, it was somewhat less windy than anticipated by the wheel-gate drama. Grrrr. The bike leg, normally my forte, left me a bit disappointed. The 2 lap out-and-back loop was absolutely full of athletes, and for the majority of the course it was a decision between going into the red or dropping back in order to avoid drafting. To save my legs for the run, which I knew was going to be hard 3 weeks post marathon and in the heat, I opted for the latter. Consequently my time of 1:06 for the 39km definitely was not what I was capable of. Having said this, out on the run I felt much better than I had anticipated, averaging 4:44/km pace to bring home a finish time of 2:23 and 44th out of 74 in the 30-34 age category. Paul of course did amazingly well, coming first Brit across the line and 13th in age cat. Hero.
A week post race to enjoy the chilled Aussie life, throw in a couple of relaxed swims, a bit of sightseeing around Tamborine Mountain and time to reflect. The worlds had been decent, although I felt I could have done better, and the whole wheel drama kind of spoilt it a bit. The forecast had not changed significantly in the days leading up to the race, so why such a late decision? 7/10 from me. Guernsey and my first marathon experience though, 100% satisfaction and one of my proudest sporting achievements. In the end I think I raised just shy of £1300 for Papyrus, and I felt I had done both Pauls proud. 11/10. Will I do one again? Probably. But not any time soon. For now, it’s back to project speed for 2019.