Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Facing the Demons

All the dramas of last year's start at the Seville Marathon have really had an impact on my psyche. I've been too scared of another trampling to enter another big race with a mass start (hence my withdrawal from Comrades and my hiding away at the side on the barriers in the Glasgow half). The Seville race organisers knew this and so kindly invited me back to try to slay my demons.

A photoshoot at the expo....
As previously described, I had somewhat lost my mojo after a great 2014, so combining that with poor weather (the roads were thick ice/snow for a good 2 weeks and the track was shut for 5 weeks), a very short training window, and some health issues, I wasn't going to be going there aiming to run a good time. The goal was just to get through the mayhem of the start and get round in 1 piece rather than 3 this year, though I would've been upset with myself if I didn't have a good solid run (and it wouldn't have seemed fair on those who had invited me back if I'd just had an easy run round the course).

Enjoying the Seville oranges....
The lead up to the race was slightly crazy as I wasn't even sure that I was going to be able to go until the Wednesday night, but luckily I got the all clear from the cardiologist that evening. In 2014, I had been there on my own when all the dramas occurred, and so this year I invited my mother to come with me. Who wouldn't want a weekend of sun and sightseeing in Spain when it's cold in the uk? And a weekend of my company too......just kidding! It was lovely to spend some time just wandering around Seville with her, checking out tourist spots, watching parades, visiting cafes and ice cream shops, seeing parts of the route (including the tramlines in town, the horsemuck from the tourist carts, the tiles of Plaza España and the raised studs marking cycle lanes) and obviously Seville orange trees.

Churros and chocolate!!
I was delighted to see the weather the day before the race - cold and wet - as all the other runners in the Elite start come from warm, sunny countries (well, there was a Swedish lady, Louise, but she'd just spent a couple of months training at altitude in the South African summer), but unfortunately by the time the lunchtime technical meeting came about,  it was sunny and warm again. Judging by the meeting, it looked like here would be quite an exciting race going on (obviously way ahead of me up the road), as the pacers for the lead men were going off at well under CR schedule (ie 2:07:30 pace). The women's field was rather stacked also - there was an official pacemaker for 2:26-2:28, and then several ladies had brough their own private pacemakers - aiming for 2:31, 2:32, 2:34, and 2:38 (that was Louise). I hoped that I wouldn't have too lonely a run on the day as there didn't seem to be anyone else there of my standard. Still - I guess none of them went out and met their mother for churros, chocolate and ice cream that afternoon either (I like to call it "carb-loading Sevilliano-style"!).

Race day started better this year, as I actually managed to get the right bus to the start so there was no wandering around lost in the dark, and I had time to sit quietly in the Elite enclosure eating my jam sandwiches (thanks to a photographer for capturing that), queue for the solo portaloo, check out the site of last year's carnage (a nice smooth section of road.....lovely....but I definitely didn't want to see it again from any closer up!), try to calm my thoughts, and actually warm up.

I cannot remember much about the 2014 start, but I'd spotted myself in the centre of the road in some photos, so this time I made sure that I was right at the edge, almost completely tucked in behind the start gantry. It seemed to me that they were never going to get the race under way, but then I did know that I was going to expend most of my energy with startline nerves. Several guys tried to be "kind" and urged me to start ahead if them, but I tried to politely refuse and kept hanging onto the gantry as if my life depended on it (well it felt like it did!), despite some marshals trying to push the gantry in to actually narrow the funnel.

My favourite bit of road - not!
All of a sudden we were off......and even though I was right at the edge and headed as wide as I could immediately, I still felt some hands on my back and shoulder pushing me on. I really fail to understand this - everyone has to run at least 26.2 miles, so why the urge to push, shove and sprint those first few yards. Fear really kicked in, and so I'm ashamed to say that I wasn't as gentle as I could have been as I semi-turned and slapped those hands away.....but it seemed to work as I suddenly realised that I'd covered the first 100yards and was still on my feet and running! Happy Days!
I then had a sudden realisation.....I'd managed to run the gauntlet of the start and make it out alive.....but now I actually had a marathon to run. I'd been so focused on the first few yards rather than the race as a whole, that I hadn't switched my watch on, but somehow I managed to do so as I was running along. I wasn't sure what pace I was running so looked around as I got to the first km marker. I could see Louise and her coach/pacer not too far ahead of me, and an couple of the low 2:30s ladies and their pacers were still in sight. One thing that did really confuse me was that the official 2:45 pacer (with his huge balloon) was a considerable distance up the road ahead of us all. Weird! However, I just decided to ignore all of that and settle into a pace that seemed comfortably uncomfortable.
The next few miles ticked along nicely and I'd crossed the 5K mark (and passed my mum at 6K) almosty before I knew it. There was a small group of men just up ahead of me, so I decided to close the gap and stick with them to 10K. At the 10K mark, I made it my goal to try to keep with that group (more or less) until the 20K mark. This seemed like a good idea in principle, but I actually became quite frustrated with them. Initially it started out with 1 guy being paced by 2 others, but then other men (I presume friends/running mates) would jump in off the sidelines and certain corners to help with his race - they weren't wearing numbers, and so were not officially part of the marathon, but still felt it was OK to cut across in front of me and almost trip me/block my way on occasion. I gave myself a talking to, and decided it was better to just put up with this in order to avoid running alone in no man's land.

The tiles of Plaza Espana
By 20K, the "paced man" had begun to struggle a bit and so they'd dropped back, while I found myself only about 50m another decent-sized group led by Lousie's pacer (with her tucked in right behind him). I was breaking the run up into smaller chunks in my mind, so from the halfway mark to 30k, the target was to keep Louise in eyesight (I knew that if she was going to run her planned 2:38, I wouldn't be able to keep up with her pace, but trying to avoid her disappearing before 30K seemed reasomnable as there were some long straight stretches). I hadn't liked closing up on the back of the group as there was still some jostling and cutting in going on, so I was happy to just run by myself slightly further back. I couldn't see her, when her pacer stopped at 31K, but I was definitely starting to feel the lack of big marathon buildup by this point. There is a 2K straight stretch of road that I remembered as being rather hot and sunny in 2014, and 2015 was exactly the same. The turn off from that road into a cooler tree-lined park was such a relief, and I also knew that my mum was going to be just round the corner cheering me on (I believe she thought my grin aimed at her was more of a grimace at that point!).
In a slight change to the previous year's route, we ran further on the park trails, which was lovely, but all too soon, it was back out into the sun to make a tight circuit round the tiles of Plaza Espana. My mum had dashed across to the park exit to see me on way for the last few miles before she went for a well-earned lunch to line her stomach before partaking in the post-race beers I'd suggested!
Course hazards in town
The next few miles wound through the old part of town, so there was a lot of crowd support, which could help fading runners. I say "could help" as I'm never convinced that it's nice to have people see my poor form when I tired at the end of a race. It was also important to stay alert and pick your feet as you had to avoid the horsemuck, the raised cyclelane markers, uneven flagstones and cobbles, and cross the tramlines on many occasions. As the buildings closed in on either side, the temperature did drop again which was nice, but then I had a slight problem when I caught up to one of the wheelchair athletes. He had a cyclist accompanying him, and together that filled the entire race route and so I could not get by on either side until it widened out again.
Luckily the widening coincided with a rise for a bridge over the river so I could move away from them, and I knew that when I got to the other side, I only had 2km to run!
What a long 2km it seemed, especially as you wind around with the stadium in sight but don't seem to enter it for ages. Thinking back, it was actually a lot better in 2015 as the added portion in the park, meant that some of the winding round on hot sunny roads with the stadium in sight had been removed. I did make a "school boy" error with just over a mile to go - which makes me laugh when I think about it now (but not at the time). There was an aidstation with marshals handing out cups. I'd not been the best at getting much water from these cups to my mouth at previous stations so this time I thought that the most benefit would be gained by pouring it over my head. I headed to a guy that I thought was shouting "Agua" and poured the cup of clear fluid over my hair and then realised, as it dripped down my face, that I'd actually picked up a cup of the clear isotonic drink which is called something that sounds very similar to "Agua" - yukkkk!!!

What other finish pose could I adopt?!!
Finally, I rounded the last turn and could see those ahead entering the stadium. This is a cheeky bit of the course as it's quite a steep downhill slope under the stands, and the contrast from bright sunlight to the darkness under the building makes many people stumble. It would've been just my luck to fall and break myself here, but luckily I was soon through and into my last 200m round the track.

I could see Louise just up ahead of me and so, although I knew that she must have faded a bit (as there was no way I was running near to a 2:38 marathon), I realised that I'd also produced as good a run as I could have done on the day. I was so happy to duck under the finish before the clock turned to 2:41, and nearly ran into one of the press officers asking me how it had gone this year. All I could do was point to my (still intact) nose and smile......demons well and truly faced!!!
Wes joins the sub 2:45 club!
An added bonus to not being carted straight off to the medics was that I could stay around the finish area and cheer friends in, one of whom achieved his target of nipping under the 2:45 barrier, while another had completed his first ever marathon....and I much preferred sitting in the sunshine in town with a cold drink (or two) than spending the afternoon alone in a foreign hospital!!!

1 comment:

  1. Great report Jo and well run, even with a slightly stcky end lol x