I remained undecided about whether to actually take part in the York marathon right up until the end of the week. It wasn't just that knee was still painful, but also that the pain had been limiting my running/training to such an extent that I wasn't actually sure if I had the fitness to get round the course (my struggle over half the distance the previous Sunday certainly hadn't helped my confidence on that score). However, the World Trail Champs (about 85K long with 5000+m ascent and descent) were only 3 weeks away, and the 100K 4 weeks after that, so I realised that if I couldn't actually cover the marathon distance at the present time, then I wouldn't have a chance of making those starting lines.
Steve (the elite field coordinator) was keen for me to come and run (and be interviewed as the "previous year's race winner") but kindly let me make a decision right at the last minute. In fact, my decision was so last minute that I got stuck in traffic (when "someone" made the lovely decision to shut the A1M), missed the TV interview slot and only got to York in time to catch up and have dinner with Steve, Jamil (running his first marathon), Paul Marteletti and his wife Karen (Paul had perusaded Karen to come up from London with the promise (!) that I would be there!!). As usual, Paul and I surprised the others with our cheesecake eating prowess!!
Being rather nervous about how the run would go, I decided to make a plan beforehand and stick to it (that sounds so simple, but I usually just go and run). I wanted to get round (if I could) in about 3 hours, but I knew that there was a chance I wouldn't make it, so I still wanted to have a "useful" run. I had checked with Steve that there were places to be picked up if I needed to withdraw - one was just after the halfway mark, and the other was at about 17miles - another out and back section.
My "plan" was therefore to try to cover the first half in about 2:50 pace and then see if I needed to drop out or slow down to 3:10 pace for the second half (a definite positive split). Meeting my friend Dan on the start line was an added bonus as he offered to run with me, though if I dropped out then he'd push on himself. Telling him my plan also meant that I was more likely to stick to it.
Enjoying the first half ;-)
Hmmm...that hair needs a chop!!
It was interesting to see everyone shoot off at the start, as always seems to happen in races. It's not just that I'm very slow to get going, but people really do set off as of its a sprint. The York course exaggerates this as there is a steep downhill straight off the start. I knew that the downhill would irritate my knee, so was even more conservative than usual (if that's possible, knowing how much I dislike a fast start).
The initial couple of miles wind round the centre of York itself and there is usually a lot of vocal support. This year was no exception and it was great to see and hear cheers from people I knew (although it did prevent me from dropping out as I passed Betty's tearooms......which had been suggested to me!).
Dan and I chatted away the first few miles, with me pointing different things en route as the previous two York marathons came back to me. Some things were very different (such as the weather - the first one I ran was cold and foggy while the second one was actually rather hot and sunny) but other things were just the same (such as the minister standing outside of his church encouraging/blessing people).
A couple of people commented on the fact that we were talking away, but it meant that we could run at a nice comfortable pace with the miles ticking over - and I think that I was in about 8th place as we crossed the 10k timing mat. We didn't really speed up, but kept going at about 6:30miling, but this meant that we gradually moved up the field and by the time we reached 10 miles I was into a podium position.
My knee had been a bit sore for the first few miles, but having Dan there for company meant that I didn't think about it too much, and it seemed to settle down so I forgot about it. Now there was just my fitness (or lack of) to worry about. There was a timing mat at the 13 mile marker, but the halfway point was also marked so a time check there showed 1:24:55 - almost perfect pacing!! Soon after this there was a short out and back section with lots of crowd support, so it didn't seem appropriate to stop there. I wasn't feeling bad and my knee was OK so I decided to keep going at a similar pace and just take it mile by mile.
I remembered the long straight(ish) section from 14 miles onwards from last year when I find it a tough solo run in the sun, and it was definitely easier with company, though I did feel that I was starting to flag. Now in second place, I had noticed that I was about equidistant between the leading and third placed ladies so I wondered how long I would remain there. I just focused on getting to the end of the next dogleg as I knew that was also a "dropping point" if necessary.
With Dan on the second out-and-back
The second dogleg is about 3 miles long - slightly downhill on the way out and hence uphill on the way back. Just before I started down it, I spotted Paul coming back and turning off towards York, with a good lead at the head of the field. This meant that I would then see every runner ahead of me as I headed down that section. I gave Jamil a wave when I saw him, but he wasn't looking the cheeriest as he had been suffering from leg cramps (though he still ran a mightily impressive 2:30 marathon debut).
The long out and back might sound soul-destroying to some, but it means you can check gaps and positions in the field, and also that you can support, and be supported by, other runners. You also see roadside support twice on this section, so I got two shoutouts from Katherine Merry and her accompanying camaraman (last year she did the pre-race interviews and we kept getting the giggles...not that I felt much like giggling when I saw her this year!).
With "my cyclist" in tow...
By the time I got to the 20mile marker, I knew I would make the finish line so it was a case of just thinking 1 mile at a time. The closer I got to it, the more I wondered if I would be able to hold on to 2nd place (having previously finished 3rd and 1st, that would round off my podium positions nicely!). The cyclist who came alongside to mark "second lady" reassured me that he couldn't see anyone behind me, so I really started to think it was possible.
I had caught up to couple of other men for company by now - and we were starting to pass the 10 mile runners (they started after us, but finished on the same course), so Dan headed off to get a few faster miles in himself. I spotted the clock when I passed the 40K mat - and it was showing 2:40. I then started calculating times in my head and couldn't believe it when I worked out that I might actually finish under the 2:50 mark (this is actually quite something for me, as I've always run marathons in under 2:50 or over 3 hours).
My complete plate collection!!
I knew the final hill was steep, but I prefer ups to downs and this year I had a big grin on my face as I ran up it, as I really hadn't thought that I'd complete the distance when I started out that morning. Coming round the final corner and spying the gantry with the clock on it, I couldn't believe my eyes...I'd actually managed 2:49:04 to round off my podium positions and keep me away from a 2:5x marathon!!
The ladies' podium
This year's marathon may have had the best weather - cool and overcast (but not foggy) at the start, there was some drizzle halfway through, and the sun was shining at the end - but it was definitely the most enjoyable of the three that I've run, as the chat made the miles tick by....and it certainly gave me a massive confidence boost with regards to both my knee and my fitness. In fact I was only 16s slower than last year, which just goes to show that endurance doesn't fade as quickly as I'd thought. Massive well done to the winning lady (Sarah Lowery) though, who just dipped under 2:46 to record an 8+ minute PB - impressive or what??!!!