Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Marathon Tourism

I don't often do long races twice.....and I admit to a liking for visiting new places, so I guess that makes me rather a "marathon tourist". Mind you, if you look at the typical British spring weather, who wouldn't be interested in getting away for a bit of sunshine?

When someone mentioned the Limassol marathon to me, it seemed like the perfect excuse for a long weekend in Cyprus. Admittedly, it didn't look like a very fast race - last year's winning times were 2:41 (for men) and 3:12 (for women) - but I hoped that was due to adverse conditions on the day rather than a bad course, especially as it was advertised as a flat course out and back along the coastline.

Snow in the mountains

Fun in the snow
Things didn't bode well when I got off the plane to pouring rain and "unseasonably cold" weather, and the next day's sightseeing trip to Mount Olympus (in the Troodos Mountains) saw us throwing snowballs at each other (though it meant it was good weather for wine, chocolate and Turkish delight tasting).

A Cypriot "Boris-bike"
Mountain tasting spoils
The next day saw an about change in the weather, with warmth and sunny spells on a trip downtown to check out the race start/finish area. In order to avoid walking around too much, the local version of a "Boris bike" came in very handy (but it would have been better to have realised that back-pedalling was the braking mechanism before setting off!). I was rather worried that I'd got my weekends muddled up, as there was no sign that roads would be closed or that anything out of the ordinary would be occurring the next day (and there was still no evidence of this in the road outside the hotel, ie the race route, at 9pm).

While eating my lovely 5am breakfast, I was told this was actually a well established race and so all would be sorted by race time. I boarded the bus to the start just before 6 (standing room only but the driver still made sure no one got on without a ticket) only to hear my name being called (Julie Mollison of Scottish Athletics had seen the races advertised while on holiday there and so entered the 5k). On arrival we queued for the portaloos, jogged to warmup (it was only about 8 degrees) and then went to the start.

There were 4 races starting together but it appeared that marathoners had to go to the front and 5k runners to the back (with the half marathoners and 10kers in between). We didn't know this at the time (as everyone was told to be there at 6am) but the plan was for the marathon to start at 7am with the other races going off in 2minute intervals. A few select elite runners (some Kenyans and some Cypriots) were allowed to warm up on the course, but the rest of us were kept back behind tape while some officials spoke to us/the crowd. I'm afraid that I don't know what was said, but it went on until 7:20am and I was rather chilly, having stripped down to my running gear ready for the official 7am start.

Actually leading the Kenyans out...
All of a sudden we were off, which seemed to prompt a hectic charge down the prom for a kilometre until we met the main road and were directed about 180 degrees back on ourselves along it (all the other race routes carried straight on so there was no chance of getting caught up with fast starters from later races). I saw a Cypriot lady already away in the distance, but the three Kenyan ladies seemed to be easing their way into the race, and so surprisingly I slotted in behind them for the next couple of kilometres.

They'd picked up the pace by the time we got to the next 180 degree turnaround (this one was actually a small roundabout) at 5km, and so that was the end of any marathon company for me for the rest of the race. There were roadworks just before we returned to the start and so I actually managed to go off course as I was confused by the barriers, but luckily a marshal shouted me back before I'd gone more than a few paces the wrong way (I wasn't really being clueless, but I couldn't see the runners ahead and it seemed like we should run the way the barriers were pointing).

On the correct course
As the road passed the start/finish area, I could see people pounding down the prom and was rather jealous that their races were almost over, though it did distract me from my run trying to work out if they had run 5 or 10k. I was very surprised to start catching up with people in the road.....and they were jogging not walking. These were people that hadn't yet reached the 2.5k turnaround of the 5k, and I was about 11-12k into my marathon. One actually managed to hit me in the face (by accident when taking their jacket off) as they probably didn't expect people to be running past them.

I have to say that I was rather tempted by both the 5k and the 10k turnaround signs, as the temperature was climbing rapidly and for some reason I really wasn't enjoying my run. I'm not sure if it was the heat or not, but I didn't feel like taking the gels I was carrying, and whenever I picked up a water bottle I poured almost all of it over my body (using just a bit to wet my lips).

Some way after passing my hotel, the road started to "undulate" a bit and I spotted the leaders of the half marathon flying back along the other side of the road. Both were Kenyan, both had massive leads, and both were making it look easy to cover the ground. As for my own race, I couldn't see any marathoners in the road ahead of me, but I had started to weave my way through the half marathon tailenders.

Visiting the archaeological site the next day
Unfortunately, the half marathoners soon turned back on themselves and I was left to go it alone on the open road stretching out in front of me. This middle section of the course certainly involved a lot more "up and down" than advertised (in fact my garmin registered 590 feet of elevation gain and loss over the length of the race) and there were no clouds the sky to provide shelter from the sun. I did, however, spot some archeological ruins by the side of the road that I was eager to come back and explore later.

I passed through the halfway mark in a decent time, and started counting down the miles until I could turn and run for home. The leading Kenyan men came past on the far side of the road - they were running together but even at this point had a lead of about 1.5k on the next man. The leading Kenyan lady was 4th overall with the other two having dropped back slightly off her pace.

Just after the 14 mile marker, there was a marshal standing in the middle of the road with a bollard to run round. This turnaround point gave you a good view of other runners going in the opposite direction, and I realised that I wasn't ridiculously far behind the third Kenyan lady, and had a lead over the chasing Russian lady of just under 1.5k.

Woohoo....the finish!
This should have spurred me on but all I could think about was how far it was to get back to the finish, and that I still had all those "cheeky" climbs and descents to get through. To make matters worse, when we got to 22 miles there was another turn in the road and we had to double back on ourselves for a couple of miles (just the marathoners, not the half marathoners). Although I'd been closing the Kenyan lady down (and had actually passed one of her compatriots....though she later DNF'd) I could see that she was now moving away from me again. I had nothing in the tank and couldn't have made myself run any faster even if you'd paid me to. I knew that I was pretty safe in my position as the Russian was now about 2.5k behind me and I was into the last 5k myself.

Me, after the finish ;-)
First vet :-)
It felt like it was all I could do to keep picking my feet up and moving forwards towards the finish, though I realise I was probably moving a bit faster than it felt (especially as I did pass some half marathoners for the third time in the race!). Finally I turned onto the prom for the final kilometre. This would be the time for the glory sprint finish but I couldn't really muster one up. However, I was delighted to cross the line in a time much better than what I'd expected considering how bad I'd felt during the race, even though it was much slower than I'd have liked. As it turned out, it was my 15th sub 2:50 marathon, I was 4th lady, 11th overall and first vet, so had earned my finishers' beer (and wine and ice cream.....well, it was now 22 degrees!!)!!!

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