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Race Review – Nottingham Christmas Marathon 2019

I really have no idea what possessed me to enter a road marathon this autumn. After the hellish heat of last year’s London Marathon I vowed never to do another one; but then a few of my friends did them in the spring and I must have got a touch of FOMO! Anyway, for no particular reason I found myself heading for the Nottingham Christmas Marathon last weekend.

My training for this event hadn’t exactly been ideal. For a start, I’d done hardly any road running in the last eighteen months. I’d done lots of long trail running though and had plenty of miles in my legs, so at least the distance shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, this would be the tenth time this year I’d run marathon distance or further! After the Hardmoors 60 in September I had a week off and then thought I’d get stuck into some road training. My legs begged to differ though, so I had an easy week after that. Then I caught a horrible cold thing that hung around for about three weeks and wouldn’t let me do anything that involved breathing heavily (like interval training!) without coughing. So I’d been playing catch-up with the schedule ever since. I knew I wasn’t in anything like PB shape when race day came, but thought I’d just go off with the four hour pacer and see how long I could hang on – which I guessed wouldn’t be very long!

The marathon was part of a weekend of running events taking place at the National Water Sports Centre at Holme Pierrepoint Country Park, with the 10K and marathon on the Saturday and the half marathon, 5K and one mile fun run on the Sunday. The routes all consist of the corresponding number of three mile laps of a Tarmac path round a lake, so the marathon is about 8¾ laps. I set off from York at about 7 am on Saturday as the sun rose on what looked like it would be a beautiful day… until I got about a mile from the venue, when a thick, freezing fog descended! Ah well, I go better in the cold anyway. I arrived quite early and had no problem parking (although it cost a fiver!), but apparently things got a bit fraught later in the day and on Sunday. The 10K was already underway, with the marathon due to start at 10.15 on the opposite side of the lake, so I thought I’d better leave the car in plenty of time, especially as the fog meant we couldn’t actually see that far!

A arrow sign at the lakeside indicated it was 500m to the marathon start, so we obviously all followed it. Quite a long way. Obviously a lot further than 500m. When we eventually got to the start, it transpired that some wag had turned the sign round, so we’d all gone the wrong (long) way round the lake. Hilarious! I made it just in time. At least I’d had a good warm up! The start was slightly delayed as a result, but I know some people (including a friend I was supposed to be meeting) didn’t make it before we’d set off. Someone was speaking through a megaphone, but although I was only a short distance away it was so muffled I couldn’t make anything out. Suddenly we were away!

I trotted off with the four hour pacer and chatted to a couple of people en route. Runners had been encouraged to dress in festive attire, but very few seem to have bothered – although one woman had made a top effort in a full-length Christmas cracker costume! I made a gesture with a festive scrunchie and some tiny clip-on antlers.

Running a lapped course is not the most exciting thing in the world, but I was OK with that. In fact, I thought it might be good practice for next year’s Endure 24. There was one refreshment point at the place where we went over the timing strip at the end of every lap (i.e. every three miles) with water, electrolyte drink and snacks such as cake, chocolate and cheesy biscuits. We were handed paper cups (good) that had about an inch of water in them. At first I thought it would be good to have more, then I realised the water was so cold it was giving me brain freeze!

The pacer was a little erratic. Four hour pace is 9:09, and although you can’t expect people to get it spot on every time, my mile splits varied between 8:45 and 9:15. I was OK for about three laps, then as we got to about ten miles my legs began to feel really tired for some reason, and my enthusiasm/mojo/will to live started to drain away. I wasn’t feeling cold in my base layer, tights and gloves, but the fog made things a bit damp and depressing. You couldn’t see very far so there wasn’t really anything to interest or distract you. Spectator support was understandably a bit thin on the ground, although the event marshals were great at encouraging everyone on.

Trotting along, I realised why I hadn’t done a road marathon for so long; they are actually very hard work, in a different way to an ultra. In an ultra you work hard, but there’s variety; you run a bit, walk uphill, stop at checkpoints etc, and this is what I’ve become used to over the last couple of years. In a road marathon there’s no let up – they are relentless! So the problem here was me rather than the event. With 16 miles still to go, finishing was probably going to be more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Luckily my friend Katie (aka RunYoung50) who lives nearby had come out to support me, and seeing her popping up from time to time really gave me a lift. She’d even made a special sign to encourage me – what a star!

I decided to take my foot off the gas a bit and just try to enjoy it. I began chatting to people and also made an unscheduled loo stop at one point. There were portable loos at two points on the course, which was very handy! I’d never done a lapped event before, and it was interesting to see all aspects of the race as much faster runners raced past me and I passed some of the slower runners. My own laps gradually became a bit slower too, and my pony tail slowly transformed into what felt like a ball of tangled wool.

I was pleased to finish, although not particularly pleased with my finish time of 4:23, which is almost 30 minutes off my PB. There were only four FV55 runners in the field but I was the first, so I guess that’s something!

At the end we were presented with a fabulous snowflake design medal and a lovely felt Christmas stocking with a little Cadbury selection box inside. T-shirts cost an extra £15 and could be ordered in advance or bought on the day. I decided to get one as I can now wear it for running at Christmas every year!

Afterwards I wanted to treat Katie to a hot chocolate as she’d been so lovely and waited to see me finish, but unfortunately the onsite café had run out of milk! Seemed a bit of an oversight on a day when hundreds of extra people were visiting. I put on some warm clothes and got a recovery burger from the outside catering van while I waited for my friend to run her last lap. This closed about half an hour later, before everyone had finished running. If we’d been in the middle of a town this wouldn’t really be a problem, but as the venue is miles from anywhere else it seemed a shame that the last people to finish couldn’t get any food or a hot drink after being in the freezing cold for hours.

I seem to have done quite a bit of moaning in this review, but the event itself was fine. On a better weather day I’m sure it would have been more enjoyable, the parking issues weren’t the fault of the race organisers, and it’s certainly a good course to aim for a PB if you don’t mind the laps. I was initially disappointed with my time, but later realised it was probably because I hadn’t done enough specific training. If I ever want to achieve another Good for Age time I’ll have to knuckle down and do more of the right kind of preparation. But I’m not sure I want it that much when there are so many fab trail races to run!

So that’s my racing done until 2020. I’ve had a great year of running and taken part in some brilliant events. Time for a bit of fun running now until I start training for the Highland Fling.

I think this sign could definitely come in handy at Endure 24 next summer by the way…

 

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