Going back to where it all started, I began my running journey in January 2019. Before then, you wouldn’t ever catch me on a treadmill, let alone running outside. I found it daunting and got very anxious as I quickly found out that I was quite unfit. Looking back on RunKeeper, which was where I recorded my runs, I remember only just being able to run 5km continuously, which was a milestone in itself! Fast forwarding to today, I’ve now been able to run three marathons, Abingdon being my third. If you told me back in 2019 that I would have run a marathon, let alone three – I would say you were telling fairy tales.
Fortunately, what began as an avenue to become fitter, running has become a place of solitude, a place where I can shut off and escape the real world. With the addition of track sessions every week, and the occasional running events with the club, running is now more than just a hobby to me, and I’m thankful for everyone I’ve encountered at the club and the tips and tricks which I’ve received to better me as a runner.
The goal that I first set out when I did my first marathon at Brighton (2021), was a sub-3-hour marathon, which was already an ambitious one at that, given it was my first marathon and, I had no clue what the distance entailed. Finishing that race with a chip time of 3:10:22, it was a tough day at the races, that’s for sure, and having a competitive nature, I was quite disappointed in the result.
With the original goal still in mind, I then set my eyes on Manchester Marathon in April 2022. I managed to stay injury free throughout that training cycle with only a few disruptions in some weeks. It seemed like the stars had aligned that Sunday and was able to carry back home with a new PB of 2:57:11 and possibly a GFA entry into the London Marathon 2023.
Elated with the time, I couldn’t stop there and was immediately looking for a mid-autumn Marathon to train for. I booked my place in the Newport Marathon but in July 2022, had received a notice that the race, which was supposed to happen on the 23rd of October, is now being cancelled and postponed until April 2023. I was frantically looking for a new UK-based marathon that day, searching for “Fast, Flat” marathons specifically. Luckily, I saw that Abingdon Marathon was happening on the same day. Carrying out some research before booking my place. It’s donned as a flat and fast course and should be ideal for achieving personal bests, perfect. With a strict 5-hour time limit, the event essentially attracts a lot of fast runners. I didn’t have many other options, so I took my chances and confirmed my place in the Abingdon Marathon 2022.
So, I embarked on a 15-week training plan. For the past 3 years, I’ve tried to create my training plans, mainly taking inspiration from Pete Pfitzinger’s and his marathon plans. One thing for certain is that I like to control the controllable and being able to be flexible in my training plan, whether that’s due to a niggle or life obligations, is the key to success or at least the key to my success.
I originally thought that a sub-3 hour marathon would be my ultimate goal for the marathon distance, but that quickly got overwritten. Sub 2:50. That was the A goal for Abingdon. Another ambitious one from me, but what’s the point in aiming low, when there’s always the possibility of achieving greater things? Aiming high was the only option.
Over the 15 weeks, I planned to peak at 126km (78 miles), which is a lot for me! But due to some social events, I managed to bank in a 116km week, so only 10km short. On the plus side, I managed the longest long run of the plan (37km) and about 16km of marathon pace during that run, so that was a confidence booster to be able to mentally go through that.
I was also able to achieve a massive PB in the half-marathon distance during this cycle. Running the Big Half and getting the time of 1:19:47, was a memorable moment and gave me an even bigger confidence boost for the coming weeks. Even though my tune-up race at Cardiff Half Marathon didn’t go quite to plan unlike the Big Half, I still had a positive mindset going into the taper.
Throughout race week, I had been frantically checking the weather app for race day. All I saw was rain. Checking on Monday, rain. Tuesday, rain. Wednesday, rain. Thursday, rain. Friday, rain. Saturday, rain. Everyone wants their ideal weather on race day, but that Sunday, it was looking far from ideal.
I woke up at my usual 3 hours before the race starts at 6 am. It was still dark outside and all I heard was the repeated tapping sounds of the rain against the window. I continued to have my go-to breakfast which is Oats with Peanut Butter and a black coffee along with a water bottle filled with electrolytes to sip on leading up to the race. I thought to myself, I hope the rain just stops or at least isn’t as heavy.
Long story short, it didn’t stop. I was planning on walking to the race venue as it was around a 20-minute walk – but with the rain hammering down, I had to call a local cab company to drop me off. Otherwise, I’d be soaked before the race started but it was looking like I was going to be soaked before the race started anyways.
One appealing feature about Abingdon Marathon is that it starts and ends at Tilsley Park Athletics Track. You end up starting the race running 400 meters around the track and finishing the race with the last 400 meters back around the track. This didn’t feel like your regular old big city marathon like London or Manchester – but it for sure had a unique feel to it.
Arriving at the venue, you could feel a buzz in the atmosphere but also the anxiousness as everyone was hiding away inside the main building from the downpour outside. The time got closer to 9 am (Race start) and I decided to drop off my bag and get warmed up on the track with the majority of everyone else. At this point, it was inevitable that the rain wasn’t stopping anytime soon, and Mother Nature had its own plans. Unfortunately, that plan wasn’t the same plan I’d wished for. After about 15 minutes of warming up, I quickly scurried to the stands with cover, awaiting the call up from the announcer to start toeing the start line, ready to begin the 40th edition of the Abingdon Marathon 2022.
I and around 700 other runners gathered at the start line, and the sound of the Klaxon rang through our ears, greeted by a stampede of wet footsteps and a round of applause. The first 400 meters were tough as you couldn’t properly jockey for position. Imagine 700 avid runners running around a 400-meter track. Quite congested. What was quite unfortunate for me was that as you exited the track grounds, there is a slight right turn and wanting to be as close to the turns as possible, didn’t realize, along with hundreds of other runners that there was a massive puddle right on the corner. We all fell for the trap, and like others, got my feet soaked only 400 meters in a 26.2-mile race. Not the dream start I was hoping for but there was not much that I could do from that point.
The first 2 and a half miles felt great, even though I was soaked from head to toe – it only felt like a slight hindrance. But then again, you’re supposed to feel good throughout most of the race, and not just the beginning, so time would tell how much the weather would take effect. The next mile and a half felt just like cross country. It went from a partially closed road to a completely off-road/trail-type section. There were puddles everywhere along the way and it got to the point where I had stopped caring as I thought I was spending too much energy actively looking out for ways around the puddles ahead of me. Thankfully enough, this was the only section of the course in which it was like this.
The route did have some road closures but a majority of the course being on the road was open. So, on some parts of the course, you’d find yourself hearing a car close behind, waiting to pass by safely. With it mostly being on open roads, there’s a reason why you’re not allowed to wear any headphones, including bone conductors and if you were caught wearing headphones, you’d be disqualified from the race! The route takes you through the small villages of Drayton, Milton, and Sutton Courtenay twice as it’s a 2-loop course and when running through these villages, you felt the support from the locals which was uplifting as the transition from one village to another, you would be in limbo, with the sounds of your own feet and others around you and nothing else (other than the odd car).
Thankfully the rain had stopped at around the 75-minute mark and the sky was looking like it was clearing. Too bad that it wasn’t like this at the beginning of the race! Until the halfway point, I was on track for sub 2:50. A 1:24 first half, the rain had stopped, and was still feeling relatively good. But around the 16-mile mark, I started the eventual slowdown. Only by a few seconds per kilometer slower, but over the entire race, every second counts. You always hear the saying; your race doesn’t start until the 20-mile mark. Those words have never been so true to me. I went from a few seconds per kilometer slower to more than a handful of seconds slower. The fatigue in my legs was showing, and my cadence stayed the same, but the pace started to drop. I looked at my watch more intently and frequently over the latter stages of the second half and seeing the average pace for that split get slower can be a bit disheartening, but one thing is for sure, I didn’t want to give up and told myself to keep on going. Even though I was way off the pace, the idea at that point was to keep on ticking the legs over.
When I entered the car park of the Athletics Track, I knew it was nearly over. You could hear the crowd in the distance and the sound of the announcer once again. The sensation of seeing that finish line, the volume of the supporters cheering increasing as you get closer and closer is something like no other. The final 200 meters was a sprint finish, or rather as fast as my legs could go. I crossed the finish line in 2:54:43 with a huge sigh of relief not only physically but mentally too.
All in all, it was a bittersweet ending. I didn’t achieve my A goal, but at least I managed to improve my PB by over 2 minutes. Given the weather conditions, I can say that I’m happy with the result and have plenty of positives to take away from the race.
Circling back to my competitive nature, I’m not stopping there. I’m always looking to improve and will be coming back to my next marathon with a vengeance. It’s undecided as to which spring marathon I’ll be attending as I didn’t get into London Marathon 2023, but I’m hoping that whichever one I choose next, they’re ready to see me cross that finish line in under 2 hours and 50 minutes.
Onwards and Upwards!