York 2019

22/10/19 – A Yorkshire Yomp

Well, that exceeded expectations!

Despite all those fears expressed in the last post, the race went incredibly well for both of us. Sue’s cold didn’t move to her lungs and by Sunday was feeling a bit better, so she was able to run. And run she did, in
5:51:35! Shaving 10 minutes off her PB, thus breaking the six hour marker which was her original target before illness struck.

Obligatory pre-race photo 

I managed to take 37 minutes off my own PB coming in at 5:07:36. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried like a baby at the end. I simply couldn’t believe what I’d managed, in the face of such rotten prep. I do get emotional on a long run, although that usually expresses itself as grumpiness rather than grizzling.

It was one of those rare, rare days when a long run is just a joy throughout. Normally, basking in the afterglow of the achievement is where I derive my satisfaction. It also tends to mask the effort of the actual race, otherwise I doubt I’d ever enter anything again.

Last year’s Yorkshire Marathon was in monsoon conditions, so when the unforecasted rain started just after Mile 1, a collective groan went up. No-one was geared up for a wet race. It wasn’t particularly warm morning either, so a drenching would lower the body temperature even further. It proved to be just a light shower, though. Enough to dampen the clothes but not soak through and affect the body temperature.

Neil in front of York Minister

I had little expectation of what I might be able to achieve pace-wise, so the first few miles felt like they were taken gently. I noticed, however, that I was hovering around the 5 hour pacers. Even after the first of the bigger uphill pulls at 8 miles, which I chose to walk part of, the pacers were still only just ahead of me. I began to entertain some fanciful notions, so I quickly put these aside by chatting to a fellow runner. Craig had promised himself he’d do a Marathon when he turned 40 and was very happy to chat for a few minutes until he, lovely chap that he is, insisted he was slowing me down and told me run ahead. A stone in my shoe requiring evacuation meant he caught back up with me a mile or so later, but this time I realised that I was in with a chance of breaking 2:30 for the Half Marathon distance, so I kept a higher pace than I managed at London at the same stage. Small victories and all that.

I went through the halfway point in around 2:28 – eight minutes quicker than London, so I was feeling very pleased with myself. I was hoping that Sue’s parents, John and Sheila, who were spectating at the turnaround point in the village of Stamford Bridge just down the way, would have a little treat for me. Sue and I had driven the route after parkrun the day before and noted that Stamford Bridge boasted a pub right on the race route. I figured there’s no way that John wouldn’t have a pint on the go and I was looking forward to cheeky celebratory swig… unfortunately for me, they were on the opposite side of the race route and hadn’t even spotted the pub.

At mile 14, I took stock of my race so far as the route gently inclined again. I had no pain from anywhere, I felt well hydrated and with plenty of energy. Better still, I still had over 3 hours to play with to come in quicker than London, that’s 15 minute per mile. That said, I was aware that I hadn’t managed to go any further than 15 training miles without blowing up. I slowed my pace a little. Miles 15 to 18 passed by – gently downhill – all under 12 min miles and no sign of the wall. Once more, John and Sheila popped up on this leg, but again with no alcoholic refreshment to pilfer.

The route had another turnaround point just after mile 18 and started back upwards, a lot less gently than the downhill had seemed. Was this the first signs of tiredness creeping in perhaps? Before I could ponder further I spied a chap in a parkrun top, who was fast-walking. I drew up alongside him matching his pace and had another pleasant chat for the next mile. Matt, is a parkrun Race Director and keen World Tourist, so we swopped notes before I decide to pick up the pace again. Those nascent doubts and the incline all forgotten. Shortly after leaving him, I was surprised and delighted to see Sue coming the other way. She was much further along than I thought she would be at that point. She confirmed that she was feeling no ill-effects from the cold and felt strong.

This buoyed my mood and my pace further, but in the village of Holtby I had a moment – the village hall was doing Bacon Rolls. I probably didn’t need one but, oh boy, did I want one… reluctantly, I pushed on, concerned that the queue might too long and I’d never get going again. Instead, I gobbled every jelly baby proffered by the friendly crowd lining the route. Given that so much of the race is in the countryside, there were a surprisingly large number of spectators out cheering us on. Fair play, good citizens of York. Your support (and sweeties!) were most appreciated.

After every mile marker, I was calculating just how slowly I could go and still get my PB… I also became aware than I was getting faster again, back under 12 minute miles. I still felt good, but took the decision to move to a slower strategy for the last 5 miles: walk a half mile, run a half mile. I didn’t really want to burnout, even if I could do the last miles in 20 minute pace and still get that PB. I don’t mind admitting I really had to force myself to slowdown. The walk was more like marching and I started to overtake people who were still running. My mile pace only actually increased by a minute using the new tactic and still feeling good. I’d also popped my headphones in and blasted out a few tunes, signing along and dancing around to the music, attracting some very weird looks in the process.

Even in those last three miles, I was still working out what the minimum mile pace I needed to beat 5:44. If nothing else, it took my mind off the rain, which had started again and was torrential at times. The post race stats showed that I was overtaken by 24 people in this stretch, but overtook 176 which gives an indication of how just strongly I was finishing. It struck me that so many people do ended up walking the last part of the race as a deliberate choice. Indeed, towards the back end of the field, it’s more unusual to see someone still jogging. I hardly noticed this at London because, for the most part, I walked the last few miles and was feeling that I was the only one. With hindsight, I can now see that my pre-race concerns about the embarrassment of needing to walk to the finish were actually unwarranted. Walking is a perfectly acceptable way to cover the distance, especially near the end of the race.

After passing the mile 26 marker, the dreaded hill that we’d been warned about faced me. I cranked the sounds up even further and fair flew up that incline. As I reached the summit, I spotted the time clock and a particularly emotional song came on – I totally lost it. The last short downhill section to finish was taken at a sprint, music blaring, tears streaking down my face, overtaking several surprised runners who were enjoyed the cheers at the finish line. I knew it was a PB, but it genuinely hadn’t dawned on me about how much I’d beaten my London time by. As I did the mental arithmetic, the tears flowed again. What an absolute Tart!

I recovered my composure enough to collect my medal from the Marshalls and be handed a free pint. AT LAST! But No, this pint was free in every sense, including alcohol – the very cruelest of tricks. Luckily I had no tears left, so simply drank it the foul brew. I found John and Sheila at the finish line spectator area and we waited for Sue in the rain. I was still expecting the wall to hit, but nothing – the bullet had been dodged. Just had to keep stretching out to mitigate the inevitable stiffness. Soon enough, Sue was through the finish and in good shape, but inevitably moaning about the beer. So we headed off to enjoy a proper pint in a pub, even though we were still absolutely soaked through. We weren’t the only ones!

So now that’s York out of the way, with all the boxes ticked in the original plan, in spite of all the training and illness woes. Thoughts now turn to London, with renewed confidence. Perfect!

P.S. Keep an eye out for the launch our fundraising drive in late-November.