My first attempt at this race in 2012 literally went down the pan when a severe case of runner’s trot’s forced me to drop out after 18 miles. And although the DNF (Did Not Finish) bugged me for a while, the thought of giving it another go never crossed my mind.
That was until I read Sara James report of the recent Race the Train event in Wales and saw the accompanying photograph of Sara and Vicky Forster.
The joy on their faces of racing in beautiful countryside and not giving two hoots about finishing times or positions brought home what running should be about. Getting out in the great outdoors and having a blast.
So within 30 minutes I had booked my place in the Chester Marathon and was looking forward to a splendid day out in the country. Thanks Sara & Vicky.
Conditions for the race were perfect. Clear blue skies and warm sunshine washing down upon the runners.
Several Heaton Harriers members were also taking part in the race, including my mate Les Smith, who was looking for a sub 3 hour time. Feeling chipper following the previous week’s Redcar Half Marathon, I agreed to run with Les for as long as possible at 6:40 pace to help him achieve his goal. And thing went well for the first 12 miles, with every mile split within 8 seconds of 6:40. But then nature called and I had to make a dash to a near-by port-a-loo. My mile splits reveal I ‘lost’ 2 minutes in the toilet but the relief afterwards was well worth it.
Rejoining the race, Les was no-where to be seen so I resumed running at a more relaxed pace and tagged onto a group making their way past the half-way point.
With pace-making duties gone, and the relative pressure that went with it, I was running more freely, taking in the scenery and having a crack with the crowds along the course. Passing the spot where I dropped out in 2012 provided a massive psychological boost and I continued on in great spirits, knocking out sub 7 minute miles along the way.
Sadly, things took a downward beat near 19 miles when I glimpsed Les in the distance and reluctantly overtook him soon afterwards. There’s nothing worse than seeing a mate struggling and not being able to help, but having been in Les’s position before (on several occasions) I know the best thing to do is to offer encouragement and move quickly by.
I’d been making steady progress but from mile 22 onwards the route began to undulate. To be honest, you probably wouldn’t have noticed the slight climbs on a regular Sunday run, but with over 20 in my legs, every ascent felt like running up Forth Banks. I continued running best I could until eventually, at a water station at mile 25, I succumbed to walking. At that precise moment, like a sign from the running gods, the sub-3 hour pacer (and following pack) strode by almost effortlessly.
Having started the race so well I did harbour hopes of possibly running sub 3 hours myself but that was out of the window now. So, decision time. Run and get the best time possible or walk to finish, certain of a sub 3:30 time.
Oh what the hell, let’s finish the race properly.
The final mile hurt like hell but the support from the crowd was fantastic and kept me going. Hundreds of spectators lined the course and one guy, recognising the club vest, shouted out “Go on Tyne Bridge”, quickly followed by “Say hi to Catherine Eaton” (any ideas Cat?).
Reaching Chester racecourse (where the race starts and finishes) the marathon route joined the horse-track and there were 300m to go. A brief look at my watch revealed 2:59 something and I knew 3 hours had slipped away, but regardless of times, I was going to finish the race, and when you’re running a marathon, that’s the biggest achievement of them all.
This isn’t the easiest marathon course I’ve ran – the final few miles certainly lay fact to that – but for scenery, support from volunteers and spectators, and general organisation, you’d be hard pushed to find a better race than the Chester Marathon.