Well! Where to start? A week on from the race and I’m finally getting my thoughts down. I suppose I should begin with a massive WHOOP! WHOOP! but that’s not how I feel at the moment. I haven’t really had a whoop!, whoop! moment yet in fact. It’s quite odd. If anything, I’m on a bit of a downer. A state of flux. Yes, I’ve broken a world record but I’m still collating my evidence to send to Guinness. The video has been an absolute beast to put together and I’ve been terribly anxious about that, but with a lot of help from my friend Rob who works for ITV, we’ve pretty much nailed it now. It’s a massive file and incredibly unwieldy but it should be ready to go to Guinness along with all my other evidence imminently. I’m hoping that once that’s done and GWR have approved it I will finally get my whoop!, whoop! moment.
I am so grateful to my friends at the most fantastic running club in the country, Petts Wood Runners, for raising the £350 needed to fast-track the verification, otherwise I’d have to wait up to 3 months for confirmation the record is mine. I was prepared for that wait, but thanks to the Jersey Girls and a lot of wine (I suspect), a crowd fund was set up to help rush this through. I just don’t have that kind of money knocking around unfortunately, and I am humbled that so many of my fellow club members have put their hands in their pockets to get my madness certified.
It’s been a long time coming. I knew I could do this sub 4hrs when I first read about it. London didn’t work out in 2017 but I didn’t rush in to another attempt. I decided to first concentrate on improving my normal marathon PB which I did by around 25 minutes at the Silesia marathon last year. I finished in 03:14:22 in considerable discomfort, having flown off the start line way too quickly and paid for it in the latter stages. Having done that, and decided that the Silesia marathon was a good race for a record attempt, I focussed on training for the 2019 race on 6th October.
Marathon runners will know that to run at your best, all the stars have to align for you. The core training time of the 16 weeks in the run up to race day have to be executed according to plan as closely as possible. You have to stay injury free and can’t afford to be ill at all. This is a constant worry when you’re 47 (more than twice the age of the current record holder). And even if you manage to do all that, the conditions on race day can ruin it all. I was lucky. This was my 7th marathon and probably the only time everything has gone to plan. No injury, no illness and near perfect race conditions.
Two of my fellow Petts Wood Runners came to Katowice, Poland with me to assist in my record attempt. Stephen Pond (our club captain) and David Adams, both accomplished marathon runners, kindly agreed to run with me to record the event and carry my drink and energy gels etc. I owe them a huge debt of thanks.
So, before I lose you, let’s go to the start line. The balls were pumped, the lead bike was prepped with a GoPro, Stephen was ready with his GoPro and Dave had all the gels. They started playing ACDC’s Thunderstruck and I began struggling to hold on to my emotions. Everything came down to this. In less than 4 hours it would all be over one way or another. I held it together and as soon as we crossed the start line it was down to business. Concentration time. No time for emotions. Park that sh!t.
In a strange way, I was looking forward to getting my first loss of control out of the way. The further I got into the race the more I knew I would be wondering if I could go the whole distance without losing control and I was concerned about that added pressure. I needn’t have worried. 00:10:13 in to the race and I lost a ball on the grass verge. A nice simple nerve settler. And then another one 13 seconds later! That would be it (in terms of loss of control) for more than 75 minutes and the next one didn’t come along for nearly another hour. There would be water breaks and stops for energy gels, as well as runny nose blowing breaks but the main losses didn’t come for another hour after the last one. At 03:22:18 I was tired, naturally, and I was approaching what I knew to be a tricky section of course. Herringbone brickwork, which in its day would’ve been perfectly flat but now had lumps, bumps and divots in and required a hell of a lot of concentration to negotiate. But let’s rewind a minute.
I wanted to run the first half at just under 08:30/mi average. The start was naturally a bit congested but that sort of worked in our favour. It stopped me from going off too quick. One of the main jobs Stephen and Dave had was to keep me on pace and that mostly meant reining me in. 08:35 for the first mile was nothing to worry about. After all, I only needed to average 08:56 to break the record. 08:32 for the second mile, followed by my fastest mile of the race of 08:03 for mile 3. The first 13 miles were completed in 01:51:40 (according to Garmin stats) which was well on target and an average per mile of 08:35. There were some good road surfaces in that first half and a much smaller section of cobles than last year. With hindsight I should’ve taken more advantage of those good roads early on to bank a bit of time. That’s not usually a good race strategy but at 29k the course merged with the half marathon runners who at that point were running slower than us, meaning we had a lot of overtaking to do. At that precise point the roads became more uneven and full of surface water. With a lot more runners on the road there was a lot less room for manoeuvre and I found myself having to negotiate the ruts left in the tarmac by heavy traffic whilst overtaking slower half marathon runners. This was mentally challenging. So much so, I don’t really recall what must have been quite an incline leading up to the top of the park where the finishing stadium is. I had too much to think about. I knew the herringbone brickwork was approaching and I knew that would be tricky. However, I also knew we had time to spare.
As we entered Park Slaski just before 39k at about 03:29:40 I knew we were nearly there but tried not to think about it. This was one of the trickiest sections and I was naturally tired. This last 20 minutes was where nine of my losses/fumbles occurred, the most significant and potentially catastrophic one with less than 10 minutes to go at 03:41:05. I hit a lumpy bit of tarmac by the grass verge and a ball went scooting off on the grass. Only as I looked up to chase after it did I realise it was heading down the bank towards a lake. Despite having already run 25 miles, this was undoubtedly the fastest I moved in the entire race. Fortunately, Dave was also there to rescue the ball had I missed it myself. He subsequently said he thought he was going swimming. I’m sure he would’ve gone in for it but I’m equally sure I wouldn’t have hesitated to go in for it myself. We were so close I would’ve happily and without trouble done the last mile dripping wet. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that and it was said by one of my club mates back home that it was a good thing we weren’t live streaming at the time or there would’ve been heart attacks all over Petts Wood!
There was never a point in the race when I thought we wouldn’t do it but my eyes did widen a little when the 03:50:00 pacer overtook us, but by that point we only had about half a mile to go. It was safe enough. As we approached the stadium, the bike peeled off and we went down the tunnel to the track with Stephen’s GoPro filming the rest of the race. Stephen and Dave were both also filming with their phones as we did the last 350 metres with Stephen live streaming to Facebook. I hear some people were getting quite emotional watching it. I had tested out the track in May and I knew it was a good surface so as soon as we were on it I took off, overtaking a few more half marathon runners in the last 200m. With a tiny wobble about 20m out I crossed the line with a chip time of 03:50:26. I had a brief 5 seconds of emotional release (no tears of course, honest!) and when I opened my eyes, saw a photographer underneath me. I’ve not seen those shots. I’m sure they’re not pretty. I quickly gathered myself and went looking for my wife and children, conscious that I didn’t want to get wrapped up in everything and forget about them. They have, after all, had to endure over 4 years of this! I couldn’t find them so having got my medal and packed lunch (how many marathons have you run where you get a packed lunch at the finish?!) went to collect my bag. Each bag is stored in a clear plastic bag with a sticker on with your race number. When they bring it to the table for you, you tear it open and take your bag. It was tearing that bag open that made something in my left arm go ‘ping!’ it’s still hurting a bit a week later but it didn’t matter at the time and sure doesn’t matter now.
I’d had a long time to think about how I would feel and what I would do when I crossed the finish line, but in a sense it was a strange anti-climax. I was tired, I couldn’t find my family and I hadn’t run it as fast as I wanted to. That may sound greedy but that’s how I felt. I could’ve done it quicker. A week later and having had no end of trouble sorting out the video of the race that I need to send to GWR, I’m still waiting to REALLY enjoy this. Hopefully before the end of the month this record will officially have my name on it and I can begin to properly celebrate my achievement. What’s next though?
One final thought: Massive, massive thanks to everyone (too many to mention) who has helped make this happen. I hope that by the time you read this, or very soon after, I will have spoken to you to express my gratitude. Having said that, Stephen Pond and David Adams get a special mention. I couldn’t have done it without their support. Thanks guys!