I must have mentioned my goal of running a sub-3h marathon at some point. It was always likely to be a little ambitious, as running time calculators (which estimate likely times based on other races, eg here) suggested I would be very borderline based on my 10k and half marathon times, and the formula on which they rely are well known to be rather optimistic at extrapolating from shorter distances up to marathon (for running geeks, the Riegel factor for most people gets a little larger when you cross the ~2h time barrier, due to the need to take on food and water). After failing - but not disastrously - at Tsukuba last year, I had set my sights on Vienna as a fast flat course likely to have good conditions (if not too hot) but that was a long way off so for a various reasons we settled on running the Chesterfield marathon as a practice, with jules doing the half which conveniently coincided.
The early start required us to stay the night before, which was a little concerning when a friend who commutes from Nottingham to Sheffield said he had ruled out living in Chesterfield because it was too rough! But perhaps I misunderstood something, we had a pleasant walk around the town admiring the famous twisted spire before settling on a huge plate of ribs and potato for dinner.
Most unusually, jules and I failed to clear our plates which was a good omen. The hotel was very obliging with an early breakfast which enabled us to wander down to the start in good time feeling as well prepared as it's possible to be for an event such as this.
I didn't actually set out with the aim of running sub-3h, I could see the course was far too hilly for that with the organisers' claim of 287ft of climbing directly contradicted by their own course profile which showed rather more climbing (my Garmin trace agrees with the profile, and estimates ~350m of climbing):
Not knowing what time to aim for or how hard to set off, I decided to just run by my pulse meter and keep to no more than low 150s as this seemed to be the threshold above which things got difficult in Tsukuba. I hoped that with this strategy I would at least enjoy the run more and perhaps shave a bit off my previous time. The first 10k were rather uphill so it was no surprise that I was 20 secs down on 3h pace at that time. What was a surprise, was that I caught that deficit up and more on the 2nd 10k and went through half way in under 1:30 feeling very comfortable. It wasn't until about 30k that I started thinking seriously that I might do it, and allowed myself to start working a bit harder on the hills. The last few miles were mostly downhill and would have been fast but for the unexpected appearance of a gravel path twisting around a park, followed by what felt like the steepest climb of the course. Luckily it didn't drag on too long and I was able to enjoy the final lap of the cricket pitch where a fair sized crowd had gathered to watch.
(Pic courtesy of Barry Dyke photography)
It's not often that I will get the chance to hear the commentator announce my name and 8th place, so I thought I should make the most of it. Of course the serious marathoners in the north west were all preparing for Chester which is still a week away, I'm under no illusions about my level of performance! The winner was a local who pretty much turned up on a whim and ran it in 2:37 as a training run - a bit of google stalking reveals he's been 10 mins quicker at London. Jules also ran a PB for her half despite the hills. As well as being better prepared than last time (thanks to the Jack Daniels book and accompanying marathon plan) the weather was perfect - quite cool with no wind, which suited me much better than the late autumn heat in Tsukuba.
Overall the race was well organised for a first effort - I would have liked better signage at some points, as it was not always obvious which way to turn and at one point I ran for a couple of km on a completely unmarked road wondering if I'd gone off course. The locals turned up to give good support which was appreciated especially as the second half was pretty lonely! Most importantly perhaps, the distance was spot on, which matters when you're cutting things this fine...