1.5lb gain; 27lb total; 5lb in 2014.
Never one to prolong the agony of suspense I can tell you right now that I finished the Seville marathon in 5 hours and 35 minutes. Just 5 minutes outside of my ‘goal’ time but with enough excuses to be sublimely happy with the result.
If I’d been offered 5.35 on the morning of the run, I would have thrown myself at it, clutching it to my chest, regarding it as a paragon of recent dedication and perseverance. As it was, I was vaguely disinclined to anything other than exhaustion and how much stuff hurt at the time of crossing the line. Reflection and two very strong cocktails warmed my heart to a performance that was actually brave and strong.
We flew out to Seville on Friday. Desperate for sunshine and warmth, we’d been googling the weather in Seville for a few weeks. It showed definite promise of delivering on both plus added comedy tan! But although the weather had been in our thoughts for some time, the marathon had been less consuming. It was a definite B race. As stated, a time around 5.30 would be nice but the real purpose was to form a bench mark for the Loch Ness Marathon in September where I intend to target under 5 hours for the first time.
Even a time around 5.30 would be challenging. I ran two marathons last year, in which I recorded personal worst times in both of them. London in April, a dismal 6 hours 56 minutes and 30 seconds and Beachy Head in September, 7 hours 47 minutes and 42 seconds. It was over four years since I’d broken the 5.30 barrier with a 5.22 in Barcelona. But as they say, times they are a changing and with the recent weight loss and training I was confident at least of being under the 6 hour limit imposed by the race.
It’s the first time Alan and I have been to Seville. It’s a very beautiful city in parts and we were grateful to Pete and Jess, who proposed the race in the first place, for them to guide us round the more aesthetically pleasing parts of it.
Buried deep in Andalucia, the city is a lively mass of social culture. Locals throng in the many tapas bars and the narrow streets surrounding the old town. History also screams out from those streets, reflected in the street names. Toro, derived from Bull, is a repeated street name that tells you all you need to know about its past and the streets are lined with shops devoted to the traditional flamenco dress.
Actually, despite the proximity to the coast and Africa not too far away, I was struck by how much of an influence Africa has in the architecture of the city.
You’ve got to love marathon tourism and I was really excited to see more of the city. And poured over the route while getting ready for the race the night before.
I then tried to figure out my race strategy. I’d had a bit of a chat on Thursday morning with Peter regarding race nutrition. I was discussing with him options for the marathon. His view was that I wouldn’t need anything extra other than breakfast. I said ‘Surely taking some nutrition ‘just in case’ is like taking a puncture repair kit. His reply, ‘Nicky, it’s like taking a spare bicycle’. In the end I forgot to pack the spare bicycle so had to buy some at the race expo.
Sticking to the old adage of not trying anything new on race day I headed straight for the Powerbar Stand where I purchased a reduced carb protein bar (strawberry – yum) and some ride shots, with extra caffeine just in case. I was secretly hoping I wouldn’t need either and would certainly try without relying on nutrition. But to leave them back in the room would be a leap of faith too far.
With nutrition plan (ahem) sorted next it was pacing plan. Start at the back and start slowly featured prominently. I would have to sustain roughly 12 minute mile pace throughout the race to get anywhere near my A target of under 5.30. My back up targets involved a B target between 5.30 hours and 5.45 hours and the C target would be a finish under the 6 hour cut off.
The Spanish don’t half like to get themselves wound up before an event. Seville had a field of around 8000 entrants. About 90% of them were Spanish and about 6000 of them were screaming at each other like banshees on a killing field about 15 minutes before the race start. I prefer a calmer reflection of a race prior to it, so looked on amused before making my way to the start via the toilet queue with Jess and Sara.
Positioning myself at the very back of the field meant I could focus on my race song as discussed with Sue. A couple of deep breathes then as Two Tribes wound its way through my head co-inciding with the field moving steadily forward toward the start line.
Soon ‘Highway to Hell’ replaced ‘Two Tribes as the speaker system blasted it out at the stragglers crossing the start line. I started the Garmin and with another deep breath, instilling a feeling of calmness, crossed the start line and upped pace to a gentle trot. Almost instantly the field ahead moved away from me, an immediate gap growing at an alarming rate, flustering the peace I’d generated to protect my head through the first nervous miles. My initial manta of ‘Stay Calm’ was replaced by ‘Don’t panic’ as the rear of the field stretched further away leaving me not only on my own but stone bonker last.
The sweep bus, hovered just behind like the grim reaper, just looked for an opportunity to sweep me aboard. And even though I never threatened the cut off time, it never left my side until about 12 miles in when it took the opportunity to attempt to sweep up another individual after he had the temerity to walk for a few yards. He firmly told it to get stuffed and then the driver accelerated away, never to be seen again.
The first few miles passed expediently in relative comfort. Always staying under the 12mm target pace I was always conscious on the inability to bank time in a marathon but was running comfortably and never out of breath. Taking the opportunity to nod and shout ‘Gracias’ at the many supporters, police and marshals who offered an encouraging ‘Bravo’ in my direction.
After a couple of kilometres running well within myself and the cut off time, but completely devoid of company, I finally caught up with fellow traveller Trevor, who I spent a lovely day with at the Beachy Head Marathon last year. He was clearly struggling after going into the race a little under prepared and then setting off a little too fast. He would pull out at 10k and into the arms of his lovely wife waiting to cheer him on there.
I stopped for a sweaty hug with Gill too (I’m sure she appreciated it) before heading on, a lonely figure. European marathons are like that though. Alan pulled out at 10 miles with a thigh strain but said that prior to that, the space around him was absolutely rammed (he was running at about 3.15 pace). By contrast, I had all the space in the world but no one to follow. So often the route was unclear and all I had to guide me was the detritus of discarded gel wrappers and sponges of a race I was barely in.
I’d been worried about the temperature of the sun as we got closer to the midday but actually during the whole race I never got too hot. Others would complain of the increasing heat in the race post mortem. My Vitamin D starved body lapped up the sunshine like my life depended on it and never complained once. Normally the first one to moan about the heat, it was the first time this had ever happened. I reflected on all the time spent in the Bikram shed of spin doom and wondered how much I had acclimatisation during those sessions. I was extremely grateful and relished every second of the sunshine although I was left with a splendid comedy tan on my arms and legs and shiny red face, post race.
Pretty much from the off I had felt a tugging in my leg IT Band that got tighter with every step. We were always ushered to the right hand side of the road and the subsequent camber and soon the tugging developed into a pain through my left calf and right leg. It got to a point where it was painful but not unbearable and I sang songs to myself to try and distract from the discomfort. From about 16 miles the pain in my calf spread to both and then exploded making each step almost unbearable. Up to this point I’d been running for a mile and then when the Garmin beeped walking for a count of 100 before starting again. It had been working really well but the pain was so bad, I decided to switch to my back up of run 2 minutes then walk for 1 minute. I followed this pattern for the rest of the race.
Periodically stretching to try and relieve the pain, I then started to wonder if I’d ran out of sugar and this was the famous wall that everyone talked about. The point at which your body implodes looking for every available scrap of energy left to it once the sugar and fat systems close down. In quite a lot of discomfort and reeling from the text from Alan telling me of his withdrawal I didn’t have any bravery left to explore the topic further, I gave in and ate the Powerbar. It was absolutely delicious and instantly the pain in my calves reduced. Placebo? Who knows. But after considering withdrawing from the race it gave me the strength to carry on.
After I’d finished the bar I started on the ride shots. They were also delicious, that’s how I knew I was mildly delirious, they’re normally disgusting (albeit effective). But, finally back over the river onto the stadium side and with 5k left I started to relax with the impending pull of the finish line.
By now everything hurt, my feet, my calves, my back and both IT bands but I could walk it from here and still make the cut off. Pete was stood outside the hotel and I stopped for a hug and words of encouragement. And then carried on to what felt like the longest kilometre of my life as we weaved our way around the car park and toward the entry in to the stadium via the tunnel. Then finally, deliciously, the sight of Alan stood at the side of the road. Another stop, another huge hug and words of consolation from me and encouragement from him. A group of British boys stood next to Alan as one quipped to the other, ‘You’re not getting that off me at London mate’. Quite right too, these hugs were sacred and empowering enough to give me the energy to complete the 600 yards left. As I felt the last of the latent energy drain out of my legs. My head just strong enough to get me to the finish line and then no more.
5.35 then. A twinge of disappointment mingled with the immense fatigue as I wobbled my way out of the stadium and towards the steadying, supportive hands of my husband. But this morning that was replaced by the relief and excitement of a job well done. And the potential of things to come.