With some pretty ropey weather over the winter which continued far too long in to the spring period I was hoping for some favourable conditions for the Gloucester 20 Mile race on 25 March 2018. I had booked the race before Xmas after consulting my guide David Chapman who is also guiding me at the London Marathon. I had wanted to enter the Ashby 20 Mile race as this was more local to me and would have been much easier to get to, for the both of us. However, as usual I had neglected to keep an eye out on when the latter race entry had opened. Ashby 20 had invariably filled up and I had long missed the entry deadline. Well, as they say, one door closes and another opens and Gloucester was very much open and there was no rush for places at this particular moment. Little was I to know that actually Ashby 20 which took place a week before Gloucester was to be cancelled due to, yes, more snow.
Training was going well (despite an ongoing viral infection) and with a 5K treadmill PB under my belt and some corking tempo runs nailed my confidence was running pretty high (no puns intended). The weather forecast was also looking favourable. A bit chilly but warming up as the morning wore on. Excellent. What could possibly go wrong?
On Saturday 24th March as I was getting my kit together and preparing for the longish journey down to Gloucester, and very much looking forward to seeing David who was sharing the car with us (being dropped off by his girlfriend Tina at 1.30 pm(.
Mary my wife had kindly agreed to drive us down on this occasion. All seemed well until about 20 minutes before we were due to leave. Mary and I had a bit of bad news dropped on us by a close family member. Mary was in turmoil, as was I, as to whether to cancel the trip and provide support to our loved one. I tried to get hold of David, but with 20 minutes to go before he arrived I simply couldn’t get hold of him. So, I said that Mary could stay and I would order a taxi to take us down. As we were deliberating on what to do, David arrived and Mary made the snap decision to drive us to Gloucester. We checked that the aforementioned family member was going to be OK, and she reassured us that she would be, and off we set. However, I can’t deny that this certainly wasn’t ideal.
So crisis averted we headed down to Gloucester hoping we would get down in time to pick up our race numbers before 4 pm from race HQ. Race HQ turned out to be the back of someone’s car in the middle of a park and ride car park! No matter, we picked up our race numbers, dropped David off at his B and B and checked in to our hotel. A few hours later, a hearty meal consumed, it was time to try and get a few hours kip. After all this was the night when the clocks went forward and we lost an hour in bed.
Race day soon came around and Mary dropped David and I as close as she could to the Leisure Centre where race HQ was based. We dropped bags off and made our way to the front of the field. Earlier I had bumped into my brother Toseef’s brother-in-law Nigel Sankey. It was good to see him there as he had commented on a Facebook status I had posted earlier in the week, that had he known I was racing, he would have entered the race. He told me that he had managed to enter after all and wished us luck before he tucked himself somewhere behind in the field.
It was a little chilly just before the race started and I regretted not going to the loo when I had the opportunity earlier. Nevermind, I was hoping the feeling of a semi-full bladder would wear off as I slowly dehydrated during the race. But, I knew that was not the way things worked…more wishful thinking on my part.
We were soon set off by the race director and the fairly hefty breakfast I had a couple of hours ago was soon reminding me I should have taken it a bit easier on the full=-English helpings. I heard a couple of runners talking to my right commenting that we were going around 7.07 minute mile pace. At this stage I wasn’t really feeling particularly great and wondered whether I would be able to push slightly harder to get the pace down to around 7 minute or less. I checked with David around 2 miles what kind of pace we were doing and he informed me that we were still hovering just over the 7 minute mile mark so I made a conscious decision to to up the pace slightly. The next mile was around 6.45 and around 5 miles David told me that we had just completed a 6.19 mile. Too quick I thought, but I was feeling super good at this stage. Unfortunately David wasn’t feeling as good as myself. I wasn’t surprised. Two weeks previously David had done his first 100 mile ultra marathon. In around 23 hours. By any standards that is some going, but, to recover in time for a fast 20 mile race two weeks later is too much to expect even from someone of David’s caliber.
We knocked off the first loop of 3 (6.6 miles) in 44 minutes. However, each mile after that got slower as David struggled to keep pace. I could hear that he was getting less clearer in his instructions to me and he asked me to ease up. Although I was disappointed I felt a sense of compassion and empathy. I knew what it felt like to feel rubbish in a race. There was no point pulling David or forcing him to go quicker than he was able. It simply would have been the wrong thing to do on a number of levels, not least of all on grounds of his and my safety. After around 9 miles we decided to cut our losses after the second lap and stop. However, it occurred to me that Nigel was still racing, a little way behind, but he might take me around for the 3rd lap just so that I could finish. We stopped after the 3rd lap (13.2 miles) in around 1.34 minutes. I was desperate for the loo and we popped in to the Leisure Centre. I wasn’t in a particular rush and wasn’t even thinking of Nigel at this point, thinking the race was over. However, as we came back out of the facility around 30 seconds later Nigel comes past us and David asks whether I want to continue. There was no time to waste and I shouted over to Nigel,
“Nigel, do you fancy guiding me?”
Nigel hesitated for a second and said something like,
“Er, well, Ok, come on then.”
I asked Nigel whether he had guided before and he replied with an emphatic “No”. But, I knew that he would have guided my brother Toseef who is also blind but at a more sedate walking pace. My brother isn’t a runner. So, off we went. Nigel was aiming for a 2.35 hour 20 mile finishing time and had set out to run at around 7.40 pace, so when he told me that we were running at 7.10 mile pace I was delighted. However, Nigel, quite sensibly, kept reminding me that he wanted to finish in one piece and get to the end of the race I assured him that I would run at his pace. The problem being that if I started to run quicker Nigel tried to keep pace with me. It’s a natural tendency we have. It’s like a magnetic effect whereby one runner is pulled along by another by some invisible force. Except that Nigel and I were tethered. Once we got to around 17 miles we had slowed down to 7.40 minute mile pace. It’s really weird but when I have done a hard week’s training, and perhaps a long 2.5 hour bike the day before a long run, 8 minute mile pace feels tough. However, today I felt 7.40 was walking pace. It could have been the adrenalin surging through my system, it could have been the wonderful company of Nigel and other runners, who knows, but I felt great. I knew also that Nigel was on for a PB and I wanted him to absolutely smash his previous time which was around 2.47 a few years back.
We reached a tricky section which was out and back with only room for single file people traffic. Unfortunately my right foot clipped a traffic cone and I lurched forward just able to regain my footing. I felt a slight pull in my back and thought I will probably pay for that later. Nigel apologised but there was nothing to apologise for. His first time guiding, and to be honest this was pretty tame compared to some of the accidents I have experienced over the years. Another minor incident occurred a little while later at a drinks station when Nigel went to pick up some water. I slightly veered away from him and almost ran in to another runner. Nigel straightened me up and I then almost ran in to the back of someone else! Again, no harm done and we were soon back on track.
Towards the last few miles we were yo yoing with a female competitor who was very chatty. I did think to myself that if you have that much capacity in your lungs to talk you could push much harder. However, she was a great sport and we urged each other on. As the last mile and then half mile loomed I spurred Nigel on to pick up his pace and put everything in to the last bit of the race. He rose to the bate and started sprinting.
“Come on Nigel, you can do this!!” I shouted.
As we crossed the finishing line Nigel bent over to regain his composure. I asked him what time he had done and he replied breathlessly,
“Just over 2.30.”
A massive PB. I was handed my medal which I handed straight back to Nigel to give to his 6 year old daughter. Maybe she will follow in her father’s footsteps. She should be mighty proud of her dad.
On reflection I felt it was a great weekend. My personal and heartfelt thanks to both David and Nigel for helping me to bag another 20 miles. It could have so easily not happened. The sunshine came out and the day turned out to be beautiful.
Since the race I have felt a bit tired. I knocked out another 20 miles over the Easter bank holiday weekend with my dear friend Chris. There has been a lot to think about for me on a personal level about life and close friendships, past and present. Much of it very positive as I look to the future. Decisions to be made and new paths to be trod and indeed run! I have unfortunately picked up a slight foot injury over the last weekend so hoping that a little rest will do the trick. Time will tell.
My next race is the London marathon on 22 April. Not long to go. Hotels booked and my race number confirmed as 25, 113. Could it be another sub 3 marathon?