My Liverpool marathon journey this year started at the back end of 2018 when I had already received my rejection email from London marathon. Like thousands of others who were disappointed rather than trying to get a charity place I looked to another marathon, in another City on a different weekend. But which was it to be? I decided against Manchester and opted for Liverpool instead. I’d visited Liverpool as a triathlete competing in the National champs in 2013, 2014 and 2015. I never ventured further than Albert Docks and the City Centre so the prospect of a little tour of Liverpool was very appealing. So, why not do the tour as a marathon?? Surely it can’t be all that bad, pounding the streets of the home of the Beatles and one of the best football teams in the country.
I started my training for the Liverpool marathon in February in earnest working with my new run coach. To be honest it was a bit of an experiment to see whether my aging body could withstand up to 5 runs a week. I was very conscious of an ongoing niggle in my left ankle and tightness in my hip area on the same leg. NO doubt both issues are connected. By the end of April, and, after my half marathon in Rutland with Andy Salmon guiding me, I became even more concerned with my hamstring tightening up and was hobbling around after my long runs. I ran with Lucy Neamz on The first May Bank holiday Monday and felt good, but, again the next day I was in a whole world of pain. I had to make the tough decision to stop my run training and pull out of the Bosworth half marathon on 14 May which I was really looking forward to. My good friend gaz Chivers who was going to guide me was equally gutted but very kindly messaged me to say that it was the right decision. I just knew that if I carried on with my training I wouldn’t even make the start line let alone complete the marathon. I even had doubts I would be able to go the full distance.
With a week to go to the start of the Liverpool marathon I wanted to test the legs out and do an easy park run. I asked Chris Sherwood to guide me around Victoria Park run. However, what intended to be an easy run was more of a harder effort than I had planned. We finished in 22 minutes, but, I felt good throughout. When I stopped my leg started to hurt, but, nothing I couldn’t handle. The only problem was that I had been invited to accompany Chris to a wedding reception later that evening, where, I knew there would be dancing involved. I had no intention of drinking much nor dancing a great deal. Instead I knocked back 4 vodka and oranges and boogied away until my leg felt like it was on fire. Not exactly what the coach put on the training plan!
The following day I basically couldn’t do my tempo run, opting for a 2 hour tandem ride with my friend Rupert instead. The rest of the week I knocked off a couple of turbo sessions on my static bike. Even a couple of days before the race I wondered whether I would be fit enough to go the whole distance. Should I just call it a day and pull out. After all I don’t think anyone would have minded. Yet, the only time I have ever pulled out of a race is when I really physically couldn’t run such as the London marathon in 2015 when I had a stress fracture of my left foot and this present injury was nowhere near as bad as that.
So, I made my mind up to race come what may. I knew the chances of getting 3 hours or less were now non-existent, but maybe there was a very slim chance of getting 3 hours and 10 minutes and bag myself a good for age slot for the London marathon.
Mary and I arrived in to Liverpool on Saturday 25 May. We booked ourselves in to our nice clean but basic apartment. The cooker, microwave and fridge that seemingly was advertised on their on-line marketing didn’t materialise. My plans for boiling some eggs and toasting a couple of slices of bread for breakfast vanished there and then. The evening meal consisted of a tastey pasta and a glass of wine. Well why not?
Having to improvise, the following morning my breakfast consisted of a dodgy soya based porridge with a bit of strawberry jam and half a Danish pastry plus cup of tea. It was a damp morning and I wasn’t too fazed with the prospect of a rain drenched race, knowing that it was going to be warm. The rain would simply keep us cooler throughout the race. Andy and Lucy who were guiding me arrived at the apartments just after 9.30 and we started walking towards the docks from the hotel apartments Mary and I were staying at. It was only a 10 minute walk. I noticed Lucy’s rain sodden running shoes were squelching as she walked along and I commented that they seemed wet through, and, were they going to make that squelching sound all the way around the course. She said that they only made that sound when walking but when running they were noiseless. She then demonstrated by taking little baby steps, as though she was running. And, guess what, no squelching!
As we walked I noticed that Andy’s fiancée Millie was walking along with us. When we got to the Albert Docks there wasn’t really much time to do any warm up. We weaved our way through the crowds and made our way to the first pen. I took off my jacket and handed it to Millie to look after. Lucy asked me if I had everything I needed, to which I replied assuredly that I had.
As we began to walk away from Andy and Millie towards the starting pen, Lucy asked me where the tether was. “Oh” I replied, “It’s in the jacket I just handed Millie.” It was a real “doh” moment. We turned around quickly and managed to catch Andy and Millie. I felt a bit silly, but, I put it down to nerves. In future I’ll just wrap the tether around my wrist rather than put it in a pocket.
As we stood at the front of the Liverpool marathon waiting to be set off, the music boomed from the PA system. I could hardly hear what Lucy was saying to me. After around 5 minutes of hanging around Lucy said to me
“I’m dancing to keep warm.”
Lucy then grabbed both my shoulders. I thought we were going to do the tango. Instead she turned my body around and pointed me to face forward towards the start line.
A couple of minutes later and it was time to go, go, go. We set off at a fairly conservative pace. I remember that there was quite a bit of twisting and turning, speed humps to contend with and having to go up and down curbs.
“Wow, this is really technical Haseeb. Why on earth did you choose this marathon?” Lucy exclaimed.
To which I responded emphatically ,
“I haven’t a clue but I won’t be coming back here to do another one that’s for sure.”
This was only 15 minutes in to the race.
We covered the first mile in 7.20 minutes. I knew I had to increase the pace if I was to be in shouting distance of 3.10. So, we increased the pace. There were still a number of technical sections but there were also some nice long downhill stretches where I could open up a little. Every time I stepped up my pace, Lucy asked me to relax. I told her, “Yes, I am relaxed.”
Lucy’s guiding was superb. This wasn’t surprising as it had been top drawer when she guided me in the Ashby 20 on 24th March, earlier this year, when we knocked out a 2 hour and 22 minute for 20 miles. Ashby 20 was no where near as technical as Liverpool. We found ourselves going through underpasses, countless speed humps, up and down curbs and having to avoid bollards. We wounde our way around Anfield Stadium as we made our way back to the docks. We were consistently knocking out around 7.10 minutes per mile give or take a few seconds. This wasn’t bad taking in to account, as I mentioned, how technical the course was. I thought to myself, if I kept the current pace up, then maybe I could get close to 3 hours and 10 minutes for the 26.2 miles…maybe.
Lucy said to me a couple of times that I made running at the pace I was look easy. However, keeping my speed consistently hovering around the 7.10 mile pace was no walk in the park. I had to work hard and my only fear was around 14 miles. How would I feel then? As we got back to the docks Andy joined us at around 11 miles. He commented on how insanely quick we had done the first 10k. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by this. After the race I find out that the tracker had registered that I had completed the first 10k in 36 minutes. This would have meant sub 6 minute mile pace. I knew that we certainly were not running that quickly and can only guess that the timing mat had been placed in the wrong location.
At the halfway point (13.1 miles) Lucy handed me over to Andy. Things were getting a little tougher now and I could feel my left ankle niggling a little.
“Please hold up ankle.”
I thought to myself.
Although Lucy planned to leave Andy and I at mile 12 she very kindly carried on running with us for another 8 miles, helping out where she could. At mile 16 I started to struggle a little. I remember running around and through one of Liverpool’s major parks. On another day I would have loved to have run around there. However, my left foot twisted in a pot hole and I thought it was game over. The pain surged through my little toe. Andy asked me if I was OK. I deliberately didn’t answer straight away just to make sure I was fine. The pain started to subside and I told him I was fine.
Andy was also doing a Stirling job. He chatted away telling us that he would often run in these parts for his easy runs and pointing out things of interest. I should also mention that every few miles of the race we would pass some music being played or live bands. It would have been disappointing if there hadn’t been any music given that this was the “Rock and Roll” marathon. It was fantastic. Every time I heard a brilliant band my pace increased a fraction. When we got to Penny Lane, guess what was playing on the PA system? Yes, you’ve guessed it, Penny Lane by the Beatles. Andy couldn’t work out why there was a DJ at that music station when Penny Lane was being played on a constant loop.
At around mile 20 the 3.15 mile pacer was behind us. I tried to keep in front but it was a losing battle. My legs were really hurting now , but, contrary to the problems I thought I would be having my left leg, it was my right hip which felt very tight. Particularly going around corners. As Andy and I went through some more bollards, (taking my wrist to carefully navigate me around them), he looked back and cried, “Oh my goodness!” I asked what had happened and he explained that some guy behind us had fell over and face planted on the ground. Apparently he had blood all over his face. Lucy hung back to see if he was OK. He simply got back up and started to run again. In fact a little later he passed us by.
Lucy left us at mile 20 as she had her car parked nearby. “Goodbye Lucy” we exclaimed. I was sad to see her leave as it would have been awesome to have regrouped later and celebrated our achievements together. However, Lucy had been away all week and it was only reasonable for her to want to get home to Mark, her husband.
As we continued I heard some people screaming out my name. Andy told me that there was a group of people in a car who appeared to be fans of mine. I later found out it was Gaz Chivers. I had no idea he had made his way up to Liverpool to support his friends. How nice.
The last few miles were so tough. But, I knew they would be as I wasn’t able to complete a number of my critical long training runs. At this stage in the race I was simply counting down each mile that I passed. At mile 24 we went by a heavy metal band. Andy said, “That was me a few years ago playing bass in a band like that.” It would be great to play in a band with Andy one day, myself on the drums and Andy on the bass. You never know, it might happen!
A little while later, we passed a samba band. I was really beginning to suffer and I know that Andy could tell. All I wanted to do was to stop running. Every single brain cell was screaming for me to please stop running and start walking. But I kept saying to myself, “Don’t walk, just don’t walk.” Just turn one leg after the other, and keep it going. It was slow, very slow, but, I was running. That is all that matters. The final 2k came along and then the final 1k. And, still I kept going. My chest was now hurting and I was beginning to feel ill. Andy told me to listen to the crowds. He told me that there wasn’t much further to go.
“Just another 200 meters Haseeb. Enjoy this moment.”
,Finally I felt the finishing mat under my feet and I was over the line. Andy and I gave each other a huge man hug. My final time was 3 hours and 25 minutes.
On reflection I was so happy to make it to Liverpool and finish the race. Although I try to do my very best there are some things which are completely out of our hands. As far as I am concerned the journey getting to Liverpool has been a mixed one. Training started off well from February to March. I had a little cold before Ashby 20 which set me back a little but not much. However, towards the very last few weeks my left leg was just not playing by the rules. Despite this I’ve had many happy moments training with some wonderful people such as Toni Briggs, Sarah Thi, Gaz Chivers, Neil Biford, Aaron Cox, Matt Langtree, Chris Sherwood and of course my wonderful guides Andy Salmon and Lucy Neamz.
My mile splits from the race:
NB: I want to dedicate this Liverpool marathon blog to my lovely friend Jane Sherwood who passed away at the beginning of May. Sadly, Jane lost her battle with Breast cancer. She was an amazing woman who lived life to the full. Jane showed me the true meaning of treasuring and loving everything and everyone around you. So, if I seem a little full on or too enthusiastic about stuff I am involved in, it’s because I want to savour every living moment |I have with the people I love. Thank you Jane for sharing that gift with me.
So, I want to do my bit to fight breast cancer. I have asked Jane’s husband Chris Sherwood (who has been a very close and dear friend to me for many years) to guide me in the Berlin marathon where I will be raising money for Breast Cancer Now. I hope you will help me to raise money in order to continue research and support for those with breast cancer. More details on how you can donate will follow.
In the meantime I hope you found this blog interesting. Please leave a like and do feel free to leave any comments, I reply to every one.