Gaz Chivers was the first to knock on the door just before 8.20 on the morning of the Notts Xmas marathon (Saturday 30 November 2019). His chirpy joyful greeting instantly cheered me up. I was just in the middle of putting on my second pair of socks, knowing full well that it was going to be freezing cold, having monitored the weather forecast over the past few days. The forecast was suggesting fog and a high of 4 degrees. Not the weather I was hoping for. In some ways I would have preferred rain and a temperature of 10 degrees.
Next to arrive was Martin Hulbert, my personal trainer and future run coach. 2 minutes later and another knock on the door. It was Matt Lang tree. Martin opened the door and introduced himself. I couldn’t help myself and asked Matt whether he liked my new doorman!
Last to arrive was Aaron Cox. My 4 man guide crew were ready to rumble. We all left the house and popped in to Martin’s car. There was light hearted chatter on the way to Nottingham as we caught up with what everyone had been up to since the last time I had met everyone.
The time flew buy and before long we arrived at Home Pier Point, the water ski centre. I’d brought my blue badges and we managed to get free parking, in, what we thought was a convenient spot near race start. Little did we know the epic walk we were just about to take.
We bumped in to Helen, one of Gas’s friends who was also doing the marathon. We were not too sure of the direction in which to walk as the race was just over 8 laps of the lake. We followed the arrows which pointed in the direction of race start. It was icy under foot which was a little concerning for me. The 10k race was coming towards completion. We were walking towards the last of the runners. Martin said to me,
“Has, the fog is so thick that none of us can see beyond 50 meters. It’s really difficult to know whether we are heading in the right direction.”
20 minutes later and we were still walking. It really felt like one of those walks that Papa Smurf used to take his smurfs on where they would ask at regular intervals,
“Are we nearly there?”
It was getting pretty close to the start time of 10.15 so we started to jog. Just as well as it was pretty cold so it helped us to get a little warmed up at least. Once we got eventually to the race start (it must have been at least 2 miles from where we parked the car), I started to strip down to my race kit. Martin and Gaz helped me to take my outer layers off and stash these in my bag. The race director very kindly waited another couple of minutes until we got to the start line and it was pretty much a 10 second countdown to the race. Matt was guiding me for the first 10k. I had given very clear instructions to all 4 guides on what I wanted them to do and when. I’d never used 4 guides before. This was a first for me. But, in the run up to this event I had completed two previous marathons in times which I had been disappointed with. Liverpool was due to injury where I knocked off 3.25. Berlin was due to asking a friend to stand in for my original guide who was injured so I wasn’t really expecting a fast marathon and there I got 3.24. so I knew there was a quicker time in me.
Today I was going to have two guides for the first half and then the next two for the last half. If I was going to fade that would be purely down to me and no one else. So, Matt took hold of the tether, made sure my GPS watch was ready and as the race director counted down we prepared to get a decent start. It clear that the ground was going to be icy. The fog hadn’t lifted and the overnight temperature had dipped to under 0 degrees. Aaron did a brilliant job of carrying my gels and provided a good buffer to ensure that no one got in our way. We kept up with the 3 hour pacer pretty well and at one stage sneaked in front but this wasn’t going to be for long. I gave strict instructions to guides on when they were to give me my gels. I had worked it all out in my head prior to the race. I had split the gels between Aaron and Gaz, who was acting as the domestique for the second half. At mile 5 we knocked off a crazy 6.33. I wanted to target a consistent 6.50 which would have got me a 3 hour marathon and a chance of dipping under for a possible 2.59. who knows, it could happen. If I don’t try it definitely won’t.
The conditions were quite icy. I guess if you can see the ice you can negotiate it slightly better. I definitely felt the ground go from underneath me a number of times and had to take off the pace just to ensure that I didn’t fall. It was a little unnerving to say the least.
At 10k Aaron took over the reins (or, more correctly, the tether). He noticed that we were finding ourselves behind the 3 hour pacer and continually ensured that I sped up to catch up with him. The drinks stations only had cups which were always going to be problematic when it came to drinks. If I had thought ahead I might have brought my own bottles. Drinking from cups on the move is far from easy for me. Besides which I didn’t really want to be spilling cold water over me in this freezing weather. I was also finding that one side of the lake was much breezier than the other side. I always suffer from the cold at the best of times and this was no exception. The windier side of the lake also had a very slight incline. I did find it much tougher but, once we had taken a left hand turn (we were running anti-clockwise around the lake) and the wind subsided, with the slight descent, my speed increased. Aaron did a superb job picking up from where Matt had left off, while Matt swapped duties to passing me the gels and drinks. The first half had been completed in just over 1.29. it was going well.
However, as Martin and Gaz took over (Martin guiding me for the next half), I was really feeling the pace. I could sense that my pace was dropping off slightly. Martin told me to let him know if I needed to back off as he didn’t want to be dragging me along any quicker than I was able to cope with. He said,
“I rather you were comfortable now than completely bonk and be disappointed with your final time.”
I really appreciated that and the constant shouts of encouragement from Gaz saying things like,
“Well done Has, you’re looking really good…really smooth…doing so well mate.”
I probably looked better than I felt. Between Martin and Gaz’s continuous encouragement and chatter my mind kept its focus. I knew I could dig really deep if it got very painful. I’ve done Ironman races and trust me one goes in to very dark places. And, that’s after a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike. So, 3 hours or so isn’t so bad!
Each mile was getting slower in the second half and Martin was determined that I wasn’t going to go in to 8 minute mile pace. I also didn’t want to do that and was pleased that generally speaking I kept most miles under 7.30 minute mile pace.
Martin has a great sense of humour and kept remarking that every time we passed the race start and the Xmas music was blasting out he would remark,
“but, it’s not even Xmas.”
Or, when an 80s tune came on…”We’re going round, round…we keep on going round round.”He commented.
“That sounds about right… we certainly are going round and round”
I had ditched my hat in the first half of the race together with my right glove. My left hand which held the tether still had a glove on it but for some reason my hand was frozen. Every time we entered the far side of the lake (the windy side) I really struggled. I couldn’t wait to get out of the wind and on to the warmer slightly quicker section of the course. I was extremely pleased to get to mile 20. As I did Martin commented,
“this is where it really matters Has.”
“and when the fun begins.”
Gaz was brilliantly negotiating us through other runners to keep them out of our way. The pre race instructions actually ask the slower runners to keep to the outside to allow the quicker runners to come through. However, inevitably everyone tries to hug the inside and so we kept to the centre. Unfortunately there were the usual smattering of runners with headphones in. on one occasion Gaz tried to move a runner to one side. He turned around to gaz and asked him to get his hand off his arm. When this guy turned around Gaz explained that there was a blind runner coming through, and, he immediately apologised. I still am of the view that headphones should be banned now for every race. There are so many VI runners that in actual fact my feeling is that it is not just thoughtless but discriminatory as it impedes and, at worse, creates a hazard for a VI runner.
As we went through the race finish area for the last time I heard the immense cheers of the crowd which always lifts my spirits. The man on the PA system gave me a fabulous mention as we passed through. One last time, I thought. Don’t give up now, I thought to myself.
It was getting harder now and my pacing was really beginning to drop. Martin kept on encouraging me to keep my form, keep lifting my legs. I took deep breaths and really focused on my running. I was struggling to keep on my toes, as I would normally do and was now pushing off with the middle of my feet using my glutes and quads. As we got to the last mile Martin said,
“In a moment we are going to be turning left, then there will be some puddles and then after that only 200 meters.”
Well that left hand turning seemed to be a long way off. When is this left hand turning going to come? I kept asking myself. Eventually it did and not too soon.
I was really beginning to feel sick – probably too many gels. I really thought I might end up throwing up at the end, but determined not to.
As we got closer to the finish Martin and Gaz were determined to make sure that I would keep in the single figures after the 3 hour point had been reached. In other words I would dip under 3.10. Martin and Gaz kept shouting at me to keep going and not to slow. Although I had come dangerously close to dipping in to the 8 minute mile pace, somehow, I picked up my speed towards the end. My last mile was 7.36. And, I finished in the official time of 3.09.16.
I was elated. Yes, I wanted to get nearer to 3 hours, but, plan B was to try and get a good for age time for London 2021. And, that I did with the help of 4 awesome guides. I was over the moon for Matt too who finished the marathon in 3.08.
My heartfelt thanks goes to my awesome friends and guides Martin, Matt, Aaron and Gaz. Without them this wouldn’t have been possible. It has been a long time since I’ve managed such a quick time. In fact I did 3.01.58 back in 2016. So, this wasn’t bad for a 50 year old aging blind athlete. My overall position was 20.
I also want to thank my coach Mark Perry who has been coaching me for a year now. We have parted company for now but Mark has been incredibly supportive of me and a fabulous coach.
I’ve been raising money for the Beacon Appeal for this marathon and the next one which I hope to do in Manchester on 5 April. A massive thanks to those of you who have donated. It will make a big difference to young people experiencing mental ill health in Leicestershire.
Finally thanks to you for reading my blog and continuing your support to me. Knowing that I have many friends and family behind me and helping me to do what I do enables me to keep motivated. Hope you all have a great Xmas.
My mile splits:
1 = 6.55
2 = 6.46
3 = 6.47
4 = 6.51
5 = 6.33
6 = 6,.52
7 = 6.55
8 = 6.45
9 = 6.54
10 = 6.56
11 = 6.48
12 = 7.01
13 = 7.06
14 = 7.02
15 = 7.15
16 = 7.20
17 = 7.17
18 = 7.28
19 = 7.32
20 = 7.26
21 = 7.35
22 = 7.44
23 = 7.41
24 = 7.53
25 = 7.48
26 = 7.37
26.3 = 7.37