That thing when you get up at 5:30 to run a sub-3hr marathon. In the freezing cold. On your own.
The obvious question is "Why?". Well, it all goes back to April and the Rock 'n Roll Raleigh marathon and more importantly my poor performance therein. So I finished the hot hilly race in PB time (mind you my only previous marathon had been part of an Ironman), but I had all but given up around the halfway mark. The second half had been an exercise in topping up my tan and cursing the revered distance of 26.2 miles.
Of course I quickly resolved to correct the situation at my earliest possible convenience. As things transpired that would mean scheduling a re-match for spring 2015. However, with other plans in mind I didn't particularly want to build my 2015 season around a single long race. An alternative plan was needed.
The other, more personal, regret I had been bearing was that the Raleigh marathon had been the last that my dad had followed (albeit tracking me from afar). I know that he would have been excited by my strong early showing and then dismayed by my slump. As my father was someone who had struggled in the face adversity it was a disappointment to me that I had lost the mental battle with the race. Not only did I now want to register a decent time, I wanted to make it a significant psychological achievement.
I trained hard. I made each session as tough as I could. Long runs with 10x mile efforts or multiple fast two mile segments. Early morning repeats. Running in the cold rain. My plan was to run the 26.2 miles on my own, early one morning - it would be me versus the distance... and as it turned out, the conditions.
I woke at 5AM on Saturday morning; actually I woke at 4AM and slept fitfully for another hour. I had a protein shot and a banana. I dressed in shorts (obvs), base layer, shortsleever, longsleever, hat, gloves and an old fleece top which I planned to discard once I had warmed up. It was cold - freezing cold. I stocked up my own private feed station (on the gatepost) and set off into the dark.
For the first mile my Garmin was all over the place, so I stopped and decided to call that a warm up. I reset my watch and started again, this time for real without technical hitch.
There's not much I can say about my run pacing other than I stuck to my plan religiously. The first mile was the fastest (too fast, but I was cold) at 6:38, mile 9 was the slowest at 7:03 (one of the three occasions that I called by the gatepost for a gel and drink), all others were bang on the 6:45-6:50 range or a few seconds either side of this. My route was very much random - most of my training is conducted around the neighbourhood and I stuck to what I know. Turning as the mood took me, running loops but sticking to the flat paved path for all but a few short sections.
My biggest adversary was the cold. I took my fleece off after a couple of miles and tried to brave it out. By 7 miles I was freezing and struggling to stop shivering. I went back for the jumper and fortunately salvaged the situation.
10miles, the half and 20miles were all ticked off without incident; bang on schedule. I passed the time absorbed in the radio podcasts I was listening to and thinking about my loving family and friends. I had hoped to pick up the pace for the last 10k but when it came I was content to hold speed. I didn't pull out a sprint finish and stopped only when I was sure I was clear of the required distance. My unofficial, but very satisfying time was 2:58:32. Inside my desired 3hour limit.
If running fast early morning marathons alone in the cold isn't a thing, it should be. It is thoroughly rewarding.
Thank you for reading!