The Portsmouth Coastal Marathon was a really local venue for me so travelling was never really going to be a concern. The route is an out and back course along the Hayling Billy trail line, it is realistically pretty much pan flat. However the terrain is constantly changing with some pavements, off-road hard packed trail (which in December is extremely muddy and slippery) and even some beach thrown in for good measure. My Recovery from the previous months marathon had been really good, I hadn’t had any injuries and had been working on trying to improve my speed for this event which would be the flattest one I had ever ran. My interval and tempo session suggested that going for a 2:45 marathon PB should be my aim. The previous year had been won by the legendary Steve Way in 2:47 in a new course record, but that was probably some of his ‘training’ marathons. Then there was the dilemma of trail shoes or road shoes??? I decided to go with my trusty Addidas kanadia’s for a bit of grip on the muddy sections.
Race morning beckoned and the weather looked ideal for a December day, it was a tad chilly but with no real wind on this exposed course it was a godsend. In went a couple of weetabix and I was raring to go. We arrived at the start with plenty of time to collect my number, but the only problem was that the queue for the loos was enormous, I tried to not let this bother my mindset. My dad ushered me towards the start and I tried to negotiate my way towards the front, out of the 1000 entrants I was probably in the top 100. I had never raced any flat marathons so it was all going to be a new venture.
The horn sounded and we were off, I wanted to scythe through as many people off the start to get some clear air and try to get upfront. As we headed along the promenade for the first 2 miles we were down to three of us. One setting a searing 5:45 minute per mile pace (Only afterwards did I find out this was the world sky running and OCR world champion Jon Albon who has a 2:26 marathon to boot), followed by a naive me and the other guy was a bit behind me but he was breathing really hard for mile 2 so I figured he was not going to last. Adrenaline buzzing I tried to follow Jon and the pace bike, at Mile 5 we dropped down onto a shingle beach which made going really tough this early on, but I was still holding pace well. To my surprise the guy in third was too. As the next few miles clocked off we gradually dropped the guy in third, but Jon was showing no signs off letting up we were now doing 5:35-40 pace! I was trying to keep him within touching distance, but as we approach the half way turning point he had bought himself about 20 seconds on me. I was more chuffed with coming through in a 1:16:25 personal best half! I chugged down a few cups of squash and some rather chewy jelly babies if you ask me! I was desperately trying for the next few miles to try and hold the pace, but by about mile 16 my body had reigned myself in to a 5:55 minute mile pace, not by popular choice mind! For the next few miles I tried to hold pace as I was coming up against all the other runners coming the other way. I was able to hold pace quite effectively until about mile 22, it was at this point my legs were starting to hit the wall. This was not aided by the return of the shingle beach to sap any remaining life from my legs, each step becoming more of a struggle. With the beach successfully navigated I had a glance back to see if I was being hunted down, much to my relief there was no one in sight! On the flip sight I had lost sight of the leader completely so I knew I needed to just try to hold it together. For the next couple of miles the pace slipped to a 6:15 minute per mile pace as I could feel the fatigue effect even more so. But now I was at mile 25 back on the promenade I knew I was on the home stretch, I gritted my teeth and gave it my all for the last couple of miles leaving me totally oblivious to the cheering spectators. I could see my parents, dogs and the finish line in sight I breathed a sigh of relief. I had crossed the line in a time of 2:36:07 a massive PB for me. Jon Albon had finished some time up the road with a 2:31 effort but third place came through in 2:44 so I had a nice cushion in the end. Now I got presented with the biggest medal I have ever seen which could double up as a dinner plate! Only now did I get to chat to and find out who this incredible runner was! Had it not been for him pushing the pace I don’t think I would have achieved anything like this time, he forced me to dig really really deep. Now time for a chocolate milkshake, a can of coca cola and a eat natural yoghurt bar! I was well and truly beaten by a better man today, but I am still thrilled with my new PB and sometimes it is good to suffer, knowing that I couldn’t have pushed myself any harder!