This blog is going to be a straight run report on Valencia Marathon. There is a much bigger story in the process of being told but you will have to wait as it covers a period of a year. Just a hint of the huge impact small moments and little decisions can have on our lives and how sometimes sticking with something can bring it’s own unexpected rewards. With that preamble out the way lets get down to business. What the hell was my Valencia Marathon like.
I started with a training plan dragged from the internet and a wish for a 3:45 time. Taking 15 minutes of my marathon was definitely a tall order but if you are going to achieve big things you have to aim big. The training went well as far as I was concerned, the last few weeks I had a couple of crap runs and looking back now I may possibly have over done it but, I rocked up to the start line with a simple race plan. My next marathon is in Brighton and I really want the 3:45 there, it has become a big milestone for me. I was going to go out and hang on to an 8:30 pace for as long as possible just to see what I was capable of.
This was a good race to try this out as the organisation was the best I have known. The registration process was crowded, with 17500 runners how could it fail to be, but it was simple and easy. We had a pre race goody bag with all kinds of things that I am sure would be useful for the race including what I think is a sweat band and some kind of toe deodorant. I could probably be a little clearer on this if I spoke Spanish. The point I am making is that as a runner I was made to feel very welcomed and valued by people who understand runners. The only slight organisational criticism was that at the start there were not enough entrances to the pens. It quickly bottle necked and got very crowded while we were trying to get into our start. A number of entrants actually pulled the fencing down to make it easier to get in and I don’t think the guys on the ground could deal with this. Still the other runners were responsible and kept everyone safe making sure nobody got hit by the now loose barrier.
As always with these big races there was a bit of a walk to the start when the thing finally got under way. What was really surprising coming from an English culture of Marathon fun runners was the strength of the field. This was a very serious race. I was in the 3:45-4 hour pen and everyone expecting to finish in over 4 was in one pen behind. Most of the field expected a sub 4 run and that is impressive in it’s own right.
To be honest one of the reasons I chose this race and, possibly the same reason that so many other serious runners choose this race is because it is so flat. Often we are told a race is flat, Manchester being a case in point but it includes short hills and road bridges that are quite lumpy. Valencia had none of that, it was a pancake. The first half of the race went well, I coasted along averaging 8:30’s without too much of a problem. Within the first 5k there was a water station at the start of an out and back where I kept an eye out for the 3 other runners I knew. I saw one of them but missed the other two.
All of the water stations were superb, placed on wide enough stretches so that even though it was busy you did not feel like it was too crowded. I adopted a strategy of running down the edge as I approached, grabbing a water bottle and then moving to the middle to keep out of other peoples way. Once I had my fill I drifted over to the other side and ditched the bottled. OK not very environmentally sound and created work for people but that’s the way it goes. In fact one of the thoughts that occurred to me while I was running was that to run a marathon you have to be quite selfish. In fact you need to have the attitude while racing that all the support crews are there just for you. They are manning my water stops and they are cleaning up after me. That way you can just worry about keeping on pace and keeping your legs moving.
I stayed pretty much on track floating around the 8:30 pace for the first 19-20 miles and then I was aware that I was slowing down. Rather than push too desperately hard I allowed myself to drift, in Manchester one of the problems had been pushing my pace with a really fast mile when I noticed the drifting and then the wheels falling off completely. For the next 3 miles I stayed steady at around 9:30 and calculated that it would have been enough to let me come in at around 3:50. Not exactly the time I wanted but satisfying enough and then the cramp hit.
Around mile 23 the back of my left thigh started to freeze and tighten in the most painful of ways. The temptation to stop was great but I refused knowing that if I did I would never really be able to get going again so I literally gritted my teeth adjusted my gait to a kind of straight legged shuffle and kept pushing. Those last 3 miles were hell but I did not stop except to get a couple of squirts of some spray to relieve the pain. Of course my pace slowed down and that was the end of the 3:50. Still I came in at 3:56 and change so a new PB and I am happy enough with that. Oh and it came up long on my Garmin at 26.6 so I will add that to the pile of time excuses.
It would be a lie to say that there was no disappointment at all, but I count the Valencia Marathon as a successful overseas mission. I wanted to see how far I could keep the 8:30’s going for under race conditions and I found out that 20 miles is achievable without too much trouble. I wanted to make sure I did not walk at all and, I didn’t, and I had to make sure that my sub 4 marathon status was consolidated. If I had been over 4 hours I would have been gutted instead of mildly annoyed. The cramp was a killer and that is what I have to work out, I think my race prep the night before may need some work but if you want to know in what way you will have to read the extended Valencia story coming soon to a device near you.