The Highs & Lows of The 2016 Larmer Tree Marathon
After tackling the 30 mile Punchbowl Marathon followed by the LDWA New Forest Marathon 2 weeks later it was now time for The Larmer Tree Marathon with yes, just 2 weeks to recover or taper, or just get back into some sort of running shape.
Between the 30 miler and the LDWA event I raced twice: Army Harris Relay Champs and the Isle of Wight Cross Country Championships and I feel this really affected me in the New Forest event. I vowed to myself that during this 2 week gap I wasn’t going to run anywhere resembling a race effort!
The Wednesday after the New Forest Marathon, whilst competing at the Bramley Army Orienteering event, something sparked inside and I got drawn into racing every competitor I came across, resulting in a 3rd place finish out of 57. Great result after starting with two errors, but I had to gut myself and navigate to near perfection to get that result – and all I set out to do was amble round without a care in the world. Probably not best for recovery! But over the next 10 days I heeded my own advice and took it as easy as I could, culminating in a short 5km progression run on Friday 11th March, donning new shoes (Brooks PureGrit 3) for the race, just to get the legs primed for Sunday.
Race Day, pre-race
At 05:00 am on Sunday 13th March I was up and raring to go. Running mate Ian Russell, who was to run the Larmer Tree Half Marathon, turned up and we rocked up to ferry to meet the other 20 or so Island runners going to the notorious Larmer Tree Races in the Wiltshire Downs. The Isle of Wight fielded 34 competitors across the 3 races with some making a weekend away of it or travelling different routes.
During the ferry crossing I forgot to eat anything which was probably my first mistake leading to the day’s low point. We drove in convoy to the race centre in Tollard Royal, an hours drive away. Ian had hardly ran since coming down with bronchitis nearly 2 months before and was about to do a half marathon. I, on the other hand, felt fresh and bursting to run – for hours! My plan was to run around 10 minutes per mile for 16 or so miles of the hilly course then pick it up if I felt I could. But we were motivationally encouraging each other and the plan was soon to be forgotten.
With just 30 minutes until the marathon started we arrived at The Larmer Tree Gardens which was the race centre. I rushed off, registered and grabbed my number, and Ian helped me get ready as the Half Marathon started 90 minutes after the marathon. I looked over towards the portaloos to see queues upon queues and that’s where I wanted to go (think you get it). With 10 minutes until race start all I could was neck a few loperamides (imodiums) and wish for the best!
Before I knew it we were off. Apart from the loo thing I felt really good and tried to remember my pacing strategy after Ian kindly encouraged me to “Just smash it Dan!”.
For the first 2kms I settled into a steady 10min/mile pace with fellow club runners Ian Dyer and Steve Hickman, enjoying a little natter. Then 12 minutes in something went off inside me and I picked the pace up, trying to chase down Tim Cordery, also of Isle of Wight Road Runners, who is a damn sight quicker and more experienced than me. I caught Tim at around 8km and didn’t feel I was paying for it, I felt good – I was on cloud nine!
Around the 12km mark Tim moved ahead of me, partly because I stopped to water a tree, partly because he was a better hill runner and we were just about to hit a sharp climb.
With water stations aplenty, I was still feeling good. I passed through the 16km watering hole in 1 hour 28 minutes, did the quick maths, and realised if I kept this up I’d be on for sub-4 hours. And this was a hilly course with a touted 900m of climb, the equivalent of Llanberis to the top of Snowdon.
Around this point I was confused as to why I was passing runners who were clearly slower than me! At first I thought “Cheats, they’ve caught a bus for the first part of the course”, but after asking I realised the different races had joined together. The marathon did it’s own 6 mile loop straight away and joined up with the 20 mile race (the same route from then on) which started 30 mins later. The half marathon started 90 mins after the marathon and took the 20 mile route from the start and seemed like it cut a few corners to shorten the distance.
Anyway, I was keeping the pace up and I caught and passed Tim again at half way (21.1km) in 1 hour 57 minutes and I was still on target. I punched the air – sub-4 and I had minutes in the bag, or so I thought! I was aware I was treading on thin ice, and a bit too pacey, and could fall apart at this pace with this climb, but “so what” I thought, I’ll take it to that point and see what happens.
During the next 4 miles I passed a few friends and familiar faces in the other races, jokingly saying “Trip Tim up when he comes past”, knowing he wasn’t far behind.
There were sections of single-track woodland during this period and I was constantly shouting (politely) “passing left” or “passing right”. Unfortunately this didn’t always work and, on at least two occasions, I sent someone flying. I’m not sure if it’s a left-right confusion thing some people have or whether they were in their own zones and didn’t register me? It doesn’t matter really as I did what I could: we laughed about it, I apologised, they apologised, we got jiggy with it and wended our ways without any fisticuffs! The knocks to myself don’t bother me or matter in the slightest, it’s just that I sincerely hope I haven’t put them off running in these events and they weren’t too winded when I bumped into them.
Digression aside, differing abilities in the races were now coming together which added a lot of camaraderie to the event. I encouraged a lot of people when passing and was receiving the same encouragement – not just people I knew in the half marathon and 20 mile races but strangers too.
At around 26km I was contemplating the rest of the race and made a decision that from 34km I would push even harder if my legs still felt good. But come 28+/-km my stomach and bowels started complaining, I was still averaging 9 minutes per mile, still on target, and worrying that the farts would become explosions! I don’t remember the exact point that I had to dash behind the nearest large oak tree, but I was aware I wasn’t particularly hidden from view. I ripped my shorts down and prepared for the worst, then vomited so hard like I had gastroenteritis.
On exiting my little hidey-hole I was still ahead of Tim C and he was catching quickly. I was draining quickly too! We passed fellow runners Julie Salter and Sarah Holmes (of Isle of Wight Road Runners), running the 20 mile route, and ran towards the next water station at around 32km, aptly named the ‘Love Station’. I was now 3 hours 5 minutes in and realised the stop had cost me time and I’d slowed down a little. I needed somewhere around 8.50/miles from now on to break the 4 hour milestone.
I felt no love at the Love Station! Tim ran straight through and although I’d more-or-less kept up on pace for the 3 or 4 kilometres since being ill I felt drained and weak. Walking through I grabbed 2 cups of water and carried on, I was getting weaker and weaker, and watching Tim increase the gap made it worse. My legs were fine but I could taste stomach bile, I was weak, I was doubting myself and my stomach and head was all over the place.
A few more quick calculations and I worked out I could walk (at 13mins/mile) the rest of the way for a pb, should the course be marathon distance – as White Star Running do have a reputation for miss-measurement of course lengths!
Plodding onwards, walking and trotting, Julie Salter and Sarah Holmes caught back up to me. I ran with Julie 2 months prior during a long run and experienced her with stomach problems and I tried to encourage her and waited with her during that run. It was role reversal and she soon enquired to my well being. She handed me her bottle with around 300ml of electrolyte/water mix in. Initially I declined out of politeness but she insisted I had some, so I did. Julie and Sarah stayed with me for a mile or two and I told them to forget me and do their thing; they were running the 20 mile race and I didn’t want to hinder them or bother them with my obsession of my time slipping away.
39km saw the final water station and I shouted down to a few friends, I was now able to jog downhill at 11min/miles! Thinking water/fluids were my issue I took on 5 cups of water and met up with Sarah Sharp (also Isle of Wight Road Runners) who was running the half marathon with very little training. I think Sarah had been off running due to injury for a few months and only had a handful of runs in bank before this race!
Sarah cajoled me and tried to push me. I told her I was fine – in fact my legs were fine, I was drained, queezy and shattered. I wanted to run, run like the wind! But couldn’t. Time was slipping away but I knew I could still crawl home to a pb.
With 500 metres to go Sarah was waiting on top of the final hill, the hill leading into the finishing straight. I quickly crouched down and stretched and yelled at her “get moving, I’ll f***ing catch you”. I knew the end was around the corner and it was nearly adrenaline time! Sarah still waited for me to catch up although I knew the magic of my adrenaline was capable of getting me up to 4.30min/mile pace in situations like this. We ran the home straight together and all I wanted to do was thank her (and the other ladies for their help), so I stayed by her side inching ahead slightly, beckoning her forward, more quickly, doing what I could to get her to accelerate and get her to take as many seconds off her time as I could.
Sarah crossed the finish line in 2:52:31 for her hilly half marathon and I finished in 4:26:09 for the marathon in 84th place out of 302 finishers. This was a marathon personal best by 11 minutes for me, on course about half a mile too long and with 900m (3,000ft) of climb.
Tim Cordery ended up finishing 13 minutes ahead of me in 62nd place in a time of 4:12:41.
On finishing I drank and drank from the free drinks on offer. I was disorientated and spent half an hour trying to find Ian who had my car key. Quickly changed and a protein/glucose drink later and I was fine(ish) and hung around the finish line cheering in fellow runners and chatting.
I had recovered from a marathon within 2 weeks but need to reign in the speed and chasing unrealistic times. Go to the loo before a race. Take my S!Caps with me (totally forgot them). A pb of 11 minutes is still a good day’s work, don’t get disheartened, especially on such a savage and brutally hilly marathon course. Being ill wasn’t the end of the world and the experience will probably be of benefit for the longer races I’ve got my eye on. Brooks PureGrit 3, my new shoes, from Love Running, (I got told not to wear new shoes for this race) are fine for an off-road marathon, no aches, no blisters, they were bliss!
Food Drink Consumed
Nothing in the morning before the race (mistake?)
2000ml Water (guessing)
3 x Accel Gel’s Raspberry Cream (4:1 Carb/Protein energy gels, 40mg caffeine)
3 x Accelerade 2nd Surge Ultra Energy Gels (100mg caffeine)
2016 Larmer Tree Marathon route and elevation
Taken from my watches gpx data, Suunto Ambit 3 Peak.
Total climbing: 3327 ft
Total descent: -3317 ft
Total Time: 04:26:08