1982 was an important year for Tunbridge Wells running. Most famously, it was the year the Harriers were born. Perhaps slightly less well know in the running community, it was also the year this promising young athlete weighing in at 2.5kg made his debut appearance.
As all runners know, the consolation of a milestone birthday is a lowering of the good-for-age standard, so with the apparently eminently achievable 3:05 target in my sights (spoiler alert – did not achieve), I launched into a winter of training.
Due to a combination of poor organisation and an unfashionably late Covid reappearance, I missed the Brighton, Edinburgh and Milton Keynes marathons, and yesterday toed the line at Kempton Park staring down the barrel of 8 laps of the racecourse.
Training had gone well, and I am on intimate terms with every inch of Forest Way. An 11th hour wobble around the heat forecast for the day was batted away by a close-knit network of Harriers supporters who unanimously advised a ‘start hard and push on hard’ race technique.
The laps were very flat and very open. There was no shade apart from one tree at the 2.5km mark on each lap. I grew to love that tree, and spent each lap looking forward with increasing fervour to the 3 seconds I could spend basking in its shelter. The field of marathoners was pretty small, so I spent the last 22 miles of the race on my own – laps meant there were a lot of people to overtake which helped.
My target was laps of 22:45, 8 of them would get me in at 3:02 and hopefully comfortably under the time target. The first four were metronomic, 1:31 at the halfway mark and right on target. But, wait? What is this? All I’ve read and heard tells me that at the halfway point of a marathon you should be feeling strong and easy. But in that case why was each lap progressively harder? And why am I this close from depositing a carefully balanced mix of energy gels and electrolyte drinks on the course? Perhaps the heat? Maybe this is just what a marathon is?
I held the pace through lap 5. Laps 6 and 7 were progressively harder (and lonelier) and at the end of lap 7 I realised that a 3:05 was off the cards. With a herculean effort to not head into the finish tunnel at the end of Lap 7 (I’m sure they weren’t counting!), I set off on Lap 8 focussed on overtaking the poor souls who were still on their 6th or 7th laps, stepping round those who were being treated by the medical staff, saying ‘hi’ to my favourite tree one more time, and hitting my ‘super reserve’ target of 3h10.
I crossed the line in 7th place out of 73 and in 3h9 (although the official race time seems to be 3h11, I’ll trust my Garmin )
It was a shame not to get my target time, but I’m pleased to now be able to say I am a marathoner, and what is the point of having a target that is easy! I’ll give it a crack again next year, hopefully on a cooler day!
Finally, big shout out to fellow Harrier Terry Everest who wisely opted for the 2 lap 10k version (‘why are you doing 8 laps – you’ll go crazy’) and came home in a very solid 48:41 for 30th place (out of 112).