Welcome to my report on the Eden Project Marathon 2016.
Last Sunday (16th October 2016) I ran the Eden Project Marathon. It was my second time at it, and this time I was going “covert.” The first time I ran it dressed as Batman alongside a friend dressed as Robin, and I fooled myself into thinking I was running it easily. It still clobbered me as it is a tricky course with a variety of climbs and a good mix of trail and tarmac. This time I was dressed as a runner, but not as a marathon runner, no, this time I was dressed as an ultra runner and playing around with a new hydration/nutrition strategy. I had my smallest pack on, and was carrying a litre of water and all the food I would need for the race.
Not only was I trying a new hydration strategy, but my new coach had set me a very specific pacing strategy too. It would be a test, and my ability to adhere to the pacing strategy would give him a good view of my conditioning. Ah what fun 😉
I was really looking forward to it, and while I would not normally condone trying new things on race day, this was different for me. The Eden Project Marathon was a race that I was looking forward to and wanted to enjoy, but it was just a “training” race for me so I had some leeway for trying new things.
The race itself usually fields 200 to 300 people with the usual wide spread of finishing times, and it is a pretty friendly affair. Friends and family of competitors are allowed in to the Eden Project for free on race day which gives it a good atmosphere. When you finally cross the finish line not only do you get a tech-T and a small medal, but you also get a pasty and a tin of Tribute (Cornish beer.) What more could you want? 🙂
The marathon course is a figure eight with the start/finish being at the bottom. There is also a half marathon which uses just the bottom loop of the figure-8 and starts half an hour after the marathon. The half marathon course has a small amount of trail on it, but the majority of the mud and the technicality is in the top loop, which only the marathon runners get to see.
My pacing strategy for the day was heart rate bsed, after my recent lactate threshold testing, and I would be starting slow and finishing fast. It can be summed up as zone 2 -> zone 3 -> Whatever is left.
As we started I had one eye glued to my heart rate monitor and the other on the road. To stay in zone 2 I was dismayed to see that I was so slow everyone was pulling away from me. I started near the front and for more than the next hour I had to bottle my ego as lots of people ran off. The route was mostly tarmac with a small amount of muddy trail and as I ran into the top loop I was pleased to see that it was time to shift up a gear.
The top loop is significantly more technical than the bottom loop and when I looked at the data afterwards I can see that even though my heart rate was higher my pace was a little bit slower for the next couple of hours. It was a fun section of the route though and I only had one slip. It was a painful one though. Both my feet slipped as I was climbing over a stile and both shins slammed forward into the wooden bar running across the middle. I continued with blood slowly oozing down my legs. Ah well, it happens.
I was dismayed at about 18 miles when I realized that things were beginning to come apart a little. My hips were sore and a short sharp zig zag decent taken a tad too enthusiastically had blown my quads a little. I pushed on, continuously slowing myself to keep my heart in the target zone. It began to occur to me that “whatever is left” for the final stretch may not be that impressive. My spirits had lifted a little though as I had overtaken a few people as they tired. Now I just needed to stay in front of them.
Along the way I saw a few familiar faces and chatted with them as we overtook each other. I chatted to a few new folks too, and as usual everyone was pretty friendly. It seems to come with the miles 🙂
Finally, with the worst behind me and 10km to go it was time to take the brakes off, let the ego out, and give it some welly. Whatever that may look like. It turns out that my brain and body had a little surprise for me. My heart rate climbed another 10 beats, my pace lifted and my form sharpened up. Sure things were aching, but I’d already been running for over 3 hours, so they would. I grinned, fixed my gaze on the back of the person in the distance and the chase was on.
I caught the first person, and cruised past, focusing on the next. One by one I reeled folk in over the next 52 minutes. My heart rate climbed and I put an effort in every time I overtook someone. I focused on looking unflustered, calm and comfortable to discourage any thoughts they may have of picking up the pace and taking it to the line. It worked. With less than a mile to go as I wended my way past the Eden Project car parks I turned a corner and saw a small sharp hill going up. I shouted at my legs “come on!” Startling some walkers (sorry!) and dug deep. When I looked at my heart rate results afterwards I saw that at that moment I set a new max heart rate for this year, even higher than my recent VO2max test.
The last half mile is significantly downhill and it was an effort to maintain form. I did something that I would only ever do at the end of a race and lengthened my stride, bounding down the hill. It blows your quads, but for a one shot descent it feels pretty good. I flew over the line in 72nd place at 4 hours and 5 minutes. A PB on this course by 25 minutes. I took about 3 people on that final descent alone.
What a way to finish the race. I had tried not only a new pacing strategy, but also new nutrition and hydration strategies too at the urging of my new coach. They all worked and came together for a great day out. My friend Mark had still managed to beat me by two minutes, for his 7th Eden Project Marathon finish (that’s all of them!), while moaning the whole time about his lack of training…..
Anyway this is just the start with my new coach. His job is to build me up and into shape for the Dragon’s Back Race next May. If I’m setting personal best times before the proper training has even begun then what will I be able to achieve in 7 months time!!!
See you at the Eden Project Marathon next year?