October had come round and it was time again for the Astley & Tyldesley Road Runners annual pilgrimage to Palma. About a dozen were going this year and for the first time I was joining them. They had all entered either the 10k or the half marathon leaving yours truly to tackle the full marathon. Even so it was great to be part of a club weekend as I’m usually travelling to a marathon on my own.
I arrived Saturday morning, met up with Phil, my roomie for the weekend and we then set off to the “Expo” to collect our race numbers. I use the word “Expo” very casually as I’d never been to one outside before. It was set on the Palma front at the foot of the stunning Palma cathedral, with the whole venue baking in the glorious sunshine. A spot of lunch in a town square and a little wonder round the elegant, traditional Spanish town centre took up the afternoon, very pleasant and relaxing. The only thing concerning me was the weather, it was very warm indeed and when the sun came out it was much stronger than I expected. I could see the marathon being very tough going during the late stages in such warmth.
The race day dawned, a spot of light breakfast and shared taxis to Palma cathedral where both the start and the finish were situated. It was nice that most of A&T managed to gather together for a quick natter before final preparations for the races. I dropped off my kit bag and went to find a toilet. The queues we huge and it was instantly apparent I would miss the start of the race if I waited my turn for the toilets. Reluctantly I decided to give up and hoped to find one during the race.
Next I heard someone shouting my name, it was old 10in10 friend Andy. Great to see him and amazed he had seen me amongst the huge colourful crowd. Together we made our way to the start while we had a quick catch up chat.
The race started and took us initially along the impressively beautiful harbour front, packed with very large and very expensive looking yachts. We were then taken up passed an old fort before turning round and returning back to the city centre. I was pleased (and very relieved) to spot some porta-loos at the 4 mile water station so I took a break to make up for missing them at the start. 2 minutes lost but I felt much better and should be able to continue the rest of the race without further interruptions.
For the first part of the race the sun hadn’t really got up but it was still very warm and after only 1 mile I was already seriously sweating, watching my hydration was definitely the key to surviving the race today.
The second quarter of the race took us into the historic centre of Palma, through the quaint, narrow winding streets with some lovely traditional Spanish architecture. The narrow streets combined with the tall builds created some pleasing and relatively cool shade. The narrow streets also caused a bit of congestion for the runners especially with the crowds of spectators but I found this fine as it was a great atmosphere.
At 12 miles the half marathon runners peeled off to the right and the finish while the full marathon runners turned left for an out back affair mostly along the sea front. This is where the marathon really started. The sun was getting higher and hotter with very little shade available to the runners. I passed half way in 1 hour 47 minutes but knew the second half was going to be much tougher and I would end up running significantly slower. I was very impressed with the organisation of the marathon, especially the water stations which were every 3k or roughly 2 miles, in the UK they are every 3 miles on road races. I used every water station, taking a bottle of water drinking some and to pour the rest all over me to try and keep my temperature down.
At 30km was the furthest point where we turned round to run all the way back along the front to the finish. Here the crowds were fairly large and encouraging, it felt like a race finish and I wished it was! By this point I felt completely worn out. I was extremely hot and getting quite sick of drinking water. I wasn’t looking forward to the last 12km. I pressed on every single Kilometre felt more difficult than the last. At a water station at about 22 miles or 36km I couldn’t stomach water anymore and went for an isotonic drink instead. I stopped to drink as it was in a flimsy cup only to realise I had next to run up a small hill. My legs hadn’t got the strength to run, they felt so heavy. I walked up the hill thinking I might be walking the last 4 miles but with relief managed to get them going again.
The last 3 miles were along the sea front which arched round the bay and in the distance I could see the cathedral and the finishing gantry. My body felt like a shrivelled prune and only my mind was keeping it going. I focused on the finish in the distance and made my body keep going until I got there.
As I approached the finishing line I had nothing left but was so glad I had managed it but then to my complete horror I had to run past the finish! The course went past the finish for a couple of hundred yards round a roundabout then back up the other side of the road to the finish line again! Why hadn’t anyone told me! I somehow managed to run to the roundabout but that was it, I walked, there was nothing left. This unexpected twist at the end had mentally destroyed me. I started walking to the finish I’d had enough only 200 meters to go and I didn’t care. Then I caught sight of the official photographs – I wasn’t having photographers taking pictures of me walking after all that effort – I started running again and through the finish line. All I could think was, thank God it was over!