Many years ago, I can’t really remember just how many but I think it was after my dad had stopped running and I was just getting into it so probably during the mid 90’s, my dad and I would discuss topics to do with long distance running. They would include training, comparing PB’s and our opinions on the sport. It is one of these conversations that has stayed with me all these years that I would like to share with you today. My dad’s goal when marathon running was to aim to break 3 hours 30 minutes. In his opinion, should a runner manage this then he would have to have run the whole marathon. I suppose this isn’t entirely true, you could run fast and still have time for a little bit of walking but certainly you would have to manage an average pace of 8 minute miles to complete the distance within this time. This was obviously my dad’s goal when running a marathon, a feat he only managed to achieve once during the 3 marathons he completed between 1982 and 1983.
I must admit I agreed with this goal of not just simply completing a marathon but running it at a decent pace and I consider my dad’s bench mark of 3 hour 30 minutes as being a good challenge. Back in 2013 I eventually fulfilled my initial goal of running 100 marathons, amongst this total there were 41 sub 3:30 marathons. As I’ve continued to run marathons the number of sub 3:30’s has crept up slowly. It eventually occurred to me that maybe I could manage to clock up 100 sub 3:30’s so for the last few years this has secretly been my challenge.
Although I have had this goal, it hasn’t been something I’ve solely focused on and I’ve not dedicated my race plans to achieve it. I’ve been running marathons I like and want to experience which has included really hilly and challenging courses with virtually no chance of getting a sub 3:30, including the likes of Coniston trail marathon, Snowdonia trail marathon, Trail marathon Wales and the Brathay 10in10 this year alone, just to name a few.
During 2017 I got my second meniscus tear in my left knee, I lost training, failed to complete the Brathay 10in10 and consequently my pace slowed. Meaning I only managed 2 sub 3:30s out of 26 marathons that year, my poorest performance ever. I started to wonder whether I could ever produce many more sub 3:30s and if I’d ever reach my target of 100. Thankfully in December 2017 I had a successful operation on my left knee and by the beginning of March was back running properly. Slowly my pace has improved and by the summer I started to dip under 3:30 once again. From March until October I’ve crammed in 31 marathons of which 8 have been sub 3:30.
This October I finally got to 99 sub 3:30 marathons and my goal was coming tantalisingly close. My focus was on hitting 100 at Chester. A nice flat fast course, what could go wrong? Well, how about a cold and a sore throat the week leading up to the race? All I could do was rest for the few days leading up to the race and see how I felt on the day. I tried a Parkrun the day before and got round ok so thought I would give Chester a go.
My plan was to pace the first half for sub 3:30 then all I could do is see how I felt for the second half. The weather was cold at the start but lovely and sunny, this marathon always seems to drop lucky with the weather and meant there was no excuse for a poor time. I got to half way a bit quicker than I planned in 1:41, even I can still get sucked into a faster pace than planned when pulled along by thousands of runners during a race with a big field. I was surprised and relieved to find I still felt good and strong at half way so continued at the same pace for the second half. Every mile that passed was sub 8 minutes which made my goal of sub 3:30 become more and more believable the further I ran and increased my positivity. As I came down to run along the river for the last mile, I felt very tired but full of energy at the same time, I knew I would get a good time and complete my ever so long standing goal. I passed under the large stone bridge and into Chester Race Course and the finish. I ran under the finishing gantry in 3 hours 22 minutes 37 seconds, I had pulled out my fastest time of the year, in fact the fastest time for over 2 years!
What a great atmosphere Chester marathon has with its noisy crowds of hundreds and hundreds on either side of the race track, shouting and cheering all the runners as we run through the finish gantry. After crossing the busy finish line I took a moment to quietly reflect on my personal achievement which I thought was funny to think that no one around me was aware I had achieved. I was so pleased to finally get to this mile stone, it has been hard work and took a very long time to get here. In fact it had become a bit of a monkey on my back for the last couple of years and at times I wondered if I’d ever get it done. As I stood in the finish coral, I felt so pleased with a relaxed contentment as I had now finally achieved arguably my biggest running challenge ever, certainly my longest running.
For the rest of the year I am now going to enjoy knocking off a few more marathons and taking it a bit easier as we go into the cold winter months.