Chester Marathon 2019 – 2 out of 3 ain’t bad

The goals for 2019 have not panned out as I planned. My aim for my running life was to look more to trails and ultra-running, although I did know marathons were still going to play a part. I had no plans for a spring marathon as the Glen Lyon Ultra was my main race. This dip into ultra racing was completed and very much enjoyed with limited half-hearted training. I then turned my attention to the Devil of the Highlands. Training was inconsistent with no real structure, but it was still there and in my mind it was going to get done.

Off the running topic, a wedding in the family was announced my brother-in law (wife’s brother) announced his wedding to his long term partner – which made perfect sense as he is clearly punching way above his weight. They live in a small village called Malpas in Cheshire, and the wedding was planned for October 6th. Malpas is 17 miles from Chester, which has an Autumn Marathon: I’m sure you see where we are going with this? Boom! Chester marathon is the day after the wedding, result! I’m strictly T-Total so this is no problem. Entry done, I’m in, I shall now discuss with the family. Thankfully they all heartily laugh and tell me I’m some man.

So with the Devil in August there would be 9 weeks to recover and get marathon ready. Exciting times, and a good challenge to get my teeth into. I took part in a couple of races on the back of not any really great training. Whilst I was enjoying my running, my confidence was getting pretty low on the back of some bad results. I also had a slight niggle which set me back and gave me something to think about. There was also a family holiday booked between the Devil and Chester. The conclusion was that I could run both and have mediocre runs in both and a nice time doing so, or drop one and focus on the main event. I decided I was going to drop the Devil of the Highlands. Being over 40 miles, even at a slow pace this would take me a few weeks to recover from: with this out of the way I could concentrate on the marathon where I have been desperate to get a time that in my mind I should have been able to achieve at Stirling last year.

Ann-Marie surrounded by dozens of marathon runners awaiting the race start. She ran a PB time.

I loaned a book I had lying at home for a while to Pauline: Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger & Scott Douglas. She had used it to great effect for her first crack at the marathon at Loch Ness! There are various schedules in the book that you can choose from with a variety of weekly mileages and different lengths of schedules. I opted for the 12 week 70 to 85 miles per week plan. I’m used to putting in a high weekly mileage but always struggle to stick with week to week high mileage weeks. I’ve never stuck with a regimented plan before but this time I’m all in.

Over the 12 weeks, with the exception of one week which was the last week before the two week taper where I lost 4 days where life as happens got in the way, I had been very regimented in this. I learned a great deal following this, nothing more so than the importance of keeping the easy days easy. I found early on that through doing this I was ready for the hard days. All in all I really enjoyed having a plan to follow, although there were days it was becoming a grind but I didn’t want to get into the habit of skipping days. The 15 mile Wednesday runs after work were sometimes a chore: I would really struggle to get these done in the dark nights. I’m not going into the nitty gritty of the plan: buy or download the book. I’d highly recommend it!

When I first entered the MBNA Chester Marathon I put down 3:15:00 for my estimated time. I would have liked to put 3:10:00 – which would give me GFA for my 45-50 age category time for London – but I thought this would be beyond my capabilities. However, as training progressed I did begin to think 3:10:00 was now a strong possibility, and was aiming my marathon efforts at this time in long tempo runs. Four weeks out I ran the Go Festival Ayr Half Marathon as a tune-up race. I really needed this to be a good race to gain some confidence, Boom! 1:26:12 and 15th position. Feeling pretty good about how I was progressing, the goal posts were being moved again and 3:04:00 was now the revised goal.

Moving into the taper you hear many stories: people coming out in uncontrolled plukes and various imaginary ailments. As I reduced my volume but kept the intensity, my legs had a nice bounce to them and all in the world was good.

For my 12 week training block a short summary is as follows:

Miles: 806.3, Hours Running: 106.19, Elevation gain: 30234 feet.

David’s race kit, all looked out and set up the night before.

We travelled down to the wedding on the Friday. After a long drive we arrived at the Hotel. First things first – running gear on and out for a post drive shake out. I was very pleasantly surprised to find my legs were turning over okay. I did 5 miles probably faster than I should. Two days before a marathon 9 to 10 minute miles should be the target, not skipping along at 8 minute miles. Anyhoo, I managed to reign it back a bit, did some strides, and felt good and ready to go. My schedule had me down to do 4 easy miles the following day but I decided that a total rest until the race would probably be better so I’m done: Game On.

On Friday (the night before the wedding – oh that’s the event I’m here for aye right!) we have something to eat, get some carbs in then we have to drive 50 minutes to Manchester Airport to pick up my son and his girlfriend. This kills some time and keeps my mind off things. By the time we get back from the airport I’m done and just want to sleep. I worry I will not sleep tomorrow night, so I’m keen to get to bed and hopefully sleep ok in a strange hotel bed. I sleep the sleep of the dead, get up and get breakfast. We would not eat again until late afternoon, therefore the order of the day was the breakfast of champions – full cooked breakfast. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a dustbin lid so I had to get as much on my plate as possible.

The wedding went well, Everyone had a lovely day. Congratulations to the happy couple. That’s enough about that.

I didn’t expect to sleep well before the race. I left the reception around 10:30pm to get organised and try to get a good night’s sleep. Race kit looked out, get to bed and started doing long division in my head then fell asleep out of the blue. I had an amazing night’s sleep – I woke up a couple of times, turned over and back to sleep no worries. When I awoke at 6:00am the hotel kitchen was still closed. I was the only runner so I had a porridge pot and didn’t get my normal toast. Not to worry. At 6:45am I started my 20 minute drive to Chester Race Course. Normally parking is in the race course along with the start/finish area, but due to heavy rain this was changed: we would be starting and finishing around the race course. The organisers sent an email to reassure everyone that Chester would have plenty of public car parking but I was not leaving this to chance. Chester did have plenty of car parking. I was parked and in the racecourse complex by 7:10am. Plenty time to relax, get my bearings, find the many porta loos, then go and see a friend off to the coast. I did some people watching and generally ran back and forth to the loos – well hydrated and nervous you see.

Pretty decent goody bag

We were encouraged to get to the start line no later than 8:40am, so around 8:20am I got race ready. Baggage dropped at the baggage drop area. It has to be said the organisers up to this point have everything like a well-oiled machine. I get to the start: short shorts and my Brechin Road Runners vest’s my kit for the day, the shoes New Balance Fuel Cell Rebels. Nerves now kicking in but not overly nervous. I keep telling myself I’ve put in the work. I’ve done the miles, I’ve been through the grind. This is what I’ve worked for: go out, have a good day and see what happens. My main aim, whether it ended up being a good, bad or indifferent run is No Regrets. The Town Cryer entertained the waiting throng of anxious runners with a nice speech.

I was in the sub 3:15 pen. To my right I clocked the two 3 hour pacers! Will I? Sense took over then. Stick to my plan: 3:04 or as close as possible 7:00 minute miles I figured on a good day would be manageable, whereas 6:51 could end badly.

At 9:00am we were started dead on time. The start area is rather narrow but didn’t present and real problems, and I was able to find a clear run right away. Everyone seemed to go off extremely fast. There were streams of people going way past me. I didn’t get caught up in this, and tried to settle into my own rhythm. One runner came flying past almost at a sprint. I took a mental note to remember him for when we all pass him again later. This duly happened at 9 miles where he was walking!

The first mile went past in 7:08. Too slow. I have to tell myself I’ve got around 3 hours to find 8 seconds, calm down. I was generally really enjoying running through the stunning city of Chester, which is famous for its Roman Walls. Miles two and three go past in 6:37 & 6:51. We seem to be going up and down some dips so it’s difficult to gauge where my pace is actually at, but I’m feeling good, my breathing is ok, and I seem to be passing people. I have a 7:06 mile, which is followed by steady sub 7 minute miles going through the Cheshire countryside. As I felt good I decided to go with the pace I was now in. I knew it would be a positive spit, but I was confident enough that with the work I had put in I could avoid a full on detonation which has happened to me in the past.

I had recently attended a talk which Brechin Road Runners were kindly invited to by Forfar Road Runners. The guest speaker at this event was Fraser Clyne, former Scottish and British international marathon runner with a time of 2:11. The golden nugget I took from his talk was if you’re going to get a PB you have to take a risk, you are going to go to a place you have never been, don’t be scared to take the risk. With this in mind I decided to crack on at the pace I was running at.

I was steadily passing runners until I came upon a small group of four that I decided to stick with. After one mile myself and one of the group went to the front and ran side by side for a couple of miles. Me being me I’d have liked to have a blether, find out his time goals and maybe work together. Naw. Nothing. Silence. Jeez oh. Anyway, we came to a water station. I picked the pace up to let my new friend in behind me so we could both comfortably take on water. After the water we hit a bit of a climb and he sat right tight in behind me. Ok fine, I’ll take the head wind going up this hill maybe it will be reciprocated later. Nope, another climb and the same thing happened. I don’t know if I look at this wrong but we are not at the sharp end racing for the win: we are in the same boat and I’d rather share the workload. This started to play with my head so I gently picked up the pace and zig zagged across the road. This managed to drop him off me never to be seen again.

I would love to tell you about the countryside we were running through but truth be told it’s a bit of a blur. I do know that we ran 19 miles in England and 7 in Wales. The organisers had the water stations placed perfectly. Approximately every 3 miles we had water or Lucozade isotonic and every 6 miles the same again but with High 5 Energy Gels Aqua, which I find work well for me they are easy to open and as gels go they are tasty.

David cheesing with his medal after smashing it out the park (or racecourse)

I had amazing support out on the course. At 14 miles there was a turning point which was right beside my hotel so my wife, son with partner, and my daughter were waiting near there. Around 11 to 12 miles I started to look forward to seeing them. Cara, my daughter, is not the quietest and I knew I’d get a laugh passing her. Around 11.5 miles in I had seen a really large group not too far ahead and I clocked someone coming out from behind a bush after a discreet pee stop. Wow, it’s a 3 hour pacer so that’s the group! So I’m either going way, way, too fast and this could end badly, or I might get really close to 3 hours. I decided to keep my pace and hopefully get onto the back of this group.

I reached the half way point in 1:30:04. I knew I felt comfortable, but not easy enough to do the same again. I knew that I had plenty of hard work and long runs banked, so when I reached the last miles I would be able to hang on and not burn out completely. I would just hang on as best I could when it came to it.

We were now approaching the 14 mile mark where the family would hopefully be out to lend some support. Sure enough I could hear Cara long before I saw them. It would be nice – especially when there’s other people around – to get a cheer of “Come on Dad you’re doing great!” No, the cry came up loud enough for everyone running to hear “C’mon Disco! Go Disco Dave!” It did make me chuckle and gave me a lift.

Another mile, heading out of Wales over the River Dee which borders Wales and England and has a horrible hill. The hill doesn’t go for long but really breaks up any stride pattern. Half way up I got a nice surprise: my niece and her partner were half way up the hill. This was unexpected, and got me nicely back up the hill and back into England. Mile 16 took us through the village of Holt. As with all the other villages we came through the support was amazing. For me, none was more amazing than the support of Gaz and Claire – the best man at the wedding and his wife. Both of them have run the marathon in the past, so they understand the pain. They gave me my last bit of support from people I know. However there is no shortage of support on route, especially from the volunteers who to a man woman and child were all absolutely amazing. Their support and enthusiasm was outstanding. It’s a great job they all do to volunteer at a marathon is not just a couple of hours.

Support from here on in would be from people going through villages, and from marshals and volunteers. There were sections when runners would be coming along the other side of the road. After a couple of these sections I had to try to ignore the other side of the road as I noticed a dip in my pace when I let my concentration go as I was too busy looking for Ann-Marie Black my fellow Brechin Road Runner. Apparently she saw me but I was too far away for her to shout.

At this point – around 18 miles – I had lost sight of the 3 hour group. My pace was beginning to dip although I wasn’t in trouble and still felt in control although miles 17 to 20 gives me 7.07, 7.07, & 7.16 minute miles. Achieving my target 3.04 requires 7.01 minute miles. I was now eating into some of the buffer time I had from the first half. I wasn’t capable of picking the pace up and sustaining it so I’m decided to try to keep this steady pace and hopefully my training would allow me to hold on in the final stretch. Every turn now seems to put us into a headwind which has been there for most of the race but it seems stronger all of a sudden. Then mile 20 sees a spit of 7.02 – game on! My legs are now starting to bark back, but I’m not feeling in danger of detonation. Miles 21 to 24 sees splits of 7.20 7.46 & 7.33, which tells me 3.04 is gone but I now only have to keep moving to smash my 3.31 PB. This is gone. Without being too egoistical I knew this was going to go today. The main priority in my head now is London good for age: sub 3.10 is still very much on.

A PB of over 20 minutes and a GFA time for London. Go Disco Dave!

Mile 25 and I’m now done. I’m hanging on: still moving forward but now coming down to not much more than a jog. Mile 25 sees an 8.22 mile. I don’t like a dramatic cliché, but I’m now in the pain cave, I’m going to the well, oh and I’m in a dark place! Pish. I’m struggling, that’s all. Time to just grind it out and get it done. Mile 25 brings a really nasty hill. It’s not too long but it’s short and steep. The locals bring plenty of support which is amazing. I get told I’m nearly there. People are genuinely really nice and amazing but I’m a mile and a half away from the finish.

We come into a very nice park. There are lots of twists and turns but I can hear the announcer at the finish. We come out of the park and down to the river bank and my Garmin is now saying it’s almost 26 miles. I hope to see the finish in the distance but no. Crack on along the river bank, go around the corner, no finish just a hill. My Garmin says I’ve done my 26.2. I’m now officially in a mood when I see a hill. Not a big hill or a long hill but it’s still a hill. Up the incline and there it is in all its glory the finish funnel! I try to soak it in, but I’m now totally wasted. I get over the line to be greeted by the race director himself shaking everyone’s hand as they finish and he thanked me for choosing the MBNA Chester as my race. I think this is an amazing gesture when he probably has a million things to be doing, and it summed up this whole amazing event for me.

At 12:10pm I received my official result via text: excellent service by niftyentries. Gun time 3.08.43, Position 219, Chip 3.08.25, Chip Position 219, Male Position 213, MV (45 – 49) position 31. I’ll take this all day long. When I entered my goal time was 3:15. As training progressed my  goal time went to 3:10, then in the last couple of weeks to 3:04. In the words of Meat Loaf himself – 2 out of three ain’t bad!

David Wilson aged 49¾.


Photo Acknowledgements

Kit photos were taken by David Wilson, and the photo of him at the end was taken by his family.

The photo of the marathon start was taken by Ann-Marie Black.


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