|No I didn't win!! 😂|
|Completed the set!! Number 8 😝|
So as I write this (and apologies as it has taken a long time!) it was over 12 months since I started training for the 3in3marathonchallenge. This challenge finished on 27 October as I completed the Snowdonia marathon. Details of the challenge can be found in previous posts.
Attempting to run a sub 3 hour marathon at Snowdonia was always going to be a very tall order. Was it even feasible that I should dream about such an audacious goal? Well probably not but that's what dreams are for isn't it... To motivate you to keep pushing and reaching for the impossible. This was my 8th consecutive Snowdonia marathon. My fastest time to date was 3:16 set in 2016 and my slowest was last year in 3:50. So I was looking for a 50 minute improvement!!
The predicted weather this year was somewhat daunting. I wasn't so much concerned with near zero temps being forecast (it turned out to be much warmer than that), but the strong northerly wind was looking like being a real problem. I analysed the course profile and thought that we would be mostly protected from the worst of it until the final climb at 22 miles. However the wind turned out to be a factor much earlier on than that.
This won't be a blow by blow account of the whole race just the highlights as it unfolded and critical points.
I had committed myself to going out at a sub 3 pace no matter what my fitness and so that's exactly was I did. And I believed it was possible. The route profile is of course far from flat so it requires a slightly more sophisticated pace band to account for the ups and the downs. So using my previous mile splits from this race I calculated mile splits that were extrapolated to run a sub3. Just looking at the mile splits made me breathless.
It had been 4 weeks since Warsaw as I stood on the Snowdonia start line. Long enough to fully recover from that effort but I was left in limbo during this time and not really able to get any meaningful training miles under my belt. If you also consider that I tapered for Warsaw for 2 weeks before that race meant that I had not completed a full training week with any intensity and meaningful mileage for 6 weeks. This was a concern and I couldn't kid myself into thinking that this would put me in tip top marathon condition in Snowdonia. I just had to hope and pray that my best effort on the day would be enough. That's in fact all you can ever hope for. And as long as I did put in my best effort I could have no complaints.
I wished my Dad a good race running his fourth Snowdonia and edged towards the front with my mum there to support us both. We were off (just me not my mum!) and I fell into my pace immediately. An opening downhill mile so super quick!... followed by some flat before it climbs 2.5 miles straight up the Llanberis pass. It's not a steep climb but gradual and it goes on! The views are always amazing though surrounded by imposing slate cliffs on one side and lush green mountain side on the other. I was hitting my mile splits and enjoying the effort. It was my quickest opening 5 miles in eight Snowdonia marathons.
Soon onto a downhill section and a mile of tricky but quick offroad trail where you just have to watch your footing. I overtook the lead female on this section but she stayed pretty much right behind me for the next 5 miles. The miles were fast and once onto the flat the scheduled 6.40 per mile pace was feeling only just about manageable. The TV motorbike was there right beside me because of Emma just behind. At 12 miles in I was one minute inside my target sub3 pace as I waved to my mum who was parked up and cheering energetically.
Arriving in the town of Beddgelert at the 13 mile half way mark I was still under the pace required. The crowds here are always great with big cheers, clapping and shouts of encouragement. As you exit Beddgelert the next climb begins immediately. A very gradual shallow climb but it goes on for a good few miles and it was at this point in the race that we felt the full brunt of that Northery artic wind that blew into Britain just for the weekend and seemingly this marathon! It was biting and instantly slowed me down. There was no point pretending it wasn't going to effect my mile splits and as I looked at my watch it told the full story. I was suddenly 45 seconds per mile off pace having hit every previous mile split. I immediately accepted the reality that there was no way I would be able to battle against this wind and not for the next 8 miles from mile 14 to 22 and not lose a considerable amount of time. I just accepted it and kept plugging away.
Emma the lead female passed me around this point followed by a small group of male runners who I had been tucked in behind earlier in the race. They were clearly moving better than I was dispite the wind and I just couldn't match their pace. I was feeling the first half too! But despite the slow down at the mile 16 mark a spectator walking towards the runners informed me that I was currently in 26th position. That was quite a shock to say the least. There were over 2,000 starters in the race. I knew that the way I was feeling at that moment I would be dropping plenty of places in the second half of this race but the news was nevertheless hugely welcomed.
I cruised along continuing to enjoy the scenery, lakes and mountains even if it was tough and runners continued to pass me. By the time I reached mile 22 and the infamous final steep 2 mile climb up to the top I was feeling quite done in. I've always relished this climb and run every step. I was slightly fearful of it today. It can and does bring many runners almost to a grinding halt. But once I started to climb I adjusted my stride and found a nice rhythm passing many runners who had passed me in the previous miles.
Reaching the (not) top at mile 24 there is actually a false summit where you have to climb another short but rocky section and then its the steep plunge all the way back into the centre of Llanberis. The descent takes very quick nimble footwork to stay upright. It's mostly off road too until you get near the bottom. You can really tell who the pure road runners are here that look far less comfortable on this tricky descent.
I was now very aware of the time on my watch. Sub3 had long since disappeared practically by the half way mark. I then thought I might be able to hold onto a 3:05-3:10 time but that had also slipped away by mile 18. It was only on the final climb that I saw I could be close to a sub3:15 finish which would be a new PB for the course. So I pushed up the hill and down the other side with everything I had left. I remembered at the time that my Snowdonia PB was 3:16.XX but I didn't know the exact seconds. And as I descended like a crazy person down the off road section and back onto tarmac I saw that it was looking very close. I hit Llanberis highstreet rounding the corner at the bottom as I turned right and my watch read 3:16. I pushed hard as I knew every second would count now and crossed the finish line in 3:16.29. I didn't know then but it was a new course PB!
I gave it everything I had this year but that still wasn't good enough or even close to a Snowdonia sub3 finish. Only 16 runners out of 2,223 finishers ran in under 3 hours so it's definitely an ambitious goal. I finished 73rd. I still believe that I can get much closer to a sub3 time if I train better and peak just at the right time for this specific race.
Looking back at my training and other races I can see now that I peaked in fitness and performance in mid-August when I ran my 1:19 half marathon PB in the London Olympic Park. Since then my training backed off to recover in time for the ElliptiGO European Championships which was definitely a big highlight of the year. I have absolutely no regrets about choosing to go over to France and race there. I went into Warsaw in September feeling reasonably fit still and rested but I definitely wasn't where I was a month before. And by the time I got to Snowdonia I felt I had detrained even more. And that's what happens when you try and train and maintain form and increase performance month on month on month over a whole year. In the end the body and mind says I need a rest.
So that then is how my 2018 '3 in 3 Marathon challenge' finishes right?... Erm, well no not exactly cos I'm a sucker for punishment and just won't give up :-) I can't finish the year without one final go and so on the 1st December I will be on the start line of the Nottingham Christmas Marathon. Training is underway and hopefully I can finally get that sub3 I'm been searching for all year. You'll got to keep trying haven't you. And I've enjoyed every element of the challenge so far so why not extend the excitement and hope a bit longer and keep the question open as to whether I can break 3!!!??? Who knows....? Only God.