Today was a fun outing, participating in the Chester Marathon. This race was a triple competition for me. First, it was a regular marathon (along with 4586 other people). Secondly, it was the British Masters 2023 Marathon Championship (I was competing in the Men, aged 65-69 category). Finally, it was an international masters match between England and Wales (and I was selected to run in the England team).
In preparation for the race, I travelled up to Chester last night and stayed in a hotel near the start of the race. After checking in to my hotel I went to the admin centre for the race (at Chester racecourse) and met the England officials to confirm I was running and to pick up the label for my back. The competitors in the Masters race wear their race number on their front and a sign on their back saying which age grade they are in. This means that if you are overtaken by somebody who might be in your age group, you can be sure whether you are racing them. The rest of the afternoon was pretty quiet, watching rugby on the TV and eating dinner.
Sunday 9am the marathon race starts. I was delighted to be selected for the England team and to be running in the British Masters Championship. Anybody who is the right age can run in the British Masters (provided they are a member of an affiliated club), but you have to be selected to run in the England team (I was selected after my Milton Keynes marathon earlier this year). Whilst running in these events is great and gives me a buzz, it is important to keep them in context. Not everybody aged 65-69 can afford to travel to race, and some people will have other engagements, some will be ill or injured, and some will simply choose not to. However, I compete because I train hard and work on my technique – so I will continue to enjoy the buzz of suddenly (in my 60s) being able to compete at an exciting level.
For today’s race, I needed to think about my strategy. This is only my second marathon of the year. My training has been focusing on ultramarathons (where I run MUCH slower). I am about 7kg over my target running weight. And, the forecast was for a warm day (it went up to 23 C, 73 Fahrenheit – which is hot for an October day in the North of England). I run with a chest heart rate monitor; my key decision is what heart rate to target. If I was feeling stronger, and if it was cooler, I would have targeted, say, 141 or 142 beats a minute. But today, I used a target of 138 beats a minute (which turned out to be a shade too high).
The first half of the race went well, I completed the first half-marathon in 1:44:48 – which meant a time of 3:30 was on the cards if I could have maintained that speed (close to my personal best). However, I ran out of energy in the second half, and the second half took me 1:55:33 (both according to my watch). In the second half, there were two big hills, the temperature was 23C and I was tiring, so I walked up the hills, which probably added two minutes to my finish time.
If I had started a bit slower, say taking 1:49:00 for the first half, perhaps I could have done the second half in 1:49:00 and then (assuming I did not walk the two hills), I would have been nearly four minutes faster in total. However, to do that, I would need to have known how tired I would be in the second half (I have not run enough marathons recently to be aware of that level of detail). Also, running 1:49:00 instead of 1:44:48 would have meant averaging 12 seconds slower per kilometre – which is a level of precision that I simply don’t have. It probably means I should have averaged 136 or 137 beats a minute, but it is hard to be sure.
In terms of the two walks up hills. Perhaps I could have avoided walking, but I was aware that I was going to finish in around 3:40:00 (already slower than my season’s best), and I wanted to finish in comfort. Also, I have never seen a race with more collapsed runners being treated on the side of the road. And remember, everybody I saw collapsed was a faster runner than me. So, I am comfortable with my decision to walk.
My official time for the race was 3:41:58. This meant I was 924 out of 4586 runners in the main race, 11th out of 41 in Men 65-69. My position in the international competition and the British Masters will have been a bit better, as not all the men over 65 were competing in those events.
Given this time was not a season’s best for me, was I disappointed with my run? No! I have three objectives when I race: 1) stay alive, 2) enjoy the race, and 3) run as fast as I can run that day. Given my recent focus (on ultramarathons), my current weight, and my lack of knowing exactly what marathon form I was in, I think I did about as well as I could have done. I met my number 1 and 2 goals. If I had got everything perfect, maybe I could have been four minutes faster. But, if I want to run marathons faster, I need to focus my training for marathons – and at the moment, that is not my choice. So, I am completely happy with my time, and I have no hang-ups about the second half going a bit pear-shaped. When I look at my heart rate data, is shows I averaged 138 beats a minute in the first half and the second half. And anyway, a marathon in under 3 hours 42 minutes is pretty good.
Before I sign off this post, I want to make a couple of shout-outs. The Chester Marathon is a really well-organised and marshalled event; I definitely recommend it. All the helpers were great, but the medics were really on the frontline today with the larger-than-usual number of distressed runners. The admin and coaching teams from England and Wales were great, and it is entirely because of them that ageing runners like me get the chance to compete in an international fixture in our nations’ kit. Two of my fellow Redhill Road Runners were running today, Chris and Martin. Martin was running his first-ever marathon and he did really well (he stayed alive, avoided injury, and enjoyed it). Chris Ward was taking part in the British Masters Championship and ran a good 3:13:02, to finish 8th out of all men aged 60-64.
[Quick update, in the British Masters 2023 Marathon Championship, I came 6th in Men 65-69, and my teammate Chris came 6th in Men 60-64.]