“Don´t ever fool with a marathon race…”
This line started what I tweeted last February 19th, right after having finished the Sevilla Marathon, my 11th race in the distance. I was with my brother Javier, exhausted, in pain and very, very happy.
The (bad) preparation
Funny (and with all the intention) that I wrote “prepare well” in the tweet. The year 2016 had gone without having run any marathon race, thus breaking the series initiated in 2011. Only the half-marathon of Los Palacios with work colleague Jesús, kept me connected to some running objective. Throughout last year I had not managed to balance work with a decent training plan.
However, my brother Javier wanted to come back to Seville after his DNF (Did Not Finish) of 2015. He had trained well through the end of 2016 and wanted to achieve his PB (Personal Best). I had the incentive I needed to get back on track. I registered for the race.
2017 started with a good mileage in the first weeks, combining series training with regular long runs during the week. I would not be as fit as Javier, but I would still enjoy the race.
The progress stopped again. A fatigue alert during fast pace series, and a peak of work at the end of January disrupted the training notably.
At some point at the beginning of February I knew I would suffer. With my experience of 10 races and the 100km of Millau, I was to some extent positive about finishing, but I even doubted that I would manage to run “sub 4” as I had initially intended.
As I already indicated in the post about the Madrid Marathon, to run in a known course is a plus. Having run in 2015, and after almost two years living Seville, the course was a familiar one, and I could mentally prepare for the ups and downs during the race, anticipating long neverending streets or crowded ones where the spirit could be cheered up.
I started modestly with 5’45” per km, with the idea Javier had suggested: “run easy first half and try to aim for a negative split, it worked for me in Dublin”. A negative split means running the second half marathon at a faster pace than the first half. Javier had managed very good his pace at Dublin and enjoyed feeling strong at the end of the race. In a race that puts your resistance to test, this strategy calls for the mental control of running slower than you are willing to in the first half.
With this in mind, I thought that with a pace short of the 6’/km, way slower that my old standard race paces ranging from 5′ to 5’30”/km I would achived this. Wrong.
Until km 15 I maintained the initial pace but I already started to feel that I would need to slow down at least for the next 10km. And I didn´t see how it could get better afterwards. At the end of the long Avenida Kansas City, near half marathon milestone I was flirting already with the 6’/km.
Benefiting from the experience of 2015, I managed the next 7km through the long streets of the east side of Seville but I already realized that this would be a tough one. Reaching km 30 I had already run at 6’30”/km some strips. I then entered a new race and I was faced with long forgotten sensations.
This mark is well known for me. It is around the kilometer that many amateur marathoners know with name the Wall (this typically may start from km26 on, depending on the runner experience), when the physical fatigue really comes in. It had not hit me as hard as in my first one in Munich, in which kilometer 32 I first saw the line “Pain goes, Pride remains” that so much motivated in my last 10km and ushered a new era in my sporting life.
However the feelings were similar. I went very slowly through Parque de Maria Luisa, already around 7’/km. I was loosing speed and energy at such a pace that the image of myself that I had in my mind was that of the submarines in the movies that are sinking (take Crimson Tide or The Red October movies, for instance). Like the scared crews in the submarine I was going down, not knowing when this pain would end…or whether I, as the shell of the ship, would resist at all.
But, as I used to say to my brother, a marathon always offers an opportunity for epic. Right crossing the km36 milestone in the beautiful Plaza de España, mixed feelings arouse and I saw a guy overpassing me with his right leg completely rigid. I noticed by the smell he had received treatment for muscular injury. Despite this, he kept running, fighting for every meter. He left me behind, but triggered a sense of resistance that I had already had in the Athens inferno.
The next 4 kms through the city center helped with the crowds cheering the runners. We passed along the Cathedral, Town Hall, and the Alameda de Hércules Square. There, a work colleague saw me and cheered me. Although we had had some discussions at work, I really appreciated his words, they did me well. I thanked him explicitly for this some days after in the factory cantine.
The final rush. After the Alameda, a short strip uphill to the Puente de la Barqueta bridge led me almost to exhaustion. At the mark of km 40 I started feeling quite bad and I took my last sip of energy gel.
In every marathon, with no exception, I marvel at the milestone 40km. It is an insane number. Even if I am done already, depending on the race, just reaching that point gives me the push of achievement I need to finish.
The last streets and I reached the Olympic Stadion. With the slowest pace in the entire race, between 7’20” and even 8’/km, I enter the race track where, like especially in Athens, Javier was already waiting, spotted me and cheered me. With 8 marathons and the 100km of Millau run together, his voice cheering me is the best energy injection. I completed the round to the finish line at a 4’30”/km sprint!!
I met him in the finish strip. He was happy as well. Altough he had suffered more than expected in the second half, he still managed to achieve his 2nd best time!
My colleague Jesús, that had kept me running at least the minimum in 2016 did a PB as well with 9min over the 3 hours! I encouraged him to join once for an ultra-race.
Almost like a beginner, in my 11th marathon I had remembered the lesson of the distance: Don´t play with it. You need to train well. With mere 600km run along 2016, I had run less than half of the previous years. I need to learn from that, and balance my time to train more constantly.
Will it help to set new objectives as a marathon for the second half of the year? Another ultra-race, as some friends are proposing?
In any case, I promise not to fool again with the 26.2 miles.