As the dust settles, and the aches begin to ebb away I have begun to reflect on my first venture into the world of marathons.
Firstly, the race itself. The route is described as a challenging, multi terrain route through the heart of Cornwall’s spectacular mining heritage and beautiful countryside – and I certainly wouldn’t argue with that. The race starts in one of the car parks for The Eden Project and heads out the main entrance and down into St Blazey. The first 3km are all downhill, so while being a good warm up it also makes early pacing a bit of a guessing game. Reaching St Blazey the route leaves the road for the first stint on off road running through some woods, coming out near Luxulyan and the first proper climb of the day, about 7 km into the race. I remember this climb from the half, which I did 4 years ago, and it’s still a rough little climb with amazing views out over Cornwall. As we reach the village we bare right for a nasty little decent before another longer climb. At this point I am feeling good and I cover the first 10km in 53 minutes 44, which is pretty much bang on a 3 hour 45 minute pace. I continue on the road for a while as the route undulates around Cornish back roads. Running alone, I try to tag on to groups of other runners to help with the pacing.
I find a small group of club runners who are going at a comfortable pace, so I jump onto the back. We reach the Marathon/Half split, heading off to the right and before too long we are off road again heading towards Helman Tor, which I had missed from the race info until the race start. We head up a narrow, wooded path coming out onto another track with Helman Tor looking dominant over us to the right, after about half a km it’s another right, over a stile and every runner for themselves as we find our way up to the top of the tor. To my relief it’s not half as bad as it looked, I get to the top having passed a good number of people electing to walk it. I gasp for some fresh Cornish air, let a proper looking runner pass me, and then off back down the tor I go. I truly dislike running down steep stuff, even on the tarmac. I feel a little frustrated by my lack of descending ability and try to follow the line of the proper looking runner and seem to get a flow going. My Garmin buzzes, second 10km done in 54 minutes 28, so the pace is still good. Once down off the tor the route continued between two huge hedgerows for a while making it feel a little bit claustrophobic, before opening out for a bit until we reach another stile. Over I go, and back onto the road. Up some more, then up again – even the downhill now begins to feel like climbing.
Passing through a gate and back into woodland, and in to the most technical part of the race. This part of the race truly is beautiful, with amazing vistas across the valley and autumnal colours. However, I can’t really concentrate on that, as I am trying not to fall over tree roots or smash my face on low branches. After about 15 minutes of jumping fallen trees, ducking low level flora and trying to spot roots in the leaf litter, I get to some savagely steep switch backs. This steep, rooty, rocky, knee popping downhill gradient brings me out at a nice tranquil leat, it’s at this point that I can enjoy the surroundings, the footing is mostly sure on a good quality path; I could almost forget I am running in a marathon. Almost.
Reality strikes back as I leave the peace and serenity of the woods and return to the road, and I think that I recognise it. It’s then confirmed by the 4 mile half marathon marker. I am just outside Luxulyan again. No sooner had I realised this I was going up the first climb of the day, again. This time it was much slower and felt steeper. Mentally this is where it got tough. With a relatively small number of entrants I spent a lot of time running alone. This in itself isn’t an issue, I do all my training solo, but when it gets tough – and then really tough – it’s nice to have someone to help you along, even if it’s just someone to try and chase. It feels like it takes forever to reach the point where the marathon splits away on the first lap. Before I get to the junction, my watch buzzes again with the third 10km split, and I have slowed to 58 minutes 32. Not too concerned, it’s still good for a sub 4 hour marathon, I try to push on.
Most of the next 10 km is a blur of tarmac, shoes and gravel tracks. There seemed to be about 5 or 6 people within about a minute or so of each other, but due to the twists and turns you couldn’t see them until either you passed them while they walk a section or vice versa. At this point I now have to walk sections of hills, but still seem able to keep up an ok pace while I’m running. Two people in particular stand out from this part of the race a guy in a marines/navy running vest and a bloke from a local running club. We passed and repassed each other for about 5 km offering encouragement to each other every time we do, and this really helps me to dig deeper as I hurt in all sorts of places. Finally, as I get into the grounds of the Eden Project the final 10 km split comes up, 1 hour 2 minutes! Sub four hours is going to be touch and go now. It’s downhill all the way to the finish now, with the exception of one very small climb – which I remember because I was mightily annoyed with myself for having to walk it. It hurts, I feign a smile as people cheer us on, and I try to give cheery replies as kids shout encouragement, but it’s nearly over. I hear the finish line a couple of switchbacks down calling out finishers names. It’s all but over. Last switchback and across the line.
Finished, Eden Marathon, done. I stop my watch and check the time; 4 hours and odd seconds. I think I’m pleased with that, but at the moment I just need to sit down.
I have also been considering the training I have done to be ready for this. There are defiantly areas in which I could have improved. I followed a generic structured plan from Strava, and feel that it covered all the usual bases well. What I feel I needed to do however, is tweak it so that it had more hill work. I genuinely feel that I could have improved my time if I had done more hills. That’s not just hill repetitions, but also hillier tempo and long runs. Basically, what I think I failed to do was look at what was a carefully structured and varied plan and assess its suitability to my race needs. In hindsight I could have swapped some, not all, tempo work for hill work, and added a few extra hills – but not necessarily more distance – to the weekend’s long runs. I think this would have added more physical and mental resilience as the hills mounted up towards the back end of the marathon.
One area where I really feel that I let myself down was my nutrition plan. I had initially planned to use 5 gels over the course of the race (10km,20km, 30km, 35km and one extra emergency gel), but after reading the race info pack I decided to change this to 3 gels. I made this decision as the water stations where I planned to use 3 of the gels had energy drinks as well as water. I used this rationale that I wouldn’t need a gel for those points in the race and decided instead to use gels at 15, 25 and 35km. I may have still been light on gels with 5, but 3 was woefully inadequate for my personal needs.
In the days after the marathon I was asked a few times by friends if I would do another and initially I was unsure, that then became “Yes, but maybe not this one”, and now I think I will be back. It may not be my next marathon, but it will be revisited. Increasingly two things bother me about this race. Not the organisation or the route, but personal things. One is time, but more specifically 16 seconds of time. I know I can go under 4 hours, I am positive I can. Even on this route I can see where that time and more could be saved. The other is my GPS track. It measured my run as 130m short, and that sort of thing bothers me. As petty as it sounds I want a marathon PB on my Strava page.