Despite a snotty nose and an increasingly worrying dose of plantar faciitis in my left foot, for now subdued with a layer of ibuprofen gel, it was with a sense of confidence that I cycled to Tilsley Park for the start of the Abingdon Marathon. My revised target of 4:15 seemed very doable, the taper had left me feeling quite energised and the conditions, still, grey but not too misty, cool but not cold, were great.
A bit early this time due to my failure to get lost on the way, Peter turned up 20 minutes before the start on his Brompton to support then, just as we were called to the start, Maria appeared in VRUK vest and trademark green tutu. Onto the race track, 5 minutes milling about, then we were off – me strategically positioned near the back this being a chip to chip timed race.
A couple of miles of main road part closed just for us then we turned into Thrupp Lane where I was asked the ‘what do you eat?’ question by a vaguely familiar older runner with a moustache and an American accent. I’m never ready for this one so answered ‘a lot of beans’ which is at least better than ‘vegan junk food’ which I believe I came out with last time. My companion turned out to be a long term veggie, he gave up meat at Thanksgiving when he was 16, long enough ago for it to be a hippie thing. This was his 89th marathon and he was considering going vegan before his 100th. I mentioned the Northants Ultra and he said he ran that and was last hence the familiarity. Soon enough 5 miles had gone somewhere.
A shout of ‘come on vegans – you must be Nik’ turned out to be from faster VRUK runner Simon’s supporting partner. Maria’s other half, John, was stationed with the boom box on the cycleway after Sutton Courtney. Shortly after halfway a shout from following cyclists ‘keep to the right, the leaders are coming through’. Sure enough a Woodstock vest flew past like he was running a 5k then a couple of minutes later an Abingdon Ambler who I rightly guessed to be Paul Fernandez who would go on to win in 2:32.
Keeping my pace between 9 and 9:30 miles and necking an energy gel every 40 minutes or so all seemed fine and I was enjoying myself and confident at mile 16 as we ran towards Drayton for the second time. I don’t really know what went wrong, I remember pushing a little as my pace snuck below 9:30 on the slight incline. By mile 18 my left knee was hurting, I walked 30 paces to ease it which gave relief but didn’t fix it. So there I was yet again watching my plan dissolve as the whole world ran past. Walk a bit, jog a bit, lean against a telegraph pole to stretch it, 2 more ibuprofen, sit on a bench and give it a rub, walk 30 paces then jog for a few minutes. Soon enough I was near the back of the field struggling on in the cheerful but disappointed company of the slow and the lame. There seemed little point in continuing but also little choice but to do so. At least mind and soul seemed intact, it was just the blooming body that couldn’t cope.
Back into Abingdon by the Thames and lots of Abingdon parkrun folk marshalling around mile 23 so I put on a smile, have a joke, and keep running till I get round the corner by which time my sore knee seems to be spreading to surrounding muscle. Still, almost there and 4:30 seems possible. Through the underpass then walking up the exit ramp Maria catches me up and tells me we are going to run to the finish together. Maybe the ibuprofen had started to cut in, I manage almost half a mile before my knee cries ‘stop’ and I walk for 30 paces then catch Maria back up.
This is actually quite fun and lots of support what with 2 Vegan Runners vests together and it’s Maria’s local club organising so they all know her anyway. I can tell Maria’s really pushing herself so I get with the plan and only give into my knee once more and soon enough we are in the park where a huge puddle results in wet feet and then onto the race track where even the last 200m seems too far to go. Just before the finish Maria zooms off like a rocket and I cross the line a couple of seconds after her. 4 hr 30 min and 10 sec 643rd of 732.
Coffee, biscuit and a relax then Peter and I cycle back to Oxford together in our VC&AC tops, very slowly. The combination of fixed gear and my now cramping, but less painful, left leg offering some brief but excruciating moments of discomfort.
The next morning, ibuprofen and alcohol having mostly worn off, the knee itself is fine but the surrounding muscle, particularly the lat above, is very sore. My PF hasn’t really made itself felt yet but I expect it’ll be moaning by tomorrow. My right leg, the wonky one with the broken lump of metal in, doesn’t hurt at all and I suspect, not for the first time, that a lot of my problems are down to my lopsided gait and favouring the right at the expense of the left.
I’m a bit disappointed in the result though glad I finished. Part of me is tempted to enter another marathon soon, maybe an ultra, to treat Abingdon as a training run, something to be built on. I felt this after the MK Marathon hence entering the Northants Ultra shortly afterwards – I seem to be cursed with a ‘can I try that again and get it right this time’ outlook rather than the more sensible ‘never again’. I shall resist such inclinations though and give my body a chance to recover properly. No more races over 10k for the rest of the year and no more running until at least Thursday, maybe longer, is the plan. Maybe I’ll just have to stop running altogether for a bit to let the PF improve, I’ll see how it goes. I’m looking forward to some time out on the bike instead. My running distance target for 2012 was 1200 miles and I passed this somewhere around Drayton yesterday so at least that’s done.